A few times a year I introduce myself to someone new as a “Customer Success Manager” at Black Duck Software and get a funny look. Questions about Black Duck (and duck puns) aside, I often get questions about my role, what Customer Success is, and why the role exists. If you’re unclear about Customer Success or why we think it’s important, maybe learning about my journey to becoming a Customer Success Manager at Black Duck will give you some background.
The Early Years
When I was 12-years old, my father asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. “An inventor” I said. He responded “Great! Why do you want to be an inventor?” I had no idea. “It looks like fun,” I replied at the time. As a social kid with no real interest in math or engineering, I had a hard time answering that question in a meaningful way. I suspect my father knew this at the time, but years later I would learn that it was my desire to help people solve problems that drove this childhood dream.
Ten years later, having recently completed my undergraduate business degree, I was working as a manager at a fine-dining restaurant. I loved the fast-paced action of restaurant work and how social the job was. Despite some obvious downsides (including late nights, swollen feet, and meaningless conversations with drunken customers) I felt like I had found the perfect role for my personality. However, as time went on I missed the thing that drove my dreams as a 12-year-old. I wondered, was I really helping people find solutions to their problems? Perhaps satisfying my guests’ appetites could be considered "solving a problem," but over time I longed for a more meaningful role, where I could work with my customers as a true problem solver.
Next I transitioned to selling technology solutions, such as ecommerce websites, inventory management systems, and online food ordering systems to business owners who hadn't quite transitioned to the 21st century. Along with a few obvious advantages over my previous career path (nights and weekends off!), for the first time I was able to help people solve real world problems. During this stage in my career, I learned the true value of a technical sales process. I learned that I could make business owners’ lives better by introducing them to technology that could improve efficiency, reduce loss, and improve their bottom lines. I loved working with customers to understand their problems as they saw them, and drive solutions by leveraging my inventory of tools. For the first time, I actually considered myself a problem solver, and finally understood the value a salesperson could provide. But was there more I could do?
The Value Proposition
After a few years selling technology and many conversations with business owners and investors about the long-term value technology solutions can deliver, I wondered what long-term value I was really providing to my customer base. What was the long-term impact of my work? What about the customers who never got their solutions off the ground? These questions only challenged how I felt about my role as a salesperson. As a non-technical, social, wannabe problem solver, how could I sell technology to customers in a way that ensured they got value from their investment? Was there a role out there that incorporated sales, implementation, and customer engagement to drive long-term value? I started my search, and quickly landed on Customer Success.
Customer Success? You Must Mean Customer Service
When you hear the term “Customer Success,” what comes to mind? Do you think of the words service, support, or sales? You’re right, but there’s more to the story. A lot more, actually.
Trends in the Industry
According to Jim Blasingame at Forbes, we have entered “the age of the customer,” a trend he says is not going away. Now more than ever, customers are driving buying decisions based on freely available information and customer reviews and stories (usually online), and relying less on data and sales pitches provided by sellers. As a result, the importance of the customer journey and their advocacy for your products is absolutely critical to the long-term success and growth of your business. But how do you get a customer to become an advocate for your product? This is one of the many challenges the Customer Success model tries to tackle.
Other goals of the modern customer success model, according to UserIQ’s first annual State of Customer Success and Trends for 2017 survey include:
- Improving adoption of product and customer time-to-value
- More accurately measure customer health and identify customer advocates
- Reduce churn and improve retention rates
Of course, these goals are shared by many industries, but those most interested in the modern Customer Success model tend to be high-growth companies that offer their products or services in a subscription model, especially SaaS companies. For new businesses and startups, acquiring new customers is by far the most important revenue driver. However, as companies grow their revenue, the tables turn. Customer retention and renewals become the largest portion of revenue. This increases the importance of tracking the customer journey and putting systems in place to drive customer satisfaction, retention, and stabilize long-term revenue.
Customer Success at Black Duck
Black Duck identified that the modern Customer Success model closely aligns with our long-term customer relationship goals, so we implemented a Customer Success program. By moving all post-sales customer facing roles into the same team, the entire organization is aligned with these goals and empowered to drive success based on each customer’s unique criteria.
As a Customer Success Manager at Black Duck, I act as the main point of contact and year-round resource for each of my customers. I’m introduced during the sales cycle, kick-off the partnership by helping them orient to Black Duck’s customer-facing resources, and develop an implementation plan. Early in the customer journey, I get to learn what drove the customer to purchase our tools, what goals they have for their deployment, and what long-term success looks like through their eyes. Throughout the year we work together to meet those goals and objectives set at the beginning of our engagement. This role really gives the Customer Success Manager a view into how our tools are used by customers, and what long-term value we are providing as a vendor. As a CSM, from day one I’m seen as a problem solver and driver of solutions — a role I love.
Assuming a customer has seen value in our tools and the relationship they’ve built with Black Duck, they’ll work with me to purchase our tools for another year. I can’t think of a better way to confirm that a customer values the relationship you’ve built and has a genuine need for the solution you’ve provided than a renewal. Receiving commitment from a customer for another year of partnership confirms that the work done throughout the year was valued and the tool is a good fit!
For any of you salespeople out there who have wondered about the long-term value you are providing to your customers; think outside of the traditional boundaries of a sales job. If helping customers see value is rewarding to you, consider customer success.