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Where Do Customer Success Teams Belong?

Recently I was interviewed by Tom Murphy for an article about Customer Success organizations and I’d like to repost my answer for you here. The question he posed to leaders of Customer Success software companies was:

Should a customer success team be part of the sales team, a customer support function, a marketing effort or something different?

On the most fundamental level, I believe Customer Success starts as an organizational ethos and priority, regardless of how the org. chart looks. My response below details my thoughts on how Customer Success should be incorporated into an organization:

The customer success team should not be a sales, support or marketing function, but a separate unit that works across the company. In some (typically smaller) companies, it may fall under the sales or services group from a practical organizational standpoint, but the nature of the customer success role should not be seen as sales, support or marketing.

In fact, customer success is really a cross functional role and should be seen as the internal champion for the customer across the organization. Customer success should partner and work closely with not only sales, support and marketing, but also products and other critical functions.

Given the focus on renewals in subscription businesses, most people associate the customer success role with managing churn and renewals. But churn or renewal is really only the outcome. The customer success role should not be focused on managing the churn or renewal event (which I would argue is more of a sales function). Rather, it should be managing the ongoing customer journey and making sure the customer is seeing value and getting the business results they expected to achieve. They should be helping the customer with best practices and better ways to use the product, identifying red flags when a customer is stalled or not making adequate progress and making sure the customer is utilizing what they have bought so that when the renewal comes up, it is a non event.

To effectively help customers across their journey or lifecycle, customer success should also partner with other teams. Take marketing as an example. Ideally, customer marketing should be well grounded in facts and data, so that you are communicating with customers in a contextual, relevant and personalized way, versus sending generic updates. This is something that customer success is well positioned to partner with marketing on. The same when it comes to products. Customer success has a unique vantage point into understanding customer requirements and use cases. They should be able to use this to champion for their customers internally.

Overall, customer success should be a function that works cross functionally and truly makes an organization “customer centric.”

I’d really like to know, how do you think about customer success? Where does it sit in your organization? Please send me your thoughts on twitter- @Guy_Nirpaz or post it in the comments section below.

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This response originally ran on CMS Wire, August 4, 2014, as part of a larger article written by Tom Murphy

Guy Nirpaz

Guy Nirpaz is a Silicon Valley-based Israeli entrepreneur and CEO of Totango, a Customer Success software platform. A pioneer in the Customer Success field, Guy established the Customer Success Summit and is a well-regarded industry speaker and community contributor. Guy loves people and technology and has dedicated his career to improving the way in which business is done through innovation. Fun Facts: Guy moonlights as the lead guitarist in a rock band based out of his garage in Palo Alto and used to command a tank battalion...as well as having grown oranges.

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