State of the Customer Success Industry and Salary Report 2021

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Explore the latest trends and predictions for the future in our 8th Annual Report

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Introduction

Over the past year, while most of us have been working remotely and adjusting to life in the midst of a global pandemic, Customer Success has been quietly surging right under our noses. When we first started this survey eight years ago, this role was little more than a small function of an organization, but now, it has infused itself into all aspects of business – and it’s not slowing down any time soon.  

The COVID-19 pandemic shined a bright light on the importance of growing and protecting customers. When we no longer had the option to drop by our clients’ offices or meet with them at industry events, we had to figure out how to form and keep connections and stay up-to-date on the health of their businesses, all while remaining socially distant.  

The 2021 State of the Customer Success Industry and Salary Survey reflected these shifts and the exponential growth that our industry has seen in just the past 12 months. More than 1,500 Customer Success professionals from around the world (more than twice the number of respondents we had in 2020) participated in this year’s survey. Throughout this report, we’ll explore the key findings we discovered during our analysis of the data, including:

  • The focus of organizations has shifted from business outcomes to customer outcomes.
  • Digital technology is no longer just a nice-to-have or a complement to in-person experiences; it is now a necessity and is crucial to the success of CS.
  • CS professionals are shifting their focus from minimizing churn to fueling the flywheel, driving growth from expansion and customer advocacy.

Totango has surveyed the CS industry for the past eight years to create this annual report, which delivers a yearly view of how Customer Success is changing and how its impact on business is perceived. This report provides valuable insights into trends in the CS profession; industry benchmarks for CS compensation, growth and maturity; and guidelines for how to adapt to a digital experience in an increasingly virtual world.

Participant Demographics

This year, we had more respondents to our survey than ever before. More than 1,500 Customer Success professionals from around the world participated in the 2021 State of the Customer Success Industry and Salary Survey. Americans made up more than half of the survey respondents with 79%, followed by Europe with 8%.

Geographic Breakdown

79% in the US

8% in Europe

3% in Canada

3% in Central & South America

3% APAC

2% in the Middle East

1% in Australia & New Zealand

1% in Africa

Key Findings

KEY FINDING #1

Customer Success is continuing to grow and mature.

Customer Success is continuing to grow and mature. Since Totango began this survey in 2013, we have seen steady growth in the number of organizations adopting Customer Success functions. However, over the past 12 months and especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, that growth has been even more significant. This year, 76% of CS professionals surveyed said they had a team consisting of more than 10 people, and 91% said their team had grown in size over the past 12 months.

Last year during the pandemic, we saw many new teams being formed and those same teams are now maturing, with more than 50% of respondents stating their organization has had a CS function for more than 3 years.

We saw the greatest increase in our respondents of teams setting in place in the last 1-2 years emphasizing again the tremendous growth in organizations prioritizing customer success and building and growing their newly formed customer success teams.

KEY FINDING #2

Customer Success has shifted away from focusing solely on business value. The focus now is on customer value and outcomes and how those drive business value and revenue.

16% of respondents stated that they report directly to the Chief Revenue Officer, up from 9% last year, which further demonstrates the weight companies are putting on CS teams…

In recent years, organizations have been trending away from trying to simply gain as many customers as possible and focusing more on how to retain and expand revenue from each individual customer. This became even more important when COVID hit, as many companies did not know when or if they would be able to secure new customers, so they had to focus on generating advocacy and revenue from their current customers.

The importance of the customer is reflected in the Customer Success bonus structure. This year, respondents reported that their bonuses were less reliant on overall team or company performance than in previous years, and more on growing the customer in areas like account expansions and upsells (89%). A greater emphasis on the importance of providing value to the customer was also reflected by the weight of factors like feature adoption (66%) and account health (65%). Also, 16% of respondents stated that they report directly to the Chief Revenue Officer, up from 9% last year, which further acknowledges the increased impact of CS on revenue.

KEY FINDING #3

Customer advocacy and expansion are becoming higher priorities.

In previous years, the focus of CS teams has been mainly on retaining customers and decreasing churn. And, while churn reduction still ranked as the top goal by survey participants at 94%, we also saw an increased focus on expansion (82%) and customer advocacy (82%) this year. This demonstrates the increasing trend of companies veering more toward the circular flywheel methodology. The flywheel re-envisions the customer’s experience to emphasize the continuity between the pre-sale and post-sale experience and between the way successful customer retention sets the stage for brand advocacy and the recruitment of new prospects. Essentially, when a customer sees value from a product, they will want to continue to increase that value by purchasing more products and becoming loyal repeat buyers who advocate for the brand, thus increasing overall revenue for the business.

This flywheel concept and the enhanced focus on customer advocacy and expansion are also reflected in the growth of collaboration efforts between CS and other teams throughout organizations. According to survey participants, the amount of time CS teams spend collaborating with Marketing has increased significantly this year with 43% of respondents stating they spend more than 50% of their time working with marketing, which is up 33% over last year. There was also a jump in collaboration efforts with service and support teams with 56% of respondents saying they spend more than 50% of their time working with these teams.

KEY FINDING #5

Customer Success is cross-functional and enterprise wide.

When we first began our survey eight years ago, Customer Success was just a small, solo team. As CS evolved, the CS team began working more with Customer Support, handling customer questions, tickets, etc. In the last year, with the world moving remote and virtual, we noticed a large jump in the involvement of CS teams with the rest of the organization, in particular with Marketing and Sales teams. 44% of respondents said that their CS team spends more than 50% of their time working with Marketing and 47% reported spending more than 50% of their time working with Sales. Although Customer Success is now firmly a company-wide strategy, organizations are still often handicapped with multiple tools and disconnected data that resulted in inefficient workflows, broken communications and departmental silos.  However, as more teams are working together and engaging the customer throughout their journey, organizations need to break down the departmental silos and enable a holistic, orchestrated experience for the customer from the first-touch through purchase, onboarding, adoption and advocacy.

…44% (up from 10% in 2020) of respondents said that their CS team spends more than 50% of their time working with Marketing and 47% (up from 27% in 2020) reported spending more than 50% of their time working with Sales.

State of the Industry

The Customer Success industry has grown and matured rapidly over the past few years, but due to the impacts of COVID-19, shelter-in-place orders and the increase in remote workers in 2020, the industry’s momentum accelerated exponentially. The pandemic created a new sense of urgency around protecting and nurturing customers by highlighting the fact that customers truly are the core of every business. When the ability to interact with them in person dissolved, organizations were forced to embrace digital transformation and empower remote teams to form and keep those strong customer connections in a virtual environment.

The increasing maturity of the industry also shows that organizations are starting to better understand exactly what Customer Success is and the value it offers as a key function for business success. Businesses are embracing the idea that CS is a company-wide effort to ensure customers attain value from their products and services, so that those customers will continue to renew their subscriptions, expand their product adoption, and become advocates for the brand.

We can see this shift in the reporting structure of CS teams. Now that CS is being recognized as a critical function for operationalizing success and driving revenue growth, we are seeing more CS teams reporting to the Chief Operating Officer (29%) and the Chief Revenue Officer (16%).

Reporting structures of Customer Success Teams

The expansion of these collaboration efforts further demonstrates the increasing understanding that CS is more than just one team or department, but it is an enterprise-wide strategy that is critical to revenue and customer growth. There were significant increases this year in the amount of time that CSMs spent collaborating with Marketing, Operations, and Sales, reflecting a greater emphasis on customer advocacy. In addition, individuals entering the CS profession are beginning to come from more diverse backgrounds like Project Management (20%), Sales (18%) and Marketing (15%), showing how intertwined CS is becoming throughout organizations.

Because CS is increasingly touching more and more departments, it is crucial for organizations to take an outside-in view of the customer journey. From the first contact through onboarding, adoption and expansion, there needs to be a coordinated effort between all departments. Organizations are often forced to use rigid, function-specific software and disconnected tools that prevent them from operating productively and effortlessly, and delivering a consistent, holistic customer experience. As collaboration efforts increase, organizations must eliminate these data, team and communication silos, and instead, facilitate cross-functional workflows. The evolution of CS platforms is enabling this holistic view of the business, making it easy to integrate data-driven tools and empower all employees to work with more agility, increasing operational efficiency and delivering amazing customer experiences.

CS professionals come from many backgrounds

The role of Customer Success is continuing to grow and mature.

Customer Success teams are continuing to grow rapidly, and due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team sizes grew even larger and faster than in previous years. According to this year’s survey respondents, 76% of Customer Success teams consist of more than 10 members, which is up 27% from 2020. In addition, an incredible 91% of respondents stated that their teams had grown in size over the past year, with more than 12% stating they had grown by over 50%.

There is also a new level of maturity as businesses are recognizing and expanding upon the value provided by these CS roles. Half of all respondents stated that their CS team had been in operation for 3 or more years, while the number of respondents who said their organizations had a CS team for a year or less dropped significantly this year to just 9% vs 15% in 2020.  

Maturity of Customer Success Teams

The amount of turnover reported this year was slightly higher than in previous years with 40% of respondents reporting between 11-25% turnover. This increase is likely due in part to the effects of the pandemic over the past year, but also due to the overall growth of Customer Success. As the role of CS within organizations grows and becomes more defined, companies are seeking to hire high-quality CS professionals. And in order to attract and maintain these top-tier professionals, it is becoming even more important for organizations to focus on employee satisfaction.

The amount of turnover reported this year was slightly higher than in previous years with 40% of respondents reporting between 11-25% turnover. This increase is likely due in part to the effects of the pandemic over the past year, but also due to the overall growth of Customer Success. As the role of CS within organizations grows and becomes more defined, companies are seeking to hire high-quality CS professionals. And in order to attract and maintain these top-tier professionals, it is becoming even more important for organizations to focus on employee satisfaction.

Turnover in Customer Success Teams

Scaling and reactivity are becoming greater challenges, signaling the need for a digital-first approach to CS.

According to the survey, scaling has proven to be the biggest struggle for CS teams this year with 77% of respondents stating it was a major-moderate challenge. The need for teams to scale was likely exacerbated over the past year with the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many organizations to have to do more with fewer resources. There was also a greater focus on protecting strategic accounts and enabling efficiency through automation in order to scale, which meant a digital-first approach to CS became a necessity.

Using digital tools, companies can scale their businesses without scaling their teams by employing technology to automate stages of the customer journey. These tools can be applied across every customer engagement model and tier, so team members are freed from handling repetitive work and can focus on handling tasks that are better suited to a human touch or engagement while managing more accounts. As a result, we are seeing a shift in the CSM to account ratio. This year, 75% of respondents stated that each CSM in their organizations handled between 16-200 accounts, which is up from 27% in 2020.

…75% of respondents stated that each CSM in their organizations handled between 16-200 accounts, which is up from 27% in 2020

A reactive approach to customers (75%) and visibility into customer adoption and health (74%) were also rated as  major-to-moderate challenges for CS teams. Visibility is a critical factor in CS as the ability to monitor account health throughout the customer journey allows CSMs to gain a deep understanding of their clients in order to provide consistent value, anticipate customer needs, and improve product adoption and retention. When CS teams have visibility into their accounts, they are able to be more proactive, responding to both customer opportunities and issues quickly. And since factors like renewals, expansion and account health were listed as top components affecting respondents’ bonus structures, visibility and proactivity can also play a role in a CSMs overall salary.

Customer advocacy and expansion are becoming greater priorities for CS teams.

When asked about the goals of their CS teams, respondents rated churn reduction (94%), renewals (87%), and product adoption (86%) as their top high and medium priority goals. These are consistent with the top three goals for 2019 and 2020, however, this year we also noticed an increased  focus on expansion (82%) and customer advocacy (82%). Companies are starting to realize that Customer Success is a growth driver.  As customers receive value from a company’s products and services, they add more users and use cases which in turn adds more value to the customer. This growth cycle can drive increased expansion within the customer base as well as new logo customers as advocates who promote their successes through customer testimonials, referrals and other channels that help drive awareness and new business growth.

The shift towards a holistic flywheel approach that supports expansion and advocacy for driving customer and business growth is becoming more apparent. When customers receive value from a company’s products and services, they continue to buy more products and advocate for the brand, thus decreasing churn, and increasing renewals and product adoption.

Data-driven CS technologies help drive revenue by providing 360 customer views and enabling targeted engagements.

The COVID-19 pandemic and remote work mandates highlighted the need for, and value of, a digital-first Customer Success approach. By utilizing data-driven CS technologies, teams are able to gain a holistic view of each customer account, provide hyper-personalized interactions, automate repetitive tasks, and efficiently scale their businesses without having to scale their teams. Teams with these technology systems in place also reported being able to more proactively engage with their customers than those without this technology.

According to a 2020 study by Aberdeen sponsored by Totango, firms with a data-driven CS program enjoy 93% greater annual improvement in customer retention rates, 94% greater annual improvement in net promoter scores, and 400% improvement in the cost of customer service. The study also showed that companies with data-driven CS strategies gain 40% greater year-over-year growth in their annual revenue through hyper-personalizing interactions across each stage of the customer lifecycle. This maximizes the likelihood that clients renew their spend with the business and share their positive experiences with their friends, family and colleagues.


The Aberdeen study also found that 50% of companies use at least 10 channels to interact with their clients and they use multiple systems to capture data across those channels. This is consistent with the results of our survey, in which respondents stated that their CS teams use a wide variety of tools, including, in-house built tools (40%), Excel or Google spreadsheets (55%), CRM systems (64%), help desk tools (51%), survey or customer experience tools (49%), and Customer Success platforms (42%). When a number of different, disconnected systems are used, it makes it more difficult for companies to determine the root cause of issues like customer churn or how customers are engaging with the product. However, when a Customer Success platform is implemented, teams are able to pull in key customer metrics from across all of these various data platforms into one single dashboard in order to gain a holistic understanding of customers and seamlessly integrate customer and operational insights.

Technology Used by Customer Success Teams

Salary Survey

…78% of respondents reported that their team's were held responsible for revenue targets. This is up from 34% over 2020.

Customer Success salaries are continuing to trend upward as the industry matures and businesses are placing more value on the expertise and responsibilities of these CS professionals. Over the past several years, we began noticing a trend that compensation structures for CS professionals were more reliant on revenue-generating activities and this trend has continued in 2021. CS teams are also becoming more responsible for hitting revenue targets with 78% of respondents reporting their teams were held responsible for reaching these targets. This is up 34% over 2020.

CS teams are being tasked with owning more revenue-generating activities that make an impact on organizations’ bottom lines, as well as activities that improve product stickiness - like feature adoption - which decrease churn and increase renewals. As a result, compensation structures have evolved in recent years to be more heavily focused on bonuses and other incentives like stock or equity options.

Opinions on Revenue Responsibility of CS Teams

Compensation Structure

According to 68% of Customer Success professionals surveyed, their compensation structure included a bonus structure on top of their base salary. This year, we also included a choice for stock or equity options and 37% of respondents stated that they received these as part of their overall compensation structure. In private companies, we are seeing CS professionals being further encouraged to help grow the business by offering them stock options, reflecting the understanding that the health and happiness of a customer is tied to how much revenue can be generated from that customer.

Due, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a shift last year to bonus structures being more focused on the health of the customer and value delivered and how those factors are driving revenue. Although bonuses for Customer Success professionals still emphasized overall team and company performance, this year we saw 20-40% increase in responses that indicated their bonuses were starting to include areas that focused on outcome delivery for the customer such NPS (77%), feature adoption (66%), and account health (66%).

Additionally, there was a 32% increase in respondents who stated revenue impact such as account expansions and upsells (89%) were a key component of their bonus compensation.

Compensation Structure of Customer Success Teams

Customer Success Manager

According to this year’s survey data, the median salary for a Customer Success Manager in 2021 is $94,000. The range of salaries for this role, however, reached between $48,500-170,000, with CSM’s in large metropolitan areas in California and New York as well as those with over 10 years of tenure in larger enterprises seeing the high-end of the salary range. The average salary for this role has continually increased over the past several years, and we expect this trend to endure as organizations shift their focus to providing more value to customers and expanding product adoption and customer advocacy. Companies are realizing the importance of customer outcomes over traditional business outcomes and are understanding that this shift requires the best talent available.

Salary Range

$48,500-$170,000

Median

$94k

Customer Success Operations

As Customer Success becomes more important to organizations, we are seeing an increase in new titles, so we’ve included the salaries of a few new roles this year, including Customer Success Operations. This role is typically responsible for tasks like implementing CS strategies, revenue forecasting, monitoring customer usage, building advocacy and more. According to survey respondents, the median salary for CS Operations is $85,000. The range of salaries for this role is between $70K-90K, reflecting the importance of this role to the CS team and the company.

Salary Range

$70,500-$90,000

Median

$85K

Director of Customer Success

According to Customer Success professionals surveyed, the median salary for Directors of Customer Success in 2020 was $130,000. This is up slightly from 2020 when the median salary was between $100,000-$125,000. Interestingly, in the 2020 post-pandemic survey, it was reported that 64% of Directors saw a pay increase and that trend seems to have continued into 2021, reinforcing the value that companies are placing on CS and leadership during uncertain times.

Salary Range

$75,000 -$250,000

Median

$130K

Head of Customer Success

In the last few years, our annual compensation survey has seen the title of Head of Customer Success become more prevalent. According to survey respondents, the median salary for the Head of Customer Success is $130,000. The range of salaries for this role is vast due to the various sizes of the companies surveyed. As a result, the salary range is between $70K-280K.

Salary Range

$70,000 -$280,000

Median

$130k

VP of Customer Success

The median salary for a Vice President of Customer Success in 2021 is $200,000. The range of salaries for this role was between $130K-300K. In 2020, more than half of respondents (58%) reported making more than $175,000, while only 25% reported making between $200-250K, reflecting a continuing increase in salary for this role.

Salary Range

$130,000-$300,000

Median

$200K

Conclusion

There’s no denying the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on the Customer Success industry. As the world shifted, our business models shifted as well. When we didn’t know if or when we would be able to secure new customers, we realized just how important our current customers were. Our focus moved from business outcomes to customer outcomes, which, in turn, shifted our goals from simply minimizing churn to providing more value to our customers, so we could expand their product adoption and turn them into advocates for our brands. To touch all of our customers and keep them happy, we had to be able to scale, and in order to scale effectively, we had to be able to automate tasks and trust in our data sources.

This is our “new normal,” and in our new normal, digital technology is no longer just a nice thing to have or a nice complement to in-person interactions. It’s a necessity. While we can thank the pandemic for forcing us to make these transitions so quickly, they were transitions that we were likely going to have to make anyway – albeit at a more relaxed pace. Digital CS is here to stay, and that’s a good thing. In order for organizations to focus on high-impact projects, obtain quality data, and scale resources, they need to invest in a digital Customer Success platform. It’s no longer efficient or necessary to pull data together from multiple platforms to try to form a 360-view of the customer and figure out what steps to take next. Time is valuable and what teams are able to accomplish every day is important. A digital CS solution gives time back to teams and helps them to deliver results faster.

As CS becomes more infused into organizations, increasing collaboration between CS and Marketing, Sales, and other teams will be necessary as these teams will be required to access and act on the customer data in the same way that the CS team is doing using digital technologies. We also expect that bonus structures will continue to be more tied to customer value, through factors like account health and customer advocacy. As digital data and solutions give CS professionals more access to insights and help with automating repetitive tasks, CSMs in turn have more time to work on those key activities that deepen value for the customer. And finally, as organizations continue to shift their focus towards these customer outcomes, CS professionals will continue to gain more responsibility for business revenue. We predict an increasing shift in compensation structures with more Customer Success professionals receiving bonuses, stock/equity incentives, or commissions tied to revenue, which will increase average Customer Success salaries across the board.

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