You know you need a customer success team when…

Published on Jun 28, 2023

You know you need a customer success team when…

Your sales team is overworked, big accounts are in danger of churning, and leadership lacks insights about your key accounts. It’s time to build your customer success team.

This guide is based on SignalFire’s Sales Mastery Series session on Customer Success taught by Figma Senior Director of Customer Experience Shani Taylor and Growth Molecules Customer Success Strategist Sabina Pons. 

Key takeaways include:

  1. You should split customer success from sales when your account managers are too busy to proactively check in with key accounts and relay churn probability to leadership.
  2. Hire CS talent that has a mix of empathy, time-management skills, and a repeatable method for measuring customer health.
  3. Build a CS scorecard that combines interviews, surveys, metrics into a renewal probability score.
  4. Set up an information workflow to relay notes about customers’ needs and risk of churning from sales to customer success to leadership.

The purpose of customer success is to ensure customers are getting the most out of your product. That means helping them better use your current product offering, as well as learning how your product could evolve to meet more of their needs. Customer success helps you grow net revenue as customers use your product more, increase retention as they remain satisfied, and expand your business as your happy customers become advocates. 

Customer success managers are a two-way bridge between customers and leadership. They check in on customer health, relay their findings to product and leadership to influence your roadmap, and then communicate planned solutions to customer needs so they don't churn before fixes are delivered. It's about plugging the hole in your bucket so you keep more of the customers you acquire, allowing you to scale revenue without the costly work of acquiring short-lived customers.

When to create a discrete customer success team

At first, founders do everything customer related, from sales to support to success. This is critical for getting the right insights to keep building, selling, and supporting your customer base as you grow.

Eventually, as you build your early sales team, that team will likely serve several purposes—account managers, customer success, and support. But when should you split up sales and support? Here are a few signs:

  • Overworked: Account managers can't handle all the sales and scheduled success calls, resulting in weak customer engagement or slow revenue growth.
  • Reactive: You have no time for proactive success calls with top customers.
  • Time study: An hour-by-hour analysis shows teams aren’t prioritizing or focusing on success as part of their daily work.
  • In the dark: Leadership can't predict churn of key customers.

Once you’ve seen these signs, or even better have anticipated the need to stand up a CS function, it’s important to hire the right leadership and team. You should also be thoughtful about who the CS team reports into, the CS team structure as you grow, and the hiring criteria to build a high-performance CS team.

What makes a top-performing customer success manager

  • Empathetic, adaptable, and level-headed
  • Researches to understand your product and roadmap as well as customer needs 
  • Has a system for measuring customer health
  • Proactive about outreach and making customers feel they have an internal champion
  • Strong time management skills and attention to detail

If you’re open to having customer success as a remote function, check out SignalFire’s Work From Home Hiring FAQ. Otherwise, our guide to employer branding can help make your company appealing as you recruit the best customer success talent.

Setting up your customer success team to win

As you are creating your initial CS function, it’s important to set up key measurement systems and processes internally to ensure you get the greatest insights, customer retention, and account expansion growth.

Establishing a customer success scorecard

Develop a standardized process for measuring and reviewing your CS health measures on a regular cadence with these steps:

  • Interview customers about key metrics, but also collect surveys in case they're shy about sharing problems.
  • Measure quantitatively if they use the product through engagement, seat utilization, session time, bug reports, and feature requests.
  • Measure qualitatively if they like your solution through NPS, satisfaction, and executive relationship.
  • Measure a customer’s business health to anticipate if they’ll shut down through business slow-down, layoffs, and late payments.
  • Assign a renewal probability score based on the impact of health measures above on historical churn.
  • Understand the potential impact of churn by assessing acquisition cost, lifetime value, and renewal probability.

Coordinating customer success, sales, product, and leadership

Once your customer success team is up and running, it’s crucial to drive collaboration with the rest of your company with a clear flow of information:

  • Sales provides notes to success managers on what drove signups, feature requests, and customer concerns.
  • Leadership ensures swimlane clarity on whether sales, success, or support handle different types of requests and upsells.
  • Success shares renewal probabilities and executive summaries on key customers with leadership.
  • Success relays feature requests to product teams, and then feasibility and timelines to customers.
  • Tools track customer health, whole customer base health, and success productivity so you can measure improvement across time periods and CS managers.

With this customer success process in place, you should have smooth hand-offs from sales to success, teams focused on where they're experts, early warnings on customers who might churn, and clear translation of customer needs into roadmap changes. This leads to a more predictable business, less churn, useful product insights, and greater internal efficiencies.

SignalFire’s Sales Mastery Series is a set of interactive workshops connecting founders and sales leaders from our portfolio with functional experts in the space. For more insights from these sessions, sign up for email updates from SignalFire.

*Portfolio company founders listed above have not received any compensation for this feedback and did not invest in a SignalFire fund. Please refer to our disclosures page for additional disclosures.

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