So, you’re a newly minted Customer Success leader — now what?

So much has been written about hiring a great VP of Sales. New deals are the heartbeat that keeps your budding SaaS business moving up and to the right and for most companies this external hire is probably one of the biggest decisions to make.

As important as month over month sales growth is in SaaS, the annuity of the renewal is equally important, especially in later years. Far less has been written on hiring an external Customer Success leader, because in many cases the ideal hire for that role comes from the inside.

This promotion often comes from within an organization because above all else, the company needs to scale the group quickly. A high-achieving employee will already possess solid existing relationships with key growth accounts, have experience doing early sales, and hold direct lines to internal product and marketing leaders to share the customer’s opinions and feedback. Combine these traits with the fact that Customer Success has no real blueprint and it should come as no surprise that the “can figure it out” attitude of an early hire often makes a great first VP of Customer Success.

This was certainly our experience at Affinio, but it’s also one I hear often from other Customer Success leaders with whom I connect. So, for all the newly minted Customer Success leaders out there or those who want to step up into the role, here is your required reading for hitting the ground running. Enjoy and good luck!

Must Reads:

Customer Success: How Innovative Companies Are Reducing Churn and Growing Recurring Revenue by Nick Mehta, Dan Steinman, Lincoln Murphy, Maria Martinez

Without a doubt this has proven our definitive resource on Customer Success. It’s the guide that we’ve used and continue to reference as we build our processes and scale the team at Affinio. It stands out from other Customer Success books for a few reasons:

1. It gives a great history of evolving views of what “Customer Success” means. This is needed because in so many organizations, the function gets painted with the wrong brush by being lumped in the “managed service” bucket, framed as a cost center, or worse, as nothing more than a marketing buzzword. This book elevates the bar because it argues that if you agree that SaaS software is eating the world and that churn is a very real part of SaaS, then you’d better figure out Customer Success as quickly as possible!

2. The authors lay out how Customer Success can be accomplished for SaaS companies with different deal sizes through high touch, low touch and tech touch models. In the early days when you’re figuring out customer success, you can go down a lot of wrong roads if you don’t build a model that fits your deal sizes. This differentiation is huge — but often overlooked.

3. Perhaps the most valuable chapter is the Time-to-Value chapter by Diane Gordon. Early on you may talk to people who tell you that as long as you are delighting your customers, everything will fall into place. Making the customer delighted can be part of your customer success strategy, but to get to the next level you’ve got to do more. That makes this chapter valuable because it’s all about proving, delivering and measuring value. Diane lays it out perfectly.

SaaS Churn: Measure Revenue or Customer Retention?

We made a point early during the formalization of Customer Success at Affinio to frame our mission as the “Analogue of Sales.” (Thanks, Dan Steinman.)

The thinking behind this is if sales is responsible for the most important metric for a software business, top line growth, then Customer Success has to own the second-most important thing: making sure the bottom of the bucket doesn’t fall out. (Having a great product in my opinion is table stakes…without it you’re not even in the game.)

In this article, Lincoln Murphy lays out why you need both Logo Churn and Dollar Renewal figures to understand the health of your business. For Customer Success leaders, measuring your efforts against these hard figures gives you the best sense of whether your customers are sticking around and if the value they see in your platform is increasing.

The Sales Acceleration Formula: Using Data, Technology, and Inbound Selling to go from $0 to $100 Million by Mark Roberge

While this is a sales book, the overall theme of using data and processes to drive a measurable and repeatable outcome fits really well into what Customer Success leaders also must do.

As you set up Customer Success, measuring, iterating and adjusting your processes is so important in ensuring you know exactly how to elevate your organization. A lot of Mark’s suggestions about measuring leads, account executive activity levels and building performance incentives can certainly be applied to Customer Success if you think of the journey from Closed Deal to Renewal and Upsell as different phases of the Customer Success Pipeline.

The $2 Million Dollar Man/Woman: How to Think About Scaling Your Customer Success Team — SaaStr

2016 Customer Success Salary & State of the Profession Report

These two articles go hand in hand and support the need to build out measurable processes to scale your team as fast possible. Here is why:

1. Customer Success people are expensive, and the demand for good CSM’s outstrips the supply.

2. $2 million in revenue per CSM is without a doubt doable with an experienced CSM, but it gets trickier when you’re still learning and don’t have a process in place. I’d also argue that it gets even harder to do Customer Success in a way that’s proactive and focused on proving value. I’d be willing to bet that a lot of organizations are acting in more reactive ways or more like their Support team should be.

3. The best Customer Success hires have previous experience, are customer-centric and have some domain expertise. In most cases that’s impossible to find or very expensive. With a good framework in place, if you can find someone with a customer-centric attitude who also has domain expertise, it’s possible to make them into a great Customer Success manager quickly.


The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz

Chances are you’ve already read this one, but if you haven’t, now is the perfect time. I’d be willing to bet that if you are now scaling a Customer Success organization your once very flat start-up just got a whole lot more dynamic. The management lessons in this book are huge and will prevent you from tripping over stuff you’d never considered before.

Best of luck as you scale!