Building a Not so SaaSy Customer Success Team

Eddie Salce
Apr 7 · 7 min read
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Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

There was a recent study published by Gainsight that, according to four years of Linkedin data, revealed that the Customer Success industry is growing by 736% and is among the top 10 most promising jobs of 2019.

That’s insane! It feels like it was only yesterday when Salesforce founded the first iteration of what we consider Customer Success today. However, the report has also found that 72.8% of CSMs work in the Software & IT Industry. It’s no secret that Customer Success has been a primary function for most SaaS companies, but what does the Customer Success Function look like in a non-SasS industry?

A Rapidly Growing Profession

The proof is in the pudding when it comes to the growth of CS in the past couple of years. Customer Success Managers have played a significant role in modern businesses that are increasingly focusing on building a customer-centric and human approach. The profession is starting to expand into other industries. According to The State of the Customer Success Profession, industries like Agriculture, Wellness & Fitness, and Recreation & Travel are proliferating. The approach you take to build a Customer Success team in a non-SaaS world is somewhat the same, but the execution will vary wildly. However, some of the standard foundations still apply.

So much SaaS 💁‍♀️ 💁‍♂️

If you google anything about Customer Success, the majority of the information you will find will be about how CSMs are critical to Software-as-a-Service companies, but why so much SaaS?

The subscription economy took the world by storm by effectively letting people “lease” services at an affordable monthly rate. Remember the time where you just bought a software license, and that was it? You were stuck with it, and whether you benefited from the software or not was unbeknownst to the vendor who sold it to you. Now, you get to decide every month if the service is providing you enough value to justify the cost. Customer Success was born out of this increasing need to demonstrate value to the customer continuously so they’ll remain loyal long enough for the company to make a profit.

Customer Success is relevant to any industry. Focusing your efforts on customer outcomes will develop customer loyalty and ultimately retain that customer. You can even say that Customer Success always existed in every sector, but how do we take the ideas of Customer Success that is commonly seen in SaaS-based businesses and broaden the scope across multiple types of industries?

I realized that laying a good foundation around the service you provide is crucial to the customer’s success on your product. In other words, I had to adapt my process and find areas where it made sense and provided value.

Customer Journey 🚶‍♂️

To understand the customer, you need to be the customer. The customer journey is a straightforward idea; it’s the complete experience your customers go through when interacting with your company.

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Photo by Vlad Bagacian on Unsplash

When entering any new organization as a CSM (SaaSy or not), this should be your number one priority. You may need to collaborate with multiple teams to get the full picture here, but once you have a good idea of what it may look like, take out a pen and paper and draw a timeline from the time a prospect becomes a customer to renewal. Once you have this journey, start identifying the different customer touchpoints, this typically includes customer actions, motivations, pain points, or any customer questions. Once you have a starting point, you should at least go through the process yourself once to get a feel of where it currently is and find ways to improve it over time.

Segmentation is your friend ➗

Customer segmentation is the process of dividing up your customer base into groups based on common characteristics. It’s a standard definition that’s pretty much everywhere. Segmentation is helpful for various reasons, but it does boil down to marketing and customer prioritization. When starting, you may have a small book of business, so catering to every customer seems easy, but not at scale. Once you reach a certain level of customers, it becomes unrealistic to provide to each customer which will ultimately create a bad customer experience, who wants that?

Get to the point where you can segment based on the value derived by the customer. A common strategy that companies adhere is to focus on the accounts that provide 80% of your companies annual recurring revenue (ARR). These are the creme of the crop and will become customer advocates for your product long term.

Cherish them. ❤️

Here’s an example of what a basic segmentation looks like.

  • Key Accounts
  • High Potential Accounts
  • Low-Value Accounts
  • At-Risk Accounts

They’re tons of ways to segment your customers. Even the basic segmentation presented offers vast opportunities for any customer success team in any industry.

For example, you can target the Highest Potential Accounts with upsell opportunities and engage churn risk accounts with mitigation strategies. You can also try to obtain a deeper understanding of your Key Accounts and try to replicate their success across the other segments.

Customer segmentation allows you to build a focused and prioritized customer success framework that can help your team manage customers at any scale.

Health Score 📊

If you’re a CSM, then your Customer Health Score should be near and dear to your heart. A Customer Health Score is a single metric that is made up of multiple criteria that can forecast churn, identify high-value accounts, renewals, or are prospects for cross-selling or up-selling strategies. Your customer health score is a high-level temperature of that account.

The vital detail I bolded here is multiple criteria. Health Score is very much an art, not a science, and a lot of companies do it differently. It should incorporate metrics that are important to your customers, product, and company. Include attributes you know result in a successful customer, or conversely, a customer at risk of churning. For example, if you notice that a customer hasn’t logged into their account since onboarding, it should be a critical indicator that they are most likely not receiving value from your product, and you should probably engage with them.

Health Score is relevant in any industry as you get to know your customers. But it’s pretty widely known that:

  • It’s almost always manually updated
  • The criteria tend to be very subjective
  • As you grow, there tend to be LOTS of unscored customers
  • Without digging, it’s hard to tell why a customer is whatever color they are

You can check out Gainsight’s excellent article on how to score customer health. Health score will always be a revolving door and change often but will provide your team with better insight into how your customers are performing and help set accurate retention goals.

The goal of any CSM is to deliver the desired success outcomes of their customers. These outcomes are your customer’s definition of success through their partnership with you. The health score is a good indicator of not only how you measure against those outcomes, but other dimensions of the relationship that, like perceived value, that drives customer loyalty. If you’re a CSM working within a non-SaaS company, then you may have to get creative to determine which criteria should be included in your customer’s health score. Things like logins, product usage, etc. may not be relevant if you’re let’s say a service company.

Building Relationships 🤝

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Photo by Jud Mackrill on Unsplash

Building strong, personal relationships with your clients will ultimately make you successful. It doesn’t matter what company you work for or who your customer is. Your relationship with your customers will make or break your success. Customers will often forget what you do for them, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. A few things I always try to keep in mind to build strong relationships with my customers is to:

  • Be the Trusted Advisor 🤝 — When engaging with clients, do the best you can to position yourself as a part of their team. When talking with customers, practice “Active Listening” and actively find ways to provide value during each interaction continuously.
  • Know your customers and their industry 🧠 — I’m not saying to be their best friend or be an expert in their domain, but you’d be surprised how much of a difference it makes to know the little things, and how impressed your customers would be. Did your customers mention they were going on vacation? Ask them about it. Did they just raise a Series B? Congratulate them. Did you just read about a significant change in their industry? Ask them about it and see how their goals change. These are all great ways to build a strong relationship.
  • Be Human🙍‍♂️- Honestly, this is one of my favorite pieces of advice. We often get stuck in the world of business and professionalism but forget we are all human. Your customer has spent thousands of dollars on your tool, they want to be just as successful as you want them to be, and are most likely anxious about it. Leave your ego and lip service at the door. Talk English and be honest. Your customers will love you more for it.


I’ve learned a ton while building a Customer Success function in a non-SaaS company, but primarily a lot of the same rules still apply. Your goal as a Customer Success Manager at any organization is retention and growth. You’ll just have to find how that fits in the broader context of the company you’re with. Success is earned through various ways, and it’s ultimately your job as an advisor to find what those success outcomes are for your customers.

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