Who am I writing this for: people who are building or managing a Customer Success function.
What’s my key point: your CSMs need to provide value, and for that it’s better they specialize based on industry (or business-type) versus round-robin or regional distribution.
Our experience with the Hubspot CSM
When we bought Hubspot as our marketing automation platform, we were assigned a customer success manager (CSM). Our CSM did everything right; she got the entire marketing team and the CEO on a call, asked us questions like what will make us successful, what does failure with Hubspot look like, what our goals were, and more.
Then she gave us links to all of Hubspot’s training videos and said she’ll get back to us with a preliminary marketing plan that’ll help us get started. So we waited. When we got the plan we realized she didn’t know that we were a SaaS product. Instead, she mistook us for a marketing agency. It could mean that our website at the time did a shitty job, but I invite you to have a look for yourself.
After we corrected her, she got back with some other campaign ideas which were all a variant of:
- Create an ebook
- Add a bunch of automated, follow-up emails
Unfortunately, there was zero context of SaaS, about our goals, about how a visitor signing up for a 30 day free-trial is better than getting back to us to talk to Sales. We felt like she had very little understanding of who we were, of martech, or of the SaaS business model.
And Hubspot had 24/7 phone support for our plan level, has all their KB and documentation on the web, has all their training videos available in the Academy, so basically we soon had no need for the Customer Success Manager. That’s a good thing, when customers have everything at their disposal that they don’t need a human touch.
But it’s bad because we had zero need of the CSM. We knew she couldn’t really help us with our key goals. We knew getting on a call with her was not going to bring us much value. Soon enough, we just completely ignored her. And it wasn’t her fault. I’d put it on the person who planned that CSMs will be distributed region-wise without getting the ability to gain experience and expertise in any one industry.
Our experience with the Google Adwords rep
Our experience with the Google Adwords rep has been worse. While the Hubspot CSM just checked-in once in a while if everything was okay, the Adwords rep seems intent on getting us to run more campaigns and campaign types, tweak settings to what we know isn’t optimal for us (they might be good for Google though), and make us spend more budget in general.
She’ll make promises about doing some competitor benchmarking and give us best-practice recommendations, or going through our account and telling us how to optimize, but invariably those aren’t relevant and I now actively avoid getting on calls with her. In fact whenever anyone in the company or in my network asks me about talking to their Adwords rep, I discourage them from it.
So what do I think is the solution
Context. To be valuable, the Customer Success Manager needs to know and understand my problems, and be like a consultant who has seen these same problems and solutions at so many different clients that they can give me useful feedback, leading me to trust and respect them. In fact, the best case scenario would be if I pay extra to get a few more hours of their time every month or quarter.
After all, it’s their expertise that’s valuable, not the fact that they’re easily available.
Other reasons why industry based specialization is valuable
- Content marketing: Something written by a CSM who is basically an industry expert is extremely valuable and immediately appeals to readers, because in their language, in their suggestions and in their content resonates the voice of the customers.
- Product development: I’ll wager that they’ll end up giving more valuable product feedback than even Sales to your PM team because while Sales will close a deal and move on, it’s the CSMs who then work with customers to actually understand and solve their problems.
- A new revenue line: CSMs so valuable that customers pay for their time and help. Like the Forresters, Gartners or ZS Associates of the world.