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5 Powerful Tips For Scaling Customer Success

Key learnings from The Biggest Scaling Challenges in CS, an event hosted by Catalyst and Modern Customer Success Pros.
Danny Garcia
May 17, 2021
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As your company grows, scaling your Customer Success function becomes very important as you start to focus beyond simply acquiring new customers and investing in retaining and expanding with the ones you have.

But scaling Customer Success presents its own challenges. And even though CS is a rapidly changing space, we've identified common themes from surveying over 100 Customer Success executives about their challenges..

We discussed a few key learnings at The Biggest Scaling Challenges in CS, an event we hosted with Modern Customer Success Pros. 

Richard Sgro, the MCSP General Manager, spoke with Scott Dzialo, Sr. Director of Customer Success, Global Strategic Accounts at Braze, Max Davison, Sr. Manager Customer Experience Operations at PandaDoc, and Sydney Strader, Head of Customer Success at Catalyst, about how they scaled their Customer Success operations.

Watch the recording here.

Here are our key takeaways from the event!

Put Strategy Before Tactics

Before you start hiring for Customer Success leaders, you have to clearly define what Customer Success means for your organization. Is it managing customer relationships? Negotiating renewals? Answering tickets? All of the above & more?

Having a clear definition of CS in your company will help you understand the resources you need to build out your team and provide benchmarks to the overall business goals.

"Strategy before tactics. You need a guiding vision for what Customer Success is and understand things like who your ideal customer profile is, and build out plans for the different teams within Customer Success... then start backwards and build out metrics for how those teams should scale with the business's operating plan."

- Max Davison, Sr. Manager Customer Experience Operations at PandaDoc

Jacks-Of-All-Trades Do Not Scale

Once your team is aligned on the direction, try mapping out all the customer touchpoints that happen post-sales. Depending on the complexity of your product, you may find that you’ll need to dedicate more people to onboarding, implementation, or technical support.

By breaking down the post-sales process this way, you can create much more defined and specialized roles. This will help you create clearer job descriptions, candidate interview questions, and metrics for success for new team members.

If you're just starting to build out your Customer Success team you can also try hiring a "jack-of-all-trades" that handles everything across renewals, upsells, onboarding, tickets, etc. But that will definitely not work as you grow. 

“When I was first starting off, I was 1 of 5 post-sales people. We did everything post-sales. We managed tickets, we did all the implementation and onboarding, we were driving towards renewal. Because of that, we had to hire jacks-of-all-trade—people that were inherently flexible and had that scrappy startup mentality. That only gets you so far. You can’t hire someone who can do everything for you all the time.

- Scott Dzialo, Sr. Director of Customer Success, Global Strategic Accounts at Braze 

You Never Know Where Great CS Talent Will Come From

All of our panelists agreed that you should keep an open mind when sourcing candidates.

"Don't be closed off and only look for people with a particular background. A lot of skillsets translate to a good CSM."

- Sydney Strader, Head of Customer Success at Catalyst

Scott shared that his best Customer Success Managers are actually ex-actors! He thinks what makes them successful is they know how to carry a presence and are people who can “put on a show any day of the week." While they may have lacked some of the technical and industry knowledge needed for the role, those things can be taught more easily than charisma.

For some tactical sourcing tips:

  1. Look for people in enterprise. Enterprises have a structured and rigorous training process for customer success, and tend to hire people who are young and just out of school.
  2. Consider people on other internal teams. Our panelists all found success sourcing CSM candidates from their sales and support teams. You can use a Customer Success position as a stepping stone for BDRs and Support coordinators to get familiar with other parts of the business.
  3. Prioritize diversity. Make sure your job postings get in front of the largest and most diverse audiences possible. As we've just mentioned, a lot of skills translate into Customer Success! So look for people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and skill sets.

How To Level Up Your CS Team

All of our panelists agreed you have to constantly think about how you are going to develop your future managers and the next generation of leaders at your company.

Having a leveling up process in place shows your CSMs you care about their professional development which helps with employee retention and happiness. It also enables you as a leader to start working on other things as your direct reports start to take things off of your plate. But it takes careful planning, and having someone in a hybrid role where they are both managing customers and managing CSMs can lead to negative outcomes.

"One of the mistakes that I’ve seen made in a couple of organizations I've joined is having a Success leader who also manages accounts. That's something that I would douse as quickly as your organization allows so you can have your leaders invested in the growth plans they're building out with their direct reports."

- Max Davison, Sr. Manager Customer Experience Operations at PandaDoc

One approach that Scott takes is a "Player-Coach" model, where someone begins as an Individual Contributor, then a Player-Couch, then a full-fledged Coach.

A "Player-Coach" (usually a first-time manager) manages a small pod of people, but also still handles big accounts. This way they have one foot in a skill they are comfortable doing, and the other foot learning something new. This helps them not be completely overwhelmed by new responsibilities and skills. 

Another way to approach leveling in CS is an asset Sydney shared: a scorecard.

A scorecard maps out the different levels of Customer Success levels that managers and their direct-reports can use to assess themselves.

It helps your teammates understand what success looks like and what they need to work on to level up, while also allowing the Manager to know where people may be too critical of themselves.

Having a scorecard is also useful when candidates in the interview process ask you "what's the career path for me as a CSM?" When you show them the exact path and how you can help them develop, that makes you a stronger company to any potential hires.

Used wisely, a scorecard can be a powerful retention and recruiting tool that ultimately impacts the customer experience.

Process Before Platform

It's natural for growing teams to want to implement more tools. But, tool bloat is a very big problem that causes information fracture.

As Scott said "If you don't know where your information is, then your tool stack is too complicated."

Try your best to minimize and consolidate the tools you use, but also recognize that a one-size fits all tool does not work very nicely most of the time. At the bare minimum you need what Scott calls a "Grand Central Station." It's a place where anyone can go to get all the information they need for an account.

And most importantly, before deciding that a tool will help you solve your problems, figure out what your process is. If your team does not have a unified process then a tool will not help you be more productive.

Key Takeaways from the Panelists

Wrapping up our panel, Richard asking our amazing speakers to share 1 key takeaway they want the audience to leave with.

"When we think about growth and scaling, one of the things that matter really importantly to us is how you onboard people. Making sure you have a very robust training program that also ladders into a mentorship program is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Ideally you are growing at a pace that requires you to bring on lots of good people. That's the goal right? 'Business is good so we need some new heads!' That's often where you face so many pains. Minimize your growing pains by having a really robust onboarding process that's been tried, tested, and iterated on is one of the best investments."

- Scott Dzialo, Sr. Director of Customer Success, Global Strategic Accounts at Braze
"I'll leave everyone with another CS SaaS acronym. It's Focus-as-a-Service. I think we practice that really well at PandaDoc. Making sure that your business, revenue teams, operations, and finance teams are all connected along the same priorities is such a big deal. Everyone needs to be targeted towards the same goals and actions on solving those."

- Max Davison, Sr. Manager Customer Experience Operations at PandaDoc
"I would be lying if I said I wasn't intimidated by the number of people I'm interviewing that are like 'I want to be a manager!' And my biggest fear is 'Will there be enough opportunity?' The business is growing quickly and that's super exciting but at the same time, I want to set these people up for success, and I want them to be long-time Catalyst employees. And so, I think there's ways I can use my learnings from today's call to see what I can do more creatively from a Player-Coach model."

- Sydney Strader, Head of Customer Success at Catalyst

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