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Board Presentation Secrets That Bring CS To The Spotlight - Advice from a Top VC

Discover how CS Leaders can make a killer impression on the board of directors.
Patrick Icasas
February 16, 2022
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Customer Success (CS) leaders are already being invited into the boardroom to have high-level, high-impact discussions with board members about the growth of the company. While this is a great first step, we posit that CS needs to be the focus of boardroom conversations if the business wants to grow. 

The following insights will prepare CS leaders (both current and aspiring) to have these conversations in a way that makes them shine in the spotlight and  make such a powerful impression that their section will be the part that board members look forward to most in future meetings.

Vas Natarajan, Partner at venture capitalist firm Accel, knows the value of giving CS a seat at the table. 

“Customer success is still in its infancy. It's only been eight to 10 years of defining customer success and building that practice,” Vas explains. “Yet 30% of one of the most important business conversations we have [with the board] throughout the year is actually dedicated to customer success.”

Here are some key words of wisdom from Vas for CS leaders who want to wow board members and demonstrate their incredible value to the organization:

1. Clearly articulate metrics and business goals that align to company strategy

In board meetings, CS leaders are required to present performance metrics for their department, just like all the other department heads. 

CS leaders should take this presentation as an opportunity to prove they’re the right person for the job and that customer success is where the majority of the company’s focus needs to be. “It’s a great opportunity to show how you’re actually setting up the systems and the processes to gather, analyze, and take action on this data,” Vas says. “A lot of first time CS leaders present without the requisite data in their hands.”

But the board doesn’t just want raw information: any junior employee can read off a slide. They want to see that the CS leader has a deeper understanding of the metrics - picked apart and analyzed through different lenses and perspectives. 

“I love when our Heads of CS break [information] out by segment, because retention looks different based on the type of customer you're serving; whether it's an SMB customer, a mid-market customer, an enterprise customer.”

Vas goes on to emphasize the importance of making sure that CS leaders tag their accounts with the requisite churn analysis and loss analysis data, so that the board can have a rich composite view of what happened in previous quarters, and can therefore evaluate the current situation properly. 

In addition to being able to analyze the past, Vas points out that CS leaders need to look to the future. 

“It's really important that our CS leaders are able to prognosticate and forecast what they expect to happen because they have such an intuitive sense of what's happening on the ground. We want to know that a great customer success leader is able to forecast within 5%to 10% of their gross and net revenue retention (NRR) numbers for the following quarter.”

When a board member looks at a CS leader, they want to see someone who can analyze, communicate, and lead all at the same time. They want someone that can make data-driven recommendations and sell them to the board. 

“Having a student's mind of the algebra behind the CS function, and being able to express that to the board again, is all in service of giving your board members a lot of assurance and faith that you are on top of the key levers of what drives this function.”

Quick Tips:

  • Present clear data and metrics that are aligned with company goals
  • Break customer data out by segments
  • Make sure you forecast NRR accurately for the upcoming quarter

2. Ensure the voice of the customer is heard

It is the CS leader’s job to ensure that the customer is properly represented in board meetings. Not just in terms of usage metrics and dollar amounts, but in terms of bringing customer success to the center.

“I can't emphasize this enough,” Vas stresses, “but injecting the voice of the customer into the conversation is important. We as a board lean on our CS leaders to give us real-time up-to-the-minute content and feedback on how our customers are getting value from our products. And the more you can overlay those quantitative slides with qualitative customer case studies, walking through all of the key accounts and how they're trending with our product over time, the better. That is super valuable content that we arguably don't get from other presentations throughout our board meeting.”

This representation goes beyond simply relaying feedback. It also means standing up for the customer and their needs. 

Vas shares, “We need a CS leader to represent the voice of the customer, but also to advocate for the customer. At the end of that board meeting, we want to hear whether there are product gaps that our customers are still waiting on. That gives us the fuel to allocate more resources to product and engineering, so that we can fill the product gaps that CS hears about. Or maybe our customer accounts aren't the right types of accounts that we can actually make successful.”

Board members also want CS leaders to contribute to inter-departmental discussions so that the company as a whole stays customer-centric. 

Take sales and marketing, for example. Vas asks, “How do we get marketing and sales reoriented around the right segments of the market, so that we're actually handing off the right accounts to CS? If CS is injecting the voice of the customer and advocating for the customer in that boardroom, then that conversation becomes easier.” 

Quick Tips:

  • Include a mix of quantitative and qualitative data
  • Show how key accounts are trending over time
  • Highlight key product gaps & opportunities for growth

3. Present headcount plans connected to the right coverage ratio

Scaling customer success is a major part of the CS leader’s responsibility, but it’s a tricky tightrope to walk - and the board knows it. 

“As a board member,” Vas says, “I want to know that our CS leader is building the CS team. I don't expect our CS leader to do CS. I expect him or her to build the engine to do CS.”

But this engine has to be built at a manageable pace. If you grow the CS team too fast, the team will become bloated. If you grow the team too slowly, the CS team will overextend itself and quality of service will suffer. 

This is a challenge that Vas has seen play out many times before. “One of the failure patterns you often see is when all accounts are getting CSM attention. That's not going to scale. It's nice to have as we're building the early portfolio of our customers, and we're hoping that everyone is getting to that point of success and that point of indispensability, sure. Early days, maybe everyone is getting some partial attention from customer success. But over time, the board wants to know that we're segmenting our accounts based on who's getting specific CSM attention versus who is not.”

A good CS leader will be able to make that determination and think about long-term customer retention costs. Finding and maintaining the right ratios of CSMs to AEs to SDRs over time will instill confidence in the board that the customer success department is on the right growth track. 

Quick tips:

  • The board wants to see the CS leader building the org, not doing CS themselves
  • Not every account should be getting a named CSM (for the most part)
  • Department growth is critical but if it’s done too quickly, quality of service suffers, which leads to churn

4. Build realistic plans for automation and self-help

As mentioned previously, it’s important to the board that the customer success department grows in a manageable fashion - not too fast, and not too slow. But if only select accounts are going to be assigned their own dedicated CSM, how will tech-touch customers be supported?

“One of the pitfalls you sometimes see with CS leaders who are just starting to present is: they present their plans as if it's a bit of a fiefdom. They say they’re going to scale CS in perpetuity and add lots of headcount and lots of process.”

That isn’t good for the business, no matter how effective it is. It would drastically raise the customer retention cost and reduce the customer success department’s efficiency. Board members want the CS leader to present appropriate strategies for managing both high-touch customers and tech-touch customers. 

“We'd love to understand your plans for automation,” says Vas. “What are other things that we can do to build or leverage into the CS function so that, as we scale the company over time, we don't necessarily have to linearly scale our CS function as well?” 

CS leaders would do well to draft and present different plans and solutions for creating self-serve and self-succeed resources such as documentation, digital adoption platforms, email sequences, and customer communities.

“We want the CS leader to think about how we're going to elegantly scale customer success. How can we start to remove more humans from the equation over time?”

Quick Tips:

  • Infinite hiring is not a solution for scaling CS
  • Present plans for tech touch motions and automation that won’t sacrifice quality of service
  • Leverage other tools and technologies that empower customers to self-serve

In conclusion

Customer success is now a central topic at every board meeting, which means effective and knowledgeable CS leaders are indispensable and have the opportunity to shine at every meeting. .. 

“Customer success to me captures the most holistic view of a company and its customers,” explains Vas. “You not only think about how we bring customers into the fold and how we onboard customers, you also think about how we deliver recurring value to them, how we retain them, how we expand them...that is a 360-degree view of how a company delivers value to customers. And there is no other function in the organization that has such a holistic all-encompassing view.”

By following the above strategies and tactics, CS leaders can  make CS the central focus of future board meetings, and by coming prepared  with deep insights and well-considered plans and projections, customer success can help steer the company strategy in such a way that the customer is always the first consideration, and CS is at the center of the org.

This article was inspired by Vas’ presentation at the CS at the Center Summit. Click here to view the full recording of his presentation, and to see more from other prominent CS leaders.

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