This is non-negotiable: CS leaders need the CFO on their side. As the ones who manage the budget, their approval could mean:
- More headcount, including partners like CS Operations and Customer Marketing
- Technology to standardize and scale team efforts
- Scaled self-service resources like a Customer Community
- Enhanced implementation and onboarding processes
- Team retreats, events and other culture-building activities
Think about the possibilities!
However, Customer Success is often misunderstood, and your financial counterparts probably have doubts about the return on these investments. Part of your job as a CS leader is to identify and clarify these misunderstandings.
To help you get started, we’re breaking down the three most common CFO misunderstandings below, including advice on how to counter them.
Misunderstanding #1: “Customer Success is the same as customer Support.”
Even as more businesses invest in a formal CS team, there’s still a stubbornly persistent image of CS as a call center.
However, the ticket-resolution-type of work your Support team handles and the customer adoption and advocacy a CSM builds are completely different. As a CS leader, you have an opportunity to differentiate these two functions—and recast the vision for Customer Success at your company.
How to counter: Preach as often as possible that CS is a strategic, proactive function. To do so, we recommend sharing success stories across the company, for example:
- Create a dedicated Slack channel for sharing Customer Success wins across the company to build understanding, buy-in and excitement towards your impact.
- Present your impact frequently on leadership meetings - download our Best Deck for CS Leaders in the Boardroom for a great template to get started.
In addition, always ensuring the differences (and benefits) of both Success and Support are made clear:
- Support specialists are focused on break-fix needs: They handle technical questions and needs, such as helping customers troubleshoot issues.
- Customer Success managers are the heartbeat to your recurring revenue: If no one is prompting customers to use your product well, customers will naturally churn. CSMs listen to and learn from customers’ experiences, helping them get the most value from their products and services. Don’t let your Finance counterparts undermine the critical foundation CS builds for customers to really use your product.
Misunderstanding #2: “Customer Success is not a core business function”
Although the spotlight on CS is growing in this economy, the value of the function—helping customers get the most value from what they’ve purchased—is often left to too much interpretation.
Whether your company just started an official CS team or has had a dedicated function for years, executives likely carried out CS responsibilities long before the team was stood up. At the end of the day, every business relies on product/market fit to survive. To do this right, you must be in touch with your customer’s needs and be able to clearly articulate (and increase) your value overtime—especially in a market where alternatives are so readily available. Viewing CS as a CS ‘nice to have’ is like saying your product/market fit is not fundamental to the business.
How to counter: Highlight the hidden history of CS in your business. To win over the skeptics, come up with answers to questions like:
- How did your founders prioritize their first few customers’ success?
- How did your offerings develop to better meet their needs and requests?
- Before the company established the CS team, how did customers submit feedback?
- Who helped renew your first contract? Do you remember how critical and exciting that milestone was?
Misunderstanding #3: “Customer Success is a cost center.”
This one’s brutal and, candidly, so wrong. In the past, traditional Customer Success metrics, like health scores or net promoter scores (NPS) didn’t translate into dollars. So of course, CFOs didn’t care whether or not their customer health score changed five points because they couldn’t directly tie that value to churn risk or upsell potential. Keeping costs low, however, did matter to CFOs of the past (and present). And when the only financial numbers tied to the CS team were costs, that’s all a CFO could see.
How to counter: Customer Success is a revenue engine—and a much more efficient one than sales thanks to renewals, upsells, and cross-sells. As a CS leader, position it as such. Present your wins the way the sales team presents their quarterly progress and bottom line metrics. Check out our Definitive Guide to Customer-Led Growth to shape your growth story.
In addition, providing concrete data in a structured way, using templates, metrics, and forecasts. You might say, “We reduced churn by 12% this quarter which means retaining $X million that otherwise would’ve been lost.” Or, “We closed expansion opportunities for 25% of customers, generating an additional $X million for the business.” We’ll dive deeper into this below.
More on this covered below 👇
Mistakes to avoid when you’re building a partnership with Finance
Speaking the same language as your CFO goes beyond simply using the same words. It’s about adopting the Finance team’s mindset, working within their processes, and fighting the same battles. Here we look at the most common mistakes people make when working with CFOs—and offer alternative ways to build a healthy partnership.
Mistake: Not knowing your numbers
CS leaders come from diverse academic and professional backgrounds. Whether or not yours includes 300-level coursework in economics, getting on a call with the CFO might feel intimidating. Pushing back on a proposed budget or advocating for your team might feel even more formidable.
The good news: working in numbers can be quite simple. Once you know how you’re performing, it’s a matter of reporting on those metrics to build trust among your financial counterparts.
1 - Define your metrics
Even within the same company, teams may calculate and monitor metrics differently. Confirm that how you track your revenue metrics aligns with how the CFO does. Clarifying these measures on the front end prevents misunderstandings later.
Check out Catalyst’s Mastering SaaS Metrics: Game Changing Guide for CS Leaders and download our SaaS Metrics Cheat Sheet to get started.
2 - Sum up your value
Once you have your metrics, a simple and effective way to start advocating for yourself is by preparing a brief CFO-ready elevator pitch. Remember, speaking in numbers doesn’t need to be complicated. And, as soon as you start quantifying your efforts, Finance may contribute more insights—and empathy—than you expect, too.
Develop a snappy, three-sentence elevator pitch on the value of Customer Success. These sentences will be the drum you beat in every meeting.
3- Tie your team’s efforts to the bottom line
As you start diving into details, always remember to tie back efforts to dollars. When sharing anecdotes, health scores and satisfaction scores—keep it brief and tied to revenue numbers.
For example, if you want to escalate a persisting product issue at a customer account, keep it brief and focused on the downstream impact of similar customers dealing with this. Sample script: “if an additional five mid-market customers become impacted, we are looking at a potential $1.5M loss in revenue.”
4 - Lead with revenue metrics
Lead your conversations with the metrics that speak loudest to them (i.e., revenue), and then provide traditional customer health metrics for context if needed.
By prioritizing revenue metrics, you make it easier for the CFO to say yes—or at least to work through more substantial questions than, “Can you explain this metric to me again?”
Mistake: Undervaluing the Finance team
You’ve probably heard the complaints from your CSMs: They feel undervalued in the company and stretched too thin. But here’s the thing: Your company’s Finance team likely feels the same. Just like CS, your internal financial experts are often underutilized, pulled in only when someone needs money or has a crisis.
1 - Figure out how to support their priorities
In matrixed organizations, each team usually ladders its goals up to the company’s wider vision. It’s less common for teams to tie their objectives together—but this can deepen ties across departments.
Ask Finance what their priorities are and how they measure them. Then, when setting your team’s goals, tie them to those same metrics. Your success is theirs—and vice versa.
2 - Loop Finance in early and often
If Finance and Customer Success have one thing in common, it’s this: they’re often looped in too late to have a meaningful impact.
As a CS leader, pull your Finance team into your strategic planning early. Most Finance folks want to help you make strategic decisions—it’s unlikely they want to be the budget police and nothing more. Looping them in strengthens your partnership.
3 - Set up a shared staffing model
Finance teams excel at proactive headcount planning. As your team scales, their support becomes invaluable.
Avoid coming to Finance with reactive personnel requests—e.g., “Hey, my team’s feeling burnt out,” or “We have more customers and need more CSMs.” Instead, ask them to help you build a predictive model based on an ideal ratio of CSMs per customer. That way, you and Finance both know when the CS team needs an additional employee. You can hire based on data, not feeling—and you may even get faster approval for the extra headcount.
Mistake: Not taking your communication strategy seriously
As a CS leader, you’re likely a natural communicator, a skilled listener, and an empathetic conversation partner. You may have never had to identify explicit communication strategies across departments (beyond just honing talking points). But put in a little extra thought here, and your partnership-building efforts across the company will skyrocket.
1 - Invite Finance team leaders into your daily process
Though the typical CFO has strong visibility into sales, they probably don’t have the sightlines you do into expansion and renewal.
As a CS leader, you know that customers often come up with the best expansion opportunities for your product. You can also tell when pricing structures have become too complicated for the average buyer to understand. Insights like these improve financial forecasts, and sharing them showcases CS’s value.
2 - Tap Finance for creative problem-solving (we mean it!)
Your CS team is the filter for customer needs, frustrations, and requests—meaning they can probably sense impending churn. Your Finance counterparts are excellent, if unexpected, partners in keeping customers happy and increasing renewals.
Here’s how you could start this conversation: “We’re noticing that people are losing budgets. How do we keep these customers to get ahead of a massive churn problem? What financial levers can we pull to minimize losses?”
3 - Immerse yourself in their technology
In large organizations, each team has its own tools and workflows. While most enterprises make this work, they end up with departmental silos and inefficient processes.
To strengthen your partnership with Finance, ask what tools they use most. For instance, does Finance manage their workload and projects in ClickUp? Make sure your processes are tracked in this system, too. Do they use Tableau for reporting? If it makes sense for your team, switch tools and integrate your data.
The bottom line: Embed CS metrics and processes into Finance’s preferred platforms. It makes future collaboration easier and more intuitive.
Flip the script to prove your post-sales value
Customer Success is a powerful player in a company’s business model, whether your top leadership recognizes it yet or not. At Catalyst, we partner with CS teams to identify and organize their most captivating metrics so that financial leaders pay attention.
The leading analytics platform Heap, for example, forecasts renewals and churn with 95% accuracy, thanks to better health scoring in Catalyst.
Whatever your specific CS challenge may be, you’re invited to steal the advice in this article to better position your team for recognition and investment from your CFO and Finance teammates.
Are you trying to make the case for Catalyst with your CFO? We’d love to meet you and learn more about your specific situation. Book some time with us today.