The Secrets of Success as a Solo CS Team

Ellie Hutton
Director of Customer Success

Interview Highlights:

  • Being a solo one-person team means you have to wear many hats, including those for unfamiliar roles. But you also have the opportunity to affect how the product is built and build the foundations for scale.
  • Accept that you won’t be able to do everything. Try to balance reactive work with longer-term strategic planning.
  • Speak to people who have recently been in a similar situation to get advice on how to deal with the challenges.

I'm Ellie Hutton. I'm the Director of Customer Success at Dooly. I have a background in customer success, customer marketing, marketing research, and insight communities. When I started at Dooly two years ago, I was the only customer success person. There were ten people in the whole company, mostly engineers. Today we have a lovely team, and we're almost 70 people across the company. Growth has been substantial, and most of that came in 2021.

What challenges did you encounter while running CS solo?

There were a number of challenges. Day-to-day there was a lot of whack-a-mole and a lot of human duct taping. There were only 10 people in the company, and most of those folks were engineers. So we didn't have product management, product marketing, a sales team, or finance and billing. There were lots of gaps to fill and jobs to be done, and I ended up doing many of them.

Because we didn’t have a product manager, our design lead and myself spent a lot of time talking about the voice of the customer and gathering feedback and user insights. This helped inform the product roadmap and ensured everyone had huge empathy for our users. We also didn't have product marketing, so product release communications, enablement content, and personas were things we took on too  

What were the benefits of starting small?

Being small made it a lot easier to build a business that's centered around the customer. We didn’t have to fight against something that's already built. Because we've always been very user-centric, we “Grok” sales. That means we intuitively understand and have big empathy for the people we build Dooly for. Our product has strong user-first foundations, so we have a product-market fit that is getting better all the time. 

 Marketing is building a brand and movement that reaches the right audience with the right message at the right time. And our sales team never sells “off book” because they don’t have to—our product just works. 

These things make life easier for customer success. There aren’t any product gaps to fill and we’re able to fulfill the expectations and business outcomes our customers are looking for.

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As a solo team, there must have been many demands on your time. How did you prioritize tasks?

Every day was different. I knew I couldn’t do all of the things that needed to be done. I also knew there were tasks that had to be done and things I had to build for us to scale. So I tried to balance those activities. 

Renewals

Dealing with renewals was one of the essential tasks. One of the first things I did was audit all of our accounts and track down all their contracts so I could manage renewals effectively. Invoicing and onboarding users as they signed up were really important  too. 

Urgent reactive tasks

I also had to prioritize a lot of reactive things. If I received an email or a support ticket, I had to answer it because I was the only person who could. 

Strategic, long-term tasks

I did strategic, forward-thinking work whenever I had the available time. I started building out more digital CS. We used Intercom to build a welcome sequence that was tailored to customers based on their role. It included a welcome message from our CEO, a second-day message from me that explained how to use Dooly, and then further best practices.

Advocacy and Voice of the customer 

The final priority was advocacy for marketing to help fuel the acquisition engine and to connect the dots between voice of customer and R&D to help prioritize the product road map

One of the main things we did was focus on G2 reviews. We measured NPS first and then asked the promoters to leave a review. This has really paid off for us as Dooly is now the #6 Fastest-Growing Product on G2’s 2022 Best Software Awards

What compromises did you make during your one-person stint?

When I came in we already had a book of business. So I introduced myself to our customers and asked to set up a call to discuss plans and priorities. Some people wrote back and some didn't. My compromise was that I left the ones who ghosted me alone. I decided to focus on the people who were engaged. 

I also had to compromise by putting aside strategic work when things were too busy. Some weeks, we would have almost zero support tickets, but at other times I would spend days dealing with tickets. You could never predict when a week was going to be busy or quiet. That was hard because I was helping to put out fires, but I wasn't getting to do strategic work. 

Do you have recommendations for people flying solo?

If you’re at a startup, my recommendation is to push for product marketing as early as you can. In my mind, the customer is the starting place, and product marketing's responsibility is to understand the customer and then inform the rest of the business of their needs.

A pain that I hear from many CS folks is that the business doesn't recognize what CS actually does. They have to duct tape all of the broken pieces while explaining that these problems aren’t their fault because they inherited the issues. So you either need product marketing or customer success needs to fill that gap.

Getting CS Ops in place early, or at least prioritizing the jobs to be done within the team that you do have is also critical. Data, tech stack, optimizing workflow, and lots more is critical to get sorted early to help you scale.

Do you have any final suggestions or recommendations?

My final recommendation for folks flying solo is to remember that you are not alone. Find people who have done it before and make them your buddy. Find someone who has gotten to the place where you want to get to, but also find someone who's just a step ahead of where you are. 

If they're just a step ahead, they're much closer to the place you're in. They will be able to help you tactically and offer specific advice. They'll understand the pain and they will be able to empathize and give you more ideas and expertise than somebody who's already arrived.

About 
Dooly

Dooly is on a mission to end the pesky manual data entry and updates that can drive sales professionals crazy by automatically syncing meeting notes and comments to the right task, record or activity. Dooly is revolutionizing the note taking experience, and freeing up salespeople's time so they can spend it doing what they love: selling. For more information on Dooly, visit https://www.dooly.ai/.

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