Customer success is not some hero team, connecting all the dots instantly while travelling to see clients in exotic places.
The key to customer success is relationship building—all automations, playbooks, plans, etc. need to be in service of that end goal.
Part of building a team means doing a skills assessment of every individual and then allowing them to gravitate to their natural strengths.
Asking direct questions is a critical skill for CSMs to learn, but they have to ask in a way that the person being asked understands why the question is necessary.
Growing a CSM team is a difficult task if your only approach is to “hire the best.” The reality is a little more fluid, or, elastic than that. Graham Gill, CCO at Precursive, has seen this happen time and again in his 15+ year career. In this CHATalyst interview, Graham shared more about how he builds his teams for elasticity rather than simply raw power or hustle.
Can you share more about your experience in CS team building?
I’ve been growing teams, both pre- and post-sales, for over 15 years. But I gravitated toward customer success and the post-sales experience because I loved getting to build relationships with customers. Plus, customer success lends itself to long-term sales anchored in learning, rather than one-off hustle.
Now I’m the CCO and General Manager of Precursive, a services automation platform native to Salesforce. My role involves three tasks: scaling the organization as an executive, owning post-sales delivery, and the overall customer experience.
How do you balance all the demands placed on the CS team?
I think it starts with acknowledging the reality that customer success is not some hero team, connecting all the dots instantly while travelling to see clients in exotic places.
The reality is that customer success deals with friction on a regular basis—from product teams, from sales, and from customers themselves. It’s a near-constant battle if you don’t have your processes in order.
You’re getting your teeth kicked in constantly. So balance comes from recognizing that and finding your elasticity within it.
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What does it mean to be “elastic” with the CS team?
Being elastic is about building both overall team and individual strengths so that any weaknesses in one person are covered by another. This is accomplished through coaching, ongoing education, and mentorship.
As a leader, to create elasticity in your team you need to be elastic in how you handle them. This means looking at your individual team members holistically—all the things they are good at or might want to try, not just the work they do on a daily basis—and seeing how the team might fit together.
For example, if you have a CSM with a large book of business who is handling it well despite pressures, it might be tempting to give them even more accounts to handle. However, their skills suggest they might be a good CS operations person in the future, meaning you can scale out their impact to strengthen the whole team rather than just have one person hustling harder.
There’s also the other side of this, which is allowing people to gravitate toward where they want to be. If that example CSM loved working directly with clients and absolutely detested operations, moving them into that role might not be the best use of their energies.
To get through this analysis—understanding your whole team as individuals and as a unit—run a SWOT analysis on each CSM. Then step back to put the pieces together, almost like a puzzle, based on what you know the team needs to accomplish.
From there, I’m a strong believer in thinking mid-term only, as in what you’re doing today and your immediate next step. The long-term evolves as you go, so while it’s a good idea to think about it a little, don’t spend much energy on it. For instance, if you pivot, evolve, or change your ICP, all long-term plans go out the window (and along with it, all of your effort to create them). That time is better spent thinking about how to properly support clients today and then the next step to make it even better. That’s it.
How do you know when your team is “elastic”?
Elasticity is hard to pinpoint, but there’s a clear moment: it should be hard for a client to break up with you. It should be painful for them.
That doesn’t mean churn won’t happen (it always will at some level). Instead, it means that you provided flexible, great service that played to every CSM’s strengths in such a way that the client is torn about cancelling the contract.
The key leading indicator of this outcome is client honesty. If things aren’t going well, do they tell you sincerely? Do they share the risks of churn with your team ahead of time, or are churn notices coming seemingly from nowhere?
It’s worth noting that your CSMs can preempt and manually create this honesty—but they have to ask. We seem at times afraid to ask questions because we don’t want to come off as nosy. But there is no bad question if you have a good relationship. It’s not about being nosy, but asking your question in a way that the receiver understands why you’re asking.
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