Last week (March 21-22), Totango hosted their annual Customer Success Summit, which brought together leaders who manage Customer Success teams and tech vendors whose software products are used to facilitate customer success strategies. Totango provides customer success management software, which includes user monitoring, alerts about customer health, analytics, nurture campaigns, and BPM tools. Their product is part of a growing practice where B2B companies are focused on making sure their customers are deriving continuous value from their product, to ensure retention, growth and advocacy.
TrustRadius interviewed leaders in Customer Success about the trends and changes they’ve observed in the space, their goals for their own Customer Success teams, and learnings about best practices from their own experience and from conversations at the Summit.
Mark Roberge of HubSpot, David Apple of Typeform, Matt Oxley of Opal Labs, Dan Adika of WalkMe, and Loretta Jones and Megan Roth of Insightly all had different, valuable lessons to share about customer success. Across these conversations, several topics emerged as important considerations as you build and evaluate your own Customer Success strategy:
- Customer Success impacts revenue, and it’s becoming more widely acknowledged that customer success is crucial to the business’s bottom line. (Read more about what Totango has to say about this topic here.)
- There are different metrics of success–product usage, NPS, reviews and sentiment, net churn, increased spend, ROI, etc.–and different technologies to measure and improve these metrics. The metrics you choose to monitor will influence the priorities of your Customer Success team; more sophisticated customer success strategies incorporate a holistic view of a range of different metrics.
- Inter-departmental alignment around customer success is important, but it can be difficult to achieve. The companies we talked to are using things like collaboration tools, surveys, intelligent contact & support ticket workflows, and reviews to align multiple departments around customer success, including Marketing, Sales, Customer Success, and Product.
- Your business model will (and should) affect your customer success strategy, and while customer success is important to any business, it’s particularly relevant for SaaS and freemium offerings, which rely on recurring or incremental revenue.
- A strong customer success program cultivates customer advocacy and leads to customer marketing opportunities. Successful customers are more likely to invest more in the product, and customer success stories provide social proof for prospects.
1. HubSpot (Mark Roberge): SaaS and the Impact of Customer Success on Revenue
Mark Roberge, who built up the foundation of HubSpot‘s Customer Success strategy a few years ago, is now Chief Revenue Officer at HubSpot. He spoke about the journey to his current role during a fireside chat at the Summit, and TrustRadius checked in with him afterwards to find out more about HubSpot’s approach to customer success. Roberge offered his perspective on Customer Success in relation to revenue, and on what drove him to look closer at triggers and metrics of customer success.
To establish the connection between CS and revenue, Roberge posited an inverse effect of SaaS on the revenue responsibility of Sales and Customer Success teams. Roberge explained how the reduced buying friction of a SaaS business model benefits Sales, but requires diligence from Customer Success teams to prevent churn:
“Churn becomes that silent killer, determining success or failure. Cloud technology and SaaS subscriptions have lessened the friction for a customer to get engaged, so sales cycle time and cost of sales has gone down. Revenue is also more predictable, because rather than booking the lifetime value of the customer up front, businesses have recurring revenue month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter through subscription billing. But the big challenge around this is that unless you achieve negative revenue churn at scale, the business is very hard to develop.”
The connection between customer success and the business’s bottom line motivated Roberge to take a data-driven approach to CS, and to start using technology to identify leading indicators of churn risk:
“The other challenge is that churn is such a lagging indicator. From a customer success standpoint, we had to work really hard to figure out leading indicators so that we would know whether we were on the right track, or falling off the tracks, as early as possible. We use software to help identify those leading indicators. Because HubSpot is a SaaS product, there was the potential for have tremendous insight into how often our customers were using our product and what features they were using. We were able to track and analyze that kind of information to determine leading indicators for customer success.
For example, in the early days we saw a strong correlation between log-in rate in the last seven days and long term customer retention. So it was easy for us to develop cohort analysis every seven days, to see when log-in rates fell off and contact those accounts proactively. Another early indicator was whether the customer used more than five features–we found that if they did, it meant they were highly sticky. Tracking feature usages was something a little more tactical that the team could really rally around.”
Once HubSpot was tracking these metrics and generating insights about their product usage data, they were able to identify customer success triggers that were early signs of either churn risk or interest in additional functionality. Roberge’s goal was to use these triggers as the starting point for a predictable yet personal account management process, akin to the formalized ‘sales process’ reps use to move deals through the pipeline to close:
“One of our first goals was to build a predictable process for post-sale activity. It is becoming more and more common for customer acquisition teams to act on pre-sale trigger events like downloads, free trials, etc. These triggers kick off a fairly formalized process that gets tracked and tested within the Sales team’s CRM. I think post-sale activity, and customer success in general, is still trying to figure out that motion.
There are three different outcomes that any Customer Success team is trying to drive: upgrade, renewal, or near-term churn risk. If you’re really disciplined around data analysis, you can start to see very early trigger events that can help you catch the opportunity or risk and nurture it with a series of emails and phone calls catered to that account, as opposed to just touching base with each account every 6 or 12 months. This is a strategic area we’ve been developing, and it’s an area I think the industry needs to continue to grow and mature.”
Roberge emphasized the need for data-driven indicators that kick off a series of personalized touches from Customer Success, strengthening the customer relationship in predictable, scalable ways. Based on Roberge’s experience helping to scale HubSpot, Customer Success is key to sustainable growth. In his view, not only a strong Sales process, but also a strong post-sale Customer Success process, is needed to turn SaaS businesses into predictable revenue machines.
2. TypeForm (David Apple): Defining the Scope of Customer Success in a Freemium Business Model
David Apple is the Head of Customer Success at Typeform, a relatively new online tool for creating forms and surveys. According to Apple, Typeform is “trying to do in forms and surveys what Slack has done with chat.” He introduced Typeform’s goals and product roadmap in a characteristically customer success-centric way, explaining that the team “works on improving the user experience and the user interface, and as a result it’s a better tool that’s more useful for customers.” However, Apple was actually hired as head of Sales, originally. The transition to his new role happened as the executive team quickly realized how important customer success was to driving growth with their freemium business model.
“Our CEOs went to a conference in San Francisco and heard about this trend. They decided that we really needed to focus on Customer Success, because our challenge is not bringing in new customers, it’s retaining them and making them more successful. What drives initial customer acquisition is our product. Our mission is to make asking questions online really easy, really human, and really beautiful. At the bottom of every Typeform it says ‘Powered by Typeform,’ and when our customers use our product successfully, that drives a ton of traffic–it becomes very viral.”
So Apple set to work defining the scope of Customer Success at Typeform. After studying up on best practices, he decided to structure Typeform’s Customer Success department with five distinct pillars: Customer Support, Customer Experience, Education, Account Management, and Sales (which Apple thinks might break off at some point, especially if the company continues at its current break-neck rate of growth). Support, Account Management, and Sales conduct one-to-one interactions with customers, while Customer Experience and Education handle one-to-many interactions with the customer base more broadly.
Customer Experience owns the relationship between Customer Success and Product–Typeform collects customer feedback to inform their product roadmap–while Education owns the relationship between Customer Success and Marketing, particularly with regard to content. (In the future, Typeform’s Help Center will include not only help articles about how to use product features, but also best practices resources designed to help customers be more successful with their own projects–akin to the kinds of material that might be written by content marketers.)
Typeform has a relatively advanced Customer Success strata, and many of their processes, roles, and relationships are well designed. Still, Apple says there are grey areas, especially in those situations where departments work together to achieve shared goals. To some extent, interdepartmental collaboration is challenging at any organization. For Typeform, their freemium business model creates some complexity around determining whether Customer Success or another department, like Sales or Marketing, should be responsible, because the line between “pre-sale” and “post-sale” is fuzzy. Apple explains:
“Drawing the lines of responsibility between departments is a big challenge. I would say we’ve handled it pretty well so far, but it definitely requires communication and compromise. For example, we had to negotiate ownership of onboarding. Marketing owns onboarding for free users, until they convert to paying, when Customer Success takes over. But some users pay the first day they sign up, whereas other users have a free account for a month first. The handoff there is difficult, because the conversion process isn’t always predictable.”
This begs the question–how much should Customer Success be responsible for non-paying users? On the one hand, as Apple described, their continued success is incredibly important to converting them into paying customers, which is the essence of a freemium business model. On the other hand, due to the vast size of the free user pool, it may not make sense to dedicate one-to-one resources to a non-paying account. Typeform uses a range of technologies to automate some pieces of their customer success strategy. This allows them to provide ample support, attention, and help aimed at making all users more successful, without investing intensive account management resources in low value customers.
“We use our own product a lot: for surveys, for customers to submit support tickets, and as an intelligent contact form which routes inbound questions to the right department. We also use Zendesk, Google Drive, WordPress, Trello, Chart Mogul, Stripe, Zapier, and Intercom. Intercom is really useful because it tracks all activities on our platform and allows us to do in-app chat or trigger Marketing Automation campaigns based on user interactions with Typeform. We use that for our onboarding process. Onboarding and training are largely automated, but they’re also intelligent in that the messages we send are based on what customers have (or have not) been doing in the platform.”
Typeform’s customer success strategy continues to be a dynamic, changing plan, which will mature with the growth of the company. For example, Apple said that talking with other Customer Success leaders at the Summit has got him thinking differently about his team’s responsibilities and priorities. Currently, at Typeform renewals and upsells are both owned by Customer Success, specifically the account managers who have relationships with individual customers. Now, though, Apple is reconsidering:
“This conference has inspired me to re-think who should own deal expansion. I attended a couple of talks today where speakers said they think upsells should be owned by Sales instead of Account Managers, who also own renewals, because if you give someone both responsibilities they might focus on one instead of the other. But then another speaker said that if you set the target correctly–net MRR churn should be zero–then Account Managers’ focus is on retention, because that’s the easiest thing to achieve. Only if they lose an account do they try to upsell to make up the difference in their revenue target.
I’m interested in these ideas, but with our scale and our freemium model, I’m not sure we can afford to switch tactics right now. Our current revenue per customer is fairly low, because even our highest self-subscribing plan is only $210/month. I’m building our Sales team right now, but I really need to think more about what’s going to work in the long term.”
Ultimately, what works for some may not work for others, and Apple is spot on when he says the right approach to customer success will depend on your specific business model and the needs of your customers.
3. WalkMe (Dan Adika): Technology, ROI, and the Emerging Trend of Customer Success
Dan Adika is WalkMe’s Co-founder and CEO. WalkMe is an online engagement and guidance platform designed to help improve user experience and reduce online confusion. The technology offers a series of interactive tip balloons that guide users through a particular application or business process with step-by-step instructions. Adika compares the concept to your GPS, which guides you to your destination step by step. Adika describes how the idea for WalkMe came about:
“One of my partners, his mom was constantly calling him about how to do stuff online, especially in the banking system. Like, how do I transfer money? How do I check my balance?, etc. I’m sure a lot of people experienced that. And then he would say, ‘Mom, you see the button on the left? Click it. You see the checkbox, yeah, this one, click it.” etc. etc. And then he thought, why isn’t there something that can show her what to do live as she’s actually doing it? Why does she need to click on ‘Help,’ read an article, watch a video, or call support? Why isn’t there something like when I’m going from here to Palo Alto, I put in the address, click ok, and it shows me what to do? Why isn’t there the same experience for the Web?”
Many WalkMe customers adopt the tool with the goal of reducing customer support tickets. But as a user onboarding tool, WalkMe is a technology that can support customer success programs as well, and thus the company was an exhibitor at the Customer Success Summit, as well as an attendee.
“The companies that come here to look for a customer success solution will see WalkMe as a complementary platform. So, now that I know what users are doing or where they’re having trouble, now what do I do? Do I guide them? Do I show a walkthrough? Do I pop up help? Take them where they need to go? So WalkMe is actually onboarding the user, showing the user and making sure that the user solves the problem.”
Since WalkMe is a new technology concept, Adika says Customer Success is really important for the company, since new customers might not understand all that’s possible with the tool.
“We need to show our users what the potential of the tool is. How far they can take it. How much ROI they can get out of it. It’s not about training them on the tool or telling them how to do it. This is what we have WalkMe for. So our customer success teams usually don’t show the users how to do things, they’re more showing them what they can do.”
The company has a fairly large customer success team — with more than 40 people — for about 1,000 customers. Each CSM is responsible for sitting down with the customer to understand the goals, and then going over how they can achieve results with WalkMe and coming up with ideas.
Ultimately, the sole responsibility of the CSM is to ensure the customer achieves and understands the ROI of WalkMe.
“The way we measure customer success is, can this customer easily see the ROI of WalkMe? Whether it’s increasing engagement, or maybe it’s reducing support calls. Ok, let’s go to the support center and see if we reduced the support 30%. The point is, can we show our customers ROI of what they paid for? This is what Customer Success is measuring. Not if the customer is happy or not. Of course it’s an indicator. But I’d rather my customers be seeing huge ROI, like 10x, 20x, 100x on the money they spend with us, than just be happy. They can be half-happy but see the value. Of course we want both, but at the end of the day, it’s not about we sent a survey and the customer says he’s happy. It’s about, can we show value to the customer?”
In terms of retention vs. cross-sell and upsell, the line between Customer Success and Sales is pretty clear at WalkMe. Customer Success is responsible for retention, and Sales handles upsell and cross-sell opportunities. Customer Success is focused on maintaining existing revenue, and Sales is responsible for new revenue.
“Once Sales has a Closed Won opportunity, the account moves over to the CSM. And the CSM’s sole job is to make the project work and to show the customer ROI. Then, if there is an opportunity for cross-sell or upsell, Sales comes into play. If Customer Success is doing a good job, it will happen naturally. You don’t have to push a happy customer that’s seeing ROI to buy more. I’m talking about proven ROI. ‘We saved you half a million dollars this year.’ ‘Okay, let’s do it in another department.’ It will happen.”
Since WalkMe is also a tool that supports Customer Success initiatives, Adika has a view on Customer Success as a trend. He says Customer Success isn’t necessarily a widespread concept just yet.
“Here in San Francisco you say Customer Success and everyone knows exactly what you mean. I’ve been in other places recently, and I talked with some universities, and they said, ‘What are the top three positions you’re wanting to hire for?,’ and I said Customer Success, and they looked at me, like, what? What is that?”
Typically, those making the decision to purchase WalkMe — i.e., those responsible for the user experience — were from product management, product marketing or customer support. Customer Success is a new role that’s just starting to make technology purchase decisions for products like WalkMe, or is being handed the responsibility for implementation.
4. Opal Labs (Matt Oxley): Interdepartmental Alignment around Customer Success
Matt Oxley is the co-founder and VP of Customer Success at Opal Labs. Opal is an enterprise collaboration platform for multi-channel marketing campaigns. It’s used to manage content assets and get alignment between marketers, departments, and brands and agencies who are working together to create and plan the campaign story.
During the summit, Oxley led a talk about putting a customer success strategy in place from “day 1.” As co-founder of Opal Labs, he’s an expert on starting out with a customer-first mentality. We followed up with him to learn more about how customer success has been a guiding business philosophy for the company. Oxley explained that it permeates every department, from Product to Marketing and Sales:
“To me, true customer success is the intersection between product and customer experience, which overlaps with every department’s goals. In order to truly deliver on the promise, it can’t just be a specialist team who is responsible; everybody has to think through the lens of Customer Success. Our central philosophy is ‘Customer First’: if we put our customers first, we win. Every single department of our business is shaped by this mentality. If we understand our customers’ needs and strategies, we can create a better product. Ultimately, we’re asking for more feedback and we have to field more input, but we’re also building advocacy with our customers, which is heard within the market. It ensures our brand is put forward well.”
Opal uses technology to facilitate some pieces of its customer success strategy, such as monitoring product usage and collecting Net Promoter Scores–these types of software are part of the growing tech market that caters specifically to Customer Success and Advocacy initiatives. (Note that Oxley sees sentiment as even more important than NPS; Opal monitors sentiment through personal conversations between customers and account managers, rather than with technology.) Oxley said he also considers collaboration tools and shared platforms of record to be key to Opal’s interdepartmental customer success strategy.
“We just started using Totango, which helps us understand our customers’ product usage in order to be a bit more proactive. We also use a lot of alignment and collaboration tools, internally. Slack and Salesforce are two we use today, but we’re always looking for more ways we can work together. Our team members need to have the cross-functional capability to be working together, because they can’t be working in silos. In my opinion, this is not just about the right technologies. It’s also about getting the right personalities.”
For Oxley, cross-company alignment around customer success means Opal’s customer-first philosophy shapes everything from recruitment and hiring practices to creative strategies. His view is that customer success should be a shared priority for every Opal employee, throughout the customer lifecycle. According to Oxley, a “them and us” conception of the organization doesn’t work; every team has a stake in and contributes to customer success.
Several presentations at the Summit discussed the relationship between Sales teams and Customer Success teams, particularly around how they contribute to revenue and who should own renewals and upsells; Oxley said this was something Opal is working on as well. Oxley also said the company is driving similar alignment–in terms of goals and content–between Marketing and Customer Success.
“There’s been a lot of talk at this conference about the alignment of Sales and Customer Success teams. That’s a huge facet of our strategy. For example, any job description for a salesperson at Opal will say ‘Sales Human’ as opposed to ‘Sales Representative.’ That’s our customer-first philosophy coming through. We want somebody who can actually relate, who understands the customer. We work together with them from day 1 to create documented account plans and strategies so we all know what success will look like and we can work towards it together, in unison. This goes through all the way to renewal and expansion.
Then, when we market our product we do it through the customer lens. Our story is told through our customers’ successes and opinions. We’re very proud of this. We put a lot of energy and thought into advocacy.”
Syncing up Sales with Customer Success is something many attendees at the Summit have started or are planning to do–it’s being recognized as a vital, early aspect of the business model, especially for SaaS and other subscription products. Aligning Marketing with Customer Success is a somewhat less common but, as Oxley’s enthusiasm suggests, highly promising tactic. Opal is a bit ahead of the curve here; their advocacy program is an example of a relatively mature customer success strategy. Advocacy, sometimes also called Customer Marketing or Social Proof, is starting to gain traction. It is touted by thought leaders as an effective means of building brand reputation and brand loyalty, meanwhile feeding the cycle of customer success.
Oxley recognized that as a discipline, Customer Success is showing increased traction. But, he thinks most companies who are practicing customer success, as well as tech vendors whose solutions support customer success, still have a lot of room to mature. Oxley’s vision of the future of customer success is a sustainable system, a simple loop of product usage, positive customer experience, and revenue that becomes more sophisticated in scale over time. According to Oxley, as Customer Success develops–at Opal and out in the market–it will be important to balance company growth with the scalability of the program.
“Customer success as a category is putting the floorboards down one by one. In terms of organization (having a Customer Success team) and technology, it’s gaining a lot of momentum. But as of yet there is no rule book; there is no one way to do it. You have to take an approach tailored to your customer, your product, and your team. There are so many variables to consider. I don’t think the industry has quite figured out what a mature customer success strategy looks like, but to me sophistication means evolving our program as our business matures to ensure bottom line success paired with satisfaction and continued product usage.”
5. Insightly (Loretta Jones and Megan Roth): Reviews as a Key Channel for Customer Success
Loretta Jones, VP of Marketing at Insightly, and Megan Roth, Marketing Manager, presented on a panel with Vinay Bhagat, CEO TrustRadius at the Summit, about the role of reviews in the relationship between Marketing and Customer Success. Reviews, they said, open the channels of communication and help align multiple departments around customer feedback. Insightly is a freemium online CRM that includes Sales Intelligence and pipeline tracking features, project management features, and integrations to a variety of accounting, billing, email marketing, marketing automation, document management, eSignature, and Calendar applications.
Jones and Roth described the strategic value of reviews for a transactional business with a large user base. Reviews provide Insightly with a method of communicating with customers that is both authentic and scalable:
“To give you a little bit of context, we have a freemium business model so most of our business is transactional. We have about million users, and our huge user base is part of the reason reviews are really important to us. For us reviews are like a digital word of mouth. It’s a way to engage with our customers and have them give us frank feedback on what they think about the product and what their user experience was.”
According to Jones and Roth, opening this channel for feedback allows Insightly to gauge customer success and identify problem areas. They said that using a public third-party platform (TrustRadius) to gather and display reviews makes the content more trustworthy, because they’ve found customers are more likely to share candid concerns:
“The other reason our review program is valuable for us is that we collect reviews through a neutral third party. Our users feel more relaxed and at ease to say what they really think.”
Insightly also syndicates the content to their own website, via a widget provided by TrustRadius. The review content displayed on the widget is updated dynamically as new reviews come in and older reviews are updated. This is an example of semi-automated advocacy: Insightly leverages customer voices, in the form of review excerpts, to provide social proof to prospects.
“We use the review widget on our website. It has gotten to the point that the reviews are a living, breathing document, like a customer journal. We have also included the reviews in some of our Marketing nurture emails.”
Some companies are wary about live content streams and unmoderated feedback, preferring to stick with curated case studies because they fear that negative reviews could damage conversion. Insightly disagrees, saying that their users appreciate the honest dialogue and that all feedback is productive towards the goal of making customers more successful.
“Obviously we are thrilled when we get positive reviews, but when we get negative reviews it’s a learning experience—because we can take that information to the Customer Success team, or to the Product or Engineering team. We look at what our users are saying online in a public forum, and decide together how we need to address the issue.”
Situations where Insightly’s Product team gets involved, either to triage a bug or to incorporate feedback into new product releases, are examples of a more resource-intensive effort. However, sometimes there is a quicker fix that does not require engineering resources. For example, by responding to negative review sentiment with educational campaigns, Insightly has been able to make customers more successful.
“Sometime a negative review is based on a feature that the user wishes we had—and that in fact we do have in the product, but the user is not aware of its existence. This tells us we need to do an educational campaign on this feature.”
Depending on the issue, different departments may be involved in resolving specific feedback from reviews. But as a general practice, reviews enable interdepartmental conversation and action around customer success.
“Marketing, Customer Success, and Sales are working hand in hand. It used to be that Marketing and Sales were joined at the hip, but now I think it’s a threesome. Product is sometimes involved as well. Getting a good collection of views on your customers transcends all different departments in your organization. The more evidence we have, the more we can influence internal decisions such as product roadmap.”
Having a robust, up-to-date pulse on customer feedback is important to Insightly, so they are building reviews into their account management process. Rather than staging a one-time review campaign, Insightly is starting to ask customers to write reviews as part of the standard Customer Success workflow.
“As we grow, we plan to partner more with our Customer Success team. They have one-on-ones with accounts that have over 5 users. At the end of each one-on-one the customer is asked to complete a survey so that we know if we’ve answered all of their questions. We are going to use that opportunity to ask customers to write a review.”
Insightly determined that these meetings were one of the most substantive points of engagement, and thus a natural time to collect feedback. Now, Insightly is beginning to formalize review asks/responses to reviews as part of their routine customer relationship management and customer success programs.
“Consistency is key. We want to have that ongoing dialogue with our customers. We firmly believe that we’d rather have someone telling us that they don’t like our product than have someone not telling us anything at all. In our business the customers we don’t hear anything about are the ones that are at risk to churn, so we would rather have them engaged—even negatively—and see if we can turn them around.”
Whereas usage metrics are a quantitative indicator of customer success that can be collected passively, reviews are a more active, qualitative indicator. They require more effort on the part of customers, but Jones and Roth see this as a benefit rather than a cost. In Insightly’s experience, opening the channel for feedback and enabling that review dialogue gets customers and different departments more engaged more regularly, which Jones and Roth say is a big step towards making customers more successful.