Dave Kellogg wrote a solid post about the three types of Customer Success Managers. Contrasting them as product-oriented, process-oriented or sales-oriented, it’s a much-needed primer at a time where the vocation of Customer Success is still nascent.
Dave’s post got me thinking that there is also a need to contrast happy time vs war time CS leaders. During happy times, the evolution for CS through various growth stages looks somewhat linear. Tomasz Tunguz of Redpoint Ventures has a great post on building what he calls a performant CS org that illustrates methodical evolution. But as Mike Tyson astutely said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. And when you do get punched in the mouth, you need a war time CS leader.
I know you’re thinking that a growing business gets punched in the mouth every day. But in a literal sense, a punch in the mouth comes in various forms: a pivot, an unexpected change in market dynamics, mismanaged cash, or your next scaling up act that will put significant pressure on team culture and resource allocation.
Look for these 5 undertones to make sure that your CS leader can take the reins during wartime:
A Wartime CS leader knows how to be brothers-in-arms with your Sales Leader: During wartime, chances are that you have an even leaner engineering team relative to what needs to be built. Every sprint, you’re making near binary choices between innovation and customer requests, or between revenue preservation from the old product and steep growth to prove out the new strategy. With limited resources, Sales or CS will have to sit it out for a given sprint. Does your CS leader have the gravitas to stand up to Sales and put customer’s requests first? Conversely, can she take one for the team and have the stomach to work with customers on a slightly longer time horizon?
Wartime CS leaders know how to-be-bandits in arms with your sales leader: New ARR is hard to come by as you’re pivoting. And cash is king. Can your CS leader put on his sales hat to find upsells or expansion ARR dollars to make the number? Or is he secure enough to let sales come into his accounts to find ARR? Your Sales and CS leaders need to be bandits-in-arms to make the quarter. To make many, many quarters.
Wartime CS leaders need to rally engineering from the front: I’m generalizing but engineers want to build growth-focused features over incremental enhancements. Can this CS leader exude the executive presence and show a direct line between incremental features and cash preservation? Too many engineers have been burned building “this one feature will save the account”, only to learn that the customer left anyway.
Wartime CS leaders can spin up a steak dinner on short notice: Can she build and cash in on executive relationships at a time when customers might be uneasy? Every new renewal adds compounded weight to the hypothesis behind the turnaround. Every additional executive showing up at your event shows return to stability. Does she have the right personality to get 4 VPs on the phone when you need them to come through for you as references?
Wartime CS leaders have a ridiculously high EQ: “Emotional Intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ), is defined as an individual’s ability to identify, evaluate, control, and express emotions.” All CS leaders need to be good at this. During war time though negotiating with sales and engineering during a time of even more scarcity is hard. You’re seriously screwed if he or she comes to work wanting to be loved by everyone. Every single day is a negotiation and a tradeoff. It should be respectful but make no mistake: It is a mud fight.
If you are a CEO, look forward 24 months and hire / retain accordingly. If you are a CS leader, be clear about whether you can be an effective wartime leader. Or if you even want to be one.
(Cross-posted @ Pretzel Logic)