Why Customer Success Professionals Make the Best Leaders

March 11, 2016 Andrew Rhodes

Why Customer Success Professionals Make the Best Leaders

As an evangelist for Customer Success, it’s in my nature to be curious. Learning the Why, How, and What of this dynamic discipline is vital, but the more I learned the more I realized there was something much deeper at stake. I started to realize that many of the most important characteristics of effective Customer Success teams are not unique: they’ve already been discussed in relation to other business functions. Yet what I found most surprising, was the incredible potential for Customer Success to produce lasting change throughout an organization using these same qualities.

As it turns out, these qualities are the same ones that describe great Leaders.

Technology is changing faster than ever, yet one of the major shifts in recent years has been in how we create and present value to our customers – and how we sustain it. I’m speaking of the change to a subscription economy, where our success and that of our customers depends upon their continuous use of our product. This shift has created the urgent need for Customer Success, yet when we look more closely at the best of the best we see a compelling picture of great Leaders.

It’s my firm conviction that the next generation of great Leaders will emerge from Customer Success. Specifically, I’d like to examine two key traits that show clear parallels between Customer Success and executive Leadership:

A Strategic Mindset

The best Customer Success Managers don't allow themselves to get bogged down in the day to day minutiae of each account. They step back and look at the big picture: “How are my Customer's immediate problems preventing them from achieving their long-term goals?” We need to think strategically of all the ways our solution or service affects our Customer’s ability to achieve their business goals. We cannot do this by putting out fires, and we cannot do this by embracing the status quo. As Customer Success Managers, remember that we're not here to apply bandages to wounds: We're here to restore sight to the blind.

The parallels to a great leader are immediately obvious. Experienced CEOs and other executives realize not only that all their actions have far-reaching effects, but that the only way they can create forward momentum within their organization is to keep their eyes on inspiring, audacious goals. The best leaders realize that only when they serve a purpose greater than themselves can they hope to create exponential results for everyone in the company, their customers, their vendors, and everyone affected by their brand.

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A Strong Preference for Being Proactive

Any Customer Success Manager who wants the best for their clients must constantly be asking themselves the following questions: "What will matter most to my customer in 1 month? 3 months? 6 months? How can I help them achieve it?” and “What can I do today that will make my Customer look like a Rockstar by the end of the year?” Yet nowhere is a proactive attitude more important than in discussions of churn. You hear a lot about Customer Success being responsible for preventing churn, but the true value of Customer Success goes far beyond this. The main goal of Customer Success is to create an environment in which churn becomes impossible. That means working closely with your sales team to make sure they're not signing customers that aren't a good fit. That means understanding your customer's business model well enough that you can suggest solutions to challenges that might have nothing to do with your product. Great Customer Success Managers, as well as great Customer Success teams, are always living 1, 3, and 6 months in the future. They’re great because they’ve learned to combine their intuition about specific customers with the story told by data. Only in this way can they anticipate their customers’ needs to help them achieve all their business goals. This is the very definition of being proactive.

The best Leaders know that the best way to predict the future is to create it. In fact, one of the major themes of business is directed towards introducing a greater sense of predictability into our work. The best Leaders know this, which is why they seek to bring the right people onto their teams and give them all the resources they need to act in the best interests of the company. Teams composed of empowered people working to fix problems before they start are, quite literally, unstoppable. These types of teams realize the value of predictability in business, and they impose it on themselves: Sales develops a robust pipeline which can be used to gauge revenue for months into the future. Product develops a roadmap for the next several iterations of their best-seller, complete with budgets and timelines while at the same time they’re not afraid to pivot if they see a gap in the market. Dynamic companies like this begin with proactive Leaders.

Great Leaders don’t ‘make’ anyone do anything. They inspire within others a sincere desire to do what needs to be done. The same could be said of Customer Success Managers: all of us know quite well that we can’t control what our Customers do. But what we can do, that’s infinitely more powerful, is guide our Customers to long lasting, genuine success. Done right, the results can be astounding.

For Customer Success to be truly effective, it requires buy-in and advocacy from the Executive Leadership team. I predict that within the next three years we will witness a virtuous cycle: emerging Leaders who have spent the bulk of their careers in Customer Success will be much more likely to not only support Customer Success within their own companies, but they will take an even more proactive stance to ensure that Customer Success has everything they need to drive the business forward.

Customer Success has an incredible opportunity to spearhead a more strategic, proactive approach in business. In doing so, they are preparing themselves for much greater things to come.

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About the Author

Andrew Rhodes

Andrew Rhodes, Director of Customer Success Education at CSM Practice, brings years of strategic business consulting experience and is extremely passionate about Customer Success. In the past decade Andrew gained deep expertise in sales operations, strategic business consulting and business development. His rich education in customer success and sales renewals gives Andrew a unique perspective into the challenges facing high-growth companies today.

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