CSM from the Trenches: Mentors – Kristi Faltorusso, Vice President of Customer Success, BetterCloud
Welcome to our blog series CSM from the Trenches, a community for frontline Customer Success Managers (CSMs) that discusses trends, best practices, and advice for the frontline.
Being on the CSM frontline allows us to directly influence the success of our clients. I love that; as our clients are successful, we’re successful. Each day we learn from the trenches what it takes to make clients happy and successful.
New Mentor Questions and Upcoming “Frontline” Segment
This post marks a change to the segment of the series known as “Mentors”, which has focused on 7 mentor questions for the frontline. We’ve adjusted the “Mentors” questions to be geared more toward CSMs receiving mentorship directly from Director-level and above customer success leaders, in order to help them grow professionally in their own careers.
We’ll soon be introducing another segment called “Frontline” with similarly-styled questions for frontline CSMs to share their own success stories, best practices and advice.
The goal is that by sharing our experiences we’ll be able to learn and apply more practical advice / practices to our careers.
Let’s get started with this week’s post!
What is one important lesson you learned in your early customer success days that has had a positive impact on your career? How has it helped you?
The most important lesson I’ve learned is to compartmentalize. When you’re working in customer success on the frontline, not every engagement you have with your customers will be a positive one. You may have customers who are struggling with your product, struggling with engagement and resource allocation, and they might be considering to churn due to lack of value. It’s important to not let that action or decision really impact or derail you and your focus.
Compartmentalizing was something really important that I had to learn how to do, because every challenging interaction I had would wear on me. I felt like it defined who I was, and my ability to get that customer to realize value or drive success. I owned that. And it really became difficult for me, especially as those interactions started to add up, to focus and keep my head above water to recognize the impact that I could have on the majority of my customers.
You can’t control everyone’s actions. You’re in a commercial relationship and things will happen that are beyond your control, so compartmentalizing your emotions and separating that from how you operate your day-to-day is really, really important.
I’m the first CSM for my company and have been asked to implement a “customer success” program. Where should I begin? What tactics have worked for you?
The number one thing we’ve done at BetterCloud to really transform our engagement with our customers is we’ve dedicated an entire stage in our customer journey to understanding customer goals and business objectives. We refer to this stage as “Develop” which is focused on establishing goals and setting expectations. By spending more time to really understand their business objectives and how they are defining success with the partnership, we have something clear we are working towards.
By making this a focus and priority for the partnership, it almost doesn’t matter how you engage with them, weekly, monthly, in-person or via hangouts, we have something clear we are working towards together. Make their success your priority. This focus has transformed our engagement.
By doing this you can now create a process that is scalable and repeatable, or you can do something that is more custom – it really doesn’t matter where you go from there. But if you truly understand how your customers are defining success, you can be successful. You can get them there. At the end of the day, customers engage with us and measure us based on the value that they’re driving their organization. If we don’t understand what that looks like and how that translates to value for them, all the conversations and support won’t matter.
As a version one, I’d say your very first conversation with customers needs to be all about understanding their business objectives and goals, and then find a place to track that. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a CRM system, another tool, or a spreadsheet…just seek to understand what their goals are! Put them somewhere where you can track against it, where every conversation you have in the future is around that goal and how your product is going to help get them there.
What are two or three ways you’ve established (or improved) “customer success as a culture” within your organization?
The first thing I’ve done is leverage data; we’re a data-driven organization in that we kind of live and die by what the data is telling us. When I started with BetterCloud, I made sure I had good insight into why customers stayed and why customers left. We created greater visibility around that data and were able to share that outward with each function in the organization. The go-to market function usually has a really good pulse on what’s happening. But as we started to try to get buy-in from our engineering team, product teams and developers, they needed to understand what the data was telling us.Share the data so everyone can understand and you can speak the same language!
Secondly, I’ve focused on educating my organization since a majority didn’t really understand what customer success both as a practice and principle were. I’ve spent a lot of cycles starting at our internal company summit, where I addressed the organization, and talked about customer success, what it is and how my team made customer success a reality through cross functional orchestration. I also went on a road tour and met with each cross-functional department to speak with them specifically about customer success and the role they played in the bigger customer picture. For some folks there was a direct correlation in that success, while for others there were three degrees of separation. For those less connected, it was important to tell them the story. I took specific initiatives, projects or product functionality they were working on and helped them understand how what they were doing every single day was contributing to the value and success of our customers. Through that narrative, they started to feel more connected and bought into the idea of customer success.
Another initiative we’ve worked on is connecting people directly to customers. Giving—whether it’s our product, engineering, marketing, or executive leadership teams—access to our customers has also increased customer success as a culture. Our customers enjoy getting the additional support and telling their success stories, which in turn makes customer success a more tangible concept. But it’s equally as important for internal teams to hear from customers who aren’t happy and satisfied or customers who have left and why they made that decision. This way, we’re not only celebrating our wins but also acknowledging areas of improvement.
How can I stay connected to key influencers who do not play an active role in a client relationship?
What I’ve seen work best is the “it takes a village” mindset; you can’t rely on just a CSM to build and nurture that relationship. As a company, as a brand, you need to get other folks to help support this as a strategy.
What we’ve done is that anytime we’re working on getting higher and wider, and building those relationships at a strategic level, the CSM plays one one role, which could be providing context and updates, or encouraging key influencers to attend executive business reviews.
We also maximize our use of marketing, focusing on ways to stay connected directly to key influencers, whether it’s through our account-based marketing nurture program where we focus on staying top-of-mind with these thought leaders and these organizations through various campaigns – content, ads etc. BetterCloud also focuses on unique events that target executive leaders to keep them close to the brand in ways that really resonate with them.
We are also preparing our executive sponsorship program. For customers where it makes sense, we have an executive in our organization who might be associated with an account where their primary focus is building an ongoing relationship with key stakeholders. This engagement model that looks very different than that of a CSM.
Was there a time you messed up and felt like you’d failed within your role or career? How did you bounce back?
Failure is inevitable for anyone in their professional career, because everyone fails at some point; no one gets it right 100% of the time. But I think taking chances and risks are what make us better professionals and leaders. It shows we’re willing to try new things and learn.
For me specifically, the time I left I failed in my role was in a leadership capacity at a previous company and we were scaling the team and needed to hire fast. To be honest, I didn’t get the profile right. I was too specific in what I thought our customers needed at the time and I got it really wrong. In fact, we had to make some organizational changes andhad to manage some people out and bring new folks on.
What I learned was to not be so rigid about a hiring profile and be more open-minded about people that have other skill sets that can be applied to the role. But alsofail fast, make necessary changes, and pivot when things aren’t working. Things aren’t always going to go your way, but you do have a choice in how you’ll bounce back when faced with these kinds of situations.
What are one to three books, blogs, or thought leaders that have greatly influenced your career, and why?
The Outcome Generation: How a New Generation of Technology Vendors Thrives Through True Customer Success by Paul Hederson. This book does a wonderful job talking about the focus around customer outcomes as being a key metric of overall success. Paul has a great outlook on this space and is someone who I look to learn from as often as I can, whether it’s hearing him speak or networking in-person when possible.
- Chief Customer Officer 2.0: How to Build Your Customer-Driven Growth Engine by Jeanne Bliss
- Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers by Jay Baer
- The Trusted Advisor by David H. Maister
What is one customer success principle you try to live by?
If it’s good for the customers, it’s good for business.
I think you have to be nimble and help make sure your customers are successful. If you are really are committed to their success outcomes, it will result in the business impact you wish to see. Customers will stay, they’ll renew, they’ll grow, they’ll become advocates. Ultimately, those are the outcomes you want for your business, so do what’s right for the customer. You can’t go wrong.
Want to share your mentor advice? Let’s connect!
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