April 20, 2017

The Customer Success Hub Effect: A Conversation with Paul Piazza

The Customer Success Hub Effect: A Conversation with Paul Piazza

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Paul Pizza is a veteran in the Customer Success space with his experience starting in the late 1990’s when most didn’t even know what the term meant. Back when Paul first started working with customers, “Customer Success” was considered a hybrid between account management and customer service. While Paul is the first to admit many things have changed, there are still many aspects that have remained the same.

The Rise of SaaS and Customer Success

Paul’s first foray into the world of Customer Success included managing customers and delivering Market Research. He explained that as time went on, customers didn’t want hard reports anymore, but wanted them delivered electronically. This led to delivering reports via CDs and eventually to the delivering via the Internet, which is what we now refer to as a SaaS or cloud-based model.

The First CSM at Marketo

His career has been mostly about growing and driving adoption and measuring ROI of his customers. He believes if you do this, customers will inevitably grow. Paul was the very first CSM hired at Marketo, a B2B SaaS company now well-known across the globe and managed a team at Lyris (now owned by Aurea), and the team grew to 25 before he left. After those roles, Paul has held a variety of other leadership roles in B2B SaaS companies—all with the goal of establishing Customer Success best practices and methodologies, like the “Customer Success Hub Effect” which we’ll explore below.

Growing Discipline to Customer Success

Though many changes have happened in the world of Customer Success since Paul started his career in the mid 1990’s, he believes it’s truly still being defined—especially at the executive level. He believes many organizations are wrestling with questions like, “How can I justify this department separate from Sales?” “Where does it live in contrast to Support?” “What is the ROI on this department?”

Eventually, Paul explained, Customer Success usually ends up owning more revenue than Sales. At that point, it becomes an internal debate. Paul believes the revenue responsibilities should be equal, which is what leads us to Paul’s “Customer Success Hub Effect”. Let’s examine:

That Customer Success Hub Effect

What is the Customer Success Hub Effect?

Paul explains the Customer Success Hub Effect like this:

“If you think of an organization as a wheel, the hub is where Customer Success should live, and all other departments make up the outer part of the wheel.” He went on to say, “What happens in a lot of organizations is everyone wants to talk directly to the customers, and eventually the customer is the one who suffers. Product wants to speak with a customer about a feature, Marketing wants to do a case study, and so on. All of these different communications coming from various points of the organization ultimately confuses—and sometimes even angers—the end customers.”

In order to accomplish a true Customer Success Hub, Paul aligns at least one CSM to each department across the organization and that individual becomes an advocate for that area of the business as it pertains to customers. The CSM should be in contact with their customer accounts—whether through automated communication or a manual one-to-one approach—at least once a week to keep the relationship and feedback channels strong.

Paul explained that the Customer Success Hub Effect allows the designated CSM to participate in weekly meetings with the assigned department, answer questions, align customers to the need at hand, and ultimately become an advocate not only for the department in which he or she is exposed at new levels, but also to the end customer.

The 3-Fold Benefits of the Customer Success Hub Effect

1. Benefits to Customer Success:

Paul explained that when others see CSMs and the Customer Success organization actively participating in other departments, attending meetings, and assisting those across every role of the organization when it comes to customer needs, they become advocates of the Customer Success department. Inevitably, those across the organization get a better view of customer challenges, opportunities, and frustrations, too, so other departments become advocates for direct customers.

Creating this two-way street between customers and internal departments creates a big win for CSMs and leaders who no longer need to play traffic cop, but can focus on being strategic in their roles and aligning the right customers with the right needs of the organization.

2. Benefits to the Internal Organization:

The benefits of the Customer Success Hub Effect  within the internal organization are many. Each department gains an advocate that can help them better align directly with customers and “share workflow” as Paul described. However, we’ll outline a few specific benefits across 4 areas of the business to showcase this:

  • Marketing: A CSM aligned to Marketing can help identify the best customer speakers at field marketing events or conferences, prep a customer for a case study, and also steer Marketing away from the go-to customers who are always relied upon and may be burnt out.
  • Product & Engineering: A CSM aligned to Product can create focus groups of customers to get feedback on the ROI of certain features, product roadmap items, and answer questions about usage or UI design. In contrast, a CSM aligned to Engineering can help with escalations, mitigate risk, and help identify potential customer issues.
  • Sales: Sales and CSMs typically work hand-in-hand as it is, but with this model, a CSM can help provide insight to the Sales team during the discovery phase, prior to kick-off and on renewals, Net Promoter Scores, and can tag team on upsells and customer calls.
  • Executives: As it pertains to the executive team, a CSM aligned to this group ensures that the CEO, CFO, and all other C-Suite titles have full visibility into the customer base so they can make the best decisions for the business—and the customers.
3. Benefits to the External Customers:

The benefits to the external customer may seem obvious, but are incredibly important. Paul described that the end customer starts to feel more intact with the whole company when they have a designated go-to person and they start to see value of the model. “Customers should never know all of the challenges of the company, but should know how they impact change. For instance, if they participate in a case study they need to see that they helped that come to life. If they helped the Product team with a new feature, they need to see that implemented into the product,” said Paul. “But in the Customer Success Hub model, they don’t have to interact with 10 different people to get that… just 1.” Finally, the customer is able to have more open and honest conversations with the CSM who has developed a strong relationship and rapport versus a stranger that only reaches out when they need something.

Building a Customer Success Hub Effect

Paul shared some words of wisdom for those interested in getting started with a Customer Success Hub Effect approach. He emphasized that it doesn’t need to be complicated, but you need to start somewhere. Here are some tips from Paul:

  • Look for varying backgrounds when hiring and remember that CSM skillsets can be very diverse. Look for more business background but always ask, “are they empathetic?”
  • Sometimes an organization is too big to do a one-to-one approach, but Paul emphasized it’s good to try to align at least 1 CSM to each department.
  • When departments grow, they may need multiple CSMs aligned. For example, the Marketing department may need a CSM aligned to customer marketing as well as new business marketing.
  • Remember that it’s likely that if you have someone that’s really good, they may move departments based on their experience with that department. Paul urges leaders to view this as a net win. In this scenario, you lose a team member but gain an advocate in another department.

Paul’s Final Word of Advice:

When asked for a final piece of advice for Customer Success leaders, he concluded,

“Creating a direct line on your customers’ ROI is the first thing. Do an assessment of your CSM’s strengths and ask them to start aligning to different departments around the organization. This alignment [The Customer Success Hub] results in a happier CSM, stronger outcomes, and ultimately a higher retention rate.”

Check out our resources below for more customer success best practices and insights for how your organization can put customers first:


3 Steps to Putting Customers First This Year

Blog Posts:

3 Fundamentals for Scaling Customer Success

The Golden Rule of Customer Success – 8 Guiding Principles

Learn more about how ClientSuccess can help your company develop a strong customer success methodology and strategy with easy-to-use customer success software by requesting a 30-minute demo.

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