Dear SaaStr: Who Should Our First Head of Customer Success Report To?

Ah, who should Customer Success report to.

It’s not super simple.

There are generally 3 options in the early and middle days:

  • CEO.
  • VP of Sales (once you have one) and/or later, CRO once you add one.
  • VP of Something Else. Finance sometimes. Product sometimes. The other “business” co-founder.

There are clear Pros and Cons to reporting to a CRO / VP of Sales. The Pros are:

  • Usually, a VP of Sales is your best manager. So usually, she can easily also manage Customer Success as well as all her reps.  In most startups, your head of sales has the most people hiring and managing experience.  Sales teams have to hire a lot of folks, quickly, and get them productive. The function inherently teaches management skills.
  • Better alignment with VPS owning an ARR/MRR goal vs. just bookings goal. She’ll be better able to hit your ARR end-of-year goal if she’s also in charge of churn, and all upsell.
  • She probably knows better how to do this than you do.  An experienced VP of Sales, even a stretch one, in many cases has more experience with CS than you do.

But the Cons are also large:

  • Distracting to Sales, usually. Most VPS that are great are closers. You want closers closing. Not spending 50% of their time on post-closing.  So be wary of having CS report to sales unless your VPS really wants it and ideally as done it before.
  • Disalignment on Goals. A VPS wants to close more revenue. Not just retain revenue. But in Customer Success, renewing, even without any upsell, is usually Job #1. Keep the customers happy, and in the end, all is good. That’s what CS is all about. There is an inherent conflict here with Account Expansion, at least at the margin, and often with the biggest accounts. Customers that have little room to land-and-expand won’t get the same treatment from sales as an account that has a lot of room to grow. I don’t like this disalignment, personally. It always worries me.
  • CEO isn’t as engaged with VP CS doesn’t report to them. When the VP of CS reports to the CEO, the CEO visits more customers. This retains more customers. Increases NPS. And has many positive effects. When CS reports to the VPS, usually, I find the CEO just isn’t as close to the customers. The CEO often doesn’t even know a lot of the top customers personally. This has many negative effects over time.

So 60%+ of the time at least, I prefer the VP of CS to report to the CEO, if the CEO can manage the function. The CEO can balance the alignment, and bring the areas together.

And I want closers closing.

A deeper dive with more data here:

Where Customer Success Reports To Typically, Who Really Owns Renewals, And More from ChurnZero

(image from here.  note: an updated SaaStr Classic answer)

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