A little ways back, I asked one of the very best VPs of Sales I know to help me find a VP of Customer Success.  This VP of Sales has built legendary teams, and his Directors and Managers have gone on to run many of the top SaaS companies out there.

And this great, seasoned VP of Sales said to me, “You know, I don’t really know that much about Customer Success.  I know upsells, but how to do Customer Success?  That’s not my area.”

I didn’t totally get it at the time.  He’d partnered with great CS leaders and knew SaaS cold.  But what he meant was, I think, that he hadn’t owned it.  So he couldn’t tell for sure who was great, or really, what it took to be great.  He could hire someone to own account “management” and do upsells.  But not to know for sure how to keep customers happy every day, day in and day out.  He was a hunter, and a closer.

It stuck with me, and I’ve seen it again and again.

Great VPs of Sales often don’t really know what makes for great customer success execs:

  • They are great at closing, but want to move on after that
  • They really don’t fully understand how to fix all the drama post-closing
  • They often are good at product, but not such experts that they can solve the problems that CS does
  • Etc. etc. etc.

Now they aren’t totally unaware.  They know who they’ve worked with that was great, and who seems to be doing a good job.  But sales so often isn’t an expert in customer success, even though they are all part of the same customer lifecycle.

A few things once you learn that to take away:

  • Customer Success just becomes an arm of the sales team if it reports to the VP of Sales.  I know sometimes a CRO or two can pull this off at scale, but I almost never see it lead to happier customers in the early and middle days, at least.  A VP of Sales just doesn’t really know how to manage a customer for the decade after they close.  Or want to, really.  The best VPs of Sales are closers.
  • Sales often doesn’t exactly know who will make a great CS exec.  Get their vote, and feedback.  Just realize they often are just looking at one slice of what a CSM does.
  • Customer Success should be a deep partner with sales, but have their own KPIs. CS does more than help close the deal and support the largest upsell opportunities.

-> Ok, this isn’t the most profound post.  Just highlighting that even the best VPs of Sales often aren’t 100% sure who makes an A+ customer success exec. And they may vote or recommend folks that are good, but maybe not what you really need to own a customer for a decade or longer.  So balance that out in your searches, and your team’s feedback.

A related post here:

Customer Success Has Gone from The Customer’s Ally To Its Nemesis

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