So it does seem like some of the biggest changes to the human side of SaaS are now coming. I’ve talked with three CEOs at leading vendors in sales and post-sales at $200m+ in ARR the past few weeks and they’ve all reinforced these are some of the biggest changes in a generation.
What we’ve seen in the first 15 years of SaaS:
- Specialization in sales. Segment reps, and have closers close.
- The rise of the SDR and productizing outbound and qualifying inbound with humans. Outbound is nothing new, but the formal role of the SDR exploded in the past decade.
- The rise of customer success as a new, empowered function. Everyone has fully staffed CS over the past decade. We’ve all become NRR, GRR, and CSAT experts, and CS owned it all.
- Human support remained important, at least for paying customers. Sometimes begrudgingly, but everyone has some level of human support, especially for larger customers. In fact, leaders from Intercom to Front to Gorgias to Zendesk exploded as this function, while not remotely new, became standardized.
The reality is this is all now changing, for the first time. AI isn’t the only reason, the real drive is efficiency. But AI is the accelerant:
#1. There is a general sense among the leaders in sales software that we will end up with fewer, better SDRs, and that the majority of email and follow-up will be done with AI.
Salesloft, Outreach, Gong and more radically changed the space. But we may be looking at far more radical change in the coming few years.
#2. Customer Success has in many cases morphed into part of the sales team. And with that, the classic role of making customers happy with humans is in retreat.
Tougher times have led many to turn customer success into renewal officers that report into sales. It’s hard to imagine this rolling back.
#3. Everyone wants to eliminate humans from support, and replace that headcount with AI and bots. Everyone now.
This is nothing new, but AI has radically upped the bar and goals here. Everyone is looking to automate at least 50% of customer interactions — and cut their support team by at least that much. Or more.
#4. SaaS companies now have to be radically more efficient. There may be limited energy to reverse many changes.
Almost every SaaS company at scale is now cash-flow positive. Big parts of marketing, support, and customer success have been cut, and may never be uncut. SaaS companies may just now tolerate less happy customers and worse support as part of the price of being profitable. Especially where growth is slower than before.
I really can’t fully predict where all this will go. What makes sense to me is AI and technology and automation and efficiency won’t truly eliminate the role of the CSM, the SDR and customer support. But it may cut the number of folks doing these roles in half, and force them to do more.
And what feels like the end of an era — and I do think it is the end of an era here — is usually just the start of a new beginning.
(beginning image from here)