The SaaS software business continues to develop with a new functional role, and in many cases a functional department, has developed – Customer Success. There are a variety of ways that Customer Success as a service can be packaged and sold, all the way from being included in the basic offering to being bundled into premium services.
This new function is typically either a standalone organization, part of the services organization or part of sales. No matter which structure is used, much of the customer and account management that was previously done by salespeople is now done by Customer Success. How the customer success function is organized in your software company depends on your market and product, but you likely have people performing this role.
Building the relationship between Product and Customer Success
A dedicated customer success staff member often has the responsibility for implementation, account planning and management, upsells, renewals and working directly with the customer on how your company’s products can be used more effectively. They are generally both product and domain experts. Just like product management, it’s not an easy job.
There are three areas where it can be particularly useful to have a strong formal and informal organizational relationship between Customer Success and Product Management.
- Customer Feedback: The Customer Success staff is working with customers every single day and they understand the business challenges that the customer is facing and how well your company’s product solves the problem (or not). They either have product feedback themselves or know how to get it.
- Exploring adjacencies in a real world context: You may want to know how to evolve your product or develop new products that are in adjacent markets within a large organization. Or perhaps you have a great collaboration solution which works well for engineers but you’d like to explore how it could also be sold to marketing departments. Some ideas on how to do that might reside with the customer success staff or at least they can help you set up the conversations with the right people.
- Testing new features: The Customer Success staff knows who the leading users of your product are so that you can talk with them and test out new features. They also know which customers have new product or feature ideas. Want to do some user experience testing? Customer Success can help with those contacts as well.
Using the Formal and Informal relationship
Both formal and informal organizational structures can be used to better connect Product Management and Customer Success.
Formal organizational relationship possibilities include:
- New release information for timely explanations of new functionality and why it is important
- Future release information on what new functionality will exist and what business problems they solve
- Customer feedback paths for user experience, new feature suggestions & bugs
- Customer advisory boards provide feedback and advice on your products
- Customer satisfaction feedback such as Net Promoter Score and customer satisfaction surveys
Informal organizational relationship possibilities include:
- Participating in the customer community
- Providing mutual beneficial information to each other
- Opportunities to talk directly with a customer
As a Product Manager it’s easy to lose sight of the customer when you’re involved in the day-by-day and week-by-week activities such as agile stand-ups, roadmap discussions, strategy planning and working with software developers and project managers. Having a close relationship with Customer Success gives you access to either indirect customer information or direct conversations with customers when needed. This relationship with Customer Success can provide you with a level of customer intimacy that would be hard to get otherwise.
I’d recommend that you get to know your Customer Success organization. Get to know the people and work with them to set up the appropriate formal interfaces and develop the informal relationships that can help you in your job. Both you and Customer Success have an important and difficult role in making your customers happy now and in the future.
Everything works better and is more fun when you have good friends!
Check out this infographic for a quick 3 step guide to building Product and Customer Success relationships!
Paul Ressler is the Principal of The Cirrostratus Group which helps SaaS and cloud providers plan, implement and optimize their services. He has worked with both Product Management and Customer Success organizations to help them build profitable customer relationships.