10 Lessons from 10 years in Customer Success

1. Change is Imminent but Stay True to Values

When I first started Salesforce in 2011, we were pretty much 1 cloud — Sales and Service, see History of Salesforce. Flash forward to today to a myriad of products across clouds and verticals. Over the ten years, I have been seen many shifts to meet customer’s needs, and product evolution. One key has been to continually innovate: including 3x a year releases, the execution of many acquisitions, lately Slack and Tableau, while staying true to Culture and using Business as a Platform for Change. Doing well, and doing good do not have to be mutually exclusive. Some of my most memorable experiences at Salesforce have been: volunteering to mentor internal employee’s, raising funds for Sonoma & Napa wildfires, crushing the Salesforce Wave to Wine Ride for MS, or teaching ESL students how to start their personal brand. Not only has giving back been a core tenant, it’s pushed Corporate Philanthropy via the 1:1:1 Model inspiring many others to join.

2. Learning Platforms need to Evolve

When I first started we would travel to San Jose to sit in lengthy classroom learning sessions for Administration and Advanced Administration. While somewhat helpful, incredibly dry. Flash forward to today with Trailhead and MyTrailhead enabling 55K employee’s able to scale through bit sized learning: keeping relevant, with topics outside of technology for culture, equality, sustainability. Every employee is certified on our corporate messaging once a year. Badges are easily monitored, and all Employee’s are certified, ensuring alignment, accelerating onboarding, and reducing costs. This could not happen without Trailhead, consider: 33M badges earned, 2.9M learners, supporting millions of customers, employee’s, and partners at scale.

3. Org Wide Alignment and Transparency are Key

Each year the planning process starts with the leadership team crafting their Vision, Values, Methods and Objectives or V2MOM. They hack their V2MOM and this is broadcast live to the entire organization. Every single person at Salesforce, then all 55k of them create a V2MOM. Why? Because transparency builds trust, and trust builds stronger organizational alignment. Each V2MOM is on every profile in the Org, fully transparent, and each employee refreshes their V2MOM quarterly. To learn more, create organizational alignment by taking the V2MOM Trail on Salesforce’s free learning platform, Trailhead. There is even a V2MOM appexchange to download and leverage within your own organization. To sum it up:

Vision — what do you want to achieve?

Values — what’s important to you?

Methods — how do you get it?

Obstacles — what is preventing you from being successful?

Measures — how do you know you have it?

4. Collaboration is a MUST: hint- It’s not a one tool fits All

Marc was way ahead of his time here — Salesforce launched Chatter as a social collaboration in 2011. We used to call this Social Enterprise, which seems a funny term now-a-days. But more than 80,000 customers adopted Chatter in the first year, and while that might not seem a lot these days, we still use Chatter today. Many of these use cases still persist 10 years later. The most powerful collaboration I’ve found is in context to business processes, eg. on a record to move and opportunity forward or updating a thread on a renewal on next steps, it’s all federated search so you have an audit trail. Quip has also been an absolute game changer for templates, including live integration with Workday for career plans, or standardizing account plans, exec briefing docs with real time data integration with collaboration. Then flash forward to today the purchase of Slack, the real muscle also being the integration capabilities: eg. posting a gdoc and having it ask you in Slack to open up permissions to share, and the real power is just getting started.

5. Enable Success within Customer Success

Customer Success can be one of the most difficult roles in the organization, because of the myriad intersection points between: Technology, Product, Customer’s (& growing demands), Support, Renewals, Management, Sales, Marketing, and others. Every role is trying to get closer to the customer. This can be especially true for SaaS based companies. Customer Success, usually falls into two key categories: Growth and Risk. Helping customers be successful, by maximizing the value of their investment, while mitigating risk for attrition. Customer Centric Companies should consider:

Lately there has been a growing shift into business value (tieing capabilities to key strategic goals: whether that be increasing ROI, Reduction of Costs, etc.) Some Implementation Partners are now taking this farther: pursuing outcome based engagements: the Service provider is paid only when the desired outcome is achieved (eg. increasing sales by X %). Either way organizations have to hone in on their methodology, evolve their tools, and Customer Success has play a pivotal role.

6. Know Where to Put Your Calories

Not all customers are created equal and not all customer’s needs are created equal, and certainly not all client persona’s are close to equal, particularly as you scale. You can spend a lifetime burning calories for little result. Prep for scale. Some thoughts here:

7. Become Stewards of your Customer

This is basic, but surprisingly most don’t take the time and effort to do it, or do it well. Follow your customer’s C-Suite on social channels: twitter, linkedin etc. Most are very vocal on thoughts and strategic directional opinion. Sign up for their emails, investor reports, blogs. Go through their e-commerce check-out process, call their support line. Connect on values & mission: if you can tie back to your Companies values, the more synergistic your relationship. Every customer facing person regardless of role that touches the customer — should have an educated point of view: 10K, Investor Day Reports, Owler, Seeking Alpha, make at least for public companies, a fairly easy grab. But try to distill the noise down to 1 slide and it gets harder. What do they most about? How are they thinking of digital transformation , growth of the business, growth by vertical, product or Geo. How do they think of increasing shareholder value, or reduction of costs, or revision of partner channels? moving to SaaS from Hardware ? M&A ? or others. Crystallizing a POV is an art form and takes practice.

8. Make Wellness a Priority for your Employee’s

If you are not well, you are not productive. Working from home, the Covid pandemic, the social and inequality crisis, climate crisis — personal mental health is now more important than ever. Carve out time for your team’s own re-charge: try to set clear boundaries on work vs. personal, especially now when the lines are more blurred. Salesforce has created B-Well Together Series to regroup, learn, connect with others, carve out a chance to walk. Create Sales and CSG Wellness days, so both teams are aligned for recharging. According to the Gallup Business Journal, employees who are physically and mentally thriving are 13% more likely to report excellent performance at work, have 41% lower healthcare expenses, and are 32% more likely to stay with a company. See: Wellbeing at Work. I Almost Hit Rock Bottom. How Committing to Wellbeing Changed My Life or How to Stay Healthy While Working from Home

9. Capture & Plan for Escalations

No one likes escalations, but being proactive can make all the difference. Having executive relationship before escalations arise can be very helpful when disruptions occur. Be sure your customers are informed on escalation path, protocal, and understand their own communication path as well as your companies. They should at minimum know what role Customer Success plays vs. the Support Organization. Internally establishing a Red Account process to help inform cross functional teams to capture: Implementation, Product Gaps, Technical Issues, Customer Sentiment, or Partner related issues is another feedback loop.

10. Lead with Empathy

Personal relationships matter. Customers have: families, kids, spouses, siblings, partners, extended family, and are struggling like the rest of us on balancing their work life with personal. Family needs are competing for work needs and priorities. Everyone has a story. Do more listening. Reiterate what you’ve heard. Be understanding, we’re all in this together.

Customer Success Director supporting our largest strategic customers at Salesforce.