How to Scale your Customer Success Organization

NOTE: This is a guest post by Matthew Klassen, Head of Creative at Gainsight.

If you’re a customer success leader, chances are you’ve thought or said the phrase, “I need to scale.”

What you’re actually thinking about in all likelihood is a number. Maybe it’s 100,000. Maybe it’s 500,000. Maybe it’s a million. Whatever it is, it’s your team’s per-CSM managed portfolio, expressed as dollars of Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR). And you want that number to be higher.

If your company is growing, your team should be growing too. But if you aren’t scaling that per-CSM ARR number, you’re going to be hiring at a directly proportional rate to the amount of new business your sales team is booking. Let’s be real: you won’t be able to do that forever. It’s inefficient. It’s unsustainable.

But if you’re a CSM, you’re looking at the problem of scale from a completely different perspective. You know your managed portfolio is going to increase. You’re going to have more stuff to do in the same amount of time. You probably already feel stretched thin as it is.

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Your boss wants to scale—probably even needs to scale, but you actually could be much more effective if they scaled back your account load.

But it gets even more complicated.

That’s because your leadership team may be unable or unwilling to invest the dollars it takes to bridge the gap between where you are now and where you need to be. They think they can improve per-sale margins by reducing the spend per customer on CS. In many business models, customer success is a cost center. The pathway to revenue growth isn’t just increasing revenue, it’s cutting those costs.

So there it is: the problem of scale. The CS leader wants to scale up to meet the needs of the growing customer base. The CSM wants their nights and weekends back. The CEO and CFO want to grow revenue AND reduce operating costs. Meanwhile, the customer just wants to be successful with the product—the same thing they’ve always wanted.

Each stakeholder is in tension. But what if there was a way for everyone to get what they want? What if there was a way to drive success for all?

In this blog, I want to offer three strategies as well as some actionable tactics to get each stakeholder what they want by scaling customer success the right way.

1 — Scaling Through the Product Experience

What are your CSMs spending their time on? Answering customer emails, hosting best-practice calls, conducting trainings, running EBRs—anything to maintain and increase adoption. But out of all of those activities, which ones are enabling customer growth and which ones are filling gaps in the product? Probably only EBRs—creating success plans and deepening relationships.

What if your product was easier to learn? What if your features were stickier? What if training, outreach, and engagement all happened inside the product?

If you find yourself filling product gaps just to meet the customer’s expectations for the software, you’re spending less time on strategic, growth-driving activities. The future of customer success is a deeper relationship with product teams. The product drives adoption for itself, and the CSM team becomes hyper-focused on growth. Here are three ways to get started:

  • Align on a shared adoption framework with the Product team.

  • Sync regularly with your Product leaders on shared KPIs and goals.

  • Combine your in-product feedback mechanism with your CSM feedback process and close the loop with the customer.

2 — Scaling by Automating Repeatable Processes

If you have a complex product (see above—simplify it!) or you have a high-touch model, you’re probably thinking you could never scale by automating human processes—like personal communications or onboarding or training. But that’s the wrong way to think about it. Automation isn’t a human replacer, it’s a force multiplier.

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In other words, automation is good at efficiently and cheaply scaling up repeatable processes.

As a CSM, what would you do if you had unlimited time and resources? You’d be able to track and respond to minute changes in customer behavior with personal touch. You’d be able to onboard every customer in your portfolio according to their needs and journey. You’d be able to train them at the user level and account level.

Not sure if you realize it, but all of those capabilities are automation ready using technology that exists today. How can you get started? Keep in mind, your organization may already have access to some or all of these capabilities:

  • Set up “calls-to-action” that trigger based on changes to customer risk.

  • Create onboarding journeys in the product that guide customers to “a-ha” moments.

  • Build a one-to-many communication process that reaches out based on milestones in the customer journey.

3 — Scaling by Redefining Customer Success Investment

We’ve been talking a lot about “growth-driving activities.” Like I said earlier, your CFO or CEO might be hesitant to invest in customer success because they’re budgeting for it as a Cost of Goods Sold (COGS). They can improve margins by reducing COGS. But if customer success is actually a growth driver instead of a cost center, then proper investment in it will see commensurate gains in ARR.

So as your team scales back COGS activities (the things you do to ensure a minimally viable product is delivered to your customers—some onboarding and training activities, reactive support, firefighting, etc.) and scales up growth-driving activities (deepening customer relationships, success planning, upsell, expansion, advocacy, etc.), you can make an ironclad case for scaling up investment in your team.

But in order to do that, you need to establish your team as a growth engine. Here are three tactics to get started:

  • Align your team’s actions to a revenue number (note: you don’t have to necessarily “own” that number, just quantify your impact on it.)

  • Create a system for tracking leads your team generates (we call them “CSQLs”).

  • Align with Sales & Marketing around a repeatable process for identifying advocates and leveraging them in content and sales cycles.

Summary

When you scale the right way, everyone gets what they want. Your CS org gets the investment it needs, your CSMs get back time in their week, and your company ultimately generates more revenue and faster growth. Of course, Gainsight operationalizes that process end-to-end, but the important thing is to get started with growth-focused actions right away.