It was 2016. After an extensive search, a cross-functional team selected a global social listening platform.
Everything seemed right. It was easy to access and use, handled languages elegantly, and the data was clean.
We checked all the boxes, so why was adoption so low?
It turns out that success had little to do with the product and more to do with external factors within the walls of the company -- external factors that are difficult for a startup to comprehend, not because startup founders aren't smart, but because corporations are complicated and difficult to navigate at times.
You see, when major corporation company asks its employees to log on to one system for this, another for that, and each of the systems require time, attention and love, even the most motivated employees will become overwhelmed and focus on something more pressing and essential to them in the short term. So, what may be important to the sponsor of the new system, may be less important to the employees whom you thought would use it the most. Employees requested robust social listening, I delivered it, it simply didn't add up.
After seeing low adoption, I decided with my team that a change was needed - a change that wasn't in any playbook. We scaled back licenses to the people who had the people who had the most experience with data and analysis and had direct responsibility for providing data and recommendations to the organization. Instead of giving all access and asking people who were overwhelmed by the system to figure things out for themselves, we created infographics that were easy to consume and gave enough data and insights to our audience. We also took the most important stats and included them in our DOMO dashboard.
Mission accomplished. How much easier is it to order the Kale Caesar ar Sweetgreen vs. picking from an exhaustive list of ingredients? Customer Success is less about teaching a person how to fish and more about understanding what your customer needs to be successful.
Ok, so what does this mean for me? (a founder)
It took years to build your product/service with lots of engineers, UX, copywriters, & design professionals. Then you go live -- into the wild, and all the assumptions made through your methodical process will get some tough love.
The need to support client success usually creeps up on you and, this stage is when the watermelon hits you in the face, depending on how well prepared you are.
In many cases, the idea of servicing a client doesn't get the attention your product received. Often, the position of an account manager is something that is compromised. I know this from experience!
In corporate America, we would buy some fancy software and be so excited. A slick salesperson would say, "yeah, we could do that! " Then the "bait and switch" would inevitably happen. When you say, "but the salesperson said it could do that," they would say, "oh no, we can't do that, but I could put in a ticket with our developers." However, as you may have noticed from the story above, even if the features and functionality are perfect, you still may not get adoption.
A significant reason behind this inevitable situation is the misconception that account management or customer success is practically the same as sales or business development. Bursting the bubble folks, business development and account management are two departments independent of each other, with their motivations and conventions. You cannot assign the role of an account manager to the business developers, developers, or the founders, and vice versa.
At first, the founders of a startup may take up the role willingly but this client-facing, post-sale role deserves its share of attention. The aim is to help the client achieve their goals and represent their company. However, it is only a matter of time before the details become too much for a founder to handle.
So the next best option may be to hire a motivated junior employee who can manage the heavy lifting and subtle details required of being the face of your company for the implementation and ongoing operations. Good luck if you think one junior employee will have the leadership to navigate the complex and often highly political environments that your customers have.
Client success has the highest touch with clients, becomes the de facto face of your company and is responsible mainly for organic growth and whether or not you will get a renewal. An efficient customer success professional may even create case studies along with advising the clients on long-term business growth strategies. It may be the most critical role in your company's long term success.
So you may be wondering, when is the right time to engage in Customer Success? You may feel bootstrapped. You may be saying "we can manage without or you are waiting for revenue to come in to make the decision." There is no right answer. However, The Collective NYC can guide you using our experience, and it may not be as expansive as trying the alternative, which may end up costing a lot more in the long run.
We can help you to build a thriving customer success team
My business partner, Jon Yanovsky, and I met at Mastercard. He has historically been a customer success guy, whereas I have traditionally been in client-side roles. He has broad experience as an executive level account management professional at major agencies (i.e., Momentum, R&R Partners, Octagon), while I have decades of buy-side client perspective (Mastercard, IBM, CIT, PSEG).
Our background and experience allow us to work as extensions of your team, guiding the seamless transition from sales to execution & delivery. We know how vital client "hand holding" is for startups and their most prominent clients and will lean head-first into positioning your partnership for success.
In parallel to providing client success services to your clients, we will work on establishing a formal, permanent customer success function within your organization, including:
Playbook Development: A comprehensive manual detailing best-practices and procedures for all future Account Management staff (from on-boarding to ongoing relationship management and everything in-between)
Templates & Functional Processes: Including briefs, project management, scope development, client status reports, etc.
Organizational Planning: Org. structure for current and future client needs, Recruiting: Create job descriptions, manage resume and candidate screening process and Training of new Account Management personnel.
Oversight of new Account Management function: With a final plan to transition all relationships and responsibilities managed by The Collective to your firm.
Jay Mandel is The founder of The Collective NYC, a marketing consultancy. He is also a Marketing Professor at Sacred Heart University and teaches Social Media, Content Marketing, Branding, and other classes. You can engage with The Collective NYC on Instagram. This post expresses my personal views, and my personal views are directly connected with my employer because it is me :-)