Fireside Friday with Kathleen Marcell
Sales Assembly: Give us your quick background in customer success.
Kathleen: When I first got into SaaS, I had a role in support at an organization that did not have a customer success function. I saw a clear need to have a team dedicated to on-boarding and driving adoption and was given the opportunity to pilot this newly created function. Customer success was still new at that time, but it was easy to see the activities tying to decreased churn and increased engagement. I have since been a part of two other Chicago-based startups, where I was able to build out their success teams.
Sales Assembly: What's your biggest accomplishment in customer success or customer success leadership?
Kathleen: My biggest accomplishment in customer success Leadership has been working with successful customer success managers (CSMs) to drive their career and mentor them into management roles. I often hire industry experts into customer success roles, and it has been extremely rewarding to introduce someone to the customer success industry and work with them as they build their management skills and are able to do the same for their teams.
Sales Assembly: What's the best piece of customer success advice you ever got?
Kathleen: The best customer success advice I ever got was to just show up. In the world of technology, it is easy for things to be misinterpreted via email or phone calls. Customers appreciate the face-to-face, and it takes the relationship to the next level. It is critical to me that we have an ample travel budget, and I encourage my team to be quick to just 'show up.'
Sales Assembly: What's the biggest challenge facing a customer success manager today, and how would you recommend they overcome it?
Kathleen: The biggest challenge that CSMs face in their roles is that customers think they know what they want, and it is our job to balance that with what we know they need to do to be successful and focus them on high impact items that will move the needle. It is easy to get pulled into the day-to-day which is why it is critical to have a success plan, mutually agreed upon by the customer and the CSM. The CSM can continue to point back to it in order to keep the account on track.
Sales Assembly: Do you currently have a customer success mentor, or have you ever? If so, what did they teach you?
Kathleen: My mentor is a manager from early on in my career. They taught me the importance of understanding your audience and techniques to understand the basics before making a decision. It is so common in customer success and account management, where customers ask for one thing and you need to be able to navigate the conversation to hear them out and fully understand what the business pain is. Without this skill, it is easy to waste time and effort on something that will not resolve the core problem.
Sales Assembly: What's the best customer success book you've ever read? What are you reading now?
Kathleen: I just finished Measure What Matters by John Doerr. It is focused around how to utilize OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) to motivate your teams. At a fast-growth company, it is easy to get distracted. OKRs are a way for individuals to outline what their objectives and key results are and how they can contribute to the overall company goals. If you are looking for a way to keep your team focused and motivated, I would highly recommend it.
Sales Assembly: Best customer success or business related books, articles, podcasts or newsletters?
Kathleen: Harvard Business Review. They have great articles on management styles and motivation, and I always enjoy the articles pertaining to the psychology of a team.
Sales Assembly: What's the best advice you'd give to someone just starting a career in customer success?
Kathleen: The best advice for someone starting their career in customer success is to learn your industry inside and out. In order to be a successful CSM, you need to understand in detail the business challenges your software supports and how you can connect that to the landscape of your customer. Your role as a CSM is to be a business consultant for the customer, and if you don't take the time to learn everything you can know about the business and industry, you will not be as effective.
Sales Assembly: Do you see any interesting future trends as it pertains to customer success?
Kathleen: The most interesting trend in customer success is around how significantly data is changing our roles. We can now see not only how often customers use our software but what they do when they login. We then tie that to Customer SAT surveys and NPS. By using big data, we can make faster and more educated decisions.
Sales Assembly: What is the best advice you would give to an Account Executive that works along side a CSM type role?
Kathleen: Use this to your advantage. The CSMs are the eyes and ears of the accounts. They will have deep relationships with the customer at all levels and are a great resource to understanding goals and challenges, as well as opportunities.