How Skedulo Ramped Up Customer Success
If you’ve experienced start-up life, you’ll know the fragile balancing act that’s involved in the early days of growing a business. Ramp up your resource profile too early, and you risk overinvesting in irrecoverable internal costs. Ramp up too late, and you can miss out on opportunities that might’ve been a gamechanger for growth.
At Skedulo, we’ve lived and breathed this journey. We started out six years ago with a skeleton customer success staff of ‘jack-of-all-trades’ high performers. This meant that our customer success team wasn’t only responsible for account management; it was also on the hook for everything from presales enablement and demos, project delivery, and tech support.
This model worked for a while, but after months of steady customer growth, cracks started to appear. In keeping the customer success manager role so broad, we were faced with the risk of stressed out and overworked staff and impacting customers who might not get the level of support they had come to expect.
We’d reached a critical point in Skedulo’s growth journey: we needed a mature and scalable customer success model that maximized business benefits for our customers.
In this blog post, I’ll share some of the key insights that we’ve learned from our customer success journey.
Lesson #1 – Getting the Science of Scalability Right
For any new business, there’s a tendency to throw everything you have at big opportunities whenever they arise. The whole company will get behind a sale to help the business survive and grow. In this climate, it can be hard to transition to the future-focused resourcing mindset that you need to drive scalable growth, as internal costs are kept slim.
To take business growth to the next level, we learned that you first need to get the right balance in allocating resources to optimally meet customer needs. Second, crunch the numbers to understand your composition of small, mid-sized, and enterprise customers. And third, segment those customers to identify which are high-value, high-touch, or have highly specialized needs.
With this information, you can start developing ratios and business rules to govern resource allocation that enables growth. For example, Skedulo’s customer success managers now specialize in 2-3 industries and each own roughly 20-25 accounts. These accounts contain a mix of customer sizes and needs (i.e. high or low touch) and also a mix of onboarding (with extra support needed) vs live (and stable). This felt right to us for the stage of growth we’re currently in and is simpler than some of the more complex pyramid style CSM team leveling and segmentation that can work better in larger companies.
Don’t forget that timing matters too. If it takes you three months to hire and onboard a new team member, make sure you’re initiating recruitment action three months before you expect the operational need to emerge.
Lesson #2 – Develop Structured Leadership
Most new businesses start out with fairly flat leadership structures. And while company growth often necessitates an increase in leadership and management positions, this doesn’t have to mean deep layers and complex hierarchies. We found that a major key to our success was implementing a structured leadership model that didn’t fundamentally change our non-hierarchical culture.
As Skedulo grew its footprint internationally a couple of years ago, we introduced regional leads. This had an incredibly positive operational impact because it reduced the complexity associated with managing teams that are spread across totally different time-zones.
We’re now also introducing global managers for key business components such as customer success, project delivery and solution architecture. We’ve learned that it’s feasible for our team to have about 6-8 direct reports, but beyond that size, additional leaders are needed. Our global managers are helping us address this challenge.
Lesson #3 – Leveraging Data-Driven Insights
Product and customer data can have a huge impact on the way you manage your business and reduce pressure on customer success managers. For a SaaS business, having insight into when and how customers are logging in, what features they’re using and what issues they’re encountering gives you immensely powerful information about how to improve customers’ experience with your product.
It’s never too late to start investing in better data. At Skedulo, we’re continuously improving the quality and quantity of customer analytics so we can stay ahead of our clients’ needs. For this purpose, we have recently implemented Gainsight for customer success and also Segment for product analytics.
Lesson #4 – Manage Expectations
For both customers and team members, you can expect to see significant change as your business matures from a start-up to an established entity. When just starting out, many start-ups offer a high level of flexibility, personal relationships with customers and a wide breadth of opportunities for staff. But as they grow, it’s common to shift towards industry or topic specialization as well as higher levels of corporate maturity and structure.
Supporting your customer success team to both expect and navigate these changes will demonstrate your honesty and promote loyalty over time. In our experience, it’s well worth making the effort to manage expectations.
Maturing a start-up from a ‘customer success manager does everything’ model into a broad set of teams can be a challenge. But it’s much easier to achieve when all teams are aligned across customer success. Want to learn more about our approach to building and growing teams? Read about who we are and how we work.