CSM Chronicles: Let customers express their pain points fully before you jump to offer solutions

With Scott Cohen, Head of Customer Success & Solution Engineering - Mixpanel

Scott leads MixPanel’s Customer Success and Sales Engineering teams. 

Previously, Scott has experience with both early and late stage Customer Success - setting foundational experiences and scaling teams. Scott managed a team of 40+ at NetBase Quid, growing the customer base from $12M to over $60M with 100%+ NRR. He transformed CS into a revenue driver, generating $3.5M+ in annual services revenue. More recently, he was the first CS hire at Rill Data going from 0 to dozens of customers building a more technical team of Technical Account Managers, Data Engineering and Solution Consultants.

Here's Scott sharing his CS journey, insights, and advice for thriving in a CS career.

How do you define Customer Success? 

Ensuring customers achieve their desired outcomes – whether it's increased efficiency or revenue gain. 

For achieving those outcomes, measurement is key. Externally, it often involves metrics like time to value and business outcomes. Internally, it includes health and usage metrics – besides factors like reference-ability and the strength of the customer relationship.

What does it truly mean for a customer to be successful?

That the customer has effectively integrated your product into their overall business strategy and organizational goals. It's about how your product fits into their overall business objectives and contributes to their broader success.

Separately (and to steal from Des Traynor at Intercom), I like the idea of looking at Customer Success as a "get me promoted button" for customers, helping them achieve success and advance their own goals.

What is a CS trend that bothers you?

The trend that really bothers me is more from LinkedIn influencer types focusing solely on strategy. CS has moved too far away from helping customers with their day-to-day needs.

Sure, CS needs to be focused on outcomes and business value, but you need to care about the customer’s day-to-day problems in addition to the bigger ones. Today there's too much distance and disconnect between CS and Support. And as a result, CS has lost some of the technical expertise it needs.

What is one of the most difficult things about being a CSM? 

Handling difficult customers and encountering customers whose problems you may be unable to solve. While it's about building relationships based on trust and transparency, situations where you can't resolve an issue are always tough.

Are there any things that you dread when you open up your calendar?

Conversations where I know things aren't going well with a customer. It's that feeling right before you're about to hear a "I am not renewing" or deal with a difficult situation. 

Any tips, tricks, or hacks you'd like to share with fellow CSMs that helped you or your team?

Resist the urge to fix things immediately. Sometimes, customers need to fully ‘feel their pain’. Let them express their pain points before you jump to offer solutions.

Equally important to providing impactful solutions, is to spend time on the pain - the more you get the customer to focus on the problem, the better the solution will be. It also prevents you from only answering part of the question vs. getting into what could be a much larger, valuable problem. By doing this and understanding the root cause of their issues, you can provide more targeted and impactful solutions.

Understand the sales process, support your sales counterparts, and recognize the challenges they face in closing deals. Try to be in the loop from the get-go and understand the closing motion. 

You've got to embrace a bit of a hunting mentality. CS often attracts people who aim to be liked, but it's also important to be more commercially focused.

Tell us about a CSM you admire and why. 

There are a couple of folks. One of them had this amazing ability to take ideas and iterate quickly on them. I remember one time we had a big presentation coming up, and he sent me a draft of the deck. I had a lot of feedback, but he never took it personally. Instead, he took that feedback and turned around iterations quickly.

It's something I always try to keep in mind – that feedback isn't personal, it's just about making things better.

Another CSM I admire would focus heavily on understanding customers on a strategic level. He'd go read their annual reports, follow analyst reports, and dig into what people were saying about them.  It's important to remember that even though we might be dealing with lower-level folks on a day-to-day basis, understanding the big picture and connecting the dots with the overall strategy is crucial. 

Can you recall a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty for a customer?

I've seen some real superhero moments from my team that made a difference for our customers. This one time, one of our data engineers had personal stuff going on—but he was still laser-focused on fixing a big issue for a client. That’s simply the nature of our work, honestly.

Personally, one of the biggest compliments I've ever received from a customer was when they said, "You anticipate my needs." They’d reached out with an issue, and I not only solved it but also proactively suggested two or three other things they might want to consider. 

I think the ability to anticipate needs is often overlooked –  but it's something I try hard to do for all my customers.

How are you leveraging AI across your work as a CSM? 

We use it in the technical space for things like code writing and automating repetitive tasks. Even small stuff that used to take up a lot of time, like copying and pasting or Excel manipulations, is now streamlined thanks to AI. It might seem minor, but it's saving us tons of time.

Another area is communication and outreach. However, instead of just letting AI write everything for me, I'm trying to be strategic about it. 

I think about who I'm reaching out to, what their role is, and what their interests might be. Then, I ask AI questions like, "What are the primary concerns of a VP of Engineering?" or "What challenges do product managers face?" It helps me tailor my communication to different personas and verticals, and it's been really effective so far.

If you were to wave a magic wand to do your job better or provide more value, what would it be?

It would be to hire better. There have been instances where we didn't realize what skill set we truly needed or where the person's skills didn't perfectly align with our requirements. If I could magically ensure that every hire perfectly matched our needs, it would solve a ton of problems.

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