Myth: CSMs are primarily responsible for fighting churn

With Ahmed Quadri, Pavilion's Top 50 CCOs to Watch

Munish Gandhi

In Episode 3 of this series, we are thrilled to have with us Ahmed Quadri, a seasoned Chief Customer Officer, and CS leader. With successful stints in high-growth ventures including Reltio and Heap as well as industry giants like Salesforce, IBM, and Accenture, Ahmed’s expertise lies in driving revenue through customer retention and expansion. Ahmed has built, led, and grown high-performing teams in CS, Digital/Scaled CS, Partner Success, Professional Services, Customer Education, and Customer Support.

Ahmed’s extensive customer-focused experience shines through in this candid chat where he reflects on his CS journey, his learnings, advice for CS leaders, the way ahead for CS, and more.

Let’s get right to it.

1. What is a myth about Customer Success that’s ripe for a reality check?

That CS is about fighting and preventing churn in the customer base.  It stems from the conventional belief that if you keep your customers happy, they will not churn. And that the CS team needs to simply ensure that customers are happy.

That's a gross misrepresentation of what Customer Success is about. 

It is about much more – ensuring that customers realize value and more importantly, grow the value that they get from your offering. 

Fighting churn is a team sport - it starts with building the right product (Product and Engineering), selling for the right use cases (Sales), and driving adoption and outcomes (Customer Success).

2. How did you find your way to Customer Success?

I joined Customer Success after my leadership stints in consulting services and presales. As a services consultant, I would get customers up and running – and then leave. In presales, it was about promising value to the customer, mapping the solution to their needs, and what felt like leaving the customer at the ‘doorstep of value’.

It was at Salesforce that I first got exposure to Customer Success. What drew me to it was that it wasn’t just about promising value or leaving customers at the ‘doorstep of value’, it was about delivering and growing value for the customer, and by extension, us.

3. How similar or different are Pre-sales and Customer Success?

Presales and CS are parts of a continuum;  pre-sales tends to be a bit more product and solution-centric, while CS tends to be much more customer outcome-centric. It focuses on how the product can evolve based on the customer's needs.

The best presales consultants paint a picture beyond the point in time. Customer Success is about painting the ongoing horizon, as I see it. It’s about an ongoing journey and taking things beyond a ‘point in time.’

There’s also the aspect of customer trust that’s common to both Presales and CS.

As the pre-sales consultant, you are typically trusted more than the salesperson – because customers view sales teams or account execs as looking to maximize their revenues. But they look at the presales consultants as those who understand their pain and connect that to the product and how it solves their problems.

It’s the same in Customer Success. The best CSMs understand the product and are adept at linking the product to the problems the customer originally tried to solve, and the next set of problems they can tackle.

They become trusted advisors and ongoing thought leaders for the customers.

4. What advice do you have for CSMs early in their career?

My advice falls into two categories. 

One: you absolutely have to know your product and how it solves the customer's problem.

Two: Even more importantly, you must understand your customer's business – not just their problems. You should be able to highlight the problems that the customer hasn't even thought about!

5. What would be your advice for someone looking to grow into a CS leader?

To me, a good leader balances the Sales, Product, and Customer Success trifecta. A CS leader needs to be able to build strong cross-functional relationships. 

They need to be able to pull together the rest of the organization – more directly the product function – to drive churn prevention. They need to learn how to work with cross-functional teams and leaders across Product, Sales, and other functions. 

6. As someone who established the CS function at Reltio, take us through the leadership’s thinking about investing in CS. What was the key driver?

It definitely wasn't churn prevention.  At Reltio, the initial driver was adoption – given that the product was relatively complex. It was about making sure that customers adopt the product and leverage it to its full potential.

As we brought more stability into how customers were adopting the platform, it evolved into an expansion-oriented posture to drive expansion within large organizations.

At Heap, I was fortunate to have a CEO who had been a CCO. There was already a solid understanding of why Customer Success is important and why it's critical to have tight post-sales alignment with customers. The focus was on enhancing the delivery of the post-sales experience. for the customer. It was about helping them realize value – and then growing it through additional use cases and capabilities. \Eventually, the focus evolved into a multi-product strategy to prevent churn, and drive expansion.

Eventually, the focus evolved into a multi-product strategy to prevent churn, and drive expansion

7. What are the core metrics you used to show the success of CS at the board level?

At Reltio, it was initially primarily gross retention. Then it moved to include NPS, and Net Retention. 

At Heap, it initially was net retention, gross retention, and NPS.  

But over the last year, there was a big shift given the state of the economy.  We saw that customers were looking for more capabilities, for a one-stop shop approach. Conventional wisdom was that if the customer is adopting, has the right number of users engaged, and subscribed,  they won't churn. The reality was that it wasn't enough to prevent churn.

We started looking at the ‘product attached rate,’ the percentage of customers who leverage more than one product. 

Things took off when we established tighter alignment with the product team on the multi-product approach. It was a joint initiative between the Chief Product Officer and me, with both teams being focused on driving the ‘product attached rate’ across the customer base.

It became a board-level metric as it was a leading indicator for net retention.

8. What is top of mind for you in CS in 2024 for CS? Any trends you’re excited about?

I think Customer Success is expected to be a revenue driver now. As someone who always focuses on the ‘sales’ part of post-sales, I'm excited to see this shift. We’re seeing patterns of CCOs and CS leaders reporting to CROs, Presidents, and CEOs.

I'm also excited about how AI can play a bigger role in adoption and churn prevention areas – to allow CS, as a people function, to focus on revenue generation. 

It’ll be exciting to see how AI takes over digital CS and tech touch or low touch aspects of Customer Success. AI will accelerate tech touch and allow high touch to truly become high touch. So we’ll see high touch becoming strategic and focused on growing value – rather than fire-fighting or driving adoption.

9. With the increased focus on automation in CS, is there an opportunity to put humans back at the center of the customer value loop?

There is an adage in sales that you ultimately sell to people. It holds for Customer Success as well.

Successful CS teams will be those that can leverage AI to make sure that the people part of the equation focuses on the highest value interactions and engagement. With the right use of AI, CSMs can go beyond QBRs, ticket reviews, and escalations. 

That is going to be the key to a balanced and multi-prong approach.

I'm an optimist –  I don't see organizations abandoning Customer Success entirely anytime soon.


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