Myth: Enterprise customers need more human resources

With Sunil Joseph, former Global Vice President, Customer Success, Stack Overflow

In this episode, we have Sunil Joseph, an experienced Customer Success leader, who most recently served as the Global Vice President of Customer Success at Stack Overflow. His expertise lies in building and advising successful go-to-market teams, guiding them from early stages to successful exits, including acquisitions through IPO. 

Sunil has led teams across domains and built/scaled teams in Customer Success, Account Management, Professional Services, Revenue Operations, Product Management, and Engineering. 

Here’s Sunil sharing insights from his journey, offering advice to CSMs, and discussing the future of CS, including the impact of AI and the importance of balancing product, technology, community, and human interactions for success.

Let’s dive in.

What's a common myth about Customer Success?

That the enterprise segment requires more human resources, while the SMB segment can be purely tech touch. The truth is that four levers are critical across any segment: the product, the community, the tech touch, and the human element. These levers are essential across enterprise, mid-market, and SMB segments. While the enterprise side may require more human interaction, it still needs support from tech touch, community, and product. 

How did you find your way into the world of Customer Success?

I started my career as an engineer. I was all about building things back then. However, I soon found myself gravitating towards helping customers and solving their challenges. 

This interest led me to grad school and eventually into the business world. I interned at Wall Street and spent 5 years at Deloitte, where I got to work with customers on everything from policy to strategy to implementation.

For the past decade or so, I've been focused on scale – building up customer success teams for high-growth B2B and B2B2C startups and companies. 

What advice would you give somebody starting their Customer Success now?

First, there's no one right way to get into customer success. Everyone's path is different, so it's important to understand where you're starting from and what excites you about customer success. 

Is it solving problems for customers? Is it helping unlock value? Is it helping solve technical problems?

This will help you figure out where to begin and how to expand your skills from there.

Learn about implementation, support, and other related areas – even if these roles aren't clearly defined in your organization yet.

Next, think of customer success as a journey to unlock value for both your organization and your customers. 

A common mistake is to view customer success as a strict checklist of steps – focusing on things like handoffs, kickoffs, and training. While these are all important, they shouldn't be your starting point. 

Instead, ask yourself: "How can I quickly get customers to see the initial value, and then help them achieve full value and growth?

What advice do you have for CS leaders?

Start thinking from the organizational perspective – move beyond just focusing on your team's success. Begin to understand and align with the broader business KPIs, such as gross margins, and think about how your team's efforts impact those metrics. Think cross-functionally, both within the business and across your customer portfolio. Build connective tissues across different departments to do what’s best for customers.

Second, focus on driving towards key metrics and showing progress over time. Identify where you currently stand and strategize on how to move towards your goals – on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis.

Lastly, think about customer segments beyond your own and leverage best practices across these segments to enhance your own. 

Why does your organization invest in Customer Success as a function? How do they define and measure the success of the CS function?

To transition from a reactive approach to a proactive and eventually predictive one. 

It was about combining forces to identify risks and opportunities early on.  We had to make sure every activity – done by the customer success team, implementation managers, and support and enablement teams –  aligned with moving the organization forward and helping customers unlock value at every stage.  

This means being ahead of the game in understanding and meeting our customers' needs throughout their journey with us. 

For instance, being reactive might involve discussing renewals just a month or two before they're due. Being proactive would mean having those conversations six months in advance. And being predictive means having an idea of the customer's value unlock the moment they come on board. 

Our first goal was to move our team towards this level of maturity.

Secondly, beyond customer experience and success, we also wanted to tie everything back to revenue. So, ensuring that the activities and outcomes of the CS directly correlate to revenue metrics, such as bookings, NRR, and GRR, was key for us.

What do you think is the future of CS?

The immediate future is understanding the play between AI and CS.  It's not just about companies using AI in their products; it's also about how customer success teams integrate AI into their processes.  For instance, AI can play a crucial role in predicting customer value outcomes early on in the journey. This can help CSMs guide customers toward value realization.  

Another big shift is towards CS teams taking on a more revenue-focused role.  This means that customer success professionals need to develop skills related to revenue management and ownership.

Lastly, the future of customer success is about being forward-looking and helping customers unlock value proactively.  Simply adding more support or touchpoints won't necessarily benefit customers. 

It's about integrating AI seamlessly with the levers of product, tech touch, community, and human interactions and finding the right balance between them.

With this huge emphasis on technology, do you think there’s a way to put humans back at the center of value delivery?

Absolutely.

At the end of the day, people trust people, so having humans at the center of customer value delivery is crucial. While technology can enhance efficiency and scale, it's the human touch that builds trust and fosters strong relationships.

It's all about finding that perfect balance between human interaction and technology. 

So, instead of thinking in terms of either/or, we should be looking at how to blend these elements seamlessly. It's about using technology to support human interactions – and to do that seamlessly.

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