I had the pleasure of interviewing Ariel Benzakein. Ariel has over 25 years of experience leading high performing teams at software companies, currently in SaaS, but going back to the on-premise software days. Ariel began his career in software sales, but spent the bulk of his career leading Implementation and Professional Services teams. Ariel is currently the Vice President of Customer Success & Account Management at Flosum, which is a SaaS software startup in the DevSecOps space. Ariel lives in Lancaster, PA with his wife and children.
Thank you so much for joining us!
Can you tell us about your journey in Customer Success?
I got into Customer Success in a roundabout way. I was initially leading the Professional Services and Technical Support teams at a B2B software business unit of Experian. One of the things that happened shortly after I started is that the business moved to a “One Sales” model, which combined the Hunter and Farmer sales roles into one, effectively eliminating the Account Management team. You can probably imagine what happened as a result of this — the obvious thing is that our Gross Revenue Retention took a nosedive almost immediately. However, the other thing that happened was even more interesting. All of a sudden, I had Project Managers on my team coming to me saying that they didn’t have enough time to complete their work. I thought to myself — “how is this possible? Did I really do such a bad job at capacity planning?” I investigated, and I found that they were spending up to 40% of their time on what is essentially Customer Success work. I realized that we needed a Customer Success function; however, I was not an expert in CS at the time, so I started talking to a lot of CS leaders, read a lot of books, and attended conferences to learn more. I ended up putting together a proposal to create a CS team; we started with just our Enterprise clients (about 200 of our 2,000 customers). The team was extremely successful in driving our GRR numbers up significantly in a very short period of time.
What is it that excites you about Customer Success?
At the end of the day, Customer Success is one of the greatest revenue protection and revenue growth engines ever thought up. By something as seemingly simple as ensuring that customers achieve their desired outcomes and value from a tool, we can not only protect our existing revenue, but we can drive the creation of net new revenue, quarter after quarter. It’s really rewarding and exciting to be a part of something that has such a large impact on a business.
What are some of the biggest challenges you see CS teams and CSMs face? And any advice on how to tackle them?
One of the biggest challenges I see is that CS teams often end up being Tier 2 Technical Support rather than Customer Success. Meetings devolve into support ticket reviews, feature request reviews, or even worse — become the dreaded “check-in” meeting with no business purpose. A very simple way of changing the conversations with your clients into something more strategic is to create Success Plans. These should be created jointly with the client and become an agreed upon set of goals and outcomes. Then, you should have an Executive Business Review with the client (frequency will vary based on the client) where you track back to those goals. This is a great time to show value to your client’s executives!
What major trends do you expect to see in Customer Success in the coming years?
One of the biggest ones that I see is moving towards becoming a revenue driver inside of a business, as I discussed before. Some companies worry about CS teams losing their “trusted advisor” status with clients if they get involved with revenue generation; however, if a customer just needs a few more licenses, isn’t it easier for them to acquire it via their trusted CSM instead of going through a sales process? And, for adding new products, the CSM doesn’t have to be the one selling, but they can be a great force for identifying opportunities for a sales team (and should be comped for it). CS teams need to own some kind of number, or their value to a business will be murky.
If you had to share, “words of wisdom,” with a CS leader, what would they be?
The biggest thing is this — don’t get wrapped up in metrics like CSAT and NPS. While they can be valuable, they have been proven to be unrelated to churn. Customers churn because they’re not receiving value from your tool; you can always think anecdotally of “happy customers” that churn and “unhappy customers” that continue to renew year after year. It’s much more worthwhile to figure out why your successful customers are successful than to chase churn.
How can our readers follow you on social media or elsewhere?
The only social media that I use is LinkedIn — however, I love making new connections there, so feel free to send me a connection request!
This was very insightful. Thank you so much for joining us!