I love Customer Success because People Matter! It’s not just business, it is absolutely personal.
haydar.al-saad
03 Apr

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenelle Friday, VP of Customer Success at Forecastable.

Hello! Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share my story. I’m originally from the Seattle, WA area so yes I love cloudy rainy days, green surroundings all year long and summers at the beach. I moved to Colorado 7 years ago to be a full time aunt to my beautiful and amazing 3 nephews. I got lucky and met my husband shortly after I moved, and my life has never been so full or joyful! We have 2 dogs, Duke the 8yr English Mastiff and Harley, the 3yr Frenchie. They are best friends and are always with me during the work day, they love their Mamma! When I’m not working, you can find me cheering a nephew at the current sporting event they’re playing, on a road trip with the hubby, cooking a new recipe to increase my cooking skills, creating a crafting project, reading a book on Customer Success or snuggling with my puppies. I take one day at a time, and am always looking for ways to bring a smile to the people around me because we all need to smile and laugh more!

Can you tell us about your journey within Customer Success?

After spending some time in executive support roles, I realized one of my core strengths was creating and maintaining business relationships. I excelled in time management, effective communication, problem solving, personal accountability, responsibility and genuine care for the people I worked with. After moving to Colorado, I took a role as an SDR to get my foot through the door at Agility Recovery and very quickly set myself apart due to my passion and dedication to my customers and my team. The company realized my value and offered me the opportunity to be their very first CSM hire. Since then, I’ve had incredible opportunities with companies like Adobe and now Forecastable, always exceeding targets and goals and simply loving the customer relationship building process.  

What is it that excites you about this space?

Customer Success excites me because at its core, it brings humanity to the forefront of the business world. I value the HUMANS in business above all else. Humanity is beautiful, complicated, delicate, powerful and unpredictable. In business, we have the opportunity to show ingenuity, genius, generosity and compassion and in the very center of all those things is Customer Success. The CSM has become a conduit, offering invaluable insight into the customer’s feedback, suggestions, growth potential and identifying areas of risk.

At some point in time, we’ve all been customers in need of help. We’ve sat through tedious calls or meetings feeling misunderstood and frustrated. We’ve needed support and in some cases intervention from a manager to get to our desired result. We all have bad days that we wake up on the wrong side of the bed, deal with messes left by kiddos, or see too many meetings on our calendars and try to find excuses to reschedule. Sound familiar? Your customers share similar stories. Caring about our customers and what’s happening in their lives creates a safe space allowing them to open up and be more transparent about what’s really going on in their job and at their company. Knowledge is powerful! Imagine all that you could accomplish if you had an inside track into your customer’s organization. 

The CSM can be the catalyst for your organization that can create a trusted relationship with your customers, and that is incredibly exciting to me!

What are some of the key ingredients in a successful Customer Success Program in your opinion?

From my experience, the few things that are vital to a successful Customer Success program are:

#1 – Educating and mentoring CSM’s before adding another SaaS tool is always better.
Right now there are so many CS tools that can be used to streamline or simplify processes, we are all spinning on which tools are the best. In my opinion, no tool is better than ensuring your CSM’s have a full understanding of HOW to be a great CSM through role play scenarios, mock executive calls and full product training that empower them to be subject matter experts. Whether through a playbook, or extensive training during the first 90 days of ramp time, no tool is as comprehensive as a CSM who has a full grasp on their role and responsibility.  

I can teach someone any CS SaaS tool. What I cannot teach someone is how to care about their customers. I cannot teach someone to be innately curious and constantly asking “Why?” to get to the root cause of something. So, the other side to the CSM is someone who genuinely loves working with people – all people from all walks of life. The relationships being created in a CS/Customer setting should be built on a foundation of authenticity, transparency and trust. We need to find people with this skill set and encourage those already in a CS role to embrace this part of their job. 

#2 – Customer Success is not an organizational department or job title, it is a company mindset.
Whether you’re working in sales, or product, Customer Success needs to be seen and valued by the entire organization. The customer voice needs to have experienced and intelligent representation so the product team understands what the customer is asking for, and what the customer needs from your product in order to be successful. From the moment a lead is generated to a closed won opportunity, all the way through the customer’s renewal, we should view the Customer Experience in its entirety; building company values and product roadmaps around the Customer Experience. If the entire company understands the value of their customers, and why Customer Success is so important to the health of your organization, the growth potential is unlimited.

#3 – Data. 
Good data is king when it comes to how an organization predicts revenue, identify’s areas of risk and measures Customer adoption against desired outcomes. For a CSM to be successful, they need to have a consistent and reliable flow of data that gives them insight into their customers behavior. Product adoption, account growth metrics, benchmark data and customer trends are a few examples of data points I’ve used that have become critical in the management of a customer account and the entire book-of-business. Your data should tell a story of the current state of affairs in a customer account, so the CSM knows how to tell that story not just to the customer in an advice/guidance session, but also internally so their leadership has visibility into the overall health of their customers.  

Data at the leadership level is critical to understanding why churn happens, seeing all areas of risk to determine the best way to mitigate them and fine tune your Customer Success program through segmentation, improved process flows and full transparency into your customer accounts.

Can you talk about your view on the importance of sales, CS and other departments working in harmony? Any advice to accomplish this?

Great question! The traditional silos of Sales and Customer Success have been challenging. The truth of the matter is it all starts and ends with the leadership team. When Sales and Customer Success align around the value of the customer and embrace Customer Success as a mindset, amazing things happen.

There is a lot of talk about the Customer Experience, and for the most part this falls to the CS org. However, when you look at this from a holistic view, the customer is evaluating your organization and your product from the moment they see the full demo. If your Sales team and your CS team are aligned appropriately, the customer has the best experience from pre-sales through post-sales. The “Handoff” from Sales to CS has often felt like trying to skip through a field trying to avoid landmines. Some handoffs are full of great information and the CSM is introduced to the customer by the Sales team member. This type of transition is the standard at Forecastable.

I’ve worked very hard to overcome the stigma around cross-functional partnership with sales by simply caring about my sales counterpart and ensuring they stay informed and updated on what’s happening within a customer account we share. We all want to be heard, and valued for what we bring to the table so if we agree we both want the same things, then developing and maintaining a healthy and positive relationship between these two departments isn’t difficult to achieve.

I think it also has a lot to do with the company and the “Ideal Customer Profile.” At the organizational level, having a clear and firm ICP ensures both Sales and Customer Success are set up and enabled to win together. I love Sales! Throughout my entire career, my Sales counterparts were some of the most amazing people I’d ever met. My current CEO and Co-Founder of Forecastable was a sales counterpart at Adobe. He and I worked together on several customer accounts, developing a shared vision to offer the best possible customer experience. We addressed risk and customer issues head on, together, always staying in communication and helping each other solve complex issues. We traveled together to meet customers in person to run workshops, training programs and partner with other vendors maximizing the time to achieve the customers’ desired results.

I should also mention my husband is a Sales Leader, and I’ve learned so much from him and how Customer Success impacts his job and his team. We all want to know we bring value to our company and our teammates. The Sales team has the burden of bringing more customers to the table, while the Customer Success team then carries the burden of keeping the customer productive and successful. It honestly has the potential to be the strongest partnership within your organization, and I have seen first hand the extraordinary results that come from a Sales/Customer Success partnership.

How do you see the role of CS technology come into play in the coming years?

Technology is exciting to watch, as it grows and gets smarter. I think there is a ton we can automate using tools like AI in the management of our customer accounts. Gainsight put CS tech on the map for process mapping and reliable output on success metrics that have helped us all achieve better results. My hesitation in investing more money into another CS tech tool is that the tool itself isn’t going to solve some of the core problems we are facing today.

There is a documentary I watched recently on Area 51. In it, they explained that during the Vietnam war, we were losing our Navy pilots 8 to 2 against the Mig. The US military was lucky enough to capture a Mig and then start breaking down its tech. We realized our losses weren’t coming from our planes being subpar – it was our pilots! We were not training our pilots adequately to match the skills of the enemy. Hence, Top Gun. After Top Gun, the US Navy pilots that emerged began to turn the tide and not a single pilot was lost during the remainder of the Vietnam war.

I think there is an incredible parallel from this story to the current Customer Success program.
Tech is great, but if we are not training our CSM’s to be expert level, intelligent, educated and motivated team members, all the tech in the world cannot make up for this deficiency. 

The few companies that have tools to help Customer Success need to look at the entire workflow of a CSM. Right now, we need companies to give the CSM a single point of reference for their entire book-of-business. We lack a single point of truth that will allow us to manage the day to day tasks, understand our book-of-business from a risk and expansion perspective and offer valuable and critical insights into our customer base. I still use excel spreadsheets and have multiple tools/windows open in my browser all day. Leadership in essence is blind to the context behind the data they’re managing which can lead to inaccurate forecasting, product enhancements or features that don’t increase or drive adoption which inevitably increases the risk for churn.

I think RevSetter is addressing this issue head on and I’m excited to see how it continues to develop and make a dramatic impact on our industry.

What major trends do you expect to see in the CS space in the coming years when it comes to driving revenue in the customer base?

Trends pop up quite a bit in the CS space just due to the short runway we’ve had. Right now there is a trend around “Customer Lead Growth” instead of Product Lead Growth. I think company leaders are beginning to realize that Customer Success, when executed properly, is a game changer. In most organizations, Customer Success owns anywhere from 60-70% of ARR, making them the majority owner of the company’s total ARR. The CS leader should have a seat at the revenue table simply due to this fact. The voice of the customer deserves to be represented at the highest level in order for real and sustainable growth to occur. We are now seeing more CCO’s and VP’s of Customer Success being given ownership of the Customer Experience forcing collaboration internally and externally.

Another trend I’m following is “Active Listening.” Sales has been deploying the skill set of active listening for a long time. Customer Success can learn a great deal from Sales around this core competency. I have sat through many sales training programs and acquired skills I use in my role on a daily basis, so another reason to partner with sales!

If you’re only talking to customers to push your predetermined outcomes, agenda or goals, and you’re not actively listening to what your customers’ needs are, the likelihood of closing your deal, or empowering your customer to find success is extremely low. A CS engagement point isn’t just simply checking in with the customer to make sure there aren’t any new issues – every engagement should add value to the customer or you’re wasting their time.

You are one of many vendors/partners your customer is working with, and their time is valuable. You should be discussing your customer’s business outcomes, change in leadership or company direction, and overall strategy for how your product can increase their sales or productivity and offering insightful recommendations based on real data to inspire and encourage the customer towards continual and productive engagement. They are paying for your time/service/product so respecting their time by bringing meaningful and valuable content to your conversations is how you reinforce your value and create a customer for life.

Customers are people facing pressures and deadlines just as you are. If you’re actively listening during every engagement, the customer will feel heard, valued and tend to share more information that could prove vital to their ongoing health and continued partnership. Put all this together and gone will be the days when a renewal pops up in your queue and the customer sends you a cancellation notice out of the blue. None of us can afford that type of customer journey.

If you had to share, “words of wisdom,” with a revenue leader, what would they be?

Honestly, my advice to a revenue leader would be to shadow a CSM for a week or so. Understand their role, and what your organization is requiring of them. So much money gets poured into Sales and Marketing that CS is sometimes an afterthought. If Customer Success owns more than 60% of your ARR, they are your growth engine and should be valued appropriately.  

The CSM is so much more than a smiling “make the customer happy” role – if done well, they are the first line of defense when things get complicated. They become Trusted Advisors to your customer base and oftentimes drive your upsell/expansion efforts simply by having strong and trusted relationships. They will identify risk well before that risk results in a downsell or churn.  They are the voice to listen to when it comes to product development or road map planning since they have your customers’ attention and trust. CSM’s should be viewed as a critical role thus resulting in proper training and education to ensure success.

Investing into Customer Success is so much more than hiring CSM’s or buying more tech.  There are critical roles in CS like Support, Professional Services and Onboarding teams that need financial support. A great CSM shouldn’t be spending their time chasing support tickets, that is not a good use of their time. Having strong and knowledgeable infrastructure within the CS organization will continue to ensure the customer has the most amazing experience.

How can our readers follow you on social media or elsewhere?

You can find me on LinkedIn here and I welcome all new connections!  You can also contact me directly at jfriday@forecastable.com

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