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All Hat – No Cattle

I have a friend with a Lamborghini.  His social media is filled with photos of him in and around this mean looking vehicle.  But that’s about as far as the envy goes.  This “Lamborghini” is actually a kit car built on a Fiero frame and 2.6L engine.  As long as his car is not running… and viewed from a distance… under soft lighting… by a non-car person… everything is good.  Otherwise, even racing against a Yugo would be ill advised and laughable.

Many of today’s SaaS companies are operating on this “kit car” approach.  They know the right things to say and the right way to position, but when it comes to putting the pedal to the metal, there is a lot to be desired – without the right engine, you won’t go far.


The Customer Success Engine

Many organizations will select a different Customer Success engine, and I am sure there are very good reasons for those selections.  My proposed 5.7L, V8, Hemi engine is based on my belief that scalable Customer Success requires a foundation built on advocacy and trust.  When Customer Success is blended with pricing negotiations, upsells, cross-sells and contract renewals, trust and advocacy are tarnished.

That certainly doesn’t preclude Customer Success talent from identifying pricing elasticity, upsells, and cross-sells from within their accounts.  Rather, upon discovery, they usher these conversations over to the sales or renewals team.

Proposed Customer Success Structure

Before I reveal my proposed Customer Success structure, I want to clarify that you do not necessarily need this many departments nor team members.  Smaller SaaS companies will have many people wearing multiple hats while larger companies may have significantly more divisions.  Titles are not important.  My hope is that this structure will help clarify functional areas.

Figure 1: Sample SaaS CS Organizational Structure

Roles and Responsibilities

VP of Customer Success

The VP of Customer Success should provide a clear and concise vision as to what customer success means throughout the organization.  This means closely aligning policies, processes, tools, metrics and compensation structures to that vision.

Another key responsibility for the VP of Customer Success lies in maintaining an executive communication cadence with Enterprise and Strategic accounts.  This personal touch on these accounts can help maintain renewals long after the client executive looses sight of that initial need/value and only sees an expense item on the annual budget.

Director of Customer Success

The Director of Customer Success leads the Customer Success Managers (“CSMs“), segments and balances account assignments and closely monitors the trending health of each account.  This position must have their finger on the pulse of each account and identify at risk accounts and coordinate resources to bring those at risk accounts back to good health.

Enterprise CSMs

Enterprise CSMs are high touch, seasoned CSMs who know your software and can adeptly defend your value proposition to C-level clientele.  Their account load must allow them to give adequate focus to each of their accounts in depth.

Strategic CSMs

Strategic CSMs are extremely high touch and have a narrow clientele focus.  These CSMs should be as equally skilled as your Enterprise CSMs, but will spend a larger share of their time building this strategic segment of business.


Small and Medium-sized Business (“SMB“) CSMs typically have a lower touch with a larger client base.  This is great training ground for your CSMs as they see a more diverse set of client problems in order to hone those value defending skills as well as identify opportunities for expansion.

Operational CSMs

Operational CSMs are shared between traditional CSMs and Services.  These CSMs identify and maintain solutions for operational efficiency as well as scalability.  These are your CSM-engineers who have a broad, but more technical skill set to help translate/communicate across Account Executives, CSMs, Analysts, Consultants, Developers and the Cloud Team.

Director of Services

The Director of Services manages the Project Management Office (“PMO“), Consultants and Trainers.  Much of his job is to ensure onboarding is done accurately and efficiently as well as projecting and meeting billable hour targets for the consultants and trainers.


The PMO is responsible for accurately scoping each consultation, developing a project plan with requisite consultants, and delivering on the objectives on time and on budget.

Project Managers (“PMs“) have a large impact on the longevity of a client through a well executed onboarding process.  This is the time when the client executives are most engaged and need to see quick wins to set the stage for the rest of the business relationship.


Consultants come in a variety of flavors and are dependent upon the technical complexity as well as the market lifecycle stage of your product.  For low complexity, high maturity products, consultants may be sparsely used for only the most complex implementations.  For high complexity, low maturity products, strategic consults, technical consultants, implementation consultants and analysts  may be used to ensure a proper deployment.

Strategic consultants and analysts are the tip of the spear during the client scoping phase.  The client has identified your company as the solution to meet their need(s).  It is the responsibility of the strategic consultants and analysts to dig into the executives/decision-maker’s vision to ensure the deployed solution will meet their expectations.

Implementation and technical consultants flesh out the needs of the client through interviews with end-users who utilize the solution.  Once the final solution is designed, the technical consultant works through the integration and/or data transformation effort while the implementation consultant configures the product to specifications.

Training Team

The training team has several responsibilities that bridge across all three areas of Customer Success.

1. CSMs

Trainers must operationally know the product backwards and forwards and engage the client in real world scenarios taken from their everyday duties.  These training sessions must drive usage of the product and focus on the key “sticky” features of the product.

2. Services

As people come and go (as well as through faulty memory), trainers are used for “bootcamps” or other training sessions to train and re-train your clients.  While these are typically billable services, they should be structured to drive client usage of your product rather than serve as a revenue source outright.

3. Support

Trainers should be used to develop and maintain a 1:Many user community site that provides basic training as well as best practices in the usage of your product.  By encouraging client self-help at any hour, customer health can be improved while at the same time allowing for Customer Success resources to focus on more value driving activities.

Director of Support

The Director of Support focuses on managing client frustration with bugs that are discovered through usage of the product.  It is their responsibility to ensure fast time-to-closure on support tickets as well as ensure client communication when bug fixes are deployed to the Cloud.

Escalated Support Team

The Escalated Support Team can be thought of as “developer-light.”  These are extremely technical resources that can look at source code, run SQL queries, and debug otherwise highly technical issues.  This team should not be used on front line support, but rather be engaged when sets of narrowly defined conditions are met on a ticket.

Tier 1 Support Team

The Tier 1 Support is the front line support team for opening tickets on customer reported bugs.  As the face of your company to a frustrated customer, it is imperative they have training on problem solving as well as confirming resolution with the customer.

1:Many Support

The 1:Many Support team must focus on disseminating knowledge base articles to the user community.  Many misunderstandings or misconfigurations within your customer base can be addressed through a self-help, community forum.

Engine Selection

Whichever your Customer Success engine selection, it must be based on your vision for Customer Success in your organization.  Steer away from perception and rely on the make of your company.  Worst case, you can always upgrade later.

Next time…  The Customer Journey 


timschukarHuman Horsepower

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