Customer Success Is a Team Sport (Here's How to Play It)

Eva Klein
Eva Klein



If you actually put the customer first in your organization (like we all say that we do) would you still need a customer team?


I want you to pause and think about that for a minute.

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Yes, you would likely still need people, but how much of the work your customer teams do is really just a band-aid for the bad behavior of the rest of your organization? For example ...

  • Your marketing team is incentivized to oversell the abilities of your product -- your customer team is the band-aid to fix that gap in expectations.
  • Your product team builds hard-to-use features -- your customer team is the band-aid that teaches customers how to align their business needs with your product.
  • Your sales team is compensated on new revenue -- your customer team is the band-aid to make sure customers see value, even if they aren't an ideal fit.
  • Your leadership team wants to reduce churn, so you implement hard-to-escape contracts -- your customer team is the band-aid so you don't have to feel the pain of that decision.

Having great teams of people working in customer support and customer success does not make you a customer-centric organization. And I think in many ways we've done ourselves a disservice by handing off the responsibility of the customer to an individual team.

Customer Success Is a Team Sport, Not Just a Department.

If we want to be customer-first, we have to get better at spreading customer-first thinking outside the walls of our customer success teams.

Customer Success Starts with the C-Suite

A few weeks ago I attended an executive breakfast where a CMO was exclaiming how customer-focused his marketing team was. Skeptical, I asked, "How do you allocate your marketing budget between acquisition and retention?" His difficulty in answering told me that, like so many leaders, his dreams of "customer-first" marketing were just that … dreams.

I'm not trying to pick on this CMO. This CMO is all of us.

One of the biggest problems we encounter in the journey toward putting the customer first is that the executive team unwittingly constructs barriers between the customer teams and the rest of the company:

  • Like the CMO I met, we have no designated budget for supporting existing customers. Marketing success is measured on new leads in the door, creating a great experience for existing customers is an afterthought.The irony here is that we know the best source of leads come from our most successful, existing customers.
  • We compensate salespeople on new revenue, giving them little to no incentive to care about long-term relationships
  • We send our product teams on vision-less missions to copy our competition or chase what we believe will be the next big thing in our industries.

We expect our teams to be customer-centric even as we put budgets, workflows, and compensation in place that are undeniably anti-customer…and we wonder why customers (and employees) are churning.

I've started exploring these barriers at a more granular level and make an attempt at posing some solutions, but I'd like to hear your thoughts as well:

  • What are the common tensions that you see between customer teams and other teams?
  • What are ways in which executives hire, promote, and compensate that create anti-customer outcomes?
  • What strategies have you implemented between sales, product, marketing, and customer teams (support or success) that have resulted in a better customer experience?
  • How do your teams allocate resources toward acquiring new vs. supporting existing customers?

To learn more, read more about how to align your marketing and customer success and sales and customer success teams next.

A version of this blog post was originally published on ThinkGrowth.

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