Who Does Customer Success Report Up to?

I posted the other day about what a CCO does, in it I mentioned an debate that has been going on for years around customer success, its the question of where should it sit in the organization.  Like all the topics I talk about, the answer is it depends.  First let me say customer success is owned by everyone in reality.  There is no one team that should be 100% responsible for everything customer related.  You need to treat customers awesome and show them value in every interaction you perform with a customer.   That means everyone should have a customer centric mentality and always be looking how to wow your customers.  But there is also an old saying, “when everyone is accountable, no one is”.  Someone has to set the pace and handle the day to day customer operations and customer account management functions.  Again there is no one size fits all.  There are several factors to consider:

  • The biggest factor is what kind of leadership team and functions do you already have available.  Having a seasoned pro who is successful already in place makes this an easier decision.
  • The outcomes from customer success are also key to layout and understand ahead of time.  If your goals are specific and geared towards revenue, then having someone in the sales Org may make a lot of sense.
  • Another big factor in this decision will be deciding what functions fall under the customer success org.  I have seen the number of functions considered “Customer Success” vary greatly.
  • Of course budget is also a factor.

The three most common solutions for where Customer Success lives in an Organizational structure by far ( in no particular order ) are under one of these:  Sales, Services, CEO.   Let’s touch on these really quick:

CS under Sales:

Brief:  Customer Success as part of a sales org feels natural to many.  The theory is this is simply an evolution of account management, something sales has been doing for a very long time already.   As CS team’s mature most organizations will naturally consider whether CS teams should take on renewal responsibility (along with with a quota) or not.
Pros:  This structure can help ease the handover from sales to post sales.  This structure is also pretty optimized to maximize the revenue opportunities for the companies.  Sales and CS have a more unified look and feel to the customer.
Cons:  It is easy for you to prioritize dollars first, and customer feel and see this.  If your focused on more sales and chasing a number you can undermine the trusted advisor role ( you are just out to get more money ).  If you need a deep CS team, then starting here could cause problems as the sales org typically is not technically deep.

CS under Services:

Brief:  The service delivery team is setup to handle post sales operations already.  Many customer success teams get their start as an enhanced more proactive customer support team.   Service delivery is setup to react to problems, fix them, and keep the customer moving forward.    Often success and customer support end up being the same team, even the same people.
Pros:  The service team has a lot of knowledge already on how customers use your product and get the most out of it, leveraging this team can boost the speed at which you see results.   Often there is a lot of technical depth in service teams, so if you are looking for a technical CS team this is a great place.   Having this centralized also helps connect customers with the delivery resources they need quickly ( setup a call with support or pro services, schedule and onsite, etc ).   Customers are more willing to think of the service teams as trusted advisers, especially if they can connect them to the right people.
Cons:  Its very easy for service teams to fall into the technical depths, missing the business opportunities and customer outcomes that they need.   CS can easily get pulled into delivery operations, fighting fires, and providing logistical support.   Service teams also tend to dislike talking about money, which makes discussions involving renewals/expansions awkward at times.  If CS ends up owning renewals some friction may develop between sales and this team.

CS under the CEO:

Brief:  This setup means there is a high level executive function reporting to the CEO focused on customer success who works across departments to promote the customer experience and ensure the proper outcomes.
Pros:  This places the customer and their outcomes on equal footing with the rest of the executive team.  The customer gets a direct unfiltered line to the CEO.
Cons:  You can see friction between groups, especially if you don’t have the right people in place ( the CS team needs to cut across functions & you need good understanding of roles and accountability ). This will mean duplicating some skills and functions that other groups have.  Visibility into the ROI is critical, because this is a separate group funding is often under more scrutiny.

There are some different scenarios I did not outline, but by far those are the top 3 landing spots.   From an industry perspective, there is not really a clear cut leader.  The data that I have seen shows a pretty even split how companies set these up.

Categories: Customer Success Basics, Organizational Insight

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