As Customer Success professionals, we are often considered the “trusted advisors” to our customers. We are the face of the company to the customer and the face of the customer to our internal teams. We hold in high prestige the role of being the “go-to” for all things post-sale so we can maintain the relationship we’ve built since the customer’s onboarding, but what happens when you don’t “own” the whole relationship in reality? What happens if renewals are managed by a sales colleague, or perhaps their own dedicated team? What about upsells, cross-sells, and services expansions or implementations? How do you maintain the sanctity of your relationship when others are involved?
If you’re a CSM or a CS leader, it’s more than likely that you’ve experienced one or more of these scenarios, but the question remains, “How do I truly ‘own’ the customer relationship and journey when there are other players that manage parts of that relationship after a customer comes on board?”
Like it or not, Customer Success, in most cases, is the role that will “take the hit” when the customer experience falters. As such, you as the CSM should absolutely be a protector of the relationships that you’re responsible for.
So, what is CS Evangelism, and why be an evangelist? In a nutshell, Evangelism can be defined as the spreading of a particular esteemed belief. I use the word esteemed because as an evangelist you must be 100% bought in and on board with what you “evangelize” and in this case it’s the practice and philosophy of CS inside your organization. As an evangelist, your energy and motivation for what you do will translate out to the teams you’re working with. Yes, shared responsibilities come with challenges, but when your counterparts know your passion for your customer, then the roadblocks you may encounter can be more like bumps in the road rather than an overturned semi-truck. You should carry with you into every meeting and interaction both the dedication to the customer, but also your fervor for CS and why it’s a vital part of the overall makeup of your larger team.
This isn’t to say that you need to defend your role as CS, but rather to say that the teams that touch a customer post-sale should all understand the value of Customer Success beyond what perhaps they’ve come to know tribally. Educating your colleagues on your role and how vital it is as part of the organization and overall customer experience is a key component of that evangelism. Because you ARE the face of the company to the customer! For example, when an interaction goes poorly with anyone else in the organization, it’s likely that the customer would come back to you, the CSM, to be heard. NPS comes back to you, failed services, support calls etc., a customer in many cases will a. want to be heard, and b. want that interaction not to be with a salesperson.
So, what constitutes successful evangelism?
Defined Rules of Engagement
It’s a near guarantee that your customers will be hit from all sides with communication post-sale. Upsell opportunity calls, QBRs and check-ins, customer marketing, product updates, etc. Every touchpoint in that customer journey brings with it a risk however, so communicating internally (even to the point of over-communication with your colleagues) can help identify areas in the customer journey that might be a sticking point. Knowing when your team is reaching out and what it’s about can alleviate repetitive messaging and quell the onslaught of emails your customers might be receiving.
Know whose responsibility it is to reach out and when. Sales stuff goes to the sales team. Support to the support team. Voice of the Customer and overall customer experience, CS should take that lead. When necessary and possible, meet with the customer together, like for QBRs. Go into that engagement with a strategic and unified front, including your desired outcomes. When opportunities for upsell arise, the sales team can lead, however when a customer’s priorities align more with adoption and churn prevention, they should take a back seat. When priorities compete internally, try to have a customer-minded leader involved to press into doing what’s best for the customer.
Cooperation vs Competition
One team, one dream.
One band, one sound.
Whatever mantra you want to adopt, do so. Learn to cooperate and collaborate with your internal counterparts, rather than compete. If the ultimate business goal is longevity of a customer, then one person will need to learn to bend. Selfishly, I want to say that’s the other person, but in all honesty, it’s often CS who has to adapt. Be willing to go with the flow, and know that at the end of the day, you’re still the customer’s single point of failure or success.
Hill to Die On
Choose your battles but be willing to fight. Bend doesn’t mean bow out. It means being strategic to know what outcomes are most important for the company and the customer. Be willing to speak up about the hard truths of tough customer interactions, at-risk accounts, and product requests that really need to become a reality. When you’ve been an evangelist to this point, the reception should be clear that the priority is in the customer’s success rather than anything else. Along with that, know when to bow out. In the words of Kenny Rogers “Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.”
Influence vs. Control
Knowing that you aren’t always going to have the final word in a cross-team customer journey, you can and should know that what you do have is a sphere of influence. The trusted advisor relationship carries weight. When you can align overall business initiatives of your company with those of the client, you can evangelize those priorities back in any given interaction. It’s hard to go up against a strategy where both the business and the customer are aligned. When you’ve built the strategic relationship to be strong enough to truly understand those alignments, you can carry that influence with you into any engagement overlap.
Evangelism requires strategic investment both in your business and in your customer’s goals and success metrics. It’s a high calling to know that level of detail in these relationships, but one that ultimately can lead you to a long and successful relationship with a customer. Be willing to adopt the co-op mantra, adapt to the landscape, fight necessary battles, and above all, do the work of the evangelist.