You know what I love about being part of the Customer Success movement? The tectonic forces that are constantly at play. Because it stands at the edge between customer and provider, it has no choice but to be nimble, deliberate, and anticipatory. And at that edge is where the action takes place, where those tectonic forces of change (technology, customer preferences, economies, etc.) have their greatest impact.
I joined ESG about eight weeks ago and since then many people in my network directly messaged me with variations of these two questions.
- Why did you leave Oracle?
- What is ESG and what is Customer Success as a Service (CSaaS)?
Sure, yeah, that’s three questions but the second two are impossible to separate.
To answer, what follows is a fictionalized conversation that’s based on a loose aggregate of the various message exchanges I had.
Me: I left to chase a larger opportunity.
Them: So, it was about the title?
Me: Not completely but, in part, yes. Let’s be honest. Much as we may roll our eyes these days because we know that people’s titles are often inflated and what really matters is what they do, having the VP title still matters when it comes to opening doors to the offices of decision-makers. The executive title is rightfully associated with usually meaning you have more responsibility. You still must deliver the goods, but it does at least get you an audience. And so, I was looking for an opportunity to make a larger impact on business and an executive role helps.
Them: Larger than what you were able to do at Oracle? I mean, aren’t they like a beast in the market?
Me: Yes, they are a forty-five-year-old tech prowess beast, a thousand-pound gorilla, with hundreds of thousands of customers utilizing their hardware and software solutions across a multitude of industries. They are all over the Fortune 500, they’re everywhere in the world, and they touch virtually every segment of the global economy. And yet here’s the kicker. I wanted to chase an opportunity to affect not just those hundreds of thousands but many hundreds of thousands more.
Them: Uh? Okay, now you’re sounding Napoleonic. Or at least Napoleon Dynamite. lol
Me: Ha! I guess. Let me explain. I’ve been focusing on Customer Success now for about 14 years but even prior to that, when I was in tech presales, I spent a lot of time thinking about and helping customers realize value from their investment. Over the last 7 years or so I’ve been playing a more prominent and visible role in the Customer Success community helping in the collective effort to evolve the CS business function. During that time, I refined my knowledge about business, deepened my experiences as a practitioner and as a researcher of Customer Success, and honed my ability to evangelize about the topic. All of that led me to the belief that every company, regardless of industry or primary means for delivering products and services, requires a customer success orientation. I lower-capped that on purpose because I think of it not so much about the business function as about an approach. Every company that serves a market, whether it’s for profit or not, has customers in some form (I live in a condo… don’t get me started on the desperate need for a customer success orientation in the residential property management segment). Those customers deserve the best and, with cloud-based technologies greasing the skids by enabling choice and flexibility, they will continue to move towards providers that deliver the best products and service. I wanted to be on the leading edge of how that gets shaped. I want to be part of a larger, grand strategy to help as many companies as possible improve the way they help their own customers realize value so that those customers then make the decision to stay with the solution provider and to grow. For that very specific personal ambition to be realized, I needed to be part of a company that looked at the business world that way, that was in business to help other companies develop that customer success orientation and expertise. For me, that’s ESG.
Them: Isn’t that too lofty of an ambition? What makes you think you will have the ability to make a difference when you’re working at a small company like ESG?
Me: ESG is small (fewer than 100 employees) but because it is focused on building a portfolio of services that customer-centric companies critically need if they are ever going to realize the strength of truly connecting with their customers and helping drive their success, it has the potential to punch way, way above its weight. I would argue that it had already been doing that well before I arrived on the scene.
Them: Example, please.
Me: Let’s start with the ESG trademarked expression, Customer Success as a Service.
Them: What does that even mean?
Me: The easiest way to understand it is by deconstructing the very basic building blocks of a formal Customer Success business function. What do great CS functions have in common, at the very least?
- They have a distinct charter
- They have account segmentation
- They have service models (high, low, digital) that they design and can execute to appropriately drive successful outcomes for their customer base
- They have skilled people who leverage the right technology to build internal and external relationships to facilitate those outcomes
- They have a critically important Voice of the Customer program so their services and the company’s products can continue to be relevant for customers
- And, finally, they have a digitally based CS Operations function that drives efficiencies for the entire practice, at scale
At ESG those are all things the company has had years of experience in advising, in building, and in managing for its clients. ESG offers all these things as discrete services that can be subscribed to a la carte or subscribed to holistically and that should be viewed as everything a company needs to stand up and run a modern Customer Success business function. I give you Customer Success as a Service.
Them: Wow, it sounds like you guys make it easy for everyone. Is it?
Me: No. But we remove a ton of the risk associated with doing it from scratch. With all due respect to every CS leader out there who has been building, and has built, such a practice, there is no substitute to being guided by experts while you’re doing it. Because ESG has been doing it for years, it should be seen as supremely credible. It has strong best practices developed over years of working with many medium and large enterprise companies and it has a great group of experts it can deploy for each client and who leverage those best practices in the work they do with clients. Ergo, risk reduced. And because ESG commits to delivering specific outcomes in a specific period of time, our clients’ minds are more at ease than if they were to do the effort themselves.
Them: Is there risk for Peter Armaly in this move to ESG?
Me: None that I can see. I feel I bring an awful lot with me that I can contribute to an already strong business with a stellar leadership team already in place. I don’t see it as a gamble at all for two reasons.
- I deeply believe in the soundness of the ESG business model. It will continue to evolve, and it excites me that I will be integral to its evolution.
- I believe there is nothing but upside in the industry for broader adoption by many more companies of a customer success orientation. Customer preference and customer behavior demand it, and they are enabling an unstoppable acceleration of technology. Bottom line – we haven’t seen anything yet.