Customer Success In the Org Chart: 4 Scenarios

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Most companies haven’t figured out where customers success fits.

Some CS divisions report to the CEO, some to sales, and others to the VP of product. Still others to newer executive roles such as Chief Revenue Officer and Chief Customer Officer.

There are pros and cons to each, of course, so we’re going to spend some time looking at what those are, and in the process, aim to help you decide where customer success fits within your own org chart. For the purpose of this mental exercise, let’s assume that customer success divisions include onboarding, product implementation, relationship managers, and support.

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1. Reporting to the Head Honcho

 

In this scenario, the the VP of customer success is on equal footing with division heads elsewhere in the company, such as sales, marketing, product, and operations. While this org structure is the most common it’s not always the best.

Pros

  • Customer success has equal weight within organization.
  • Customer success has a direct avenue to the CEO and the potential to affect change from the top down.
  • Customer success has the autonomy of a standalone division with its own budget and its own creative strategy.
  • The incentive structure that guides customer success is more likely to remain pure. Sales comp, for example, may be based on upselling customers to premium versions of software. Putting customer success under the same umbrella means the CS rep may be more worried about hitting numbers than making the customer happy.

Cons

  • A customer’s success with a product starts from the moment they receive the first marketing outreach, which means CS is dependent upon any part of the org that touches the customer lifecycle. Siloing it from marketing and sales can crimp communication and make it harder to get user feedback to the right places.
  • Because customer success has its own incentive structure and agenda, it may have a harder time getting other parts of the company that have different goals — such as sales — to align with its own agenda.

2. Embracing New Structures

 

LinkedIn data tell us that the Chief Revenue Officer is an emerging position in young companies; 64% of companies with a person listed as CRO have between 11 and 200 employees.

In this scenario, the CRO is typically in charge of marketing and sales. Putting Customer Success under the same umbrella means that the three parts of a company that are most likely to affect customer lifecycle from beginning to end — marketing with initial contact, sales with converting the customer, and customer success with keeping the customer happy after conversion — are all aligned under one manager.

Pros

  • Aligning customer success, marketing, and sales under one manager with a singular goal means those parts of your organization are more likely to work together toward that goal — which can result in more cohesive, thoughtful management of the customer lifecycle.

Cons

  • Anytime you stick customer success alongside other parts of the organization that have different incentive structures — marketing may be worried about website visits, for example, and sales comp may be tied to upsells — you risk contaminating the goals of your customer success team and damaging customer relationships.

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3. Owning the Customer Relationship

 

Just like the Chief Revenue Officer, the Chief Customer Officer is an emerging role in smaller companies. The advantage here is owning the customer relationship from end to end — so from the point of first contact through maturation. This typically means anything that touches the customer reports to the CCO, which can range from marketing to product.

Pros

  • Customer success is situated under an executive charged with improving the company’s relationship with customers.
  • In most cases, the CCO will be one of the few executives with customer relationships — rather than, say revenue numbers — at top of mind, which means she’s incentivized to improve the customer relationship by facilitating communication between the teams that report to her.

Cons

  • Again, it’s important to make sure the customer success incentive structure is pure, or in other words, not marred by the incentives of sales or marketing, which are mostly about customer acquisition and conversion rather than relationship maintenance.
  • Because it’s a new position, it’s still ill-defined at most companies. It’s critical to make sure there is a clear directive of fostering the customer relationship in specific ways.

4. Creating the Fastest Customer Feedback Loop

 

Most companies have difficulty relaying customer feedback to the product team in a productive way — meaning a way that actually affects positive change in the end-user experience. How do you get the most customer-centric product possible? Put customer success and product on the same team. After all, the success of the product depends on a customer successfully using it. This is best in startups where you’re trying to determine product-market fit — where product and customer success are more likely to have similar goals.

Pros

  • Customer success can immediately feed customer complaints and suggestions to the product team.
  • While these two teams are typically working to keep the customer happy in separate ways, their goals can often become misaligned and disassociated. Putting them on the same team makes that less likely.

Cons

  • This is the rarest team structure of those listed in this post, because while customer success and product are co-dependant in many ways, they go about their goals very differently. Aligning the two teams’ incentive structures and strategies often won’t make a lot of sense in larger companies. But when it does, it’s powerful.

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