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Don’t Build a Customer Success Function.

When you search on Google for “customer success” you’ll quickly realize two things:

  1. Each article ultimately defines “customer success” as a function within a B2B organization.
  2. The majority of these blogs are written by customer success vendors, such as Totango, Gainsight, and ClientSuccess which help organizations manage customer relationships, contract renewals, and contract expansion. And, by the way, these vendor are primarily responsible for re-defining customer success as a function – a sales function – because it’s easier to sell a solution to a revenue producing function, like sales, as opposed to a cost center, like support.

What’s hurting customer success is the customer success function.

Customer success shouldn’t be a function. Customer success is the responsibility of everyone within a B2B organization. In theory, the idea of a customer success function makes a lot of sense – if no function is held accountable for customer success then no one is responsible for ensuring customers are successful. Heck, I was even a Customer Success Manager and I’ve managed a team of Customer Success Managers. I drank the KoolAid. But, in my experience, having a Customer Success Team doesn’t work. Here’s why:

1. Customer success should be the responsibility of every function.

The minute the term “customer success” becomes a function is the minute it becomes harder for customers to achieve their desired results with your company’s product, service, or solution. If one team is made responsible for customer success, automatically the rest of the functions within that organization rely on the Customer Success Team to do “their job.” They no longer feel that it’s their responsibility to make sure the customer is successful.

2. Customer success management tends to heavily overlap with other functions.

Customer success is a huge responsibility, the responsibility of an entire company. When this responsibility is minimized to the role Customer Success, the role ends up having to be loosely defined and then it overlaps with Sales (Account Executives and Account Managers), Customer Support, Marketing, and Professional Services, which leads to customer confusion and internal turmoil. For example, say a customer recently signed a contract with your company and they’re ready to get started so you set up a kickoff call. The question then becomes, who should participate on that call and what should everyone’s role be? For this example, imagine your organization has Account Executives, responsible for new logo acquisition, Account Managers, responsible for your customer install base (renewals and contract expansion), and Customer Success Managers responsible for ensuring your customer install base achieves their desired outcomes. Based on the responsibilities of each role it makes sense that they would all want to participate on the call, but this is problematic. The meeting quickly loses focuses because three different members of your company have their own agendas for the meeting and the customer has their own agenda so little to nothing gets accomplished. And, the customer leaves the meeting confused about who each person was and who they need to go to for what.

3. Customer Success Managers are frequently “rebranded” Account Managers and Customer Support Specialists.

Before I was a Customer Success Manager, I was an Account Representative which was essentially a sales support and a customer support role wrapped into one position. I prospected and handled customer inquiries. When our department changed to Customer Success, it was very difficult to change our working relationships with the Sales Team and with our customers. A team’s origin impacts how a team is perceived internally and externally. And, it dictates what activities the team is predisposition towards, sales or support. Even when a team is rebranded to “Customer Success,” receives extensive training and is given new responsibilities the rest of the company and existing customers view this function as what it used to be. We were “customer success managers” by name, but actually support specialists in function.


  • Purchase Decision. Any sales person worth their salt should know why the customer purchased and what they hope to achieve. This information must be tracked in your CRM so the entire company can benefit from these insights and track against them.
    • Report on whether this information is captured by sales or not.

Account Management.

  • Product adoption. For a customer to see value in their purchase they must use the product. A successfully conducted kickoff call can lead to greater product adoption and usage.
    • Track the number of customer kickoff calls conducted by Account Management compared to the number of software licenses sold and logins completed.
  • Renewal Management. The contract renewal process needs to be proactively managed by an Account Manager and not left up to chance.
    • Track quarterly business reviews in your CRM and have Account Management use a pick-list to specify how likely their customer is to renew. That way, your organization can predict the contract renewal rate on a quarterly basis and can triage potential contract cancels.


  • Customer Engagement. Prior to a customer becoming an advocate, where they’re willing to share their experience with your product with others, customers must see value in the relationship. This can be seen through the level of engagement they’re demonstrating with your content and offerings.
    • Track the content and offerings that are designed to drive product adoption and usage. Are customers leveraging this information, and, if so, how does this correlate to their product usage behavior changing?


  • Technical Support. A support ticket isn’t always a negative. In fact, a support ticket can lead to an upsell opportunity or, at the very least, an opportunity for your company to alter a customer’s experience with your organization.
    • Measure number of leads passed to Account Management by Support.

The Iron Horse Insight

If you want to ensure your customers are successful you don’t need a “customer success” function on your org chart. We actually recommend against having a function called “customer success.” What you need is a company culture focused on customer success and to have every department (even finance) measured against customer success.