Guest: Alex Farmer – Building a Successful Customer Success Organization
Join us with guest Alex Farmer, VP of Customer Success at Cognite, a global industrial AI Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company supporting the full-scale digital transformation of heavy-asset industries around the world.
At Cognite, Alex helps empower companies with contextualized OT/IT data to drive industrial applications that increase safety, sustainability, and efficiency, and drive revenue. Interests include turning red accounts green, mediocre jokes, and delighting customers.
Guest: Alex Farmer
Alex is a Customer Success executive with experience building post-sale teams to reduce churn and increase growth at high-growth B2B SaaS scale-ups. He’s the Founder and CEO of Customer Success Excellence – the world’s first awards event dedicated to the Customer Success profession, with the first event planned in London later this year.
CONTACT ALEX FARMER
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexanderfarmer/
- Customer Success Excellence: https://www.customersuccessexcellence.com/
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[00:00:00] Jason Noble: Good morning. Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Jason’s take on podcast series with myself. Jason Noble here in London and my partner in crime, Mr. Whitehead, over in the states say hello, Jason. Hello,
[00:00:12] Jason Whitehead: Jason. Welcome everyone. Thanks for joining us.
[00:00:14] Jason Noble: We’re thrilled. We seem to have some really exciting guests on with us recently, and we can say exactly the same about today.
We’re thrilled to have Alex Farmer with us today. Joining us to talk about customer success. Organization structures. And what that looks like in the bigger context or in terms of the organizational strategy, Alex, I’m sure most of you guys will know him. He’s a customer success executive with experience building post-sales teams, really to help drive growth, increase or decrease churn in some really incredible high growth, really fast moving B2B, SAS scale-ups he’s also the founder and CEO for customer success excellence.
The world’s first award. Event, that’s dedicated to customer success. And he’s going to give us a little talk about that later on. And we’ve got the first event planned for this later this year. I believe Alex, which is really cool. So really excited about that. Alex, you’re currently the VP of customer success at cog night.
Cognos are an AI software service company, really supporting digital transformation of, I think the phrase is heavy industry assets all around the world and really what you’ve done there you’ve come in from day one, built the team. I am really helping drive what that kind of, that data looks like, what it means for big industrial organizations.
So some really incredible things there to help turn around challenging customers, build around some really great value for them. Alex, welcome. We are super, super excited to have you here and I’ve known you for a good number of years, Alex, we met, I think a couple of years back, four years back, kind of one of the customer success leadership dinners in Spain and and I’ve stayed in touch. So I’m I love the journey you’ve gone on. We’re just saying if you’ve been in the UK now for 10 years, which is ridiculous
[00:01:51] Alex Farmer: if we’re rounding yes. And data and Jason, I remember when we met, you had the unfortunate dishonor of sitting next to me. So I had your ears for several hours.
So thank you for putting up with me and it’s all come full circle here. A cost your ears. Once again, pleasure to be a guest on the pod. Would
[00:02:08] Jason Noble: you just go and introduce yourself for us and for our listeners that perhaps don’t know you. And I don’t think there are many of them, but just give a bit more inference your kind of your background and your journey, w how have you got to where you’ve got to?
[00:02:19] Alex Farmer: Yeah. I guess I’ll go chronologically, not with my year of birth, but I guess the start of my career I actually grew up I will go back to my, your birth. I was born in the Silicon valley. So I grew up in the California bay area. And I spent about 18 years there and then went out to college in Boston.
And from there, got my first job as an implementation consultant at an HR tech scale up. I had no idea if I wanted to be in HR or in business. So I thought I should join an HR business and also helpfully. They gave me. I think November and I was graduating in may. So the pressure or taking the pressure off for, a good six months, don’t quote my math there.
I think that is accurate. Yeah. Six months was also a privilege. So I did that and moved out to the UK, transferred out there with that company. And that’s where I found. Fairsail where I had the privilege of being employee 32. Fair sale for those that don’t know is a kind of a UK scale of success story, not my words, but a privilege to be a part of a, I was employee 32 when I joined on our support team for six months and then became our first CSM in January.
I think January 1st, 2015 is the transfer date that I moved into customer success, which correlation, certainly not causation is when some will say customer success came to Europe, let’s say in full force. So it was right correlation, I promise. But it was. Right place at the right time.
And I spent four and a half years there. Th they were a Salesforce ISV that provided HR tech solutions on the Salesforce platform, four and a half years there building the customer success team. The company was exited in March, 2017 to Sage. We were Sage’s first cloud acquisition. So from a small scale up I joined when we were million and a half pounds in ARR.
When I left, we were about 16 million pounds in ARR. So your full zero to 20 story. But then through that, we were say just first cloud acquisition. And of course they were 13,000 people in many different countries. An interesting journey and in some ways being a customer success for a cloud aspiration, As opposed to a cloud company is a very interesting time.
Let’s put it like that. And then from there moved on to a series, a scale up in the legal tech space where I led the full post sale function, success, onboarding support training partnerships, and then also European sales for about three to four months, I think. Traded depth for a hell of a lot of breaths, let’s say.
And then I found my home. It called night heavy asset industries is what we call it. Oil and gas, manufacturing, renewables, and power and utilities. The platform that we provide creates a context for disparate data silos, but for industrial companies that becomes even more important because.
Not just it data, but you have operational data, the live operating status of every single valve on an oil rig per se. So super interesting space and so big challenges to solve that are super relevant at the moment. It’s a exciting journey. We became Norway’s first unicorn in July. Putting them on the unicorn map.
So to say, and I guess it’s lucky number three, in terms of building a post-sale function.
[00:05:02] Jason Noble: I said, Alex I love that journey and I think you’ve come from. Actually being starting an implementation that in support you’ve seen all of these kind of post-sales customer facing roles.
And I think it really brings us on nicely to talk about this. You’ve worked with some incredible companies that you’ve come into. You’ve gone through the acquisition. You’re now in a unicorn company as well. So you’ve seen that growth. What are some of the, that the kind of go-to strategies and approaches that you’ve got as to how you build the customer facing organizations?
What are some of the big. Yeah.
[00:05:33] Alex Farmer: One day I’ll come into a place where it exists or let’s say and when I say exist, the customer success function or the CSM column in the org chart It’s been interesting because each company is different domain. In some ways they were different contract values, right?
So mid-market for fair sale and in co-pro and then cognitive, super high enterprise very high touch. So that’s been interesting as well, but I think there are some common threads really they coming in and not just going out. And listening to customers, there’s the obvious, customer tour that you do to understand their challenges and understand the outside end view.
But I think more importantly, and maybe what gets underestimated for first time, CS leaders is the need to do the internal to around other functions and departments. I sometimes describe customer success as. I haven’t gone this phrase somebody said customer success is simple is easy now is simple.
It’s just not easy. And that resonates, but principally, because what I sometimes describe customer success as is we just took 20% of the most customer centric things that other teams in the org chart used to do and combine them into one role. And I think there’s an element of that where.
What I need to say is there’s a lot of change management that happens where the support case review that the support team used to do. You might be doing it an ABR now, right? So you carve off the top, let’s say most customer facing 20%. So the customers have to navigate five different bits of 20%, if that makes sense.
And rather just as one person that they can go to that facilitates their journey to value with your company. So I think one of the biggest challenges or opportunities that. Lessons that I’ve learned is the need to really change, manage internally that we’re not here to steal someone’s power cloud or credibility.
If we start by saying customer success is an organizational philosophy and an organizational kind of mandate we’re going to partner together to make that a reality and really finding common ground. So when it’s with say. Driving references, making it. So the experience sells itself, right?
Removing friction for them to close deals as an example, if it’s implementation, if it’s support, finding common ground for them as well. So there’s fewer support escalations that we get on top of things faster. I think that’s going to be one, one of those principle lessons that I’ve taken in, in, and also made mistakes on.
And that’s how you learn throughout that journey that I described earlier.
[00:07:47] Jason Whitehead: Wow. That’s awesome. I love hearing about the internal change management because that’s one that keeps coming up everywhere. We go. And with a lot of clients that I work with along that thread, I’d love to know what sort of things you found have been most beneficial, maybe other teams most want to collaborate with you as you’re trying to change things internally.
And what have been the things that seem to put up walls for folks that you would advise people to avoid that?
[00:08:07] Alex Farmer: Yeah, I think. Th there’s a lot of things that are hard about customer success, but one of the easier things is all you’re doing is sharing the voice of the customer. So when you really boil it down to brass tacks, if you disagree with me, that’s fine.
But if we really confront each other and it all comes to a head, you’re the one who’s advocating against what should be the opinion of our customer. And nobody doesn’t want him, nobody wants to be not customer centric. So I think there’s that, that, that should, that. The power of that message and the let’s say the bully pulpit.
So to speak that you carry as a CS leader or a CSM should not be underestimated. I think the first thing that I try to focus on as we’re setting up kind of the systems, the processes of customer success. It’s just injecting customer data into the business, because with that information, I don’t have to confront, I can influence if I provide customer data as a service, I’m not a marketing.
So see DAS is a terrible acronym, but let’s not go with that. But customer data as a service for the business to make this. So examples, the common slack channel, where you can send customer news into one channel so everybody can understand what’s happening. The highlights with your customers when customer health changes and you send a, you can send to a central slack channel that everybody is required to be a member of by the way why their health changed and the reason for red or yellow.
And then also one of the things that we do when we run a QBR, we’ll summarize the qualitative feedback from our customers and then send that to our executor. And then I guess the last example is, customer survey results, NPS scores, NPS qualitative feedback. We’ll send it to slack channels as well but the most important thing is.
As much as I would like to be in every I’m going to provide that statement before I even say it, I would not like to be in every single meeting room that or meeting that happens at a company that would be insane, but the customer’s voice should be right. So doing, doing what you can to, there’s a couple of examples where I remember sitting at a meeting and it was our engineering leader or a marketing leader that said, but customer X in this QBR that happened three weeks ago, said this, therefore we need to do that.
And just giving them the power to make, to ensure that decisions being made all the time are predisposed to serve customers. Ultimately makes our life a hell of a lot easier SES leaders, because we’re not fighting fires. Then we can, of course, transition from that reactive motion, which is where unfortunately, most CS teams starting up find themselves into that proactive motion more quickly, which is critical.
[00:10:30] Jason Noble: And how do you go about, I was fascinating cause I’ve talked about this before and being. Now you’re often the sole representative representing the voice of the customer. And sometimes it can be lonely challenging because people do disagree. But what are some of the ways kind of tools or methods you’ve used to get other people, other stakeholders, other leaders in the business to understand.
What it actually means what the impact is of what the customer is saying. How do you get them to take it the right way and to make it so that we can take actions based on it?
[00:11:00] Alex Farmer: Yeah it’s always challenging. And I’ll weave that. I’ll say other Jason, I didn’t fully answer your question.
I think earlier, as well around what some of the challenges were in, in driving this collaboration. So maybe I can answer both. I think. It’s great. We get the voice of the customer. We surround decision-makers with customer voice that can influence, but it doesn’t make them make decisions that are.
In the customer’s interests, which I think is the crux of both of your questions. I, I think where I’ve seen the most challenges around, let’s say know, KPI divisions, right? The classic who owns renewal, who ends up selling, what does that actually mean for, not just my involvement, but also my commission.
And I don’t use that. Everybody in the go-to market or is usually paid with some variable. So that’s not a dig at sales, it’s a dig at collaboration. And how do we lower the. And I’ve made this mistake coming into an organization, trying to do. Yeah, there is no CS, so let’s be the CS heroes and really be a bit of a bull in a China shop.
And it really backfired for us. And we, there was constant infighting. The words is the, of the voice of the customer were taken with a grain of salt because it was always pushing the agenda that CS should own more than they do. And it was really at the detriment, it’s a lesson I certainly learned and we got over it.
We sometimes I think I now, when navigating that and use a little bit more tact in trying to compromise and, make sure people are mutually incentivized and also be a little bit more, I’ve never really worked in an enterprise and maybe this is why a little bit less I won’t use the word impulsive, but I’ve just used it so you can apply what you like from that, but a little bit less w executed a little bit more A little bit less pace and a little bit more consideration.
And be a little bit more nimble about how you’re trying to influence and not just shove change down people’s throats. So I think that was one of the downsides or challenges and really making that those collaborations work. If that makes sense. Yeah,
[00:12:42] Jason Whitehead: absolutely.
I’m curious since you’ve worked in a lot of different organizations and gone through phenomenal growth and been acquired and all that good stuff, too, do you think in general more leaders are understanding what CS is and in the role it’s supposed to play, or it’s still a big black box for a lot of folks because, So a lot of the organizations I encounter some of the newer ones they’re starting it earlier, but I’m not sure they get it more.
And some of the older, more established organizations, there’s still a big question of what is the CS stuff you’re talking about?
[00:13:10] Alex Farmer: Yeah. I’m not sure I have a perfect short answer to that one because it’s so complex. My immediate thought is one of irony cognitive as an organization. We work with industries that are.
Early in their digital adoption journeys, right? Power companies, manufacturing organizations that don’t really procure much software. And a lot of the software vendors in this space have a more, let’s say traditional view of business alignment because they come from the more commoditized model and not the customer led grow SAS mindset that CS flourishes in.
So it’s funny, you asked the question because. It’s not just the organization, but the customer, you don’t have to spend so much time aligning and saying, yes, this is what a CSM does. And here’s what we’re here to do alongside our services organization. That’s going to help you deploy use cases on top of our data platform, so that alignment’s been challenging.
And then of course, hiring has been a challenge as well. I’ve hired we’ve Forex our team From I think we’re up to 20 ish now across the world there is involved in customer success in some way or another. And that’s the CSM function just to be clear, our, our post-sale function is, over a hundred plus, but the CSM function we grew from five to 20 in about.
And I think I have last count, 123 pages of interview notes, just to give some context. But one of those people that we hired had CS in their job title before they joined our organization, because we’re looking for this credibility that shows the customer as opposed to tells the customer the value they bring.
So that’s why I am bemused by the question, but I still think there’s a real. And maybe I’ll get to it. Part of the reason why I’ve tried to launch, not try to, we are officially long, I’ve launched the world’s first awards program dedicated to customer success is I’m worried about customer success, excellence his name, and I will have my shameless plug at the end.
I’ve been promise. But the reason I bring it up now is because I think that we as a function sometimes cause a bit of a self-inflicted struggle where we talk a lot about what CSS. The discourse hasn’t matured. Like we want our function to and I think that’s. Probably mostly a reflection that the majority of people in customer success continue to be new to the space.
So a lot of the content is the 1 0 1. Here’s what CS is. And that’s a good thing, right? We should all be bullish on the growth of our function but I’m still looking for the, this podcast excluded by the way. I’ve heard many innovative things here and in other forums as well.
But I think the main discourse is one that’s still very I even say entry-level and the reason I founded this awards is to highlight those that don’t talk about what they’re doing. They just go and execute in an exceptional way. And then we’re trying to share what that execution looks like back to the industry and the reason why I think it’s relevant here.
That’s what’s, if some, if you’re coming into a company and trying to establish customer success and the notion that they have in their mind is, oh, cS is not support, but then what is it? Because the conversation they’ve experienced to see us as not support, we’re doing ourselves a disservice.
So part of the reason why we founded the awards is to have content out there. That’s actually about that, what we’re not, but the innovation that’s out there that exists. So we can educate those within organizations to make it easier for a CS leader to step in and have a lane.
Maybe it’s not the best answer to your question because it’s such a diverse challenge in each organization, but I think the organizations that get. Are using that as a differentiator for hiring and acquiring talent, right? Because, especially in CS leadership, there’s so much opportunity for leaders to find a, not just a CS leadership role, but one and an organization that really values the customer.
I just think, in the excitement of everyone’s upward trajectory and customer service, Because the more supply of leadership roles, the more demand for leadership roles, the and limited supply means that, people are spending less years as an individual contributor and our function than others before jumping into leadership.
And in that enthusiasm, I think it’s important to pause and really. Do some due diligence as to how the organization understands customer success before leaping in, and I’ve heard a lot of challenges from folks who maybe struggled to navigate that leap which has been hard.
[00:17:07] Jason Noble: I love that Alex, you’ve talked about so many key things there and it is, I think that journey for a lot of people in customer success is very.
We see a lot of new people come into it. They’re looking for that guidance, that direction. What does the future look like in the organizations you’ve worked in and even the work you’ve done, with the awards. In, in your mind, what does, if there is such a thing, what is, what does the ideal organization structure look like for customer success and feel free to either go down the route of it’s purely focused on CSMs or it’s something as a CS leader, your role is broader, but I’d love to get your.
For you. So if there is an ideal what do you think you should look like and why?
[00:17:47] Alex Farmer: So maybe I can briefly touch on both for startups, I see a real aversion to splitting roles early on, and I think it’s ill-advised and what I mean by that is, you have the CSM that’s responsible for onboarding and the training and the customer success management.
And maybe even the support. In some ways, set them up to fail because we’re just giving them a bunch of reactive, transactional tasks. And then when they have a moment to breathe, they have to think proactively, but they’ve just spent the last 90 days onboarding this customer and showing the customer executive that they’re the onboarding team, not the customer success team.
So I think splitting the org chart as quickly as possible. At the very least, a more proactive value centric layer at the top, which is usually the CSM function, maybe some customer marketing or community that’s there to do the one-to-many with support onboarding and training.
That could be one role because I’m going to set you up. I’m going to make sure you can use the tool and help you when you get stuck. But really splitting reactive and proactive quickly is important. And then to touch on the second part of your question around the CSM function This is where I think there’s going to be a lot of change.
And I think I see it already, cognitive pretty use case-based product. So we sell our data platform, cognitive data fusion, but a lot of our customers don’t have the data science capability in house to leverage the contextualized data. So our industry solutions organization will help.
Understand their business pain points and create dashboards and custom applications on top of our data platform to drive business value. But that requires a huge amount of domain expertise and more and more, I see products out there that are, even like RPA platforms, that are growing very quickly, they require domain expertise because you have to know which processes are ripe for automation and the customer bought your tool because they don’t really know much about robotic process automation. The CSM function I’m starting to see now, as SAS becomes a little bit more use case centric or generally splits of CS, almost back to the account management model.
And I don’t purport to say, we need to go back to a model where, we’re picking up the phone when there’s a problem, right? We’re still in this CSM proactive motion. But what I mean by account management model is, more proactive. But commercial acumen. And I think we’ve now maybe realized in the war for talent, especially given how hot the CS market is for CSMs.
It’s hard to find that perfect combination of cuss, commercial acumen, technical understanding, and domain expertise. So I’m seeing now, almost a three-way split where you have these. I’ll use my American analogy of quarterbacks who this who are the CSMs, right? And their job is to quarterback in pooled, the technical experts.
Maybe you’re a Tam role. For example, then maybe sit one foot in support and one foot in customer success. But then also now pooled customer success consultants or pooled domain experts, especially for organizations that have a heavy domain specific. Focus, cognitive being one of them. But, there’s plenty of software products that have split their offering or go to market into industry specific functions where it’s hard to find, give my example from before, right?
Where one of the 15 people I’ve hired as a former CSM, it’s hard to find, transferable CS skills with rich domain expertise, especially for complex software offerings. So I think that’s where I see CSM going, where we continue to step away from. Being the everything department to coin the phrase that I think Ralph who we all know I’m going, but to be very specific in their role with still one owner that quarterbacks everybody in and everybody out, but it’s going to require a lot more coordination to make sure it’s not a customer experience with the different Cokes.
[00:21:21] Jason Whitehead: really like what you’re saying too about the domain expertise. Cause we’ve spoken a lot of folks on the podcast and otherwise, and I find in certain industries you’d like security crypto, AI data, many times the customer doesn’t have the talent or domain expertise in house. And one of these you said is as you’re selling salute your technology in these areas.
And I think a lot of times software companies think, oh, we’re selling technology and the solution in this area. The customer thinks they’re buying. In this area and they don’t know what they don’t know. So I think you need to be able to bring in that mix of expertise and software and process, and you’re upset.
I love the football analogy, quarterback piece there. Cause I think, making sure you can bring all those to bear for your customers is essential. And that’s a good revenue opportunity for the software companies
[00:22:04] Alex Farmer: too, if they can deliver on it.
[00:22:06] Jason Noble: I think the thing you said about Alex as well about that commercial acumen, that’s critical.
And we’re beginning to see that shift, We talked, I think the other week, Jason, with the experience you get, when someone different to your CSM comes in just to handle the commercials is a really disjointed experience, but there’s a lot of organizations still doing it because the CS team just don’t have that commercial understanding.
And I knew that still is an area where there’s a lot of debate around what’s the right method. And it really does depend on the organization. But I think we are beginning to see that trend where. Customer success is becoming more and more commercial. Like you should be it’s about value and outcomes for the customer.
And then that helps us internally.
[00:22:44] Alex Farmer: I think just quickly on that, because it’s such a good point and, frankly, we’re still trying to find the right balance it called night and I see a lot of organizations in that space. Yeah, to be able to participate in that conversation as a CS leader, you have to have the value stuff right.
First. And it’s because CS is so new and organization, some large organizations are just starting out their customer success journey. Maybe we get a little bit too ambitious with the amount of things that we can own all at the same time. And I guess it goes back to my previous rare moment of self-awareness, saying that when we come in there like a bull in a China shop saying, this is mine, I’ll take this.
I’ll take. And some ways we set ourselves up to fail because, and I think, if I can make just one more comment about the state of our industry, I think there’s a little bit of playbook repetition that it doesn’t really help where, oh, we’re supposed to own renewal cause good CS teams or commercial CS teams.
So we need to own the renewal right now, or, the health score method, the health score framework that we’re gonna use is one that’s on the internet that I found somewhere. But I don’t actually think about what our customer needs to be healthy and what even health needs for our.
So I D I think. I’m happy now to see organizations as the definition of customer success maybe gets away from the very standard CSM role. And we start to specialize, frankly. There’s probably more time for us to really think about, okay. Our job is to get our value for our customers.
We might be informed by some of these traditional playbooks, but certainly not just going to implement QPRs for the sake of it. And I think that’s a, an important thing for our industry to consider as well. I love that too.
[00:24:14] Jason Whitehead: Cause I think there’s so many places where you see common practice.
It’s not necessarily the best practice or best for your industry or your organization.
It does a big disservice, I think, to a lot of organizations to go down that road without that critical analysis and thought I’m saying, is this the right thing here in this context,
[00:24:32] Alex Farmer: I love the way you phrased that because who defines best practice, right? It’s a best practice because people talk about it, but then we’re playing a game of telephone, right?
Where, I did a disorganization, therefore I say, it’s the best practice on some podcasts. And then somebody else thinks I should do this too. And then we don’t have the kind of don’t step back, think about our individual customer and just be guided by those principles, as opposed to trying to take a script and rinse and repeat at every organization that you have.
That’s the super
[00:24:57] Jason Noble: key thing. I think the risk where, there’s a lot of now we’re seeing some great industry standards in kind of CS training certification, but it’s no dissimilar to idol prince to all of these methodologies. You. They’re there as guides. This isn’t telling you, this is how to do it.
And you’ve got to, you’ve gotta be. So remember that’s so critical because if you follow them word for word, it’s just not going to work. Yeah. That’s stepping back, as you said, Alex, that analysis, what do our customers want? What does it mean? What are we trying to do with them? And
[00:25:26] Alex Farmer: if I may, just to to jump off of that, prince two is about project management, right?
Sales process methodology, whether it’s, force management, medic whatever tool or training you use. That is about one concrete process, getting a customer set up or closing a deal. And then when you combine the fact so that simplicity it’s a framework. We have to implement it into our own context, but then take customer success where, the definition is different per country.
Your job, ultimately, it’s not, it doesn’t really have to start and finish it’s to tread water or ideally raise the altitude of the customer and help them grow to achieve their goal. But the momentum is completely different. So no wonder it’s such a challenge because I can’t just take a prince two course and then apply it to my 30 day onboarding.
I have to think about all of the different lanes, the CSS plan, which is a. It has so much breadth, which is why I think it’s such an important thing that we start to specialize the function to really find some depth and effectiveness within our roles,
[00:26:22] Jason Whitehead: and I think the way it’s that to what you were saying earlier of the the war for talent for CS folks.
So there’s not a lot of overly experienced people. And you’ve got this, dearth of common practice in this echo chamber around we, we should do this, we should do that. Then when you actually get into a lot of organizations, the people who are making the decisions, they don’t have enough experience or knowledge to challenge those decisions so that they start with what’s making the most noise and just repeats on itself.
It’s I am curious though. And I know we’re almost out of time here, but with the. It seems that you’ve been building and developing you say, one person has CS on their resume. What is it that you’re looking for when you’re trying to find this is going to be a great person. And then when, what do you have to do to mold them and develop them into what you really need in your organization?
[00:27:05] Alex Farmer: Such an important question. And I think firstly I think what I’m looking for is tenacity and tenacity is important to me because. The candidate will fight for their customer. The candidate will use some sharp elbows once in a while to find the lane that they need to fill in, in the CSM function.
And also, tenaciously engage with other departments within the organization that needs something from there. And of course there’s elements of needing to, it’s hard to establish proactivity with a customer when they don’t respond to your email. So how am I going to show value?
You get them to respond to me and then get them on the happy path. So tenacity is important for me. And then I think, there’s, especially in our industry, domain expertise is critical. So we certainly look for that and then some commercial experience as well. I kinda mentioned the.
The Trinity earlier around technical expertise, domain and commercial. In terms of transferable skills, we hire for domain on the resume because it’s, so it’s going to be it’s just so important to have that credibility with customers because digitalization, the span of what you can digitalize is so vast.
But in terms of transferable skills, it’s tenacity, and then it really inability to learn and be challenged as well. I think one of the things that’s really interesting for us is we’re hiring. Yeah, the energy industry, for example, is going through a huge change at the moment and digital tools and digital transformation is critical for that change.
We have a real opportunity as traditional oil and gas companies, pivot to diversify their energy, and, bid for wind farms and create wind farms from scratch. We had a huge opportunity to engage with these cuts. To build digital first, right? So we don’t have to transform your asset.
We can actually set it up in a way that allows us to see the live operating status of this offshore wind farm, for example. But that requires us to really. Get in the, become a partner and almost put our consultant hat on to make sure that we’re designing these things with our customers.
So any cognates, maybe a little bit of a unique case, but it’s certainly been it’s been very interesting to try and evaluate and understand what works and also what doesn’t. But I think that ability to be stretched and challenged is probably the most important thing.
[00:29:07] Jason Noble: I think you’re seeing organizations go that direction as well.
And do I like the way you’re talking to. The industry expertise. I think customers look for it in you, whether or not you’ve got it or the individuals in your team, but they are looking for it. And it’s it’s something that if you don’t have it and you’re coming into a business, you need to pick it up quickly.
Cause that proactive consultancy is a key thing.
[00:29:26] Alex Farmer: And I, in some ways have lived that experience. I’ve always been domain agnostic in my companies, and HR tech and legal tech the domains that we focused on. We could have, I could understand relatively quickly the leavers that companies pull on to drive the outcomes that are common.
I digital transformation for energy when I’m hiring, 20, 20 year process automation engineers on my team is a totally different beast. And I think one of the things that organizations. I should really be investing in our onboarding programs, not to train you how to be a CSM, but also onboarding programs about the domain and about the industries that we serve, and common business challenges or common outcomes the customers are trying to achieve. And I think there’s a real opportunity to really pivot the traditional onboarding when we’re going to go back to talking about talent acquisition, but also talent. Giving everybody the tools, not just to be a CSM, but everything that comes with it, we put you on a commercial training. Great. But how am I putting it? How am I helping you have credibility in front of your customer so that you can use those commercial skills so you can get into the room to use those commercial skills is exceptionally important. And go ahead. Sorry, Jason. Sure.
I was speaking to, to a board member of one of the companies I advise. And he said something that really stuck with me. And as I was saying to earlier not to break the fourth wall here, but I was saying to you earlier, I just came back from skiing and I caught myself skiing down a slope and thinking about what he said to me.
That’s how SAS nerdy. I am, I was thinking about this as I was headed down a a lovely ski run earlier this weekend. Basically said, the first generation of SAS is to digitalize existing workflows and then the second generate and I’m paraphrasing, but the second generation is about replacing the workflows, just replacing them fully with software and yeah.
When I think about the domains that I’ve worked in and also organizations now moving to more of a use case based approach with more consulting required. It’s interesting that, the digitalization of existing workflows probably requires domain less domain expertise because the customer is bringing that domain expertise to you.
They’ve set up their workflow, they know what’s needed, they just need to automate it. And now as we move, if we accept the premise that SAS is eating the world we’re seeing more of these generation two or three SAS companies that are actually challenging the workflows that we’ve come to know.
So near and dear, and that requires a lot more knowledge of the overall business model and a lot more knowledge of the domain itself. And I wonder if that’s a trend that will continue connecting them back to what we talked about with the CSM am type approach within the pool domain experts and really it.
To, to the point that you made Jason and you both made it. So I can say just Jason that we require a a more nuanced approach to how we make our customers successful. Which, super interesting. And obviously it’s a great time as always to be in customer success. It is indeed it
[00:32:07] Jason Whitehead: is, it’s very exciting.
And for me, my company success chamber, we provide consulting and professional development services and coaching services. And increasingly we’re finding organizations coming to us where they’ve been hiring for domain skills and that’s been
[00:32:19] Alex Farmer: critical to their model. And now they’re trying to layer.
[00:32:21] Jason Whitehead: CS expertise and a lot more interpersonal and just professional skills and those influencing skills that you’re looking for. We help them do that, but it’s even the last few months, I’d say that the demand for that sort of professional development has been huge and increasing about Alex, this has been a great conversation, really excited to have you here.
Before we go, we also like to end with the bowl challenge question. And I guess for you, this is what does the future of customer success look like in a. A lot of things are changing here. Go big, go bold. How do you see
[00:32:49] Alex Farmer: it? The future is it doesn’t exist anymore. And that will be great. Because I think customer success created itself out of a need to.
Focus on why the customer is here in the first place. It’s not to say existing departments don’t care it’s that they’re too busy dealing with their small lens or small column in the customer journey and improving their internal process. So we had to take the 20%, most customer centric bits, as I said earlier, and combine it in a role that kind of span the horizontal to make sure that the customer is successful and renews their contract.
My hope is that. Over the next five years becomes either embedded in products, and not something that a person needs to do embedded into, digital touch. We always imply as long tail, but digital touch I think is here to stay and, look how marketing has changed, where, we expect all customers to engage digitally.
Now the same thing will happen to customers. And then also, the internal voice of the customer. I think the future chief product officers, chief revenue officers, and CEOs of the world come, will come from the customer success domain. And when that happens, especially as B2B companies have, as we say, B2B is becoming B to C where the customer expectation is now changing and raising or raising the stakes of what’s expected.
So I think with all of those things changing. Former CCOs and VPs of CS, stepping into other adjacent roles that then almost eliminate the need to have somebody who has their seat at the table advocating for the customer because the organization does right. That’s one future. If we do our job, and we stopped talking about what CS is, interpret, maybe talk a bit more about what CS is and can be so exciting. We’ll see you back in five years. And we’ll talk about it.
[00:34:28] Jason Whitehead: Definitely. Definitely. Thank you so much for joining love your insights. Love your story. I think it’s gonna inspire a lot of people here, but before we go, we always like to invite our guests to give a shameless plug.
[00:34:37] Alex Farmer: please plug away shameless. Absolutely. It will be very shameless because we on June 15th of this year. Have a very exciting event. The first award ceremony for customer success excellence. So as I said earlier, customer success excellence. I had the idea for about two or three years now. But I think we all want to meet in person.
So I’ve held it back until we could do that. And what it is essentially is that meritocratic process to find the very best in our profession, whether they’re a guest on a podcast or just putting their head down and executing for them. There are five award categories. You could find out all the information on our website, customer success, excellence.com.
And we will be running two awards programs, one for EMEA, and one for the Americas. EMEA. The award ceremony is the 15th of June, 2022 and applications for not or nominations open. We’ll open in the middle of April and then we’re planning to bring it to the Americas toward the end of 2022 or early 2023.
But it’s, 75% is it’s this meritocratic approach to helping our, find the very best in customer success. And 25% is so we can all dress up nice and have our own version of the academy awards. We certainly deserve it as a community. So I’m really looking forward to making this happen.
[00:35:49] Jason Whitehead: That, that’s an exciting goal. I know a lot of people will be very inspired by it. So thank you for moving that forward. It’s great for the industry. Everyone on. The Jason’s a thank you so much for joining us and we hope you will come back for another episode. We have a few more great guests lined up.
We’re very excited to be here. So thanks so much out of that. So
[00:36:05] Jason Noble: Alex really cool conversation that really appreciate it. I’ve got my audio working again there, but really cool. And I am super excited about the excellence awards. I think it is. It’s the right time in the industry, and I know a lot of people are really looking forward to it, so great work there and a massive thank you for joining us today.
[00:36:19] Alex Farmer: Cheers. Thanks for having me.