Whenever I speak to Customer Success leaders, the question that most frequently comes up is, “How should I structure my CS organization?"
It’s a question that reflects two of the most common anxieties of being a CS leader:
- You feel like your team is engaged in “random acts of Customer Success” and you need a better process for standardizing activities and allocating your team’s resources.
- Your CS organization isn’t impacting NRR as well as you’d like, and you need to figure out how to better align customer value with business impact.
Building out an ideal Customer Success structure for your company is never a small undertaking. But I’ve come up with a shortcut that will get you moving in the right direction very quickly.
In my mind, two key factors will tell you how your CS organization should be structured to drive the most business impact: your product and your pricing.
Let’s start with your product. On the left side of the image above, I listed some product characteristics that would determine your place on the vertical axis. For example:
- Is your product technical and complex?
- Is it a broad platform, rather than a singular point solution?
- Does the ROI need to be articulated to the buyer?
- Does it require customization to work?
- Do you need to offer robust onboarding experiences to get your customers successful?
- Is it integration-heavy (meaning, all of the data will come from third-party systems that need to be connected)?
- Will a large percentage of the buyer’s organization rely on it?
If you're saying yes to most of these questions, it will push you towards the top of this matrix. And if you're saying no to many of these things, you're probably somewhere near the bottom.
Now consider your solution’s pricing characteristics, which determine your place on the horizontal axis. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does your product have a la carte pricing where every feature has to be paid for separately?
- Do you require customers to negotiate renewals and upgrades or do you let customers buy everything in-app?
- Is your pricing public or private?
- Do you have multiple product SKUs that you're selling into or are you a single-SKU company?
If you're saying yes to more of these things, you’ll move towards the right of the matrix. That means you have more pricing levers at your disposal and thus more pricing conversations that need to take place. If your pricing structure is simple and you don’t have many pricing levers to work with, you’ll be on the left side of the matrix.
The Top Half of the Matrix: Technical CS and Organizational CS
Let's say your product is really capable and complex, and has very simple pricing. Your all-in-one pricing gives buyers access to the entire platform, but it's a big platform.
If that describes your company, then your CS organization lands in the upper-left corner of the matrix, and you’ll need to over-index on onboarding, adoption, continuous learning, and driving change management. I refer to this as Technical CS.
If you’re in this quadrant, you’ll need to ask yourself, "How do we engage with a team that needs to use this big product every day and understand the outcomes that they're looking to achieve with it? How do we help them build their solution, and then how do we help them roll it out to their team and train their team to be successful?"
For your team to achieve NRR — meaning the customers are adding more seats in-app and rolling right through their renewal windows — you will need to focus on higher-touch activities in general.
Let's say that you've answered yes to nearly all the questions from both sets — in other words, you have a really big product with lots of pricing levers. Your structure should be what I call Organizational CS.
This approach is “multi-motioned,” which means you're going to have to have lots of skill sets on the team because you need to be able to do a lot for your customers. And if that’s the case, you can go in one of two directions. The first is to hire unicorns who are really good at Technical CS and Commercial CS (see below).
But that approach is hard to hire for because they’re such different skill sets, and it's hard to scale because it means your team members are focused on both of these things throughout their day, and there's a lot of context-switching required. It also means that you'll probably have to give each team member a lower number of accounts.
More likely, you’ll go the route of specialization. For example, you might have one team focused on onboarding, one team focused on change management, and one team completely focused on commercial opportunities.
The Bottom Half of the Matrix: Scaled CS and Commercial CS
If you're simple from a product perspective and simple from a pricing perspective, you might want to focus on automating key customer interactions and working with your marketing team to create a lot of content that can be distributed at various touchpoints. We call this approach Scaled CS, and it’s ideal for today’s “product-led growth” business model.
It doesn't make sense to spend that much time working directly with customers because you don't need to. Your growth is going to happen through the natural evolution and growth of the product. Companies like this can build a really scalable CS motion through educating and inspiring customers asynchronously.
Related: What’s Scaled Customer Success and Why Does It Matter?
And finally, let's say you have a simple and straightforward product. It's obvious how people will use it, but you have lots of different pricing levers that you can pull. Maybe you have lots of simple products with a clear ROI, and you have plenty of opportunities to upsell your customers.
If that's the case, you don't need to focus much on onboarding and adoption and change management, because all of that is already obvious and straightforward. Your CS organization is going to be much more commercially minded, focusing on the revenue levers.
I call this structure Commercial CS, and it’s more of a traditional account management play, where maybe your team is doing value reviews, and having conversations like, "If we get you to add this SKU, then you're going to get this much more ROI." Your team will probably have to do a lot of organization mapping, trying to identify other teams within the organization that they can sell into.
No company will fit perfectly on this grid, but by thinking through how product and pricing complexity interact in your organization, you can start to have a more informed conversation about how to approach your CS structure.
Parker Moore is the Head of Customer Success at Vitally, a best-in-class Customer Success Platform for B2B SaaS companies. Since joining, he has grown the CS organization by 10x and been part of incredible customer growth. Prior to Vitally, Parker worked at HubSpot and Eventbrite, where he helped build out the Customer Success function. Parker lives in Michigan with his wife and two boys.
If you found this helpful, reach out to me on LinkedIn. I’d be happy to send you a video that goes a little deeper into CS strategy and how to deploy your teams’ resources to maximum effect.