Strengthening Account Management with Data: A Strategic BizOps Profile featuring Emmanuelle Skala, VP Customer Success, Toast
Emmanuelle Skala, VP of Customer Success at Toast, spoke with me recently about the origins of the Customer Success function in SaaS, the shifting balance between Net New and Account Management in B2B, and how data provided by BizOps helps Account Managers reduce churn and grow revenue.
Stephanie Fox: It’s great to sit down with you again, Emmanuelle. In our past conversations, you’ve shared a number of observations about how SaaS has changed the way we market and sell. How has the shift to a recurring revenue model changed the mission of Account Management?
Emmanuelle Skala: Early in the course of my career, before SaaS became a thing, I had responsibility for Account Management when it was part of the Sales organization and rolled up to the same VP. The focus for Account Management then was on retention, which was viewed as a lesser job than the Sales role. In some organizations, the Salespeople were kings and the Account Managers were second-class citizens. Before SaaS, you’d sell once, and then assign the relationship to the account owner, whose selling responsibilities were likely limited to reselling a few modules or maybe a new capability, or even just processing maintenance fees. That’s why entry-level staff were told they could cut their teeth in Account Management and then, if they were good enough, they’d get promoted to Sales.
What SaaS has done is reverse that dynamic considerably. Today, a customer can leave practically whenever they want to. Customers in the SaaS world have to be resold every day, every week, every month, every quarter and every year depending on how you do your licensing. Today, the Account Manager has the equivalent set of skills as, if not a broader skill set than, the Net New Sales rep. This is because they have to be product experts and they have to be selling both the existing solution and also the new solutions — and they have to be doing retention and they have to be doing upsell and they have to be saving accounts about to churn. So Account Management has become a much more important job than it used to be. When you look for someone with the skills of an Account Manager today, they’re much harder to find because there are so many more things that the Account Manager needs to do than a typical Sales rep.
SF: Some people use the titles “Account Manager” and “Customer Success Manager” interchangeably. Are they two distinct roles, in your view, and if so, how do you define them?
There’s a really interesting macro trend going on within Customer Success Management right now. Let’s step back a bit first, though. The concept of Customer Success didn’t really exist until SaaS, and it was created mostly to focus on best practices and onboarding and, honestly, a bit of fluffy stuff that was hard to measure. The intention for the role then was to make sure your customers didn’t leave and to keep them happy. That was playing the long game: if you followed best practices and offered great onboarding, and you had someone that was kind of a quarterback that customers could call when needed, it was going to lead to better customer satisfaction, which would in turn lead to better customer retention. The problem was, though, that CSMs initially weren’t comped right. Most didn’t have a quota, let alone a bonus target.
Salesforce started this CSM micro trend. They had a number of salaried CSM employees doing this best practice stuff, while they also maintained an Account Management team with a quota. In the past 10 years, I’m seeing these roles starting to blend across the industry, with more CSMs having a revenue quota tied to retention or an absolute quota or both.
Some organizations have CSMs and AMs as discrete functions, with the CSM much more responsible for customer satisfaction and making sure the customers are using the product and following best practices to ensure product adoption, while the AM is responsible for retention revenue and upsell revenue. The degree to which the roles are blended may be determined by how transactional or enterprise your sales model is, whether you even have an upsell function based on your product set, the duration and complexity of your contracts, etc. I’m seeing a lot more blending of the roles with one person responsible for the onboarding of the success of the customer, the best practices around the product and use of the product, and then also the retention and upsell revenue as well.
SF: For companies trying to figure out how to set that up, what framework do you suggest they use?
ES: I look at a couple of things. I definitely look at what is required from the business from a revenue standpoint, so I ask, “What are your retention rates? What is the upsell capability?” Some companies only have one main product, so there isn’t anything to upsell. After considering the revenue component, I look at the other side, which is the customer’s value realization, and ask “Are the customers realizing value today? How are they realizing that value? What does the onboarding process look like? How long does it take for them to realize that value?” With transactionally-oriented companies, the customer downloads the software and gets that value in 30 seconds, and there’s really nothing for a CSM or AM to do. If you’re not sure, you can figure out that value just by understanding the customer’s utilization of the product. However, an Account Manager can potentially give that customer some direction in terms of best practices, and as new things get released, can point them in the right direction.
Technical know-how and subject matter expertise is also something to think about. In one of my past experiences, my team was split between AM and CS because I wanted the more technical people very much focused on product adoption and usage while another team focused on the relationship of the customer and the revenue opportunity. From a reporting standpoint, it really depends on whether the role has a revenue focus, in which case it should report up through Sales or Revenue, or whether it’s a Customer Success/satisfaction play, where the role is focused on product value realization or adoption. In that case, there’s more flexibility about the reporting model.
SF: Does the old hunter/farmer analogy apply any longer in the SaaS world?
ES: I no longer use the hunting-farming analogy because it assumes that only hunters bring home what’s important while the farmers are only tending to the relationship created by that hunter, and that’s just no longer true with SaaS. Any good AM or CSM “farmer” knows how to sell the value of the solution in the exact same way that a new business “hunter” would. And they have to: in a given account, your internal champions leave, things change within the account, and most customers at some point question whether or not to renew. Gone are the days when the AM or CSM could just say, “Hey, let’s go to lunch!” as a way to manage the relationship.
SF: You recently participated in our panel discussion about the LTV Dream Team, which referred to the partnering of BizOps and Account Management. How can the two team up to drive growth?
ES: The AMs and CSMs need as much data as possible to give them the best chance of driving lifetime value through renewals and upselling, and BizOps has all the data about what’s going on in the account. For example, product usage data helps AMs see how and how often the product is being used. Generally, those are some of the most important indicators towards either churn or retention.
Here’s what I mean. If your company offers a marketing automation tool but the data shows your customer isn’t running any active marketing campaigns, your product is probably not very strategic to their job, making them more likely to churn than someone who is running campaigns every single day. BizOps is key here to helping Account Management by providing critical data before something goes wrong, and in identifying opportunities that weren’t visible before.
When I was VP of Sales & Customer Success at Digital Ocean, I pulled together our business intelligence team, our BizOps team and our marketing team to create a set of product triggers. When any one of several triggers, or events, happened inside our product, it would fire alerts to the Account Manager and update a field in Salesforce. These alerts ranged from “someone stopped using something” to “someone is using something” to “someone just started using something” to “someone submitted 5 support tickets in the last week.” These triggers provided meaningful reasons to call the account, understand what was happening and offer a solution. This approach replaced those awful phone calls that go something like this, “Hey, checking in, how’s it going? Are you still happy? You’re planning to renew when your renewal’s coming up, in 90 days right?” With BizOps helping our AMs, the calls were more like this: “Hey, I noticed that you started doing X or you stopped doing Y, how can I help?” or “I noticed that you aren’t using this brand new capability that we released last month. Can I tell you about it?” By bringing the right data to the AM team, BizOps helps open up the door for a lot of really interesting conversations.
And I recommend that you bring the Product team in on this effort, because there may even be data triggers that the BizOps team doesn’t know about. BizOps can also help with prioritization, because if your AMs have hundreds or even thousands of accounts, they can be overwhelmed with too many triggers. Limit those alerts to the highest value activity among your highest value customers and then narrow or broaden them accordingly.
SF: How do you see the future of Account Management changing, and what role does BizOps play in that future?
ES: It’s definitely all about data and metrics going forward. I see two ways in which BizOps can help: identifying better prospects and pulling together data to help with retention and upselling.
First, Sales Ops already uses data and metrics to help the Sales team identify which prospects are willing to buy. Now I’m seeing the emergence of a CS Ops function that uses data and metrics to the CS team know which customers are likely to churn. I think in the future those functions come together as a single Ops team looking at propensity to buy, propensity to churn, and then propensity to be an advocate. I think the future is about using data and metrics to help the whole team identify our best long-term customers up front.
Second, BizOps can identify patterns in customer data to support upselling. For example, at Toast, a cross functional team is working to identify which customers would most likely be interested in our online ordering module, combined with data showing how much money those customers could save by doing so. What we want is Talk Track guides for our AMs to use to support a conversation like, “Hi! 91% of pizza restaurants have online ordering, and if you add that to your business, you could add 20% more revenue to your bottom line.” Having that data is key, and it makes sense for a cross functional team including BizOps team to pull that together.
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Steph served as Rekener’s Community Manager and CMO. A Rekener co-founder, she was previously Senior Director of Marketing at CCC, a $300M+ recurring revenue business, and served in marketing leadership roles at Vertical, @stake, Informio, DotContent and Meridian. Her first recurring revenue role was as an inside sales rep selling real-time stock pricing subscriptions.
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