How Customer Success fits into the Customer Journey and aligns with Marketing: A Q&A with Adobe’s Heather Foeh

Chuck Leddy

The customer journey doesn’t end when a sale is made. Satisfied customers can become your most effective sales and marketing team (and your best product development consultants too), assuming you provide them with positive post-sale experiences. 

Customer Success facilitates the post-sale customer experience by building strong, sustaining relationships based on trust. Heather Foeh, Adobe’s Director of Customer Success Digital Engagement and former Director of Customer Culture at Oracle (previously Eloqua), is a CS leader who knows the CS function inside and out from long experience in a leadership role. We chatted with her about CS and how it aligns across the organization, especially with sales and marketing.

What are the stakes involved in the post-sale customer life cycle?

Foeh: You have the opportunity to keep or lose that customer, but you can also gain or lose future customers based on that customer's experience, because they're going to talk to other people. If they have a great experience, that’s great for your business. In addition, a good experience can overcome inevitable hiccups with the product, because if people know that you have an authentic desire to help them and do what's right for them, they're going to be more patient at those challenging times. 

How do you view customer success as part of overall customer experience?

Foeh: I define “customer experience” as the sum of all interactions that someone has with your company, from beginning to end, starting with your website and the first time they Google you, all the way through to post-sale customer success. Customer success for me is about protecting revenue for the company. It's also about helping customers get the full value of what they bought from you. They may need some thought leadership and some guidance, and that's where the CSM [Customer Success Manager] comes in. 

How do you drive alignment with sales and marketing when it comes to after-sale customer success?

Foeh: Sales is typically responsible for upselling and cross-selling post-sale, so they're in those same accounts as the CSMs. You can definitely have a lot of drama around who “owns” the customer, who's taking the lead and how the engagement goes. The key driver for alignment is that you have to do what's best for the customer -- and what the customer needs is clarity, not confusion. They need to have one person as their main contact, and I’d prefer that to be the CSM, who can pull the account manager in when needed.

Creating alignment requires being proactive and having CS build the relationship with sales and other areas ahead of time. You build a plan of attack where people know their roles, who does what and when. If you don’t have that plan and those relationships in place, it's much more likely that a salesperson may swoop in and do something crazy at the end of the month because they feel pressure to meet their numbers.  That can break trust for the customer but also for those internal relationships.

How do you view alignment between marketing and CS?

Foeh: Marketing needs to understand that CS works hard to build trusted relationships with customers. So when marketing approaches CS for a customer success story or testimonial, or wants a customer as a webinar guest or as an event speaker, CS wants to know that the customer is going to have a good experience with marketing, and that CS will be looped in about the details and any potential follow up.

Communication is key. If marketing is doing proactive campaigns -- for instance, trying to upsell or promote a new feature -- it’s important to keep the success team in the loop, giving them a heads up a day or two ahead of time. The worst feeling in the world as a CSM is being asked about something from a customer that they’ve seen that you haven’t yet. Good communication easily prevents that issue.

How can post-sale customer engagement combine personalization and high-touch service with scale and cost efficiency? 

Foeh: It comes down to having a tiered approach to customers. There will always be customers who need that high touch, white glove service due to their strategic value to your company. You're never going to just drop these high touch customers into a digital nurture campaign and then walk away. 

Then there’s a long tail of customers who perhaps don't have a dedicated CSM and so that's where technology comes in. You can, for example, put your new customers into cohorts, such as your ‘rookie class of 2021’ for whom you do four webinars. Many customers like that because they can communicate with their peers and network among their cohort. You can then use technology to set some triggers, saying ‘these customers have dropped off’ or ‘they haven't logged in within a certain amount of time’ or ‘they're really engaged.’ Then engage digitally from there, or trigger a human engagement if needed.

How does technology and data play into the post-sale lifecycle?

Foeh: It's super important. For example, you can use your CRM  to run your customer success org. But there are tools that either tie into it or sit on top of it, tools that maybe enable you to build templates and send them when a trigger happens. For example,  new customers added within the last three weeks might automatically get invited to a webinar. There are so many triggers and workflows and playbooks that can be loaded into a customer success platform. 

It’s not so different from what marketing does, but the CS timing and triggers are different. We also use data to be predictive, find patterns -- for instance, what commonalities do we see among customers who renew versus customers who don’t, and what can we do to increase renewals? 

Finally, what else should marketers know about customer success?

Foeh: That it can be a “bloody business” where CS professionals get beat up. You have some customers who are doing great, but if you've got 15 accounts, probably eight  are super successful, four aren’t answering you, and three are unhappy in any given week. Always remember that the CS team is on the front line getting hit when the product goes down or something goes wrong. So be patient with your CS team and communicate with them as proactively as possible so they don’t get blindsided. Plus, cookies are always welcome. (Yum!)

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