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Customer Success Hacks @ Optimizely

Customer Success

Optimizely is a San Francisco-based startup and the leader in A/B testing and experience optimization. I recently sat down with Luke Diaz, a manager on the Customer Success team, to share his experience and advice for organizing and measuring a customer success team. He shared a few customer success hacks.
Luke currently leads a 15-person Customer Success Manager (CSM) team in charge of over 80% of Optimizely’s revenue. The CSM team manages launch (onboarding), success management (adoption & value), renewals (retention) and expansion (account growth; in tandem with the Sales team).

The CSM team is one team within the larger 70-person Customer Success team at Optimizely which includes Technical Support, Strategy, Solutions Architects, and Education.

From my (personal) standpoint, Optimizely is very advanced on the topic. Yet every startup—whatever their stage of development or price point—can learn from Luke’s very actionable tips:

  • Measure the value customers extract from your product
  • Start customer success with the sales team
  • Transform your customer’s organization to achieve success

In order to effectively lead the CSM team, Optimizely focuses on 3 metrics:

  1. Customer value derived from the product
  2. Customer satisfaction
  3. Revenue generation

Luke articulates below on how these objectives are translated into processes and culture.

Measure the value customers extract from your product

Optimizely tracks the activity of each Enterprise customer: usage logs, number of A/B tests run, etc. Seems obvious – all serious SaaS businesses (should) do that. To do so, Optimizely uses a blend of Totango (a Customer Success Intelligence software) and proprietary regression models built by their data science team, e.g. churn score, upsell score, account potential score, etc.

What’s more, they follow the number of successful experiments (in their case, delivering a clear A/B winner), and, as much as they can they can, actually compute the value in $ generated by successful experiments.

As Luke says:

“When I plan a customer business review, I hope to have a very clear, factual view of the $, or millions of $, we’ve helped them generate using Optimizely. If it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense.”

ROI is most explicit when displayed in revenue for, say, a Retail or E-commerce site. But this information is not always easy to gather, especially when dealing with SaaS or media businesses. How do you measure the actual value of improving lead conversion on an optimized sign-up form, or additional clicks on a media module?

Optimizely’s team is  considering adding such functionality and reporting  into their product, or integrating with technologies like Moat (ad viewability) to convey ROI better.

Beyond this #1 metric, Optimizely measures customer satisfaction (metric #2) using NPS (Net Promoter Score) surveys.  They run regular NPS surveys at brand level (4x a year), at the end of the onboarding phase (8-10 weeks), and after each interaction with the support team. The NPS results give an idea of the service quality, the perceived value, and a proxy for customer loyalty.

Finally, the #3 metric is revenue. Luke and his team are incentivized on the net retention rate of their portfolio. They’ve actually manage to have a negative net churn rate (reminder: net churn formula = gross churn – expansion + contraction), around (.5%), in recent months. One simple metric used for almost the entire CSM team.

Luke is currently experimenting with two additional functions on the CSM team:

  • Launch Manager: a new role dedicated exclusively to the enterprise onboarding process (measured by NPS and volume)
  • Mid-Market CSM: higher volume, lower touch account management approach (measured by renewal rates & net retention)

Start customer success with the sales team

As Luke shared with me:

“I feel lucky to work with the Sales team we have at Optimizely. They are some of the most empathetic and intelligent folks I’ve ever worked with, and they put the customer’s needs and goals first and foremost to ensure a proper fit. Sales and Customer Success have crafted a strong partnership which is imperative to achieve best-in-class net retention.”

Beyond the performance of the Customer Success team, the complementary process to ensure a negative churn rate is a sales validation process implemented by Optimizely’s VP of Sales, Travis Bryant: whenever a sales rep identifies a new account, he or she is  required to populate a 45-question validation form before closing the deal. Simple, straightforward, objective, Yes/No questions designed to determine whether  the new prospect is actually a good fit for Optimizely (Steli Efti, from Close.io, shares a similar philosophy although he uses different method).

According to Luke, the validation form by itself isn’t what guarantees the quality of new customers, but it sets the baseline for having a culture of customer success and retention inside the Sales team. It implies a shared agreement between the Sales and Customer Success teams that each customer is a good fit for Optimizely.

In addition, Luke  personally screens every new customer and gives a special importance to validating their needs. According to Luke, with this process, truly “bad” enterprise customers are extremely rare.

It’s common practice in businesses to build retention metrics into Sales people’s incentives to avoid chasing customers without a longer term view. Optimizely’s approach is interesting in the sense that it clearly incentivizes Sales people on revenue generation, but ensures coordination with the Success team—which owns net retention—using a validation process, along with tight collaboration.

In the spirit of transparency, they entire Optimizely organization receives an email alert whenever an enterprise customer decides to churn.

“This simple workflow ensures that all employees—from the intern to the C-level—are in the loop when we fall short for a customer, and it often sparks internal dialogue about priorities and opportunities to change, iterate and refine.”

Transform your customer’s organization to achieve success

Believe it or not, a major part of the customer’s ultimate success does not rely on your customer success team, your sales team, or your product, but rather: in your customer’s organization. We came to this conclusion as Luke was sharing his best and worst customer success experiences.

Worst? The biggest challenge is when the customer lacks the skills or people to execute: generate ideas, setup experiments, QA, measure, rinse & repeat. According to Luke, the main reason for “customer failure” with Optimizely is a disconnect between a buying decision made by a senior executive and the actual resources available in the team to use it and get value out of Optimizely’s software. The help close this gap, Optimizely has curated a network of 80 Solutions Partners to help their customer build—or accelerate— their optimization program.

Another challenge: earning executive mindshare at the VP and C-suite level. In a recent survey of 500 CMOs, optimization ranked #12 out of 17 various marketing priorities.

“We are crafting our sales and account management strategy to uplevel the conversation and earn executive sponsorship. This strategy, along with the coming product releases (e.g. personalization) will ultimately make Optimizely unturnoffable.”

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Best? Luke’s most memorable customer success happened when one of  the Customer Success team members managed to convince a client to make a hire in order to lead and improve optimization initiatives, after demonstrating that the first tests generated a 15% increase in revenue. Optimizely provided the data to help the customer’s Marketing Director make the case for net new headcount, thereby creating transformational change in the company. “In my opinion, it was one of our proudest moments,” Luke said.

Worst scenario, best scenario: both are related to the customers’ resource allocation, and that’s one key lesson for all SaaS out there: the ROI your customers derive from your software is correlated to the resources devoted to it. Convince your customers to organize for success!

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