Building up Customer Success from Scratch - Part 1: Setting the Scene

Passbase is a B2B SaaS identity verification tool, enabling companies to authenticate their users through a combination of an ID-scan and a selfie. Today we have around 30 employees and hundreds of customers operating across sectors ranging from financial services to digital health.

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This is the first blog post from the series “Building up Customer Success from Scratch”, where I explore the main questions, concerns and tips on creating an outstanding customer experience at a relatively early stage of a B2B tech company. I’m writing about this, while going through the process with Passbase, so if you are interested in real world stories and parallels, insights from some of the leading minds on the topic and consolidated research on best practices, you may find something interesting.

Earlier this year, we realised that although our number of paid customers was growing at an accelerating rate, it did not translate into verification growth at quite the same pace. This is somewhat expected, as both our platform and pricing structure incentivise customers to upgrade to a paid plan early, either through granting access to additional features or monthly subscription discounts. Moreover, there’s usually a ramp up time of around 2–3 months before our clients roll out the solution to their entire customer base. That said, even when accounting all of that in, there was still a visible gap between expectations and reality.

Analysing our sales process in retrospect, our internal incentive structure was definitely one of the reasons for such a situation. Given that the majority of our customers are inbound or even self-service, we allocated the majority of our time to optimising the flow from Sales Qualified Lead -> Paid and assumed that our product and the customers’ need for user authentication would carry them to production with limited intervention from our side. This however was a mistake and did not support our goal as a company, which is to facilitate a seamless and secure digital ecosystem.

Integration has never been the blocker, as we put a lot of emphasis on accessibility. It is more a matter of nudging prioritisation, as every day our customers are not live, we fall behind on our mission, even if they do keep up the monthly subscription. In response to our “oh crap” moment, we took a step back and looked at our entire customer journey holistically, from Lead to Champion, with the goal to build processes around urgency and truly maximise the value of our product.

In July 2020, my role shifted from actively convincing people to sign up to a paid plan, to ensuring they have the best and most streamlined experience possible with our platform. This meant diving into the concept of customer success and rethinking targets, interaction points and triggers. Part 1 of this series deconstructs the department’s role and importance for a successful B2B company and explores the approach we took at Passbase.

In order to explain the division’s purpose, it’s perhaps most useful to look at the goals it aims to accomplish. Although this will somewhat differ for each organisation, there seems to be alignment in three of the main targets. These are:

  1. Maximising the revenue of the account -
    This includes up-selling features of your product, ensuring that your clients are using the account as anticipated and securing renewals.
  2. Reducing churn -
    Actively measuring account health and taking proactive steps to increase their reliance on the product through feature prioritisation and communication.
  3. Increasing the satisfaction rate of customers -
    Thoughtful touches, rapid responses and most of all, a reliable product are a good combination for nurturing champions.

In its essence, what it means is being a reliable and proactive partner for your client base through understanding their use case in depth, keeping track of their progress and leveraging product usage data to create more opportunities for them to succeed. Of course, there’s also an element of customer support in there, particularly during onboarding, but in a nutshell, you can differentiate between the two very easily: support = reactive , success = proactive.

At Passbase, we took a wider approach to this problem and actually went through a slight reorganisation of our customer oriented teams, combining Growth, Sales and Customer Experience under a general “Revenue” umbrella. Now although maximising revenue does not directly translate into building a good and sustainable product, in our case it is very closely tied to verification volume, which is something we optimise for. Moreover, this way we are able to encapsulate the entire client lifecycle (lead to champion) and monitor performance across it.

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Customer Experience Team Structure

As you can see, the Customer Experience team is divided into four subcategories: Customer Support, Service Delivery, Account Management and Onboarding. While definitely important, support and service delivery are topics for another time and I won’t address these in detail.

Although the phrase “account management” refers more to reactive maintenance of the client base, we treat colleagues in that category as full force customer success managers, whose day-to-day consists of analysing performance, monitoring and improving account health and ensuring that our customers are leveraging the product to the best of its abilities. This team is measured for billed to expected revenue rate, churn and net promoter score.

Our onboarding department is led by solutions engineers, whose goal is to improve the implementation methodology, support and initiate the integration process and become the link with our engineering team, in case of any concerns. Most of their targets are time-based, whether it be the average time from paid to activated or time to resolve tickets, which are not escalated to the engineering team.

Walker’s study on the preferences of B2B Customers found that by the end of 2020, customer experience will take over as the #1 differentiator of a business, beating out both pricing and product. Yet, this still feels like something that is looked as a “nice-to-have” in the majority of early stage companies and defined as a characteristic of the brand.

I’ve got to admit, I was one of those people not so long ago. To me the whole concept seemed quite simple: be there for the customer when they need something and build a product that fits their needs. However, following many in-depth discussions with our advisor Jonathan Sousa (early CS leader at Dropbox and current VP of Customer Success at Finix), I’ve come to understand that such a belief is naive. There are so many shifting priorities for everyone, both in terms of time and money, that you really cannot afford to stop working for the customers’ trust at the moment when they start paying.

This is perhaps “a given” in large enterprises, but not understood well enough in early-stage companies. That is particularly odd, as these are the companies, who need to put in much more work in the convincing process and the trust they are granted is more fragile. And still, success often seems to come into play when support gets out of hand.

Another key reason why this is important, is that if you are on the traditional tech financing journey (Pre-Seed, Seed, Series A,B,C etc), then at a very early point in the fundraising conversation (minimally around the Series A), B2B SaaS companies start to be evaluated by metrics, which are largely driven by the work of this division (churn, ARR, NPS etc). A well-performing and accessible product might be enough to keep your users happy in the short-term, but building a proactive relationship will drive revenue and hedge your risks in case of any unexpected malfunctions.

First, here are the key takeaways from this article:

  • The three main goals of a Customer Success department are maximising revenue, reducing churn and increasing the satisfaction of your customers.
  • An effective post-sales motion is at least as important as your sales process and the impact of poorly managing your existing customers will reveal itself much earlier than you think.
  • You get what you measure, so when setting goals, make sure the outcome directly corresponds to the longer-term mission. If not, change it.

In Part 2, I’ll address some of the first simple steps you can take to gather a better understanding of your customer base and best practices for creating an account health score. In the meantime, think about your post-sales motion and try to analyse: How well do you actually know what’s going on with your clients?

Written by

Chief of Staff @Passbase

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