Why I Chose to do Customer Success

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Apologies to the readers (the 3 or 4 of you out there)…  it has been a year without consistent articles.  To be honest, since transitioning to the Customer Success Leader role I haven’t been sure I should continue this blog or pivot it to a CS focus.
wifi-does-not-work-memeAlso being on a 12 hour flight without Wifi helped too… Onto the first topic.
Even though our organization is almost 200 people I still do the final interview for every candidate.  A common question I am asked is “why did you leave Sales Engineering to do Customer Success?”.  When I talk to fellow sales leaders about their Customer Success teams a common theme is that if you have a person who isn’t performing “but is a good guy” rather than manage them out of the company they put them in Customer Success.  Ummm…. Not a ringing endorsement.
Yes, it was my decision to do Customer Success. Why I Chose to Do it
If you have been following this blog then you would know I am a big supporter of doing what you love, don’t chase titles, money and opportunity will follow.  I loved the  SE leader role I had.  I had the opportunity to build a team the way I wanted to, the talent was top notch, and I really enjoyed the people.  So when candidates ask me why I chose to do Customer Success I tell them: “I didn’t, I said no 3 times”.
  1. Head of Talent:
    • “Bill you have the unique background of post sales escalation support, business savvy, technical acumen, and know how to scale teams – this job would be a big promotion to VP and perfect for you!”
    • Me: “I have already done the post sales thing before, after working ~300 critical accounts at Cisco I don’t think there is much left to conquer/learn.  Love what I am doing, make good money, titles aren’t important anymore.”
  2. COO and Chief People Officer:
    • “Bill we don’t like the retained search candidates, and think you would be a good fit for this role.  It will grow to be one of the most important roles in the company responsible for all of our recurring revenue.”
    • Me: “That is pretty cool.  But I love what I am doing.  I am really happy.  Here are some other good people…”
  3. CEO, Chairman of Board, Largest Share holder
    • Ok – maybe I should at least listen 🙂   Again I said I love what I do – but suggested that rather than interviewing for the job why don’t I take some time to think about what I think the role and team should be.  Then let me come back and propose a vision that I would be happy and engaged fulfilling and if it is a fit for the business I will do it. If not, no worries – I love my job.
When I was 25 my career really took off.  My boss left the company and I was planning to accept a role as an SE Manager.  Before I transitioned my general manager asked if I would create a proposal of what should be done with our escalation team once I left.  So I proposed a whole new org/function that was not only focused on escalation but the whole customer lifecycle – “Deployment Success Organization (DSO).  I wished them best of luck and I was off to go do the SE thing and make bunches of $$$ until… our GM asked if I would be willing to stay and run the new org as a second level leader.  It may not be the same $$$ but it would be an opportunity to build something from scratch.  Taking that opportunity over more $$$ was one of the best decisions of my career.
Screen Shot 2019-03-21 at 9.44.33 PM.png
Now 15 years later I had the same opportunity.
I thought about the things I was good at and liked to do:
  • Build a team and scale
  • Be involved in both business and technical
  • Learn how a customer’s business worked (like an ongoing MBA)
  • Challenge the customer to get out of their comfort zone and change/transform
  • Present on stage at events
  • Entertain clients and travel
  • Be able to float around and focus on different things internal/external
  • Get shit done and be independent
Then I thought about the business need for a Customer Success organization.  I purposely did not go and look at what other companies were doing.  I wanted a fresh perspective.
I went back and looked at what drove me to leave Cisco in the first place.  During my last 3 years at Cisco we changed how our Collaboration team sold.  Rather than try and focus on multi million dollar deals we realized we could drive growth by simplifying our sales process and focus on consumption economics.   At the time Cisco was trying to sell all these different complicated features, upgrade all their customers software versions, and it was easy to get stuck in the weeds.  Our approach was:
  1. Determine what our sustainable differentiation in the market was and put them in 3 buckets (Architectural Control Points)
  2. Document the customer’s current environment and control point status (Collaboration Profile Tool)
  3. Learn a customer’s business objectives and map them to one of 5 differentiated use cases (Power Plays)
  4. Rather than pitching 100’s of features, work backwards from the Biz Objective to the technology needed
  5. Drive adoption of the technology through guerrilla end user marketing and technical assistance (Ranger Program)
Our hypothesis was that if we did this correctly we could turn selling phones and video units into SaaS consumption business and unlock budget from the customer’s lines of business and individual teams rather than IT.  For 3 years we did > 30% growth and grew the business to almost $1B.  All of this while the rest of the segments and global teams had -1% growth.
Doing Sales well isn’t about pitching and closing.  It is about understanding a customer’s business objectives, your solution’s sustainable differentiation, and how you can marry the two of those together and make it a reality.   The conclusion I came to was that Customer Success is really just the fun part of sales without the burden of a quota!
So what was the proposal back to my company on how we should do Customer Success?  It has evolved and matured over time but the initial hypothesis has held true.
Screen Shot 2019-03-21 at 9.47.24 PM
If we did this would it check the boxes on what I was good and and liked to do?  International travel, business/tech, present on stage, get shit done, etc.  Yup! IMG_3426.jpg

Yes, it was a good decision to do Customer Success and it has been a wild but rewarding ride the past year.  If building the SE org was like checkers then this has been like 3 dimensional chess.  My next blog posts will cover this journey and lessons learned.  My tentative topics are below.  If you have suggestions feel free to comment below.

  • Job Titles – the dangers of the “Senior Principal XYZ” 
    • already written – will post next week
  • An Argument Against the LAER Model for Customer Success
    • Part 1: Vendor Success or Customer Success??
    • Part 2: Team and Structure
    • Part 3: Metrics and Measurements
  • What Changes When You Become a Public Company?
  • Lessons Learned from Managing a Global Organization
    • Incorporating new entities in Eastern Europe
    • Opening offices in Latin America
    • Deciding marriages and parking passes
    • Keeping your own marriage intact
Btw – you can choose to do Customer Success too!  We are hiring and have 50+ openings to fill in the next 5 months.


5 thoughts on “Why I Chose to do Customer Success

  1. Excellent post Bill. Speaking for myself and I’m sure for many colleagues, we are grateful that you brought your vision of Customer Success to Zscaler. Like you, many of us were stuck in traditional Customer Care / Escalation roles at other companies, always dealing with unhappy customers, urgent issues, and just being reactive. That becomes a grind and is such a drag. Sure our companies may have renamed it “Customer Success”, but it was just a name change and no real proactive engagement with customers.

    You’ve provided us the concept and tools to really engage proactively with our customers, align their objectives with their outcomes, and leave customers delighted, literally delighted, after our meetings with them. So know that you’ve made a big, positive difference not just for Zscaler, but in the lives of many of us who have come to Customer Success at Zscaler. That’s on you, man.

    To steal a quote, it’s not just a job, it’s an adventure. And that’s true.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Really appreciate the time, effort and (no-wifi-flight aside) focus you put into this article. I really loved working in the SE Org while you were leading it, and I will admit to some real confusion about your role-change when it was announced – you so clearly loved what you were doing! That being said, reading this makes it much easier to understand why you embraced this change, and also the positive lessons you’re taking from this move. Congrats to you and the larger CS team!


  3. Thanks for writing this blog! I am an SE 9 months into the job after working in tech support for a few years. I have a lot of thoughts, too… Great insights and much appreciated!


  4. Hi Bill. I just discovered your blog and have been reading your old posts. This one really resonated with me, as I have over a decade of experience as an SE, and a couple of years ago my team was converted from a traditional SE role (scoping and selling professional services) to a customer success role.
    In this post you mentioned that customer success is all the fun of sales without the quota. Which leads me to ask – how is your team monetizing its efforts? That’s one of the things that we’ve struggled with the most at my organization. We are a systems integrator for Microsoft cloud and our core revenue stream is professional services. We all agree that customer success is needed and should be split out as a separate role from our traditional SE / Solution Architects, but we’re struggling with the monetization model.
    Your business may be different enough from ours that it doesn’t really translate, but still, I’m curious if you have any thoughts on this.


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