When Nick Chang joined Palo Alto Networks in September 2021 as Global Head of Network Security CS, he saw a fast-moving company with an expanding employee base and growing product complexity.
Nick responded by building a highly-sophisticated Customer Success Enablement program which we’ll review in this newsletter issue including:
- The structure of his Enablement team,
- The foundational elements of the Enablement program,
- The 7 CS capabilities Palo Alto Networks CSMs and CSEs train on, and
- How his team develops a custom learning blueprint for each CS team member as they progress in their careers.
How the Enablement team is structured at Palo Alto Networks
I’m tied to two facets of enablement at my company.
The Global Enablement & Training team (90 people):
- This umbrella team is responsible for putting together learning platforms, courses, videos, assignments, homework, and career paths for each function within the organization that requires enablement.
Customer Success Employee Enablement Lead (1 person):
- This person is responsible for providing the Global team with the requirements of what the CS team (300 people) needs to be trained on. This person reports up to me and serves as the ambassador between the engine that creates and publishes enablement content (the Global Entablement & Training team) and the people who use the content (Customer Success Managers and Customer Success Engineers).
1) I see Enablement and training as two different things. If training is like learning how to turn the steering wheel of a car, Enablement is knowing how to drive from A to B.
2) At Palo Alto Networks, we chose to keep CS Ops and Enablement separate. We made this decision because it was important to create a distinct line between the responsibilities of CS Ops (like financials & analytics) and Enablement (the practical application of training).
The foundational elements of an Enablement program
There are five main qualities we wanted to be included in our CS Enablement program at Palo Alto Networks.
- Organized. You have to build an organized, well-thought-out Enablement program. Before I joined the company, we had problems because our CS team didn't have an Enablement framework. Employees were bombarded by multiple courses, too many best practice docs, and here-and-there flyers. This created distrust. Team members didn’t know where to focus their time and how they could best prepare themselves for the job. My first initiative at this company was to bring clarity and focus to CS Enablement at Palo Alto Networks with an Enablement framework (detailed in the following section).
- Continuous. Customer Success as a discipline continues to evolve. This evolution stems from new products being added to the portfolio, new people joining the company, new methodologies being adopted, new SOPs being carried out, etc. Running once-a-year training doesn’t cut it. To be relevant and helpful, we need to work with our CS team continuously and our programs must be agile, ad-hoc, on-demand, and ongoing.
“Historically, Enablement has been about, ‘Hey, we're going to get together once a year, spend a week in class, and then run away.’ This never works.”
- Topic-specific. For Enablement to be effective and relevant, Customer Success Managers and Customer Success Engineers must be trained on specific areas within their role at a reasonable cadence. Being handed a massive list of responsibilities and expected learning areas isn’t helpful.
- Adaptable. The best Enablement programs provide avenues to give feedback on training. The Enablement team needs to know what works, what can be thrown out, and how to improve training programs. To ensure that Enablement is worth the time and energy we put into it, the team member who focuses on CS Enablement at our company regularly interviews our key CS leaders to make sure that the training covers the things that matter to the field.
- Provides content based on individual career paths. Different career paths require different enablement and training. All employees deserve to have clear steps and milestones they can meet so they can expand their knowledge as well as get promoted within their particular career ladder. At our company, managers are also responsible for meeting with the CSMs on their team to come up with an Enablement roadmap covering the knowledge gaps that need to be filled for each employee. The manager will suggest a series of courses to fill those gaps, which allows the employee to both level up their skills and be set up on the right career path.
“CS Enablement means ensuring that each person at Palo Alto Networks feels that they are not only just doing a job but that they are on a career path that they can follow to improve themselves personally and professionally.”
The 7 CS capabilities framework
Every CS employee at our company follows an Enablement framework that consists of seven universal CS knowledge areas they need to be skilled in.
1) Business-led outcome-driven approach
This capability covers how to translate business requirements and pain points in to a set of use cases that are measurable by the customer.
2) Industry and technology awareness
Our world is cybersecurity. To be trusted advisors to our customers, CSMs have to be in the know about what is occurring around the cybersecurity space.
3) Product knowledge
CSMs & CSEs need to be thoroughly trained on the products and solutions we sell. The more educated our teams are, the more skilled they are at relaying that knowledge to customers. And when customers have a deep understanding of our platform of products, it leads to a higher likelihood of adoption, more use cases, and better chances of renewal, expansion, cross-sell, and upsell opportunities.
4) Customer Surround
At our company, “Customer Surround” entails how CS team members can work effectively with other parts of the organization including Sales, Systems Engineering, Marketing, Product Management, Engineering, Partners, etc.
5) Customer behavior analytics
We want our CS team to have the ability to look at customer product usage data and tell a story based on those numbers. They should be able to determine customer use cases based on product usage and determine the most efficient approach to accelerate their adoption and value
6) Account management skills
It’s a requirement that every CSM has a handle on baseline account management skills. The best CSMs know how to listen, work through escalations, defuse situations, be a trusted advisor, etc.
7) Customer journey orchestration
This skill is about CSMs understanding every activity that occurs along the customer journey from onboarding, adoption, renewals, expansions, success planning, etc.
Custom Enablement blueprint for each CS employee
Beyond this universal CS Enablement program, as described above, we wanted to ensure each CSM and CSE were provided with a custom blueprint for success at Palo Alto Networks.
To launch this blueprint initiative, our Enablement team member meets with every key member of my delivery staff to ensure managers in the field created an employee-tailored Enablement plan for all of their team members. All CSMs/CSEs have different needs. At our company, those needs are evaluated between the manager and the employee, and then together they create a customized learning progress plan.
We call it our Customer Success Academy and like to think of it as a university. We provide the content, courses, and training, while each employee follows a certain ‘major’ (or career path). CS team members can take certain courses, become a mentor, do technical labs, teach classes, and so much more to level up personally and professionally.
To learn more about building a world-class Customer Success team, connect with Nick Chang on LinkedIn.
The best resources for Customer Success teams this week
A CS Leader's Impact on Company Valuation
Recently on the Success League Radio, I spoke about how CS leaders can use the Rule of 40 to better understand their impact on valuation. In this piece, Bill Cushard, GM of Partner & Commercial Success at Dragonboat, breaks down this metric even further. I love his final thought. If every CS leader presented their strategy in terms of the valuation impact they'll have on the business, we'd see way more CS departments with increased funding (compared to what we see most of the time today which is the CFO rally cry of "make CS more efficient".)
Returning to the Office? Not So Fast.
Gong ran a study at the beginning of this year with 300+ Sales reps about the amount of time they’ve spent in an office over the past six months and their preferences moving forward. I found the following data enlightening:
- Executives were 1.5x more likely to prefer returning to the office than managers and ICs.
- Nearly 2 of every 3 buyers choose remote human interaction or digital self-service vs. more traditional interactions.
- Productivity of at-home workers does not appear to be an issue.
The Impact of Contract Term on Customer Success
Fellow Customer-Led Growth champion, Dave Jackson, digs into how ARR vs. MRR impacts the Customer Success delivery model—a topic not talked about often enough.
As a Manager, I Always Ask My Team This Unique Question
Anna Burgess Yang, former 15-year Director of CS/Product Manager at Suntell, shares the most constructive question she asks during 1:1s — “The generic question ‘How are things going?’ doesn’t always elicit forthright responses. Some employees would gloss over their struggles or respond in the same generic fashion with ‘Things are fine.’ Asking ‘Has anything weird come up?’ gave me so many insights.”
7 Tips for a New CCO
This quick read is tailored to the CCO role, but the 7 pieces of advice Rod Cherkas shares in this article apply to most people kicking off a new role in Customer Success leadership. I suggested adding in an 8th tip: Define how you'll collect and distribute customer data to the executive team and Board. At a minimum, ask customers how much value they receive from the product.
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