There are a handful of leaders pushing forward the way we think about CS Ops: Jeff Beaumont, Gitlab’s Director of CS Ops, is one of them. He’s been with GitLab for over 2 years, helped the company with their IPO this past October, and is seen internally as a key strategist in the Customer Success function.
I recently sat down with Jeff to get his take on a topic he’s given a lot of thought to: how CS Ops drives Net Retention.
Below is an excellent excerpt from our conversation where Jeff shares 3 ways his CS Ops team helps to drive Net Retention at GitLab. You can also listen to the full interview on the ‘nuffsaid podcast.
JEFF: As a quick background, I lead the CS Ops team here at GitLab. In CS Ops we support our TAMs (Technical Account Managers), SAs (Solution Architects or Sales Engineers), and the Professional Services teams. And our current initiatives are around product usage data, getting a digital motion going, renewal ops, and enhancing Gainsight as the backbone system of CS.
CHRIS: One of the topics for today is how CS Ops is able to influence a Net Retention number. How do you think about the impact that CS Ops can have on Net Retention?
JEFF: For CS Ops to have an impact on Net Retention, the starting point needs to be that we act as the CSM to our CSMs. Their success is our success. We also have to hitch our wagon to theirs. If their goal is Net Retention, I must orient myself and my team to that. I come from leading CS teams and so it’s important that my team can empathize with the opportunities, challenges, and obstacles in front of CS. I try to make sure that I hire those with that industry experience, so that they know what it's like to be a CSM. Then, when they jump into an Ops role and begin working with CSMs, they don't have to ask questions like “Why is that important to you?” They already know what’s needed. Instead they say things like, “I get it. Let me go build that.”
And I think one of the other things that's actually been helpful for me is this book The Seven Pillars of Customer Successs by Wayne McCullough. He breaks down CS into categories including operationalizing CS, onboarding, adoption, retention, expansion, advocacy, and being a strategic advisor. This framework has helped me think about where my team is strong and where we need to improve from a CS perspective.
In my position, I have to be able to think about the strategy of CS, but then also the strategy of CS Ops. How is our onboarding from both a CS and CS Ops side? How about adoption? What about Voice Of the Customer? And then thinking about the future—do we need to go deep in one of those areas or should we focus broadly on several different pillars?
CHRIS: So onboarding, adoption, VOC... I get how CS Ops helps enable all those activities and streamline them. How do you actually measure whether or not CS Ops has been successful in driving the Net Retention number?
JEFF: Ultimately, we must use a framework to tie our activities back to Net Retention. There are three ways that I look at it. First is KPIs that CS Ops owns. Second would be projects that improve CS efficiency or effectiveness. Third is visibility.
#1 KPIs that CS Ops owns
We're currently building out a number of CS Ops KPIs. The focus right now is largely on digital engagement to measure greater adoption and product usage. Then we also have KPIs around data coverage, product usage, health scoring, and measuring toward completeness and accuracy of those health scores. Did they help our team forecast better? For example, if six months ago, we coded accounts as red, yellow, or green, we need to understand if our health scores were realistic or unrealistic.
We've also built out digital campaigns and can directly track and measure the impact that those campaigns have on things like license utilization and certain use case adoption. So I can show you a couple of graphs on the control group that didn't get the onboarding journey for example, the customers that did get the onboarding journey, and show you the measured difference of how more licenses were adopted and faster. That’s point #1—KPIs that point directly to CS Ops.
#2 Projects that improve CS efficiency and effectiveness
The second way CS Ops can drive Net Retention is around how well we can drive CS team efficiency. The main question we ask is, what are some initiatives that we could launch to make our CS team more efficient?
One example from GitLab: We launched an activity capture tool for our Solutions Architects. Previously they were going into Salesforce and logging their activity, which was hard, annoying, we didn't have great visibility into it, and we didn't have a lot of traction across the entire team to consistently follow that process. So we deployed a new tool called Troops, and now after meetings, it pings SAs and tells them what to do, where to type in notes, and then pulls that info into a reporting tool we use.
It's great because now after every QBR, our Solution Architects can report on that and track who we’re talking to (Directors, ICS, Managers?), what types of conversations we’re having (discovery calls, proofs of concept?), etc. This has enabled those teams to be significantly more efficient.
We can track this increase in efficiency directly back to the work of CS Ops. We evaluated the tool, helped deploy it, and worked with those leaders to ensure that SAs were successful with the new tool. It’s a little bit harder to measure the direct impact of the special projects CS Ops works on to Net Retention, but no in internal QBRs and leadership calls, everyone can see the value CS Ops brought in this instance.
Another example is how we implemented Gainsight. We launched it about a year and a half ago and it gives us reporting that we never had access to before. Gainsight organizes all the success plans, customer data, and Zendesk tickets, to enable TAMs to have all that in one place. They don't have to go to a million different systems, they can just go to one place. That's how I think about efficiency.
But those are just stories. A framework that might be helpful is to think about this: what are the inefficiencies your team is currently experiencing that could be helped by CS Ops?
If you're a small team of 3 CSMs and you're deciding between hiring a fourth CSM or a CS Ops person, a helpful framework is to say, “Okay, if I go hire that CS Ops person, I really need to have that person make those three existing CSMs at least 33% more efficient to make that payoff.” But if you have 30 CSMs and all you get is a 5% efficiency gain across the board, that's a no brainer. That's a massive improvement.
Another way I look at it is whether the Ops person helped a CS manager, director, or VP by freeing up their time to focus on other responsibilities. Maybe due to a CS Ops person, a VP is able to join more customer calls. Maybe they can focus their time thinking about how to engage with customers rather than spending too much time building reports or learning how to configure and look at data.
If CS Ops builds reporting, dashboarding, and deeper analytics that leaders don't have time for, how much is that worth to them? How much is it worth for a CS leader to be able to say, “I now have accurate churn metrics” or “I now have information on how much of the product our customers have adopted or where they're at in the adoption journey.” If we can do that, how much value is that to leaders?
#3 Visibility (a.k.a. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”)
This one is less measurable, but one great way CS Ops can drive Net Retention is by bringing visibility. I have a saying about this too—sunlight is the best disinfectant. I want to create not just a memorable metaphor, but also a way to cast light on what it is that we're trying to solve for.
Where I'm going with this is as leaders we often lack awareness of what's going on within the details. We assume everything's going fine until it isn't or until someone comes and tells us that it isn’t. So it's my job in CS Ops to shine that spotlight on what's going on, reveal the cobwebs, show opportunities, provide insights, and help CS leaders make better decisions.
That's how I want to become a trusted advisor to the CS leader—by helping to drive that strategy to increase Net Retention. It’s so important for me and my team to be able to help the greater CS org by shining a spotlight on different areas that they were unaware of—whether it's problems, data issues, process gaps, or even opportunities to improve on the customer experience.
The best resources for Customer Success teams this week
Customer Success Is Where 90% Of the Revenue Is
Another OpenView piece on the 3 key value drivers of today’s SaaS businesses: renewals, retention, and expansion. And here’s a fun fact: “To put the power of strong NDR into context, Snowflake, who has NDR of 169% as of 11/21, can grow ~70% YoY without acquiring a single new customer 🤯.”
5 Myths of Digital Customer Success
In this post, Erika Villarreal debunks some long-standing myths about running digitally-led CS programs. I particularly liked her reminder that “customers don’t have to suffer when moved from high touch to low touch.”
Assembling A World-Class CS Organization: An Interview With TSIA’s VP of CS Research
This concise interview with Stephen Fulkerson touches on a variety topics about how to staff and scale a winning CS org including CS team structure, org sizing based on budget, and CSM to customer ratios. Also, his VOC comment was on point—“Voice of Customer metrics play a critical role in determining whether you’ve sized your organization correctly – that’s ultimately for the customer to decide.”
A Guide to Uncommonly Quick Decisions
Here Deepak Shukla covers the tactical advantages and true downsides of making decisions quickly. In the end, he argues that moving fast and (sometimes) being wrong far outweighs deliberating for too long. He says if you’re a leader of people or organizations, “that quick-fire decision-making based upon limited information + instinct is a necessity for success.”
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