It’s an honor to have had the word ‘Customer’ in my job title for more than 20 years, whether I was a Customer Support Engineer, Customer Success Manager, or VP of Customer Success. I’ve had the opportunity to scale out Professional Services, Support, and Success Management along with Operations.
I've been thinking a lot about what an end-to-end CCO should look like. What are their responsibilities, especially in regards to streamlining the deal closing process?
In my mind the 2.0 CCO should own Professional Services, Customer Success Management, Customer Support, and Customer Operations. But the key ingredient in a 2.0 CCO’s success is Sales Engineering. By owning SE and having a seat at deal desk, the customer department would control time to value, quality of use cases, and ultimately net retention rate.
Why CCOs must own Sales Engineering
Most CCOs own the post-sales process but it's less common for them to own Sales Engineering (SE). There are two major reasons why I believe the most effective customer departments of the future will own SE:
- It is critical that you land customers who are a good fit for your product, and
- You can’t ensure revenue growth without the ability to get customers to production and to value. The person that's generally going to know what customers want to build and whether it’s a good use case is going to fall squarely on the Sales Engineers’ shoulders.
Sales Engineers understand deals. They’re able to communicate what they know with urgency across an organization, and they speak the same language of the people responsible for bringing that deal to production and value.
My history influencing deal desk and Presales
I was employee number 12 at a previous company, Imply. One of the benefits of joining a company that early is that you grow a tribal knowledge of the product, the Ideal Customer Profile, what makes a good deal, what a good use case is, and what behaviors long term customers have.
Because of that, I was able to voice my opinions with deal desk and be a gatekeeper for the selling or not selling Professional Services by sharing what I’d learned over my time at the company.
But even CS leaders who join companies at a later stage can influence deal desk and Presales to close the right types of customers with the right customer data. That information usually comes in the form of an ICP, created by CS Ops, that outlines the behaviors, tech stack, and use cases of customers who are a good fit.
The role of the SE team within the CS team
I’ve witnessed two models of a Sales Engineering team’s involvement. Model A: a Sales team member or Sales Engineer goes to a customer, defines value, closes the deal, and then peels off and runs away as quickly as possible. Then it’s on the CSM, the Solution Architect, and Support to gather the pieces and sew them up, and try to figure out how to get the customer happy.
Model B is much more effective. Model B is where a Sales Engineer is an end-to-end technical teammate for the customer—they close the deal and implement the customer. And the same Sales Engineer is there with the customer’s 2nd and 3rd and 4th sales (if they’re needed).
This takes away the risk of context switching, while empowering the customer by leading them to the technical wins and business value they wanted in the first place. That's the perfect world because you’re not losing any time, any context, or any of the trust that was built during the sales process.
The dynamic between SE and AE
In order for the Sales Engineering team to not be seen as an adversary or a deal blocker to Sales, the two teams need to have a good relationship. The dynamic between an SE and an AE should be similar to the relationship between a CSM and their Sales counterpart, where both parties trust each other and leverage each other’s skills in the deals they work.
An SE should be trusted in the same way. SEs understand what it takes to prove a technical outcome to get business value and they put trust in their Sales peers to work the commercials and the expectations in that arrangement.
To empower the SE team to ensure that the best possible deals are crossing the finish line, they need to be able to show, historically, what deals have been the most effective and their impact on the team’s close rate. On the flip side, they also need to be able to let leadership know if it's a bad use case or bad terms.
SE & pricing power
At Imply, the head of CS and SE had a strong voice with deal desk and power over pricing. They had the ability to flag deals getting too much of a discount and they had veto power over deals where the use case was not a good fit for the company.
I don’t think individual SEs should have deal desk authority, but there needs to be a team member who rolls up to the head of Presales that can relay SE knowledge up the chain. SEs tend to know what's going to make for a good deal and they understand what short-term grenades look like—those short-sighted deals everyone wants to avoid because they negatively affect our ability to fulfill long-term company goals.
When SEs have a say in the Sales process
The ultimate pain of hyper growth startups is that when it’s crunch time and there’s pressure to hit numbers, people make compromises that later negatively affect the company. Bad use cases or bad deals are sold and then the company is later hit with the much larger problem of having to report churn or gross revenue retention going down below a number that affects their ability to raise money.
That is why it is so important for the SE team to have influence in the Sales process while reporting to CS. They won’t allow deals to slip through because of a short-sighted approach.
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