CS Boston – July: The CFO as Customer Success Ally

Customer Success is gaining significant traction, but it is still the “new kid on the block” in the leadership ranks of most SaaS companies. And just like the new kid, CS leaders need to find an ally who can guide and support them in obtaining both an appropriate share of spending and a voice in strategic decision-making. At the recent inaugural session of the Boston chapter of the Customer Success Association, I led a discussion with a panel of two CFOs who, through their comments, made a strong case for the CFO as a prospective ally.

If these two CFOs were at all representative of their peer group, we learned that there are several reasons for CS leaders to be optimistic about developing a fruitful relationship with that member of the executive suite. Specifically, CFOs:

  • Understand the financial necessity of capturing renewals and maximizing CLV
  • Aren’t caught up in who-should-be-responsible-for-what; they just want to see the financial impact
  • Are interested in a strategic view of improving the long-term health of the business and customer relationships
  • Believe in data

For CS leaders to forge strategic relationships with CFOs, they need to take leverage the CFOs’ mindset and respond to their motivations. The case for investing in Customer Success needs to be made based on evidence that spending—on CSM software, on an onboarding program, on additional headcount—will provide a return above baseline in the form of improved retention and/or increased lifetime customer value. This evidence, according to the CFOs, can take the form of plausible outside benchmarks or (and better) can be derived from testing.

Importantly, in calling on CS leaders to create tests to make the investment case, they are not looking for elaborate experiments that could be blessed by a statistician. They simply want real-world evidence of efficacy. For example, to make the case for the impact of CSM software on renewals, select a test group and more closely monitor customer utilization for a month. To make the case for investment in a customer marketing program, send several newsletters to a test group and analyze the correlation between engagement and the likelihood of renewal. Moreover, the tests themselves are an opportunity to forge an alliance with the CFO: by working with the CFO on the test design, CS leaders can not only assure buy-in if the test proves successful, but can also gain credibility and earn trust.