Customer Success vs Professional Services - And How to Structure the Two Teams

Software as a Service has dramatically changed the B2B landscape over the past few years.  With software moving into the cloud, deployment can also be done remotely with customers without on-site consultant.  Service directors, who used to be account managers in a traditional software company, are now doing the same job as Customer Success Managers in a SaaS world - upselling and renewals.  While the shift is significant, the basic business model remains largely the same - we're only successful if our customers are successful.In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between the two roles, and how to setup your customer-facing organization for success.

What's the Difference?

Two words: Implementation and Integration.  While Customer Success teams are great resources for customers to work through minor issues, larger enterprise customers typically expect the software to be customized and integrated to their existing systems and workflows.   This means having a team of experienced consultants is required in order to implement a solution tailored for each business.An article by Mark Suster nicely describes the benefits of professional services teams.  What the article boils down to is that in order to make a customer successful and decrease churn, professional services need to be involved to successfully roll-out the software and integrate with existing systems within the customer's organization.  Not only are you building a moat to prevent your competitors from penetrating the account, you're making money doing it.

Organizational Structure

The complexity of your product will help define the organizational structure of your services and customer success teams.  According to David Skok's article on Building Customer Success Organization, there are five models: Firefighter CSM, Sales-oriented CSM, Service-oriented CSM, Integrated CSM, and Partnership CSM.customer_successThe more complex your product, the more service-oriented Customer Success team needs to be.  In my experience, Services and Customer Success have always been intertwined because of the lengthy time it takes to make a sale and deploy the products.  Onboarding and training the users are activities that are also part of the role of this "Implementation team" within a Customer Success or Services organization.Ultimately, there is no customer success without quality service. The goal of any software organization is to reduce the product friction, increase product adoption, and reduce churn, and none of them can be achieved without some kind of successful roll-out or implementation plan.  Your team needs to focus on achieving these goals at scale for every customer without becoming a cost center, and you should organize your team structure based on whether how Professional Services and Customer Success teams can be aligned to the same goals.

Good Consultants Are Also Good CSMs

During my tenure as a consultant and then head of CS, I noticed that good consultants are generally good at doing Customer Success Manager's job, but not vice versa.  The main reason is because a consultant from the Professional Services organization typically posses deeper technical skills that is very specific to certain parts of the software.  In addition, the hiring criteria for a consultant is usually a bit more technical than for a CSM.When I was head of CS at Comprehend Systems, my first few hires were technical implementation consultants because of the complex requirements during our software integrations with customer's data.  They can make sure the customer is taken care of, and also deep dive into troubleshooting customer issues.  However, as we grew as an organization, it became much harder to hire someone who's good technically, and at the same time spend hours on project management work that is not as interesting or good use of their time.  This was when we started breaking out roles for Implementation and Customer Success, where Implementation team are in charge of deployment and onboarding, while Customer Success is all about making customers happy throughout the lifecycle of the customers.  Both roles are incredibly important to customer's success, but the skillset and job description are very different.In conclusion, I encourage everyone to evaluate how complex your product is to deploy and how long it takes for customers to find value.  If it takes more than a month just to get the customers up and running, Professional Services team is required to offset the cost of customizing the software for each customer.  For low-touch customers, a Customer Success team is generally enough to make sure your customers are taken care of without investing insurmountable cost in each customer.