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Why CSMs and CEMs Need Buy-In From Other Departments

Written by Rob Boone

Published on July 21, 2014

Why CSMs and CEMs need other departments on board for team success

As a customer education or success manager, what happens when you get to the office and overhear a product engineer talking about a new feature the team just released...one of which you were completely unaware, and haven't integrated into your customer education campaigns?

Panic. Scrambling. Chaos.

Sound familiar?

You're not alone. Lack of coordination between teams is a common problem, and it often goes ignored for a simple reason: it's systemic and pervasive, so it must be hard to fix. Unfortunately, ignoring the problem has a singular effect: your company becomes a collection of departments, rather than a single, cohesive whole. And when the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing, the customer suffers.

Lack of inter-departmental cohesion isn’t inevitable, and the best teams use creative strategies to bridge departmental gaps in order to best serve customers. The following strategies will cover what’s needed to secure buy-in from other departments in order to better serve your customers.

Start at the top.

Achieving cross-departmental synergy starts convincing your CEO to champion customer education as an integral part of whole-company customer success. Get the CEO in your corner, and the other departments are likely to follow his or her lead. An established principle based in organizational support theory suggests that employees behave in a way that maximizes reciprocity between them and their supervisor. It can be summed up with a simple phrase:

"If the boss cares, I care."

If a supervisor shows interest in a particular goal, his or her employee is likely to show interest in that goal, too. How does this work in your favor? Think of it as a trickle-down approach to getting buy-in. Convince your CEO of the value of customer education, and the enthusiasm you generate will trickle down through the rest of the organization. According to customer success expert Jeanne Bliss in her book Chief Customer Officer, “Without real motivation from leadership on what they want, it’s hard for people to be motivated about doing the work.”

So how do you convince the CEO of the value of what you do? The keys to focus on are education and value. According to Bliss, “It’s nearly impossible for the CEO to keep straight all the ways customers are being taken care of, contacted, or ignored.” When CEOs are unclear about customer profitability goals, or there’s inconsistent accountability for results, it’s harder to get the rest of the company to cooperate. To get the CEO on board with your customer education and success efforts, then, you have to help define and show success through key performance indicator metrics like churn rate reduction, as well as how each of your efforts impacts the company’s revenue.  (Source) Here, tracking is key. If you employ a tool that can directly link customer education with overall product performance, use that tool. Show the value in black and white.

Get specific. Gather your data and show the ROI. Start with an eye-opening fact. For example, research shows it's 6-7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one. (Source).That will get your CEO's attention. 

Explain the cross-departmental nature of what you do, and — specifically — how your team's success positively affects the success of other departments, and of the company as a whole.

Be assertive. Remember, you have the data to back up your claims. Then, be specific about what you want your CEO to do. How can they help?

Get the product team involved.

Once your CEO is on board, get the product team involved. This is, after all, the department that most directly affects your day-to-day operations. You need their buy-in.

Your team provides a great deal of information to the product team. Communication must go both ways, though. Remember the new feature that put the whole customer service team in scramble mode? That could have been avoided had there been proper communication between teams. When a new feature is deployed, the customer success team should be made aware of it. In fact, when the product team pushes a new feature, the customer education team should simultaneously be educating customers about that feature. That can only happen, of course, if you're aware of the new feature in advance.

To get the product team to buy in, start with an explanation of precisely how two-way communication will benefit them. If customers aren't educated about a new feature, is it going to be used to its full potential? Is it going to be misused or misunderstood? How many customer support tickets will misunderstanding result in? Will customers even notice the new feature? Then, paint the opposite picture: customers are educated, fully utilizing and benefiting from the new feature. Everyone's happy.

Don't expect the product team to do all the heavy lifting. Engineers typically have a very established workflow, so implement a solution that adapts to that workflow, rather than just asking them to send an email every now and again. Talk to the product manager about how he or she would like to communicate, whether it's a piece of software or a scheduled meeting. Make it as easy as possible for the product team to keep you in the loop.

Finally, bring sales and marketing on board.

Getting sales and marketing excited about working more closely with you should be an easy sell. Remember, marketing is all about speaking the customer's language- and nobody knows that language better than you. You're on the front lines, engaging with customers every day. What do they love about the product? What are their concerns? Marketing would love that have that information.

When communicating with marketing and sales teams, be specific when communicating your goals and how they relate to those of their departments. Show them the value of customer education in clear metrics. Track your churn rate to show the value of renewals versus the effort required for new sales. Keep an eye on overall numbers to track new sales patterns that you can then share with marketing. Again, if you employ a tool that directly links education to churn rate and sales patterns, put it to use here. In short, show them how you can positively impact their sales numbers. You can also coordinate with marketing to orchestrate customer education-related social media and other marketing campaigns. 

Final thoughts

Healthy companies are those in which departments are tightly interwoven, whose teams work closely together towards a common goal. Customer education is in a unique position to be the thread that binds everything together.

As a CSM or CEM, you have the opportunity to be that thread. Keep in mind your audience, and adjust your strategy accordingly: get specific with your CEO, make it easy for the product team, and appeal to marketing's love of customer insights.

And with all departments, show the value as it applies to them. Do that, and  two things will happen: one, the rest of the company will recognize the value you bring to the table, and two, your job will get easier.