Although the tempting answer to the question of when to grow your customer success team is “when you have more customers” a better approach is to “grow” the team before you have more customers.

By “grow” I mean improve the team’s performance – not add more people. To improve their performance, first assess competence and efficiency. It makes NO sense to add people to a team that has not yet mastered their craft. (Astute readers will recall the phrase “walk before you run.”)

Trying to enlarge a customer success team before they achieve competence (a natural temptation in high growth companies) defers and increases the problem of effectiveness and efficiency until a future date. When that sad day arrives, the cost of competence will be even higher because you must retrain a larger (and growing) team.

If your customer count is growing rapidly and you haven’t yet achieved competence, I suggest:

  1. Identify the scope (CRAWL) – Clarify the scope of the role. Likely the days are chaotic and people are performing all manner of functions. Step back and assess the work that must be accomplished.  Eliminate work that isn’t adding value to customers or the business.
  2. Become competent (WALK) – Reassign a small nucleus of your “best” people from their day-to-day roles and direct their efforts to creating a training program. Yes, they will be teaching a suboptimal process. And yes the effectiveness of the team will suffer while you make this investment. The idea is to be able to repeat steps consistently.
  3. Become efficient (RUN) – Take a different team of “best” people and focus their efforts on finding the right tools and creating new processes that will help you become efficient. Eliminate steps that add no value. Become faster, responsive, and more attentive.
  4. Accelerate (FLY) – This is where the investment pays off. Retrain your team to use the new tools and processes.  Only now does it make sense to hire more people.

Taking these steps is an investment in the “infrastructure” of the business and makes it easier for the existing team to support a larger number of customers.  (Hint: Your manager will appreciate the cost savings.) Then it becomes a simple matter to hire the right people, get them the right training, and grow, grow, grow.

The pivot point is that only after these steps are taken will your organization be in the right spot to add people.  By making the competence and efficiency investments early you will avoid unneeded and uncontrollable costs.

Crawl, Walk, Run, Fly

Additional points:

  • There are obviously organizational issues to be considered with scale such as when and how to split teams up to specialize or regionalize efforts.  I have not covered them here.
  • Companies must resist the temptation to add people to tackle growth. In this model, new people must learn the job themselves or are taught a sub-optimal process. Companies “solve” the issue of serving more customers but they do so by indiscriminately adding cost to the business in the form of people.  PLUS, when they later decide to address the competence issue, they have to retrain a larger group of people.
Growing a Customer Success Organization
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