Gtmhub's Nicole Nulton on what makes a great Customer Success Manager
Maybe you're interested in how to become a Customer Success Manager. Or perhaps you'd like to understand how we've built our outstanding track record of customer success stories. In this illuminating interview with Gtmhub's VP of Customer Success, Nicole Nulton sheds light on both topics as she answers questions posed by Gtmhub colleagues.
As someone who is a CSM (Customer Success Manager), VP of Customer Success is a personal goal, so I would love to understand the journey and milestones along the way. What has your journey looked like so far on the customer success career path?
—asked by Nicole LaGrega, Customer Success Manager
I encourage anyone traveling down a career path not to discount the early stages of their work history. It turns out, some of those earlier roles I've had have helped me advance my role in CS.
When I graduated college, I started working in the world of retail as my first job. I was a retail manager in a clothing store. For a long time, I didn't really promote that because it didn't seem very professional to me.
At one point in my career in CS, I wanted to start managing people. I remember my manager at the time said, “That's kind of hard to do since you don't have any management experience.”
I said, “But actually I do, I just haven't shared that with you before. I managed 117 employees at a retail store.” I had to manage them and inspire them. We had to meet sales goals and everything like that. She said, “Oh wow, that's really good experience!”
So, I started managing in the customer success world. I went from account management to managing teams of people. That was a big milestone and turning point.
In general, one of the things that led me here is building a diverse resume outside of the function of CS.
People think of our core competency as customer management—driving engagement and adoption with customers, renewing, and all of that. But in addition to that, I got a lot of good cross-functional experience along the way.
I started in the SaaS world on the sales side. I was an account executive.
As an AE, I would volunteer to build processes, work cross-functionally with other teams, and do a lot of things to help me add skills, projects, and different things to my resume to have a robust, diverse set of cross-functional experience.
At the time, I had the largest geographical territory in the US out of all the Account Executives. I was traveling every other week.
Then, I had my first son. My husband is a pilot and travels a lot. It didn't work for me to travel like that.
At the time, the company I was with didn't have a true customer success team, and right after I had my son, they decided to launch that department. I thought it was perfect timing and decided to move over and try my hand at CS, even though I wasn't sure what it entailed.
I took a big pay cut because I wasn't getting commission. But from a family and work-life balance perspective, it really worked for me. Five years later, I was traveling just as much, but I was no longer a brand-new mom.
Having all this to go along with my CS experience has helped me differentiate myself from other candidates, whether they be internal or external, and move through the CS path in the world.
How do you ensure the customer experience is consistent from the sales process all the way through to implementation, onboarding and beyond?
—asked by Nicole Lusk, Global Sales Enablement Manager
It starts with collaborating with the sales team. I have to put my foot in the shoes of my CSMs, but also the account executives, to understand the challenges that both teams are facing and what's important to them.
I like to collaborate with the sales team to understand where they’re challenged. We have to be honest with what's realistic for them. You can't have an AE spending a ton of time doing tasks, they're here to sell.
One of the reasons I've seen success in this space is because I have been an AE. So, I have empathy. I understand what it means to close a deal and really need to move onto the next deal because I've got to meet my quota.
Something we're working on now is how to improve that process so that it's seamless for the customer. We always have to keep in mind the most important thing: what is the customer's experience?
If you keep the customer experience at the forefront, the rest of the pieces just fall into place. That’s the priority.
When you look at a salesperson and a CSM, I think their brains are wired a bit differently. The CSM is wired for customer support and an AE is wired for sales.
Both teams have the best of intentions, but they see it playing out a little differently, so it's up to my job as well as the sales leadership to put together a process that is efficient and effective for everyone, especially the customer.
There's a bit of a balancing act that we have to do with all those pieces of the process. We want to move swiftly with the customer. From sales to CS, they shouldn't need to retell their story.
They've just signed the contract, they’re excited, they want to get going. We want to capitalize on that momentum and start the partnership off quickly.
To make that happen, we have to have all the pieces moving together.
In our growing company, this process is something that will evolve. We have to keep an eye on it. Is the process improving? Are there pieces we need to change?
Why do our customers see results with CS?
—asked by Canko Nakov, Global Sales Director
That's an easy one. We have the best practices.
Gtmhub is extremely easy to use, but deploying the platform with strategies and ideas that other companies have used to be successful helps our customers improve their overall ROI.
Think about walking into a gym for the first time.
Maybe you've done some home exercises before. Maybe you've been a runner or something, but you're walking into a gym for the very first time. You see all this gym equipment and there are instructional guides, but how do you really know if you're using it correctly?
You don't want to injure yourself; you want to make the best use of your limited time. You may want to hire a trainer to help you explore how to best use the equipment, rather than spend the first three months trying to figure it out on your own.
If you do that, maybe you don't see the results you want to see. Or maybe you injure yourself, and then you quit the gym and never go back.
So, it seems easy, and you might know a little bit. But, putting the best practices together to guide you through the process is going to help you be really successful.
What are the qualities of a great CSM? What are some skills that a CSM should have, that people may not find so obvious? How can being a CSM be stressful and how do you handle it? Do you have any nightmare stories?
—asked by Alan Klement, VP Products
Great CSMS seem to fall into two buckets.
There are strategic CMS, who act as true business consultants. There are also task-oriented CSMs, who typically have a large portfolio of customers and do a lot of box-checking. Like, “did I do this, did I do that?” Very task-y.
Certain segments need that. But for Gtmhub and what makes our customers successful, we look a bit more for the strategically minded CSM.
We look for a strong consultative skillset, an understanding of business initiatives, challenges, and pain points, someone who can offer prescriptive recommendations to our customers.
Creativity is another thing. In addition to being a consultant, we have to be able to think outside the box and be aware of the unique scenarios, use cases, and pain points that need to be addressed.
Finally, a skill set people don't always think of when they think of a CSM, but which I think is really important, is having some levels of sales skills. We want to be customer-friendly and service-friendly, but we have to be able to continue to sell the value of our product.
Yes, this happens through consulting and developing a customer relationship, but it is our goal and our job as the face of the company to be able to sell new features, to communicate the ongoing value of Gtmhub, and in essence to be an ongoing sales representative for the company.
In terms of stress? We often have to balance the needs of our customers with the resources, internal goals, and internal offerings that we have.
Here’s an example. A customer might have an enhancement request for our product that they're very passionate about. But it could be something that conflicts with the way many of our other customers use the platform.
From a business perspective, we probably aren’t going to make that system-wide change. Our responsibility is to understand the root cause of their need and facilitate great solutions.
It all goes back to being a consultant. Being able to truly advise others on the many different aspects of OKRs and Gtmhub is what helps us understand and accommodate the needs of those customers.
There are not really any nightmare stories to share. I do think that, in any sort of service scenario, you have to expect that you are going to encounter very difficult challenges. And that's part of what we must do as CSMs.
We must understand our customers' frustrations, be able to problem-solve, offer conflict-resolution, and ensure that we are helping them navigate any issues that they face, within the platform or otherwise.
Can you give me an example of a good OKR for Customer Success, including objectives and key results?
—asked by Ravi Bains, Content Manager & Storyteller
Like with any good OKR, when I think of OKRs for customer success, the question of results comes to mind. What results are we trying to accomplish as a team? And how does that relate cross-functionally to other teams at Gtmhub?
I’ve been focused heavily on NRR (Net Renewal Rate) the last couple of quarters. NRR consists of renewals of existing customers, as well as expansion opportunities with those customers. All of this moves toward the goal of developing strong relationships with our customers.
Other departments are involved in NRR. CS is the face of the company. But when it comes to expansion, sales and marketing might also be involved in that. Product is often involved, too—to have happy, renewing, expanding companies, we need the product to function how it’s needed.
Sometimes I look at this as an opportunity to collaborate with other departments and learn how to improve cross-functional communication. For Q3, we had a team OKR. The concept was working cross-functionally with the goal of improving NRR.
KR1 was gathering proof points. The marketing team is really focused on this, including gathering success stories and testimonials from our customers. There are things CS gathers organically from our customers, working with them to document the information, pass it along internally and share it as best practice with other customers.
KR2 was improving NPS (Net Promoter Score), which the product team is focused on. It was a KR they had. We worked to understand the reasons behind our NPS scores, to gather details and report back to the product team. The goal was to identify opportunities to improve the NPS score.
Collaboration is ideally a give-and-get scenario. CS needs things, and we understand other departments need things from us as well. If we can show our willingness to collaborate, we can identify opportunities to help them out and receive help in return.
How is your role like being a pop star? In what ways is it like being a therapist?
—asked by Danielle Ferrara, Copywriter
When we have something that goes right with our customers, the CSMs will often be the first team to get some sort of recognition for that. We’re just always in the mix. People always want to talk to us, learn more from us and engage with us, and that’s exciting. But it’s only because we’re the face of the company. To really make the customer successful, it takes the effort of the entire team. I try to recognize where other teams have contributed to the success we see with our customers. We couldn’t do it without every other department.
We are definitely like therapists because we help our customers navigate the challenges that they face. Especially when we’re talking about something like OKRs, which are typically company-wide or department-wide initiatives, it’s important to help them understand their challenges and opportunities for improvement. We provide prescriptive recommendations and we celebrate their success with them as well. If our customers are successful, we are successful. That’s what we shoot for.