What should the primary objectives of post-sales teams be?
Net Revenue Retention (NRR) is how post-sales contributes to topline growth – at growing companies, one of the key metrics at a board level is top-line revenue growth. Post-sale organizations can focus on how they contribute to top-line growth, commonly through maximizing their Net Retention Rate (NRR). Post-sale teams contribute to NRR through retention and expansion within the existing base.
Each team will have additional metrics that ladder up – within each functional team in a post-sale organization, there are going to be different metrics that help align how that team (services, success, support, etc.) contributes to net revenue growth.
What are the different teams within the post-sales org?
|What they do||Professional Services is the function in post-sale organizations that provides a set of services that complement the software offering, often including consulting services and training.|
|Potential Responsibilities||Onboarding / Implementation (one time) – for new customers that need to get onboarded and implemented with your solution. The key objective of this group is activation, to accelerate time to value for your new clients.|
Managed services (ongoing) – this could be business process outsourcing, or offering someone from your team to be a full-time or part-time resource to clients who don’t have that expertise in-house.
|Service package types||Packaged offerings – set services offered at a fixed price. Your services team will help a customer accomplish an objective such as implementing your solution within some type of guardrails. With packaged offerings, you have a standard price and standard data sheets or sales enablement materials that become a part of your sales process. |
Custom offerings – services scoped to meet the unique needs of the client. This is particularly relevant when customers are larger. They may require project management and coordination across multiple teams where your duration and workload is less predictable.
|Key Metrics||Activation metrics (especially for onboarding) – e.g. time to go-live or time to value, based on a defined value-realization moment or activity.|
Service hour metrics – service organizations often track hours spent per client or per project.
Financial metrics – the cost to complete a project, and/or margins on professional services packages.
|Trend to note||Software companies are increasingly using consulting delivery partners for services – software companies have an incentive to not build large professional services organizations because service revenue isn’t valued the same way as software revenue by investors. There’s been a movement to use partners as the primary or secondary services delivery channel.|
|Customer Success Management|
|What they do||This is a relatively new function; the idea behind it is that with recurring revenue businesses, you need to continuously earn the right to maintain your client as a customer. CS teams are built around being a trusted advisor, nurturing relationships with clients and identifying ways that clients can recognize additional value from your solutions.|
|Potential Responsibilities||Relationships – most CSM teams have a set of responsibilities around client relationships and client management to be a trusted advisor. These responsibilities often tie to customer retention, customer expansion and satisfaction metrics.|
Renewals – some teams are responsible for the commercials of the renewal contract. These responsibilities also tie to revenue retention metrics.
Expansions – some CSM teams identify expansion opportunities for sales and some complete the commercials for the expansion. These responsibilities tie to revenue expansion metrics.
|Key Metrics||Net Revenue Retention – how many clients are you retaining, and how much are they growing and expanding? This often exceeds 100%|
Cohort-based Gross Retention – of the clients you had at the beginning of the year (or any period), what percentage of that revenue do you still have at the end of the year? This maxes out at 100%
Additional input metrics – inputs give you signals of how well you will do against the outputs. Input metrics could be combined into some type of health score, factoring in things, like:
|Trend to note||It is becoming increasingly important for the Success Management organization to have strong alignment with the Sales organization – these teams often need to work in close coordination on renewals and expansion opportunities|
|What they do||Product support is generally responsible for helping customers address issues that come up in the usage of their product.|
|Potential Responsibilities||Break-fix support – when a customer is trying to accomplish a task and it doesn’t work as expected, they might interact with a support organization to address that specific issue.|
“How do I” support – a customer is trying to do something using the appropriate functionality and they don’t know how to do it. The support organization can help provide that guidance to the customer.
|Support Channels||Live support (multiple types) – high-touch support is most commonly live support. It involves a person that’s interacting directly (via phone, chat, email, etc.) to resolve an issue or to get a question answered.|
Self-service – when there are 1-to-many resources created. That could be things like a knowledge base, training resources, automated chat, or a set of videos.
|Key Metrics||Service levels – how long did it take to respond to an issue and to get it resolved? This is the duration between when the customer submits a question, first hears back from the company, and ultimately gets an answer.|
Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) – did you resolve this issue? This is a measure of success in individual support transactions that you can track over time.
Efficiency metrics (productivity) – productivity metrics track how your team is operating, e.g. cases per person per time or the total number of cases processed.
Financial metrics – the cost of a support organization divided by the number of cases it handles (cost per case). At a high level, companies often look at total support costs as a percent of revenue.
|Trend to note||Support tends to optimize around cost management – support costs can escalate quickly. Even for small teams, there are metrics and comparables that teams can be looking at to see how they perform against each other. Organizations are increasingly creating premium fee-based support offerings whenever possible. This helps offset the cost of support as a percent of company revenue.|
|Customer Education and Certification|
|What they do||Customer education teams create 1-to-many resources that enable your customers to learn about the basics of how to use your product and apply your solution to different use cases.|
|Potential Responsibilities||Designing persona-based learning paths – you might have one persona for an administrator who’s helping build out your marketing software at their company vs. a user who uses the software on a daily basis. They often benefit from different training resources. |
Delivering instructor-led training – an older-style training, where an individual is sitting in on a course, topic, or session with an instructor. The instructor takes them through a specific curriculum. This commonly provides hands-on experiences to help a learner accelerate their understanding of the product.
Delivering self-serve learning curriculums – these are often housed in a learning management system. These course are frequently organized into a learning path that guides customers through a set of topics in an order that will help the customer increase their understanding of the desired content.
|Pricing Options||Education can be free or fee-based – there is no consistency around when certain topics of training should be fee-based and when they should be free. Formal, instructor-led training courses are more often fee-based. Self-service training is commonly free. |
Initially, many companies choose to invest in free education – based on the idea that better-trained users of your solution will use more of your product and become advocates.
Longer-term, try to break even – depending on the business model, education teams are often expected to generate revenue to at least partially offset the cost of their organization. This can come from charging for certain training offerings or creating a subscription-based set of education services.
|Key Metrics||Consumption-based metrics – e.g. course completion, education usage. Good learning management systems allow you to measure usage of the education courses, and tie that back to the product usage and retention.|
|Trend to Note||Education can be its own strategic business unit – customer education is increasingly being run as a strategic business unit that either reports directly to the head of post-sales or to a services organization (when there’s revenue associated with the education business.)|
|What they do||A team or set of resources that help with the implementation and management of tools and systems used by post-sale organizations. Operations is often also responsible for reporting, metrics, and dashboards for all of the different post-sale functions. They are increasingly taking on responsibility for driving internal cross-functional projects related to the post-sale teams.|
|Potential Responsibilities||Act as a central function to serve all post-sales groups – a center of expertise that acts as a post-sales services bureau. All of these different functional teams need systems to run their business, along with reports and data for insight and decision-making.|
One-time build-outs, plus maintenance – a lot of time goes into one-time projects, such as implementing a customer success platform like Gainsight, or a support ticketing system like Zendesk. These systems also need to be modified and maintained over time.
|Trend to Note||Increasingly, customer ops is separate from sales ops – in the past, resources would be borrowed from a centralized operations team. But post-sales work was frequently seen as a lower priority by a Sales Operations team, taking a back seat to the needs of a sales organization. To make sure that post-sales needs aren’t neglected, companies are starting to build out a separate customer operations function.|
|Partner Success Management|
|What they do||Partner success is an evolving function that supports the needs of partners that work with fast-growing companies. Companies that rely heavily on partners are finding it to be a good investment to help those partners be successful.|
|Potential Responsibilities||Training partner employees – if your partner channels can ramp up their new employees or train them quickly, they’ll be better able to scale with you.|
Providing escalation access – ensuring that partners (who are working with your customers) can get the escalation help they need when they run into a bug or issue..
Monitoring implementation projects – your employees might oversee a portfolio of implementation projects that are being led by your partners.
Onboarding new partners – teaching new partners about your product and processes so they can be ready faster to work with your customers effectively.
|Different types of partners you might enable||Sell-through channels – companies that recommend or resell your solution. For instance, consultants who offer services around your solution, and recommend or sell your product to their clients.|
Consulting Delivery channels – consultants who implement complex software, on behalf of the software company. These consulting businesses make money by selling professional services projects to clients.
|Key Metrics||Number of partners and revenue per partner – especially for sell-through channels, you’ll want to track how many partners you onboard, how many leads they generate, and how much revenue they contribute|
Your partners’ revenue – especially for delivery channels, you want your partners to be making money from the partnership so that they’ll continue to be responsive and invest in work with you
Activation metrics – both for onboarding partners and for customers served by partners.
|Trend to Note||There can be some tension with your professional services team – if you have a professional services team and a partner strategy, there is the potential for channel conflict.|
How do the ideal post-sales leader and the team shift as the company scales?
At <$5M in ARR – your leader is managing individual contributors and needs to be a hands-on jack of all trades. You may not even have significant retention needs yet; you’re just trying to get new customers up and running. At this stage, you’re more likely to have a Director than a VP (CS often remains a Director-level leader even after you start to hire VPs in sales and marketing).
At $5-25M in ARR – you introduce a layer of management and start to create specialized teams for different post-sales sub-functions. A manager of implementation is often the first to spin out. At this stage, you’re building out processes and need a head of post-sales who likes to build and establish best practices.
At $25-50M in ARR – you start to optimize and scale. You’re creating repeatable experiences, establishing best practices, and thinking more about measuring results. CS ops creates leverage for you to build out systems to put in place repeatable processes.
At $50-100M in ARR – focus on scale, repeatability, forecasting, and operational efficiency. Teams are bigger, and being thoughtful about org structure is important (e.g. by geo, by product, by customer segment). There’s also more focus on financial results; on the way to $100M investors really start to care about exit financial metrics, and can compare your performance to industry benchmarks.
When should you charge for services or implementation?
In a way, you always charge for implementation – implementation is always in the offering, you either offer it as a part of the software subscription, or you ask for additional payment for it.
Early on, many companies give it for free with the software – focus less on the profitability of the services organization. Include implementation with the subscription and do everything possible (without limit) to help make early customers successful. Early on you’re trying to establish yourself in the market, get customer advocates, and get more people using your solution regularly.
When you get big enough, you may be asked to start looking at costs and profitability – especially around financing events, your CFO will start to look at comps, like the cost of services as a % of revenue and profitability (of the services business, and the company overall).
In the beginning, services should be in-house, but it might be best to introduce partners as your business grows and you need to scale – when the expertise isn’t unique, it’s not always a good financial investment to build that team. You may need to keep your implementations in-house at the beginning because you don’t have the best practices or processes defined that you can share with third parties. Once you have those processes codified, you can train partners to follow them, and can often get better financial outcomes.
When would you leverage a partner or a partner network?
Use subcontractors to smooth demand (as an extension of your team) – sales in most companies aren’t predictable or linear and they get clumped in the last week of the quarter or month. You can strategically use subtracters to help fill out the fluctuations and demand for consulting resources to do your implementations. Ultimately, you end up with a certain percentage of your team’s capacity subcontracted to business partners.
Use subcontractors for entire projects (for certain types of projects) – in a different scenario, you can have subcontractors that you routinely use to do entire projects of a particular type. For example, you might have a set of SMB clients that are expensive to implement using your team, but you could have a partner who specializes in high-volume, templatized implementations.
Use a co-delivery partner – this tends to be a valuable way to think about servicing enterprise clients. You may not have a special sauce for the whole project, but you might be really great at the strategy part, or the architecture part. Alongside that work that you’re going to do, you can have somebody else doing the more standard building and testing pieces.
Note: Avoid using the word “outsource” – when you’re talking about your partnership program say, “we leverage expert partners.”
How do you identify strong partners and ensure a consistently good customer experience?
It takes work – to find partners who are invested in your business, whose success is mutually beneficial, and who are willing to go above and beyond periodically.
Smaller, hungrier organizations tend to be more flexible – the smaller, hungry organizations tend to be more flexible in meeting the needs of software companies than bigger organizations. They also tend to be able to offer more flexible pricing for subcontracting.
What system(s) of record should you use for post-sales tracking? What other tools are in the tech stack?
Your CRM is your core – because it tends to be available to everyone in the company who needs visibility into your customer information.
- Services – project management, resource management tools, time and billing tools
- CSMs – customer success platform (e.g. ChurnZero, Gainsight), a marketing engine for sending out regular communication
- Support – ticket handling, chat, knowledge management
- Education – learning management system, certification system, content management
What are the most important pieces to get right?
Hire the right leadership for the right time – hire the leader who can help you achieve the objectives for where your company is at. Find the right leadership at the right level. That’s not always the most tenured or experienced person.
Your problems are predictable (get help from people who’ve been there) – recognize that there are predictable challenges that an organization will face at different stages of growth. Look to industry peers or experts who have gone through it before.
Identify a few key metrics for each area and track them over time – each of your functional areas should have just a few KPIs and success metrics that are really important to them that you track over time. The right metrics might evolve at different stages of growth.
What are the common pitfalls?
Focusing too much on short-term results vs. putting strategic initiatives in place – customer-facing organizations have a lot of distractions: every day a customer may churn, or the CEO will field one-off escalations from customers. It’s easy for leaders to focus too much on the short-term results and not on putting in place the strategic initiatives that they will need when their company is materially bigger six or twelve months from now.
Focusing too much on the tools before processes and best practices are in place – people focus too much on the tools and systems before they have the best practices in place that you want to automate with systems. Set up the process before investing in the tech.
Failing to build effective relationships with cross-functional peers – customer-facing teams tend to be reliant on sales for bringing in good-fit customers, on product for getting needed enhancements, etc. It’s important to manage executive relationships, and set realistic expectations of the role of the post-sales organization and the outcomes it can be responsible for.