How the Splash Customer Team Transformed the Company
Customer account management, which includes customer success, customer support and implementation is the key to a growing a SaaS business. This department, which typically develops after sales and engineering, is often the difference between business success or failure because its main function is to keep your existing customers happy and growing. Without it, SaaS companies could run out of money constantly trying to replenish lost customers.
I had lunch with Greg Higgins, VP of Accounts at Splash, and the company’s first and longtime (6+ years!) leader of customer success, account management, and support, to hear his insights on building and scaling an account team from scratch. Splash is an event marketing platform based in New York, serving hundreds of customers, including half of the Fortune 500. We are grateful to have been an early investor in the company.
Balancing Freemium While Going Enterprise
A few years after launching its B2C business, Splash experienced an exciting and natural pull from enterprise companies that were using its freemium product but wanted more from it. Thus came the genesis for Splash’s B2B business. As more and more enterprise companies called on them, an implementation and support function was built as essentially a hyper efficient agency, doing custom event page design work for customers like Equinox and CBS Interactive. By this point, Splash was balancing the needs of its freemium user base and its new enterprise customers. Before even hiring its first true enterprise sales rep, Splash knew they needed a support team to “go enterprise.”
As many SaaS companies experience, the freemium user base can be a valuable pool of product testers and warm prospects with much opportunity for revenue upside. But, it can also be a resource-intensive part of the user base given its open access, untrained users, fluctuating usage patterns. Therefore, having a defined and purposeful plan for how to interact with your freemium users is key. Early on, Splash dedicated a few support team members to field questions and triage requests from freemium users, and kept the rest of the account team focused on servicing enterprise accounts. This structure helped prioritize revenue, enterprise satisfaction, and growth, and remains in place today.
Turning Customer Insights into Go-to-Market Strategy
Customer success came as a necessity: it was the first external facing department focused on learning as much as possible about the market and it leveraged these learnings to inform Splash’s enterprise go-to-market strategy.
It was our way of putting our ear to the ground for sales and product. In a nutshell, that was everything for us.
To start a continuous feedback loop, Splash created a “Golden List”, which included accounts with five or more contacts using the product.
We would call them and ask – how are they using our product? What could we be doing better? If they didn’t send out an invite three weeks before the event, why was that?
This customer feedback helped Splash build toward product-market fit, and Greg knew it was the only way to ensure Splash actually achieved it. Additionally, the market constantly changes, so he had to build a process and organization that could scale.
Building a Team to Scale
One of the most wonderful yet challenging aspects of working with early stage companies is helping them scale their team. When Ascent invests, we often encounter companies still relying predominantly on their founding team. This group of individuals have a knack for “just figuring it out” and could be successful doing anything from closing out support tickets to closing customers. As enterprise interest grew, it was time for Greg to ramp from a one man show to a scaled team.
In the early days, instead of hiring for a customer success background, consider hiring people with the ability to learn, experience being your customer or working in their shoes, flexible attitudes, and who have the potential to become leaders. This way, you’re able to experiment and test different structures to see which has the most success.
Splash wasn’t sure what profile of employee they needed at first, so Greg hired a team with diverse experiences and allowed them to shift roles between customer success, support, and implementation. When he finally honed in on the ideal background for each of those roles, hiring became easier and scalable.
Aligning the Team on a North Star
The importance of organizational metrics cannot be overstated, but figuring out which metrics properly incentivize individuals and aligns a team is easier said than done. At Splash, the customer team aligns to the north star (or key metric) of Net MRR. All individuals have a variable compensation component based on team-wide attainment of Net MRR every quarter.
We know the simple truth that if a customer expands, they’re more likely to renew and if you engage with them they’re more likely to renew. Now every manager and individual on my team can make decisions for themselves under this single north star. Slowly, we can introduce more operationally complex offerings because we all have a baseline of understanding.
Not only does having a single north star provide clarity to all levels of the organization, but it drives teamwork. For example, someone in support may identify an expansion opportunity and kick it over to a customer success manager. With a unified goal towards Net MRR, Splash is in the process of gathering and sharing more data points across the success, support and implementation teams to develop the next level of metrics.
We are at a point where we can surface more data points through the organization and make it all available to our team in a very transparent, actionable way. We don’t feel the need to have them report on all of them all the time, but it allows our team members to diagnose issues for themselves.
It’s nearly impossible to achieve perfection in account management. However, Splash is constantly testing, learning and iterating on building a best-in-class customer team. Today, they’ve achieved industry-leading metrics, such as net dollar retention and net promoter score. Moreover, they have a passionate and referenceable customer base that regularly buys more and does the selling for them. If you’re an enterprise software company leader who hasn’t put a plan in place around account management, you’re missing the opportunity to listen to and serve your customers. Plenty of companies strive to be “customer-first” but don’t put the resources in place towards the only true “customer-centric” team that exists: account management.