Interview with Anika Zubair VP of Customer Success
How do you make career in Customer Success? And where is the future of Customer Success heading? We have invited Anika Zubair, VP of Customer Success at InSided to answer these and many other questions!
Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
I am Californian, but I have been living abroad for nearly a decade now. And that started from living in Germany and now currently in London. My background actually is in political science. I did my bachelor’s and my master’s in that, but I started in the SaaS B2B world in sales, so I worked in inside sales. When an account management position became available at one of my previous companies, I moved into account management and from account management, I moved to a different company where they said, we have this new position called Customer Success. I can’t believe that was eight years ago, but that was eight years ago and that’s how I started in Customer Success.
From there I became team lead, and then I moved to a new job in England where I headed up Customer Success at a SaaS startup and grew it out really from the ground up. In my previous role, I was director of Customer Success at ZAP, and had global team of 10 across AMEA, APAC and North America. And now currently VP of Customer Success at Insided. So it’s been a crazy eight years, in Customer Success, but all stemming from being in the SaaS B2B world, starting in sales and eventually moving into Customer Success.
it’s been a crazy eight years, in Customer Success, but all stemming from being in the SaaS B2B world, starting in sales and eventually moving into Customer Success.
One would think that eight years ago Customer Success did not really exist yet. How was it to work in CS back then?
I mean, it kind of existed being Californian and being connected with some of my friends that worked in the Silicon Valley, it was spoken of. It was like what Salesforce and Slack and certain companies were doing already and they were very much prioritising it. But it was very US and even Californian specific. Later it became more and more popular across all of the US and eventually making its way to Europe, maybe eight years ago, maybe a little bit longer, probably around the decade mark. Since then I fell into it and have never looked back since.
Why do you think Customer Success is so important for a SaaS business?
In SaaS, the one shift that’s happened from probably the 90s into the 2000s is moving from perpetual licensing into subscription based models or models, where companies are now having to pay year on year or multiyear contracts instead of just a one time fee. So for now, you have to really not only sell your customer, but you do have to keep them for years to come. It’s a combination of moving from perpetual to subscription or cloud based companies and the fact that there is more competition than ever now.
Also, the market has changed from the sellers having all the power, to buyers having so much more power when they are looking up or researching certain software vendors. I think the reason Customer Success has really blossomed is, because of those two things. One, the move to SaaS or cloud based, meaning that you now have set terms or limits to your subscription. And the second being that a lot of businesses now not only have to fight to win your business, they really have to fight to keep it. So with a Customer Success Manager, they’re really there to make sure everything from close of sale is taken care of, so that you have renewals for years and years.
What do you think is the key to developing long-term customer relationships?
A lot of it comes from just having a strong product and what you’re delivering. But also product knowledge and industry knowledge, being able to share that with your customers. Because aside from implementing a tool and making sure it works, you are looking for someone to really show you how to get the best out of your tool. As a Customer Success Manager, you’re always looking to improve how your customers can get the best out of your tool and more return on investment. The key to developing those long term relationships is always providing value to your customers, making sure that they’re not only believing that they bought the right tool, but everything you’re sharing with them, knowledge, best practices, industry know hows and ins and outs. This way you are showing them that you’re not just a software tool, but you’re also and empowering them with knowledge. The key to building long term relationships is being that guru of your product and being able to share the knowledge with your customers.
The key to building long term relationships is being that guru of your product and being able to share knowledge with your customers.
What are the current trends and developments within the industry?
One of the big things that’s shown throughout this last year, especially with the pandemic and everything, is a lot of people are realising that every customer counts. It´s not only about just your biggest valued customers. So maybe your low touch or the customers that are non-strategic, they’re still paying you. And it’s becoming more and more apparent that servicing this long tail of your customer is just as important as serving your highest ARR level customers. Because if you have one hundred percent churn of your non-strategic clients, but you only keep all your strategic clients, I think that then you’re ending up with a bigger problem. So I think this last year, especially the trend is that a lot of people are starting to care about the entire customer journey, no matter how much you’re paying, and also focusing on not only the top tier but also the long tail customers.
Does that mean that things are becoming more scaleable within the tools and processes?
Definitely. Speaking of the fact that I was probably one of the first in Customer Success in Europe eight years ago. Eight years ago, Customer Success, tooling almost didn’t exist. I even remember having my first leadership role in Customer Success and my budget was under the marketing budget. So I had to just use our CRM as a CSM. There was no purpose built tooling for a Customer Success Manager. Now, fast forward eight years, you’re seeing so many more CS tools out there and so much more software that’s purpose built for customer teams. And you’re able to really scale efforts not only through headcount, which is important as well of course,but you’re able to scale digitally.
I even remember having my first leadership role in Customer Success and my budget was under the marketing budget. So I had to just use our CRM as a CSM.
Where do you think about the future of CS?
I think that there is going to be a lot down the line with Customer Success, scaling Customer Success, using software to scale it, but also a lot around data analytics, even something around AI to help us better predict certain things. I know there are lots of tools and dashboards out there that show you how likely a customer is to churn, but I think a lot more around AI or data analytics in Customer Success is probably where we’re also heading.
But I do think a hybrid model of high touch meets the long tail and making sure you really can have customer success at scale. because it’s cool to have Customer Success when you have one hundred or maybe even a thousand customers. But what happens when you have ten thousand, fifty thousand or even one hundred thousand customers? There’s no way you’re going to have a Customer Success team of ten thousand people. I don’t care who your CFO is, they’re never going to approve that much money for a headcount. So I think a combination of scale, Customer Success meets data analytics and AI.
What advice could you CSMs that would like to move up the ladder?
I think that one thing you have to always remember, this can go to anyone, but I’ll say it to Customer Success people as well; is always proactively ask. It’s in our nature to always be proactive with our customers. You should be proactive with your career decisions and choices as well.
Make it really, really apparent to your manager where you’re working towards. But don’t expect your manager to just give you projects, show your manager how you’re going to be a team leader. Like the saying dress for the job you want, not the job you have. And I don’t necessarily mean clothes. I mean, the way that you act, the way you show up, if you really want to be a team lead and there’s new people starting in your company, take the initiative to onboard them and make sure your manager is aware that you’re doing that kind of work. Or let’s say you want to be a strategic enterprise Customer Succes Manager and you’re only in support right now, then get on the calls and help them solve the problem for the customer that you can only do because you have that product knowledge. Just make it really apparent that you’re stepping into the career that you want to. And I’d advise reminding your manager exactly what you’re looking for, because we’re all busy people and we all want to see our team be successful, but sometimes we just get busy. It’s just nice to have a reminder of exactly what your goals are and what you’re looking to achieve in your career.
For me personally in my career ladder, a lot of times in the company that I was working at, there was no one in that position. And I just kind of took it upon myself to do those things. When we were building out Customer Success, there was no framework for onboarding, so I came in and I put in the framework. And then it was recognized as really good work. That helped me move up into the next steps of team lead and et cetera. So I’d say you really need to find the space, or make the space and actually start acting like it.