What Cross Country Coaching Taught me about Customer Success

If you participated in High School sports, you might remember some of the feelings you had as a 14-year-old being on the same team as 17 and 18-year-olds.

I’ll never forget my first cross country practice as a freshman. Being on the same team and going to the same school as guys who could drive and grow beards had me feeling a little intimidated. But running cross country for 4 years in high school was a great experience. To this day, I still run as a hobby. In fact, running is so much of a hobby for me that I volunteer at the local high school as an assistant cross country coach.

My running career has now come full-circle.

Now I get to work with freshmen who have the same look on their faces as I did my first day at practice. One of the greatest things I get to see is their development as athletes and as teammates. Helping them feel accepted by the team and pushing them to be a better and stronger runner are the greatest parts of being a coach.

Now, as a front-line Customer Success Manager, I get to have similar experiences with my clients. While it may be a very different situation, the principles are the same. I work with them on a consistent basis so they get the maximum value out of our product and service. I ensure they understand the value of our services. And I help them identify best practices, workarounds, and solutions so that they can be successful.

In short, I’m their coach just as much as I am the coach for my high school cross country kids.

In a recent article posted on the HubSpot blog, Michael Redbord said: “Customer success helps you engage and guide customers to help them grow into happy power users, and these satisfied advocates will recommend your brand and help grow your business as fast as sales and marketing.”

Read the full article here: https://blog.hubspot.com/service/making-customers-more-successful

As a Cross Country coach, helping my high school kids develop as athletes helps their confidence in themselves grow. They then are able to share that confidence with other new athletes. This is a chain reaction that helps the team develop not only as runners but as individuals working together to make one another better.

If you’re in Customer Success, you know one of the best things about the profession is developing clients enough to where they get maximum value out of your product or services and share that with others who later become new clients.

It’s a pretty great feeling as a CSM and a Coach to see this enthusiasm and advocacy develop in my clients and athletes.

Dave Blake, CEO of ClientSuccess, was recently interviewed on the Customer Success Leader podcast. In his interview, he hits the nail on the head when talking about what makes a CS team successful.

“It starts with authentic and passionate humans that go above and beyond that genuinely care about our customers as individuals and that carries through with them truly wanting to help the clients succeed as a business.”

Full episode can be found here:

As a coach, my effectiveness ions measured by how much a care about my athletes as individuals. It’s through that personal connection that I can see their potential and push them to reach it. This applies to my clients and my desire to help them succeed as individuals and as a business.

While it’s easy for me to been seen as just another vendor to my clients and just another adult yelling at my athletes to “go faster”, I can truly set myself apart from the others. It all starts with me and my desire to serve and develop those that I’m serving.

Networking Your Way into Customer Success

This is a bit different than my usual posts.

Part of what I hope to accomplish with this site is help as many people as I can break into CS and make an impact.

The best part about the Customer Success community is that we’re all people-people (is that the correct grammar??) We love talking with others and we build one another up. There’s no shortage of success in the CS space and we all understand that.

So, you’re definitely in the right place if you want a career path that’s not only fulfilling but also filled with like-minded individuals that want to see you succeed. This is starting to sound like an MLM pitch but you get what I’m saying right? Cool. Let’s move on to who you should be connecting with.

There’s an embarrassment of riches on LinkedIn of CS professionals that are constantly posting great content. Here is a list of just a few that you should be connecting with today:

  • Jared Orr 😉
  • Irit Eizips
  • Megan Bowen
  • Emilia D’Anzica
  • Ali Topaz
  • Rasika Kelker
  • Kevin Leonor
  • Brian Hartley
  • Queen Joseph
  • Alex Farmer
  • Jim Buscaglio
  • Rick Adams
  • Ronni Gaun
  • Sue Nabeth Moore
  • David Ellin
  • Amarachi Mary Ogueji
  • Kristi Faltorusso
  • Jay Nathan
  • Jeff Breunsbach
  • Maranda Dziekonski
  • Diana De Jesus

Now that you’ve started building up your CS network on LinkedIn, it’s time to start engaging.

Once I’ve connected with another professional on LinkedIn, here is the 3 step process I have followed that has landed me a 1 on 1 meeting with almost everyone on the list above:

  1. I send them a short (2 to 3 sentence) personal message. Here is an example of what I usually send.

It’s short and to the point. I would say I get about a 50% response rate with this. Usually, it’s a simple, “Thanks, Jared. Likewise!” And that’s good considering most of these people I connect with are Director or VP level. They don’t have time to engage with simple folk like me ;D

2. After we connect, I engage with them on the content that they share and post.

Rule of Thumb: The people who consistently post on LinkedIn are the ones that will be more open to meet with you.

If they post something, don’t just reply with “Thanks for sharing!” of “Love this. Great tips!”

Add something to the post. Your own insight, a personal experience that relates to the post, or something of value. Heck, ask them a question about what they posted. Ask them to elaborate or give more info because you’re interested!

Also, post your own content and tag them in it! For example, I listened to a podcast episode and the interviewee was Maranda Dziekonski (in the above list). I posted about what I learned from the podcast, tagged her in the post, and she responded! This opened up an opportunity for me to engage with her further and we ended up having a great 1 on 1 via Zoom. Here is what I posted.

And don’t be nervous about engaging with someone with a lot more experience than you. They all used to be right where you and I are. They learned just like we did and gained their experience just like we are doing now.

Remember, luck favors the bold!

3. And lastly, like I did with Maranda, after I engage with them a few times, I send them a message asking them for a 1 on 1. Usually, it looks something like this.

Having these 1 on 1’s has been essential for my progression. It has given me a more meaningful and engaging network, provided me with great career advice, given me mentors, and opened the doors to future opportunities.

Here are some best practices for your next 1 on 1:

  • Keep it 30 minutes or less. These people are busy. Respect their time.
  • Always ask if they have a hard stop at the 30 minute mark. This shows that you respect their time.
  • Run through their LinkedIn profile before the call
  • Have 2 or 3 questions prepared for them. Be creative with this.
  • Thank them graciously for their time when the call ends and afterwards with a quick LinkedIn message.

And don’t forget to follow up on things you may have discussed. For example, one person I had a 1 on 1 with was working on a CS product. I have in my notes to reach out to him in a month or two just to follow up on how that’s going.

These simple things make a world of difference and will truly set you apart from the rest of the crowd.

If you want some great tips on how to optimize your LinkedIn brand and reach an even larger audience, I highly recommend these resources: