This article is based on a presentation given by Kimberly at our Customer Success Festival in Boston 2023.

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Embarking on the journey of integrating commercial roles into customer success is a transformative experience for any business. It's about redefining the traditional boundaries of customer success, not just by supporting customers but actively contributing to revenue generation and business growth. 

I'm Kimberly Ayala, Director of Customer Success (North & South America) at Akeneo, where we've embraced this challenge head-on. My career has been a blend of customer success, account management, and even sales, providing me with unique insights into how these functions can synergistically drive a company forward. 

In this article, I'll share my experiences and strategies on:

  • My journey into customer success
  • The challenges and rewards of integrating sales into customer success
  • How to best differentiate roles between CSMs and Account Managers
  • Balancing sales and renewals in customer success
  • Valuing customer success through target-based incentives
  • Navigating challenges and innovations in customer success
  • Embracing the mindset shift in customer success 

My journey in customer success

I serve as the Director of Customer Success for North and South America at Akeneo, a company specializing in product information management software. Imagine your favorite online retailer - the detailed product information you see there is likely powered by a solution like ours. 

I joined Akeneo two years ago, starting with a team of just two Customer Success Managers (CSMs). Since then, I've been fortunate to scale the team up to five.

Our company, headquartered in Nantes, France, with a key office in Boston, was recently honored as one of the Top 100 Software Companies of 2023. My role at Akeneo was a culmination of 15 years of diverse experience in customer success, account management, and even a stint as an Account Executive. 

This blend of experiences was crucial for Akeneo, as our customer success team has always played a role in managing commercial aspects, specifically in renewals and upsells.

Since my arrival at Akeneo, we've accelerated the involvement of our CS team in commercial activities. The journey hasn't been without its challenges, but the results have been immensely rewarding. Today, I'm eager to share how we managed this transition, the obstacles we faced, and, importantly, the benefits that emerged from this strategy.

The challenges and rewards of integrating sales into customer success

Addressing the common apprehensions about CS professionals handling commercial aspects, many often express concerns like, "selling feels uncomfortable," or "forecasting seems like a task for a psychic." 

These sentiments resonate with me as well; initially, I too felt that asking customers for money or managing sales forecasts was outside the comfort zone of a CS professional. However, the benefits we've observed at Akeneo have made stepping out of our comfort zones incredibly worthwhile.

One of the most significant benefits has been our customers achieving their objectives more effectively than ever. By closely aligning customer success with commercial activities, we've been able to demonstrate and drive home the real value of our services. 

This alignment hasn't just benefited our customers; it's elevated the internal standing of our CS team. We now have a more substantial seat at the decision-making table, leading to better job security, increased investment in our department, and greater recognition and compensation for our team members.

Our proactive approach to owning upsells has notably improved our customer retention rates. In a climate where retention is a universal challenge, my team has been excelling. 

We've achieved a record-breaking retention rate, with our last quarter at 99.1% and an annual rate of 97% globally. This success underscores that we're doing something right by blending the roles of customer success and commercial management.