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Reimagining Customer Success: Lessons from Google Cloud VP Carlos Granda

Brian LaFalle & CapitalG
24 Aug 2021
Reimagining Customer Success: Lessons from Google Cloud VP Carlos Granda

October 2019 was the first month of the last full business quarter before Covid-19 upended the world. For Google Cloud VP Customer Success (CS) Carlos Granda, monumental tasks lay ahead: to forge a new customer success Go-To-Market (GTM) for Google Cloud, which meant he had to hire, train, and ramp the best customer success managers (CSM) remotely; and to support a growing multi-billion dollar infrastructure and software business. In effect, Carlos needed to design, define, develop and create a world-class customer success organization and do it in the middle of a global pandemic.

Now nearly two years later, with CS professionals on the team supporting the majority of Google Cloud’s select and enterprise accounts, Carlos shared the lessons he learned in an hour-long fireside chat with Brian LaFaille, SaaS CS Programs Lead for Google Cloud, and the CS leaders from Applied Systems, Collibra, Dataiku, Everlaw, Freshworks, ID.Me, Unqork and Webflow. Here are the three biggest takeaways from our conversation about establishing a CS team in our hybrid/remote world.

Hire for mindset; build for culture

When Carlos joined Google Cloud, he was employee #1 in what would become the customer success organization serving Google’s cloud customers. Since he had to fill every role in a brand new CS organization, the most important attribute he looked for was mindset, not skills. Hiring people with the right mindset would help scale Google’s values, build the right culture, and put the customer first in every scenario. He defined that culture mindset as someone who was scrappy, collaborative, focused on customer centricity, and able to adapt to rapid change.

It meant that each CS manager could be trusted to put the customer first on each decision made throughout an engagement. This proved to be the right strategy when, six months after Carlos joined Google, Covid-19 struck, and the entire workforce went remote.

“… as the pandemic took over, 80% of the Customer Success Managers we hired were interviewed and onboarded virtually…so mindset actually became even more important than I originally thought because the mindset that we’re looking for is customer-centricity, collaboration, empathy, scrappiness, being able to adapt quickly to change.”

Suddenly, an investment in building out the team’s collective culture and hiring for mindset became all the more critical in sustaining the team’s success as he trusted all employees to move to remote work, while still maintaining an excellent experience for Google Cloud’s enterprise customer base.

Bring customers along for the ride

Carlos believes the most important factor in delivering customer value is making sure that we listen to customers and allow them to directly influence your overall strategy. He urges teams that are building out success services to bring customers along as they build out their programs and offerings. Don’t wait until you’ve already built it to engage customers.

“I talked to customers and listened. As the only employee at the time, I was by myself, saying ‘We’re building this organization from scratch. Here’s my vision, here’s what I’m trying to do, not just right now, but over the course of the next three, four years. Tell me what you think. Is this something that you see as valuable?’”

One of the most crucial things Carlos and his teams do is talk directly with customers. Using broad customer management strategy, product advisory councils and feedback on support models, the team shares its plans and goals with the Google Cloud customer base, and asks whether they’d find value in what the team is developing.

This approach fosters a strong expectation of alignment between the customer success organization and Google Cloud customers. And it isn’t a one-time affair. Carlos continually validates this approach by meeting regularly with customer executives in Google Cloud’s executive sponsorship program. By bringing the voice of the customer into strategic planning sessions, customers are invested in the success of the organization.

Value from a customers’ lens

Carlos encourages software leaders to evaluate their space and their market and how a usage-based pricing can positively affect their company. Where software companies that have traditionally used licensed subscription models, a trend we’re now seeing is charging based on consumption or active usage. Slack, Snowflake, and Twilio all price based on consumption of their service instead of user seats. Consumption-based models closer align priorities between a customer’s business outcomes and a vendor’s financial goals.

To increase revenue, a company must add value to encourage and increase usage, ensuring mutual benefit. It’s this alignment between adoption and customer value (cost reduction, increased revenue, increased innovation/collaboration) that Carlos sees as the next wave of customer success. It can play an integral role in accelerating adoption of your cloud service and increasing the value to customers.

“Think about your growth potential within a customer account. In a licensed subscription model your growth potential is the number of employees. When you think about it from a consumption perspective, your total opportunity for the customer to leverage your solutions can be unlimited.”

Our many thanks to Carlos and to everyone who participated in this fireside chat. We’re grateful for advisors like Carlos who generously share their insights with our CapitalG portfolio companies. Watch this space for more useful conversations and GTM perspectives.

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