CS charts to unite the c-suite

The customer success function is not solely accountable for retention and growth, but even where a business is making good on a business-wide commitment to customers, CS is that commitment's catalyst and champion. This article introduces a visualization that connects the activity and tactical interests of every function to the customer's and therefore, your company's success.


5/28/20244 min read

Customer success is measured on the top line...

So let's get this out of the way; customer success is a commercial role, always has been. Customer success is in the business of helping customers to achieve their ambitions, because successful customers renew and grow top line numbers. This is wonderful, because A) CS departments held only to the bottom-line number increase the risk of churn (and are replaced) and B) astride the myriad useful metrics used to measure 'what' and 'how', we have a fantastic metric hardwired to the innate 'why' of customer success, net revenue retention (NRR).

But wait! Couldn't you say the same of the product team who builds the right solution, for the right customers, at the right time? The support team who removes the blockers to success and builds trust with customers? The development teams that produce well-engineered, tested and secure solutions on time? The sales team who builds the right relationships, with the right customers and sets the right expectations?

You betcha! Customer success is not just a department, it is the alignment of the whole company with its most important asset, its customers. As such, an organisation living its customer-centric value statement is united in NRR.

Some customer-facing functions can be made to feel that NRR is theirs to impact alone and while the journey to shared customer-focus can be frustrating, there is a lot that the CS team can do to own progress. After all, regardless of how mature a company's approach to customer-centricity; catalyzing this shared agenda is down to the customer success team and the chief customer officer.

One of my preferred methods for continually reminding the whole company that the customer agenda, is the commercial agenda and is their agenda; is to provide shared reporting. I want to introduce a chart that I've used time-and-again and found to be held in high esteem by chief officers of most stripes, the revenue bridge.

A revenue bridge enables different functions to see the levers at play in NRR and is both easily understood and granular in its detail. Below is a very simple example that illustrates trend and contributions in NRR. The exact delineations you use should align to the main levers affecting your net number.

Every function is measured on the top line!

Essentially a bar chart, the revenue bridge is a very flexible tool that can include stacks, groups and additional Y axes to:

  • Recognise trends over time

  • Highlight individual performance

  • Contextualise contribution for any department

A revenue bridge built in a CS platform, CRM or data visualization tool can be interactive allowing every department to share the same principal view of NRR and overlay additional information most relevant to their staff and function. I have included a few examples below but there's nothing stopping you adding Voice of Customer (VoC), marketing audience, firmographic or anything else on top.

I do caution users without an existing, trusted attribution model to keep overlaid information to facts alone.

For example, overlaying segment, ICP status, product exposure, incident exposure, proactive outreach, use case engagement, account owner, original salesperson etc, is all potentially useful. Trends might be spotted over time and every team that has the ability to impact those metrics can draw a line between their work and the fortunes of the company.

So far so good.

It may then be tempting to say that while a specific CSM owns the account that churned, the reason given (which you can overlay) was a bug with a product or an original expectation, or a run-in with credit control so the loss should be attributed in part to development, product, sales, finance etc. Please don't. Aside from introducing ambiguity and potentially undermining trust in the data altogether, blame is not helpful on this stage (there are others where it might be).

While you might argue that some facts very strongly implicate a narrower ownership of the NRR result, the truth is that very often the results really are a team effort. The salesperson didn't build the product or the awareness and they'll likely have little impact on how the expectations they set are met - but they can make sure they set good ones all-the-same. The support manager didn't make a mistake in the build or decide to implement the unreliable ticket channel but they can make and keep their promises. The CSM isn't going to design the new feature or do the customer's work for them but they can provide effective guidance to the product function and reduce friction in adoption wherever possible.

The whole point of the revenue bridge is to give all functions a shared understanding of their most important metric, to undo the sense of "only you own this" in favour of "we all own this". Results start with clear expectations and visibility of progress. The revenue bridge plays a role in both and empowers ownership of performance.

Get in touch if you would like help with building your shared dashboards.

Note that this visualization also works with annual recurring revenue (ARR) but depending on how significant weekly or monthly changes are (when compared to annual revenues), MRR is likely to give you more sensitivity with fewer artificial swings in the numbers. I should note that this model is obviously geared towards recurring revenue models, and while there are adaptions that include non-recurring elements (listed below), there are better tools to use if your commercial model is not primarily based on recurring revenues.