Helen Crowley, Socialbakers
Helen Crowley, VP of global customer success at Socialbakers

Customer success – a new tech career path with a rosy future

1 Sep 2016

For those just starting out in their career, the path to success can seem impassable. You know it’s possible, but getting there is the challenge.

Helen Crowley, VP of global customer success at SaaS marketing platform Socialbakers, has – appropriately enough – enjoyed great success in her career. Here, she gives us some insight into how she did it.

What first stirred your interest in a career in customer success?

‘Customer success’ is a new title in the tech world, but it’s not a new concept.

Every company has always needed to have its customers at its core in order to make great products that really add value to its customers’ lives. But the boom in subscription and SaaS business models in the past five years has given much more power to the customer than ever before.

Customers don’t just buy once, they buy again and again. This means that you are constantly having to meet their desired outcomes, rather than just at that one time they decided to swing by your store and buy your product. Subscriptions are a fundamental game changer for software companies.

I love that this is an old concept, modernised for the tech era.

What steps led you to the role you now have?

I started out as a consultant with KPMG in London, having graduated with a music degree from Cambridge. An odd combo, I’m aware! KPMG gave me a great grounding in commerce, and I quickly realised that client-facing problem solving was my thing.

I completed an MBA at London Business School, and used that to get into ad-tech, which quickly became SaaS. In the past few years, I’ve been agency and vendor side, most excitingly running client services for Alchemy Social – at the time the most innovative social ad-tech team around ­– and now for Socialbakers, a social media analytics platform.

What were the biggest surprises or challenges you encountered on your career path?

I had serious highs and lows at Alchemy Social. It was a rollercoaster from day one.

We developed one of the world’s first Facebook newsreader apps in 2011, which was wildly successful and wildly expensive. That was an internal and client-facing challenge, which I learned a load from. It was incredible being part of something that was right at the edge of innovation.

From an organisational perspective, I was part of the management team integrating Alchemy Social with Experian after that acquisition, and that was one of the most challenging experiences of my career so far, from a personal and managerial perspective. I learned more in those few months than I had in any educational institution.

Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?

I’ve had a few people that have given me a leg up at crucial moments, and I’ll always be grateful to them. Gi Fernando, co-founder at Alchemy Social, now at Freeformers; and Simon Calver, ex-CEO of Lovefilm & Mothercare, now at BGF Ventures. These two are always around to support and encourage during moments of doubt. I hope I can do the same for others.

What do you enjoy about your job?

As the person representing the customer, I get to be involved in so many different parts of our business. Although I report through to the sales team, I sit firmly in the middle of sales, marketing, product and development. This means that I’m constantly learning and trying out new ideas. Most recently I’ve been getting more into retention marketing – a new area for me, and one I’m finding fascinating.

What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?

I think I might have been a chameleon in a former life. I’m happy to adapt my style and contribute to many different teams and cultures. I’ve been a quota-bearing sales rep. I’m now running professional services at Socialbakers. At Alchemy Social I ran a small development team for a short period of time. I’ll flex to the challenge put in front of me.

How has Socialbakers supported you on your career path?

Socialbakers has grown quickly while I’ve been there (over three years). The organisation has always given me new projects, challenges and problems to solve, so it’s absolutely not possible to get bored here! The great thing about the team is that a new idea you come up with can be put into place relatively quickly, and the organisation has been very supportive of some of my schemes and projects.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area, or just starting out in one?

There isn’t one route into customer success. Account management is a well-trodden path, but you could come through support, product or marketing.

I think it’s a position that will become more and more important over the next few years, as SaaS companies knuckle down on retention. It’s definitely a path that has a rosy future.

Helen Crowley will be speaking at SaaStock, the first European B2B SaaS conference, at the RDS on September 22. Visit www.saastock.com or follow @SaaStock for more information

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