Zero One: Cross-Training in Digital Transformation Thinkstock

Zero One: Cross-Training in Digital Transformation

Wooing customers in the digital world is a lot like getting them to the gym, Cisco executives say.

It’s been five months since you made a New Year’s resolution to get in shape by summer, even signing up for a gym membership. Chances are, it’s not going well. You’re paying monthly dues yet only worked out a handful of times. Face it, you’ve wasted a lot of money and are now thinking about shelling out a termination fee.

But it’s not entirely your fault. The gym should have been working like crazy to keep you excited after you signed on the dotted line, designing customized programs aligned with your goals and connecting you with trainers and dieticians. The gym should have been tracking your progress, engaging with you weekly or even daily, urging you to show up.

“If people aren’t using the facilities, as soon as that membership period is over, how many are likely to renew?” says Tejas Vashi, senior director of product strategy and marketing at [email protected] “If you want to retain the customer, you have to land the deal, get them to sign up for the subscription, but then show the value of what they’re purchasing.”

The same goes for channel companies selling cloud-based subscriptions, Vashi says. This is the idea behind [email protected]’s new training certification, called Customer Success Manager. It falls under the Business Transformation portfolio of courses, which includes the Business Value curriculum aimed at developing business architects.

We sat down with Vashi and Antonella Corno, senior manager of product strategy at [email protected], to get their take on the two digital business transformation certifications – Customer Success Manager and Business Value.

Why create business transformation certifications?

Vashi: Five or six years ago, we saw line-of-businesses beginning to make bigger investments in IT. It’s to the point where, obviously, for several years now they have had larger IT budgets than even the CIO departments. It’s very important for IT organizations to be able to communicate with lines-of-business and help drive and craft the corporate strategies for whatever outcomes the company is trying to drive.

Related: Zero One: Digital Transformation, a Runaway Train

We needed to move our own sales teams, as well as our thousands of partners, into a direction where the technical staff – especially engineers and senior engineers – wasn't just focused on the depth of the technology, although this is still very important. They have to be able to communicate and talk about the business side and the business value of infrastructure investments.

This is where the Business Value curriculum actually came from.

Corno: To make it simple, Business Value addresses the role of the business architect. This individual articulates the bridging between business outcomes that the customer or partner wants to achieve and the underlining technologies that support that.

We designed the program on three levels, ranging from awareness to full-blown business architect. The real job role is the senior one, the business architect, and the other levels represent different exposure to those concepts. Every individual in the sales forces of our partner ecosystem, as well as in Cisco, need to have some exposure.

How many people have earned the business architect certification? How many have gone through Business Value’s lower levels?

Corno: We don’t publicly release this number, but I can certainly give you a good perspective. We are talking several thousands of individuals getting the exposure level, a few thousand in the intermediate level, and hundreds at the top level.

You’ve just launched Customer Success Manager. How does this differ from Business Value?

Vashi: It’s very different. Customer Success Manager did not originate necessarily from the technical side, rather it’s really guided towards the customer itself. It’s about keeping the customer engaged with you, your product, your solutions, your offers – as any enterprise needs to do in a digital, software, or services-based world.

In this environment, the customer has many choices, so it’s about the lifecycle. It’s about helping the customer adopt the services, expand the services, and renew that subscription.

Related: Zero One: Winning the Customer Experience Battle

I use the analogy of a gym membership. Gyms are pretty packed that first few weeks of January, but when you get into February. What happened? People are still paying their subscription but aren't really using the gym as much.

But gyms should provide you a coach, walk you through all the exercise equipment, bring in a dietician, put you in programs, upsell you, get you into specific classes. So when it’s time for renewal, you are that much more likely to continue with the subscription because you’ve been receiving value.

That's the lifecycle in any subscription-based environment, and it’s what Customer Success Manager is about. It's very critical to understand this if you want to be successful in a subscription-based environment.

Who should get the Customer Success Manager certification?

Vashi: We’re starting with our own sales teams and working with our partner sales organizations. But also our customers should build out this mindset and maybe even organizations within their companies that actually focus on this lifecycle.

In a traditional world, you start with people that are closest to the customer – those selling to the customer. They need to understand that it’s not just about landing the deal. Sales teams, both pure sales side and presales side, need to understand this.

Organizations successful in this space actually have built out their own customer-success organizations. As soon as the sale is done, they continue to work with the customer throughout the lifecycle. They help them reach their outcomes, the milestones they're driving towards.

Related: 2017 Salary Guide: 16 Hottest Digital Transformation Skills

Adoption of those services may not be the sales team. It may be a different organization that functionally is responsible for this. Expanding the services may be a combination of a technical team and sales team, maybe a technical-assistance team that says, “Hey, you know what? We’re sensing that your network seems to have this kind of characteristic, and for the outcomes you’re trying to drive, that problem could be solved with X.”

What are the goals of the Customer Success Manager program?

Corno: Right now, we are in the phase of significant internal adoption from Cisco. We can’t go out to customers if we don’t even adopt internally. Of course, it’s open to everybody and we’re looking at the external pipeline, but we want to make sure our internal sales force and our channel organization – the people who manage the channel ecosystem for Cisco – are fully aligned and their needs fully satisfied.

We have three major goals for the next few quarters for this program. We want to really collar the core competencies for a customer success manager. The other component, which is very important for the Cisco channel team, is to make sure we are identifying how to apply those skills to certain specific technologies. We are working closely with channel organizations to make sure that we are continually updating and evolving the program in order to fulfill that specific need of applied skills. And, of course, we’re looking into feedback from the industry at large.

Vashi: If you’re out in the field, there are many different ways you can train and grow in this space of customer success. But there aren’t really a lot of formalized frameworks that provide guidance into what is recognized by the industry as a solid customer success manager.

We built the certification by capturing a lot of the Cisco best practices and industry best practices. We didn’t do it on our own. I think that is what you are getting out of this, being able to measure yourself against a pretty solid, formalized standard.


Based in Silicon Valley, Tom Kaneshige writes the Zero One blog covering digital transformation, AI, marketing tech and the Internet of Things for line-of-business executives. He is eager to hear how IT-biz alignment is impacting your business. You can reach him at [email protected] 

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