After moving to an unfamiliar location at the age of just 24, Colin Spence has enjoyed success working for some of the biggest companies in the world. Here, Colin shares the details of how he did it and tells us what 'Customer Success' actually means.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
My background includes over 15 years of service delivery and client-facing experience in the UK and Saudi Arabia. I have experience working in huge, multinational conglomerates and hyper-growth startups. I also spent four years with LinkedIn in their Customer Success team in London, servicing some of their largest accounts across the world.
At the end of the summer of 2020, I had the opportunity to join a Deloitte Fast50 winner. The brief was to set up and lead the Customer Success efforts across our largest global customers.
What kind of work does your role involve?
Customer Success (CS) is all about aligning your goals with those of your customers. Simply put, Customer Success = your customer's success. When you match your success criteria to those of your customers, you will stand a far better chance of succeeding and increasing Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) and new sales. Your customers are your best salespeople.
Customer Success delivery combines project management, change management, commercial acumen, time management, problem-solving and world-class interpersonal skills combined. You know you're doing it right when your customer sees you as an extension of their team.
What gets you excited about your industry?
The first thing is that no one has mastered Customer Success yet - it's still a relatively new concept. There are many great examples of successful CS teams across the industry; however, has anyone successfully interwoven all the internal teams; Product, Marketing, Sales in a way that drives maximum revenue?
No, and that's the challenge and opportunity.
The second is that the Customer Success industry is booming - there are so many opportunities with some fascinating companies. There's a real opportunity to make a name for yourself by excelling in your role. Customer Success is incestuous, and word travels fast.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
My Headmaster at school always used to end our assemblies with: "Don't be someone who, because you could only do a little, did nothing."
It's such inspirational but straightforward advice that I have lived and breathed throughout my career. Don't shy away from a challenge or opportunity because of its perceived difficulty or complexity. Take a can-do attitude, and invariably you will succeed or, at worst, leave a positive impression. A can-do attitude is worth 10x more than talent, in my opinion.
Combine the two, and you'll excel.
What's the best way to support aspiring leaders in your field?
I provide mentorship and coaching to Customer Success Managers at Silverfin and two external clients. I also network heavily across the industry and am a learner as much as a teacher. That way, I can provide those I mentor and coach with a broader set of examples and thoughts of accomplishing what they need to.
Being ex-LinkedIn, I'm highly active on the platform and will proactively engage with aspiring leaders across the industry. For anyone out there who is inactive on LinkedIn, you're missing out. It's a gateway to invaluable information from your peers and competitors.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in your industry?
I have two approaches:
Every week, I have 2 hours blocked in my calendar for personal development and learning. During this time, I will consume webinars, attend virtual meet-ups, networking events and webinars.
I network and remain in touch with past colleagues. The Customer Success talent market is very fluid at the moment, so there's always someone I know who's moving to a new company. This is an excellent way of finding out how other businesses are approaching Customer Success.
What was the most challenging project or situation you've overcome?
One was moving from the UK to work in Saudi Arabia at the age of 24. I joined BAE Systems, a company that at the time had 110,000 employees. I joined a sales recruitment startup with less than 20 employees, so learning how to operate and influence within a Leviathan of an organisation and in a different culture was a transformative experience for me.
I would also say that the pandemic has presented unique challenges. I started and onboarded at Silverfin during the lockdown, learning a new business, industry and set of customers remotely. I could not rely on my in-person skillset and had to find new ways to engage. I keep returning to it, but a 'can-do' and proactive attitude determined my successful onboarding.
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
Firstly, have a stiff drink to help with the realisation of what had happened! Once the immediate shock had subsided, I'd ensure my family and friends were comfortable before working on philanthropic efforts that I'm passionate about, such as making sure every human has access to clean water and education.
Selfishly I'd probably keep a bit back to ensure I could travel and see the world in its entirety. I may be underestimating how much $10m could get me here!
How do you switch off after a day at work?
I am an avid traveller. I have a target of visiting every country in the world in my lifetime and am currently on 92/197. I firmly believe that travel broadens the mind and teaches you experiences you can apply in every aspect of life.
When I'm not travelling, I play snooker, golf (badly!) and follow my favourite football team - Grimsby Town. I also have a close-knit group of friends I see regularly and value highly from my school years.
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
I have two:
That every organisation and its people operate with a client-first mindset. If all SaaS businesses operated with a customer-first obsession, progress would be felt much faster, and growth would be accelerated. The best tech companies I have seen have placed a laser focus on the client-first ethos. It all falls down when one department within an organisation is on a different trajectory from the rest.
All meetings would finish a minimum of 5 minutes before the hour to allow people to take a comfort break before the next. It's a pet peeve that people are 3-5 minutes late for a meeting because their last overran!
What book or podcast should everyone know about?
Podcast: #STAYHUMAN, by Malvina El-Sayegh, has fascinating interviews and insights for anyone looking to hone their Sales skills. It's suitable for anyone seeking to sharpen their commercial nouse.
Book: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink, former Navy SEAL officer. An absolute must-read, covering managing up and down the chain of command and across a business.
How should people connect with you?
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