Yasutaka Fukuda, Partner and CEO, Japan Cloud Consulting

Customer success has been around in Japan since the arrival of Salesforce in 2000, but only a handful of companies get it right. Although their intentions are good, many companies succumb to elephant hunting and end up relegating customer success to a mere function, when it should be a key value that permeates the entire business.

Japan is the second largest enterprise software market in the world and home to more $100 million companies than any other country next to the U.S. If companies want to engage these customers, retain them and drive recurring revenue, they need to get customer success right.

But hiring Customer Success Managers is only part of the solution. Enterprise cloud companies need to address fundamental operational issues - around talent acquisition, reporting structures and internal communications - that are unique to field organizations. Realizing customer success-driven growth in Japan, or anywhere else in the world, is predicated on achieving company-wide operational excellence.

Following are a few tips on building a customer success culture in Japan based on my 20 years of leadership experience at Salesforce and Marketo.

Customer Success Revisited

Customer success, of course, is not just a function within a SaaS company. Nor is it the same as customer service or customer satisfaction. 

If customer service is about resolving customer issues, customer success is about building a company culture that puts a premium on seamless alignment - across global product development, sales, marketing, training and service and support, as well as the customer success team - to enable customers to maximize use of their product and realize business outcomes. 

The reward to vendors: lasting customer loyalty in the form of annual recurring revenue. In the SaaS model, when your customers succeed, you succeed.

Customer Success Leadership

Although this is so commonsensical that it might not be worth mentioning, the first step in building a customer success culture is to hire the right leader. Customer success must be implemented from the top, from day one.

The right leaders are not “know-it-alls.” They are “learn-it-alls.” They are passionate about engaging with customers and learning about their business. They are open and collaborative. They believe in innovating with customers.

The right leaders align employees around the hard work of retaining and growing existing customers. They have a service mindset, as well as sales skills. They of course pursue big opportunities, but they are not easily blinded by the glamor of elephant hunting. The right leaders pursue companies that fit the target customer profile. They value customer success over short-term wins. 

Customer Success First

Once at the helm, the new country manager should move quickly to embed customer success practices company-wide. The country manager needs to hire a cloud-savvy post-sales leader who can build the service and customer success teams as well as forge partnerships with local service partners. Building the post-sales team should take priority over hiring a cadre of sales people. Customer success must come first. 

Prioritizing customer success over bolstering sales capacity rarely sits well with global sales leaders who are in a hurry to close deals. But putting customer success first is essential to securing employee buy-in internally, as well as building credibility externally, as a company that is committed to supporting customers long term, beyond the deal. 

At Marketo, we established a user community within six months of launching in Japan. We supported our customers with education and customer success resources as well as office space. Our customers shared best practices and early successes so they could learn from each other and make full use of their products.

Putting customer success first can also help close deals. Our partner Kyriba won their first customer in Japan in part because they involved their newly hired Customer Success Manager in customer meetings. 

In general, Japanese customers are pragmatists. They are extremely patient and loyal once they commit to a vendor. But in order to commit, they need to see evidence that they will get the support they need. They prefer to work with mature, service-oriented companies over startups that lay tracks as they go along. They need the assurance that they can get up and running quickly, without complications, and be successful over the long term.

Locally Empowered...

In addition, the country manager should be empowered to align local teams around customer success. While corporate leadership may champion customer success, global reporting structures often prevent the local organization from doing what is right for customers. 

Local functional leaders, including sales, alliances, services and marketing and customer success, should report directly to the country manager with dotted-line responsibilities to corporate teams.

Trust in the country manager is essential for such a reporting structure to work. Transparency is key. But the Japan business cannot put customer success first if its teams are pulled in different directions by corporate initiatives.

Take global go-to-market campaigns, for example. It makes little sense to launch a product suite or platform in Japan, or any region, if customers are still getting acquainted with a single product. It’s confusing for customers and can freeze opportunities. But this happens time and again, impacting both local sales and credibility. 

Local leadership should be empowered to decide when and how to engage and innovate with local customers. They should be empowered to put customer success first. 

Globally Leveraged

This isn’t to say that the local business can isolate itself from the global organization. Far from it. The local entity should take full advantage of the global resources available to it. Absent the global company, the local entity would relegate itself to the status of a domestic SMB. Japanese companies are avid consumers of global knowledge. Local teams should be able to provide it.

Japan Cloud partners nCino and Braze hired local product managers to collaborate with their global product development teams. They explained local business processes and pushed for Japan-specific features early in the customer success value chain.

Local sales people should also leverage corporate product experts and sales resources. Corporate visits and global events are obvious examples of how local teams can tap global value. 

Dreamforce was the highlight of the year for many Salesforce Japan customers. They gained visibility into product roadmaps. They took in best practices from product experts and other customers. They also experienced the momentum and power of the global brand. Dreamforce helped transform Japanese customers into Salesforce loyalists.

Local employees should focus on local customers, but they should also be active members of the global team. Why work for a global company if they have no interest in being global?

Singing From the Same Playbook

Finally, although the local marketing team should spend most of their time on demand generation and sales enablement, they need to do more than market to external audiences. The need to communicate internally as well.

In addition to leveraging corporate content and developing customer stories so customers can learn from each other, they need to communicate internally to align local teams. They need to promote customer success as a unifying value within the organization. They need to inspire employees to sing from the same customer success playbook. 

At Marketo, the marketing team took the lead in developing a colorful internal newsletter, or shanai-hō, called Marketo Life. The bulletin highlighted individuals and teams who best exemplified the company’s customer success culture. It provided overviews of global events. It introduced new hires and celebrated the personal interests of employees. 

Marketing in the field should create internal content and forums for employees to come together as a team, build trust and share knowledge on how to make customers successful. Employees need to learn from each other as well.

Optimized for Customer Success

Building a customer success culture requires thinking beyond short-term wins. It requires optimizing local operations for long-term success. It requires hiring and empowering mature, collaborative leadership. It requires working with global teams. It’s about instilling a sense of mission and pride in employees.

Salesforce is a $1 billion company in Japan. The main reason behind its remarkable growth is that Marc Benioff empowered the local team to focus on customer success while making sure they leveraged all the assets that the global organization had to offer.

Japan is a huge market. Businesses are clamoring for the cloud as we speak. They are pursuing digital transformation to adapt to a hybrid world, to become more intelligent and more employee- and customer-centric.

If global cloud companies look to capitalize on Japan’s hybrid opportunity, they need to be connected to their customers “for life.” They need to live and breathe customer success. 

They need to keep reminding themselves that if their customers succeed, they succeed.