Hi there! I’m currently the CRO of Nezasa – a travel tech start-up that allows travel agencies and tour operators to sell trips directly to consumers, where I lead the sales, customer success, support, and onboarding teams.
I’m also the founder and CEO of Customer Success Excellence – the world’s first awards program dedicated to customer success. I was named a Top 25 Customer Success Influencer by SuccessCOACHING in 2021 and 2023. I’m originally from San Francisco but have lived in London for 10 years. I’ve been passionate about customer success since I started as the first CSM at a company called Fairsail in January 2015.
We asked Alex to take us through a journey telling us about his career path, how he spends his workday, what advice he can share with someone starting as a customer success manager, and many other questions.
Enjoy reading this interview
Tell us about your career path?
My first job after college was in HR tech software implementation, so I spent two years doing professional services. I left that company and joined an HR-tech scale-up called Fairsail in July 2014 as employee 32. I spent five years there, first doing customer support, then moving to be our first CSM.
I grew with the company – Fairsail went from $1m ARR to $20m ARR and exited to Sage and I went from CSM to Global Director of CS and Support.
I look back on that period as my “free business school” – being part of that growth and acquisition was hugely rewarding. After that, I joined a legal-tech scale-up called Incopro as their VP of Customer Success, looking after onboarding, success, training, and support. Right before Nezasa, I was VP of Customer Success at Cognite, an Oslo-based DataOps scale-up and Norway’s first unicorn.
How did you join Customer Success?
I enjoyed professional services well enough, but always found the temporary nature of the projects to be understimulating – I wanted to be involved in the long-term success of the project, not just deliver software!
I was hired at Fairsail to do support and implementation, but my boss at the time said “We want to hire you but we don’t know exactly where you fit long term, so do these roles to learn the software.” After 6 months, I saw that he posted a job ad on LinkedIn for our first CSM – I phoned him up and said that’s the role I fit in long term…and the rest is history.
How would you describe the ideal CSM candidate?
I’m looking for a mix of technical knowledge, commercial acumen, and domain expertise. Someone with tenacity and urgency who can kick down doors within their customers and the company to get things done.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out as a Customer Success Manager?
If you’re just starting, overinvest in learning your product and learning your customer’s business. Yes, you need to do a QBR because your boss says so (let’s debate the effectiveness of QBRs later), but you can add 20 minutes to the start of the QBR just by asking your customer questions.
What do they see as the main strategic priority for their business? How has their experience been with us? What do they want you to help them with as their CSM? It’s incredible how much ammunition you gather that can later be used in expansion conversations.
“Overinvest in learning your product and learning your customer’s business”.
Can you take us on a journey describing what your workday looks like?
I’ve worked from home since COVID – during COVID for obvious reasons, but after because my companies were based in Oslo and now Zurich. Usually, they start with a dog walk in the morning and 8 hours at my desk on video calls with customers, prospects, and colleagues. I also visit our offices or customers at least once a month – Zurich, Lisbon, Palma, Dusseldorf, and Santiago to name a few. I enjoy the mix of WFH and travel.
What makes you feel inspired or motivated?
Seeing the impact our team has on our KPIs. Yes, that’s a generic answer, but let me explain. When I joined Nezasa, we didn’t have an onboarding team and our CSM team was just created. We had time to value around 250 days and very little expansion. So we built a CX roadmap and had major releases every two months – new onboarding processes, productized guides and training, QBRs, success plans, etc.
The team rallied together to launch these initiatives with pace and now we see the results – TTV of 60-90 days, time to first upsell around 90 days, and best-in-class GRR. We spent a year on the roadmap and to see the direct impact on the business is really motivating.
What’s one thing that people are generally surprised to find out about you?
Usually, I’m busy disappointing people with my non-British accent. I’ve been in London for 10 years now and when people book a video call or meet me for the first time, they’re always a little surprised I don’t have a British accent – the stubborn California accent will never leave me!
I’m also a big sports fan – SF Giants, Newcastle United, SF 49ers. Maybe most surprising is that I am obsessed with frequent flyer points and miles (yes I am that guy) and cash them out at least once a year for a big long-haul trip – I may or may not have an undercover Instagram account dedicated to premium cabin point redemptions….now you understand why traveltech is such a good fit!
What are your top 3 priorities now?
First priority is getting our sales and post-sales teams to work closely together around customer value. We use success plans in the sales process, but more elegantly transitioning customers through different stages with the success plan as the red thread is our focus.
Second priority is taking manual onboarding and CSM engagements and automating them in-product – our Digital CS Operations Manager is all over this.
Finally, nailing 2024 forecasts remains top of mind.
What advice would you give to Customer Success Managers to grow and develop their careers?
Find friction and fix it – if customers are having trouble at a certain point in their engagement with your company, call it out and fix it. But to be clear – don’t fix it by taking on jobs that should be done by another department. Partner with them and ensure we remove the friction point to ensure you as their CSM can focus on proactive value-based activities.
What’s your favorite book, and why?
I guess my little secret is I don’t read very many books. I read blogs and news articles daily though – SaaStr and Kellblog are two of my top resources.
» Check out the 10 Books a CSM should read to advance and improve their skills.
Have you had your “I’ve made it” moment yet?
After 6 months of preparation and hard work, giving the opening speech to a room of 200 attendees at the first-ever Customer Success Excellence Awards in London got pretty close.
That and accepting a CCO offer – I spent the first 10 years of my career trying to challenge myself and get into the cockpit of the plane, as I call it. The CCO role at Nezasa was the first time I really felt like I made it from a career point of view.
What should I have asked you but didn’t?
Maybe what creative customer success initiatives I am most proud of. Two of them:
Launching customer community at a company with 85 high-touch customers as a one-stop hub for them to access all the resources available to them.
Weaving success plans into the Nezasa sales process as a way to do value-selling and improve win rate.
Where can people go to find out more about you?
I’m pretty active on LinkedIn, so that’s a good place to start.
Also, head to customer success excellence website to learn more about the awards and register your interest for future awards events.
Thank you, Alex, for sharing your knowledge and for the opportunity to know you more.
Do you have a Customer Success Leader, Expert, or Influencer you would like to know more about?