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How the Customer Success Director at Salesforce Implements New Projects

My role is really to make sure organizations that purchase Salesforce are maximizing their investment of that tool.

This is the transcript from a recent podcast. You can listen to it here or read it below. 

Kevin: Welcome back everyone to Reduce ChuRn Radio. I’m your host Kevin Capp. We have a great show for you today. We are joined today by the Customer Success Director at Salesforce, John Conley. He’s going to be talking to us about the three things he learned about project success working at Salesforce. I’m excited to talk with John as he’s a longtime friend of mine and is working at the company that pretty much created customer success.

I’ve been learning so much talking with all the different interviewees on my show. People work for a lot of different companies, but I have today someone working at the “father of the customer success industry.” Of course, that company is Salesforce. John, you’ve been working there for a while. Can you start off by telling the listeners a summary about your background and your job there at Salesforce?

John: Thanks for having me on the program Kevin. It sounds like you guys are doing great work and this is a very important topic, both inside and outside of IT organizations. Any successful program starts and ends with the customer, so getting that right the first time out of the gate is very important. A little bit about my background. I have been working inside and outside of government from many years. I’ve always been involved in business operations and transformation projects. Prior to my role here at Salesforce, I was CEO of a management consulting firm. I was also the Deputy State Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the State of Colorado. And I was the Executive Director of the Statewide Internet Portal Authority that delivered technology projects to over 300 state and local governments in Colorado. Getting a project stood up and transforming the organization is something near and dear to my heart. I have had the pleasure of doing this for a good number of years now, almost over a decade, in fact.

Here at Salesforce, as a Customer Success Director, my role is really to make sure organizations that purchase Salesforce are maximizing their investment of that tool. As a subscription-based product, all of our customers have the ability to vote with their dollars and with any of their annual contract terms. So, we’re really in the business of making sure that they’re satisfied and our customers know how to use the product, that they understand the new feature sets that come out with the product, and that we become, over time, their trusted advisors, not only engaging with them on Salesforce centric solutions, but also in general talking to them about business transformation and things that we see going on in the market space or technology vertical.

“We become, over time, their trusted advisors, not only engaging with them on Salesforce centric solutions, but also in general talking to them about business transformation…”

Kevin: It sounds like you guys believe in the philosophy of being strategic advisors. Before we jump into this topic I want to pause and ask what it is like working for a company that basically invented customer success.  Being in your role, how do you like it and what’s it like there?

John: I have worked at a lot of different organizations over the years and working for Salesforce is a game changer. It really is setting the bar very high for a future employer. In fact, I’d be happy to retire with Salesforce with the way it’s going right now. It is truly an amazing company that innovates every day. There is not a month that goes by where we are not focused, laser focused, on the customer and trying to figure out how we can best serve them. I have to hand it to all of our employees. The way we are able to come together as a global company, to swarm an initiative, to assist our customers, to get better in the marketplace, and to be mindful of what the needs are of both our existing and our future customers is mind-boggling. It leads to exciting days. Every day is about really challenging myself as an employee to do better and to continue to learn more and more.

Kevin: It seems like every customer I consult with has Salesforce. I’ve implemented Salesforce in a few different SaaS companies. It is a great product, great company, and you’re doing great things to make it easier, faster, and better for companies to serve their customers. At a high level, what have you learned about the areas that are critical to project success, especially in your role as Customer Success Director?

“All too often we see the business leading, or IT leading, and not working together. That really creates a risk factor for project success.”

John: I really find the top three areas that are critical for project success is having 1) a strong, engaged executive sponsor. 2) Having success criteria around the project – what are you trying to achieve, how are you going to achieve that, and, most importantly, how will you know you achieved that. What are you measuring, and what are your metrics? 3) The final thing that I would say that leads to a successful project is having both the business and, if it’s an IT (Information Technology) project, IT owners at the table collaborating together. All too often we see the business leading or IT leading, and not working together. That really creates a risk factor for project success.

Kevin: Those are three great points. Being a past CTO (Chief Technology Officer) and CSM (Customer Success Manager), I can relate to all those areas. Let’s talk a little bit more about the executive sponsor.  You mentioned that it’s critically important, so what makes a good executive sponsor?

“In the absence of good information, bad information will bubble to the top.”

John: What makes a good executive sponsor is someone who can lead the organization through the grey areas of why they’re doing something, somebody who can provide leadership, is decisive, one that can make decisions to move the project forward. You want someone that is physically and mentally present. Maybe the best way to say that is “engaged” at the appropriate times. A lot of times in a project, especially those projects that are leveraging Salesforce or transformation projects, projects geared toward bringing more value to the customer, and IT projects in general, are going to change the way organizations are doing business. You need that leadership, that executive sponsorship, at the front of the table and behind their people showing them the way and the why they’re going in this direction. Good executive sponsors relate it back, most importantly, to how this (project) is going to put us in a position to succeed down the road. Without that voice, if it’s at the lower rank-and-file, there’s a lot of water cooler talk that will happen. We all know that in the absence of good information, bad information will bubble to the top. You really need a sponsor who provides leadership and is collaborating with the project team.

Kevin: I’ve seen Salesforce implemented in a lot of different ways, or any kind of technology for that matter, and let’s talk about this because at times, Salesforce is considered a basic tool that you need in any kind of business. The business needs a CRM tool to track the customer. You might hear something along the lines of “this is just a basic tool we’re implementing and we don’t need an executive sponsor.” Why is it so important to engage an executive sponsor in those situations?

“There’s always a fear factor when you’re doing something different. To get to the ‘yeses’ you need a leader at the table.”

John: Yeah, I understand that mentality or that kind of thinking. But the fact is every project is going to run into a point where questions arise of “do we want to go down this path or that path?” Someone needs to make that decision, understanding the strategic vision, which path they’re going down. There really is no minor IT project left in this day and age. As you know, we are leading the way with IT in changing the business. What seems to start off as a minor IT project is going to be transformative for somebody in that organization. Coming out of a lot of the organizations that I have worked with, including large enterprises, one thing that I’m always amazed by is you may have 11 stakeholders and it could take 11 “yeses” to move the ball forward on a project. But only one “no” to stall a project.  Without that executive sponsor at the table, leading the 11, providing guidance and understanding to the 11, it’s a lot easier (for one of the stakeholders) to say “no.” There’s always a fear factor when you’re doing something different. To get to the “yeses” you need a leader at the table.

Kevin: That’s great. How often should you be giving updates to the executive sponsor of a project?

John: I think there’s really a lot of ways to slice this, Kevin, but I would say there’s probaby two areas where you’re going to involve your executive sponsor. To your point earlier, if the project is going really well, everybody is on board, and they already understand the vision the executive sponsor and the leadership team has laid out, then you’re probably giving that executive sponsor quarterly updates.  Think of it as way points along the hiking trail. We’re just checking in to let you know how things are going, if we’re on track, if there is anything that you want us to be aware of that’s changed in the success criteria or that has changed in your vision. That check in would occur quarterly. The other check in that is maybe more ad hoc is when something goes awry, when you do get a “no”, when somebody doesn’t want to change their business processes. This is when you need that leader to step in and maybe cajole, in certain cases, that this is the way we’re going and this is why we’re going that way. The executive sponsor should not be burdened, and I use that term loosely, with the day-to-day minutiae of a project meeting. For example, don’t bother them when a PO (purchase order) is a couple days behind or Bobby showed up late today. That’s not where the executive sponsor should be spending her or his time. Rather, it’s those large project areas like “how are we going to transform my business or my organization with this project?”

Kevin: In my business, we call these executive update meeting QBRs (quarterly business reviews.) That is the point where we bring the executive sponsor back in and give them updates, get their feedback on the project, and make sure we’re staying with their vision. That’s what I’ve seen work well. Now let’s switch gears from the executive sponsor to this second area of project success. You talked about the importance of success criteria and key metrics. What should a project leader think about when creating those success metrics?

John: When a project leader starts to think about their success criteria, they really need to think about how are we going to know whether this project was successful or not. Are you trying to increase sales? Are you trying to decrease call volume? Are you trying to deflect calls entirely to different channels, whether that be to social media or an online live agent? You really need to think through what are we trying to achieve here? What are our goals? Then as a second step to that, once you’ve identified your goals, it’s really important to begin immediately baselining and measuring those goals going forward. In 6, 12, 18 months, or whenever the project goes live, you can look back to your funders, to your investors, may they be elected officials if you’re with a state or local government, and you can show them this is where we were (99% of our calls took five minutes or more and now this is where we’re at today with 99% of our calls taking two minutes or less.) You just need to define that success criteria. If you’re not measuring along the way, you’re at risk of getting to the end of the project and going live with the project and having someone coming to you and say “was that a smart investment” and not knowing the answer. So, to recap for success criteria, you want to measure it, you want to define your goals, you want to measure along the way, and you want to understand whether you met your success criteria or not.

Kevin: John, I heard you give one example about phone calls being under 2 minutes and I noticed you gave an example there that was a business result. With success metrics, I’ve learned CSMs (Customer Success Managers) can get caught up on using metric that are related to their job or technology. I’ve always professed that you need to be thinking about what is a success metric for your customer. This may be very different from what you can measure in your product. What kind of success criteria have you seen on previous projects that you like to use and work well?

John: If you take certain organizations, I think customer satisfaction, in general, whether it is with the call center or whether it’s with a service industry. Those are things that can be measured with a quick surveys after the service has been provided.  In the age of the customer service companies, you want to make sure that you’re tracking that. What’s your customer service satisfaction rate today and what is it after you implement? So, customer satisfaction is one. I work on a lot of contact centers or call centers, so we get into call volume. I want to decrease my call volume so how is IT or a product going to help me do that? We also see, in some cases with contact centers, I want more channels. I want not only for them to be able to call in, but I want to be able to do online chat, similar to what we all may have just experienced with the IRS (Internal Revenue Service.)  With tax season just getting over here, I want to be able to chat online, I want to be able to do Facebook messenger, and I want to see all those channels grow. And then of course, you get into your savings. If you’re a private sector company, you’re going to be looking at that bottom line. You’re going to be reevaluating “is this getting me more sales or is this lowering my operating costs in XYZ areas?”

Kevin: Those are some great ideas. Let’s dive into this last area because it’s an area that I’ve experienced in my past life. I used to be a CTO (Chief Technology Officer.) I know some projects would fail if you didn’t have the business buy-in. And vice versa, if you had a business unit trying to implement a technology project without IT. Have you seen any areas where you, as a Customer Success Director, identified this issue and was able to convince a business to get one or the other involved in the project?

“It all starts with having clear lines of responsibility, rather than authority…in a project and creating the swim lanes…”

John: I think it all starts with having clear lines of authority, or clear lines of responsibility, rather than authority. What I mean is very early in a project, “creating the swim lanes” for lack of better words, of where is IT responsible and for what are they responsible? Where is the business responsible and where do we need their input? I have not been in a room full of business and IT leaders where one hundred percent of them want to talk about network capacity. Clearly that is over in the area of IT. So, how to accomplish something from an infrastructure standpoint is a good example of where IT is involved. What kind of routers do we need? What kind of firewalls are required? The what we’re trying to accomplish like increase customer satisfaction, decrease call volume, etc., is clearly in the line and capacity of the business to articulate and to educate on. Having those clear lanes of responsibility, when you write them down, when you communicate that out, and when you start that early in the project, it’s amazing to me to watch IT and the business want to work together because they understand the spheres in which they operate. It’s when there’s confusion, and, perhaps, because of historical projects that have gone awry, perhaps because of some distrust between the two organizations that you see them start to walk away from one another and get distance between themselves. The best way to head that off is to communicate early and often about what the roles and responsibilities are for the two organizations.

Kevin: One of the important things you mentioned just now is about communicating early and often. What is an appropriate amount of communication? At Salesforce, what do you see as a good cadence? How often should a CSM communicate on a project?

“The important analysis that needs to be done with your communication frequency is that stakeholder analysis and then determining what messaging you’re going to send to those stakeholders.”

John: When communicating on a project, the first thing that you want to do is break down your stakeholders. Because the frequency of your communications is going to vary by stakeholder. Talking about your executive sponsor, you may send them monthly updates, quarterly sit-down meetings, quarterly business reviews. You may send them monthly or bi-monthly updates in writing “hey, just checking in.” But your “in the trenches” folks, your program managers, your project managers, your developers, they are going to need different types of communication frequencies. I would say from a program (project manager) perspective, you’re probably sending out a communication several times a week. From a stakeholder receiving the information, from your executive sponsor that’s monthly. Your end users, when you get to training, around weekly. The important analysis that needs to be done with your communication frequency is that stakeholder analysis and then determining what messaging you’re going to send to those stakeholders.

Kevin: John, this has been great. Obviously, we’ve just scratched the surface. I’m sure there is so much that we could talk about related to the successful implementation of technology. I appreciate your time today.  Any final thoughts you would offer our listeners on project success?

“When you get in front of the room, just like the executive sponsor, you want to be able to lead, you want to be able to speak clearly, and articulate the vision that has been communicated to you.”

John: The final thought I have as a Customer Success Director is to understand the technology and project that you’re managing and understanding the problems that are trying to be solved. This is going to allow you to speak with confidence. When you get in front of the room, just like the executive sponsor, you want to be able to lead, you want to be able to speak clearly, and articulate the vision that has been communicated to you. The best way to do that is to know both the project and the technology goals they (the customers) are trying to achieve and then communicate them clearly and often.

Kevin: Great! If our listeners want to learn anything more about Salesforce or reach out to you about this topic, what’s the best way to connect with you?

John:  Yes. If you’re wanting to learn more about Salesforce, of course, you can go to There are tons of videos there about our products, about our company, and all the innovations that we are doing with artificial intelligence.  If you wanted to get ahold of me directly, feel free to just reach out via email John dot Conley at


Information about John Conley-

John is a Customer Success Director for In this role, he assists state and local governments, across the United States, maximize their investment in the platform, ensure they have the confidence and competencies to maintain their solution moving forward, and is considered a trusted advisor to both the business and technology entities of an organization. Prior to joining Salesforce, he was the Executive Director of the Colorado Statewide Internet Portal Authority (SIPA). At SIPA, John grew the bottom line to over $10 million dollars and provided over 300 governments with websites, emails, payment processing and other technology services. John also served as the Deputy Chief Information Officer for Colorado where he led the IT centralization efforts across 16 state agencies.

About CustomerSuccess.Pro, llc-

CustomerSuccess.Pro provides customer success services to growing companies. Founded in 2011, our consultants understand how to create amazing customer journeys and reduce churn. Our proven methodology called the Reduce ChuRn Framework guides companies with annual revenue between $3M-10M to improve customer retention and increase profits.