Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast When it Comes to Customer Success

It’s happening. Your company is hitting that growth trajectory that everyone said would happen. New customers are being added daily and you’re starting to worry if you have the right plan in place to handle everything that is coming at you. Here’s something to keep in mind: culture eats strategy for breakfast. What does that mean? You need to focus on your company’s core values and its people. If you focus on that, you’re already on the right path.

What does “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” mean?

When I’m now brought into the hiring process to hire leaders, I don’t just ask what they plan to do to help their team, I would like to know how they will shape our organization. I was lucky to have worked with one of these individuals, Alex Shootman who was the former Chief Revenue Officer at Eloqua. He kept saying this phrase over and over again “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. It originated from the famous Peter Drucker.

It’s a statement that means different things to different people. It was mostly targeted to the sales team and it meant that the best process that a sales manager tried to put in place would be ignored if the sales culture didn’t accept it. It terms of customer success, it can have an entirely different interpretation. I have to admit that it took time for this statement to really sink in because our culture of putting customers first at Eloqua was so ingrained into me and that I was too connected to what this statement was all about. This culture drove the company and helped build the company into what it is. It was only after I was in a leadership position myself and observed some new issues popping up in how we were serving our customers (that are natural as a company grows) where this statement rang true. We were getting away from some of our core values at the time but as a great organization that has a customer-centric culture does, it recognized that something was out of alignment and it course corrects quickly. Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

We had the right attitude and people in place to get us back on track. We established a cross-departmental committee that focused on the customer experience. We interviewed our customers and turned over as many ugly rocks as we could. We created a customer bill of rights that was meant to guide the entire organization – not just the customer facing teams. We’re all in this together. We doubled down on customer community and advocacy. We rewarded those team members who contributed the most to making the customer experience special. We had turned the corner. Why? Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Was there an overall strategy to get us back on track? No, there wasn’t. There was what Shootman called a “commander’s intent”. This is a military term where a commander creates the end state that needs to be achieved and then leaves the planning to his/her staff. That’s what happened here. When you have the right culture in place, it allowed for the right change to be made and drove the strategy. All that was needed was a bit of refocusing and direction. Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

How do you establish the right culture that will propel your company and specifically how you serve your customers? There are three core components: establish the right values, hire the right people and provide the right environment.

Establish the Right Values for a Winning Culture

Influitive-company-valuesHaving the right corporate values in place is a given but it’s the companies that truly live by these and make them central to their organization that stand out. At Influitive, we recognize someone who displays one of these values each and every day to the entire organization. It’s a simple word of thanks. Not only do we emphasize what the person did, we focus on the corporate value that this act embodies.

Hire the Right People

This is hands-down the most important component to establishing the right culture within a customer success team. If you hire the right people, they will have the core values that you want pre-programmed into them. When you’ve established your company values, it becomes easier to hire the right people as you’ll know the type of values to specifically look for. I have a good sense if the person I’m interviewing has the values we are looking for by asking them about a major accomplishment that occurred in their life and what it took to complete that. Were they innovative in their approach? Why was this a major accomplishment? I can also derive the type of values someone has by glancing at a resume or by how they apply for a position. For example, having grammatical mistakes displays the values that we don’t want: carelessness or a lack of organization.

At Influitive, one of my goals this year was to scale up how we serve our customers. How do we better engage our customers and help educate them about how they can better leverage our product but also improve their overall careers in marketing? My team members came up with innovative tactics on their own that have helped us reach this goal. As an example, one of our support team members created a bi-weekly educational webinar that has become a hit with our customers. Another team member created an agile approach to ensure that we are creating best practice materials around common themes and working more in unison. Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Leaders Need to Allow Room for Experimentation by creating the right environment

Besides the right values and hiring the right people, you need to have leaders that have the right attitude for this to work. You can have the best people but if are not given the freedom and environment to experiment, their success is limited. As a leader, you need to provide opportunities and the room for your team to innovate. You have some people that have the inner-drive to push the envelope and will just naturally do this but others need more guidance and reassurance. If you create a cookie-cutter customer experience that allows for little wiggle room you may stifle ideas that your team has. This will have a negative impact on those that want to try out different approaches and experiment and will not help develop those that are looking to advance in their career. There is a delicate balance here. You need to keep your team focused on executing on their core duties to serve customers and follow specific processes  to keep the customer experience consistent. However, if you are too stringent in how your team structures their time and carries out their core functions you will not allow them the freedom to help you improve the customer experience. I’ve learned to allow my team to go outside the lines and be OK with it.

I know my company is growing at a rapid pace. I know that we will have a tough time maintaining the excellent customer service and experience that we have established. I’m not afraid. I have approaches that I will look to put in place this year to meet the new demands that have been placed on us. Even more importantly, I have and will ensure we have the right people in place to help get us there and I can’t wait for what lies ahead. Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

How does culture impact your customer success?

Chad H.

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @ChadTev

2 thoughts on “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast When it Comes to Customer Success

  1. Two of the most painful organizational shifts I personally experienced occurred because the companies I worked for didn’t have the right people to buy into the changes. Inertia, fear of change, and the wrong people were the main reasons. One situation involved being acquired by a European-based company and they shifted our product and sales strategy. Our U.S. implementation and execution sucked and subsequently led to a massive re-org. The second was when I ran a sales team with an organization that had legacy managers who didn’t want to adapt to how customers purchased. The legacy culture of ‘business as usual’ led to many sales teams missing targets and looking for new jobs.

    Strategy without execution is hallucination. Without the right culture, the right execution won’t happen.


  2. Thanks Brian! I could see what a change it’s been for you in your current role and the amazing culture that exists at Heinz Marketing. I know that I feel lucky to be working in an organization that has a such a strong culture.


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