2022 year of the Unisantacorn

Tis the season for year-end and year-beginning proclamations! Since I haven’t seen any as specific as customer success within the climate tech space, I’ll start with the 2022 year in review, and plant a few seeds for the follow-up on what 2023 will bring.

This time of year around 1 year ago I saw the dawn of the Santacorn (Unisanta? Unisantacorn?) (for me anyway). Since then climate tech, and customer success in climate tech, had a breakout 2022. How fitting that of the estimated 3,189 startups, the number of climate tech unicorns grew to 47 (https://www.holoniq.com/climatetech-unicorns) and, as of this writing, 14% of all VC dollars are going into climate tech. As the money pours into the VCs, and VCs deploy that capital into climate technology companies, these companies are hiring to the tune of 40% job growth in the space (https://fortune.com/2022/12/12/big-tech-is-laying-off-workers-the-growing-green-collar-job-industry-hopes-to-recruit-them/). Jobs in Customer Success are well represented here, alongside spikes in the business-oriented sales, marketing, finance etc. roles needed to build great companies around climate-focused technology.

The trifecta of CT companies getting established with the VC$ coming in the past couple of years, and The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) infusing $369 billion for clean energy and climate priorities right at the time that mainstream tech companies are laying off people to supply a workforce, may be what makes the CT growth and progress trajectory stick. There are an estimated 90,000 to 210,000 tech workers with transferrable skills who are both more interested and see fewer barriers to working in climate. Along with this broader market shift, the climate tech community is embracing outsiders like never before with Tera.do, Climate Jobs, Climate People, Work on Climate, etc with programs to unite the hirers with the ‘climate curious’ as well as resources for tech workers to transfer their skills to climate tech areas. With this confluence of climate tech taking off while there’s a broader market slowdown providing people for the jobs, it’s possible that years have been shaved off the progress climate technology companies can make since they don’t need to spend as much time, attention and money on competing with the broader tech industry for talent.

In customer success for climate, based on my nonscientific research on LinkedIn and climate-oriented job boards, I’ll call 2022 the ‘beachhead year’ – the year that customer success crawled out of the ocean onto the beach with enough presence and strength to gain a foothold. Perusing profiles on LinkedIn as I work on building my own ‘CS in CT’ network (please reach out https://www.linkedin.com/in/craigvigor/ to connect!) led me to see, for roles up and down the CS Ladder, customer success getting establishing in climate tech. With so many 2022 start dates on customer success in climate tech profiles, I noticed only a couple roles in CS for CT before 2022 and the earliest I saw was 2019. Still anecdotally, I’m observing the forming of teams as a combination of both climate-oriented roles switching to customer success, and customer success/account management/sales pros coming into climate tech CS roles from the outside. In this melting pot of people, skills, backgrounds, passions & experiences, the foundation for how customer success will evolve to advance climate technology success is taking shape.

And this shape will be as unique as the Unisantacorn! We’re already seeing a creative, innovative stretching & flexing of the customer success that was born out of B2B, SaaS/subscription based software companies and business models in the early 2000’s. When B2B software sales began transitioning from legacy ‘buy it all at once’ license models to SaaS, we started to realize that with subscriptions, a customer can fire their vendor at any time with no notice. So vendors needed to stay involved after the sale to actually make sure the products work and customers are getting the value that was promised. While this started in B2B and has been evolving ever since, climate tech is innovating new ways for customer success to flex. When Marie Alexander first created a department and named it ‘Customer Success’ for Vantive CRM software (https://www.customersuccessassociation.com/library/the-history-of-customer-success-part-1/), I don’t think she foresaw a branch of the CSM role evolving to help farmers with agtech regenerative farming techniques in their fields (https://www.ruumi.io/). This is but 1 example of where customer success principles are being leveraged in novel ways to help companies who want to help the planet and the paradigms of business success and climate success get intertwined. It’ll be quite exciting to see this evolve and be a part of how and where customer success methods contribute to reducing our impact on the planet.

As we grow into our 2023 shoes, customer success in climate tech will continue to creatively grow and stretch. But as VC funding slows down and creates the Series B cliff (https://www.ctvc.co/a-pulse-check-on-climate-vc-market-sentiment/), CS in CT will also face some of the customer success-specific and VC up and down investment cycle challenges other technology sectors are used to facing. 2023 may be the ‘prove it!’ year in many ways. Stay tuned for more detailed predictions on how customer success will help climate tech companies grow and navigate 2023’s challenges.

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