Adam Joseph, Founder, CustomerSuccessManager.com
The Customer Success movement has grown exponentially from being a niche corporate discipline just a decade ago to where it is today, at the very core of some of the world’s leading businesses. A recent article authored by Bob Evans (former VP of Strategic Communications at SAP in 2011, and Chief Communications Officer at Oracle) published on Forbes.com really illustrates this point.
Further evidence of this meteoric rise can also be seen in the huge demand for Customer Success professionals; on LinkedIn alone in July ‘18, there are currently over 1,500 open job vacancies. Another recent poll (also from LinkedIn) has placed CSMs 3rd on the “" of 2018 - up from 19th in 2017.
Another indicator has been the growing number of specialist software solutions designed to help Customer Success professionals proactively manage their account base and consistently deliver their customers desired outcomes. Other often cited benefits of CS software include:
As a Consultant who works with many Customer Success groups, I am often asked “do you think we would benefit from specialist CS software and if so, what one?” As with many questions asked about Customer Success, the answer starts with “it depends…” and this blog will explore some of the key factors that are required to effectively implement CS software.
There are many excellent software providers that can be recommended based on a number of key criteria such as budgets, how your CS Team is structured, functionality and ease-of-use. Examples include some of the more established providers such as Gainsight, Totango, Natero, ClientSuccess and ChurnZero as well as some newer entrants (e.g. Akita, Iridize). A full list of is maintained by the Customer Success Association.
It is a fallacy to think that CS Software in of itself will help your Customer Success group proactively manage their account base and/or identify clients at risk of churning or potentially upgrading. There is a degree of internal “heavy lifting” required to ensure that you get maximum return on whatever CS software provider you choose. In my experience, here are some of the most critical items that you should consider prior to going “live”:
In order to track the right metrics within your CS software that determine customer “health”, you need to have them populated in your internal systems to begin with. It is not unusual to have these data-points stored in a wide variety of disparate internal systems (e.g. CRM, databases & spreadsheets) and managed by different groups (e.g. Support Marketing, Finance, etc). Irrespective of which system they are in, here are some recommended data-points that you should consider tracking in a CS software:
2. Integration Capabilities
Once you have selected the right data-points to track it’s vitally important that your chosen CS software has the ability to integrate them into their platform. Many CS software providers show which third party integrations they offer directly on their website (e.g. Gainsight, Natero, Totango and Akita). Most providers offer large eco-systems of third party integrations (some well over 100) from systems as diverse as CRMs to accounting software, so there is plenty of choice available.
It’s also important to consider that some of your data-points will reside on internally built systems and would need to be integrated via an Open API. In addition, you should also consider the number of data-points that you would like to track as this does differ vastly by software provider.
3. Corporate Support
Assuming that you already work in a Customer Success role, it is fairly safe to assume that you understand (and are excited about) the benefits that CS software can bring to your organisation. However, it is vital that this same vision is shared with your peers from other groups, especially at C-Level.
From a functional perspective, there is always a degree of internal work involved to successfully integrate your internal data to external solutions. As stated previously, most CS providers offers 100’s of integrations however internal Development resources will be required to ensure that these connections work as expected. In addition, resources within your Product, Engineering and Security groups will most likely be needed if the CS software needs to integrate directly into your online solution. The amount of internal “heavy lifting” required should form a key part of your discussions with CS software vendors during the pre-sales process. You should also ensure that you involve the relevant groups/individuals from your organisation into these discussions as well.
C-Level sponsorship is also vitally important; you want your organisation as a whole to be invested in the effectiveness of CS software – not just the Customer Success group. As with any systems that requires expenditure or takes up valuable internal resources, if the purpose/benefits of the CS software are not clearly understood then the on-going need for it will continually be re-examined. Any implementation roadblocks that require attention from other internal groups will not get the attention that they require and you will find that progress grinds down to an eventual halt.
4. Creation of “Playbooks”
A central proposition of many CS software providers is the automation of “playbooks“ – i.e. predefined activities for customer accounts that meet certain thresholds. For example, new users who have not logged into within the first 7 days would receive an automated email with a reminder of their account details.
Although CS software can automate these playbooks, they cannot create bespoke ones that are right for your business (although some providers do have a library of "canned" playbooks that can be utilised or changed). Each organisation should create their own bespoke playbooks that suits their products, customers, customer segmentation/engagement strategy and value proposition. Having multiple playbooks already designed prior to going “live” with your chosen CS software will result in valuable time not being wasted creating them during the deployment stage. Many CS software providers will offer assistance in the automation of your playbooks into their systems as part of their on-boarding processes.
It’s absolutely clear that CS software can positively impact the internal performance of your Customer Success group, your wider business as well as help your clients get maximum benefit from using your solutions. However, without the proper corporate foundations in place, your CS software deployment will be seen as a “white elephant” that never reaches the full potential of what it can do.
The recommendations outlined in this blog are by no means designed to be an exhaustive list; for those of you who have successfully implemented CS software, please comment below and share your opinions. In addition, CSM Insight works with clients to help implement the topics raised in this blog (and many more besides), please get in touch to discuss how we can help your Customer Success group work at maximum efficiency.