User Adoption Insights From Tri Tuns

Customer Success Management (CSM) and the Critical Path to Customer Renewals


*This blog post was written by Jason Whitehead, CEO of Tri Tuns and originally published publication on Openview Labs blog. 


Poor user adoption and the lack of perceived value by customers is the greatest challenge faced by SaaS vendors. Quite simply, a customer that is not using your software and not realizing measurable business value from their IT investment will not be your customer for long.

SaaS vendors, recognizing that customer retention is critical for growth and profitability, are investing heavily in Customer Success Management (CSM) programs. These CSM programs are charged with the ambiguous goal of “making customers successful” so that customers renew their contracts and (hopefully) buy more. The challenge is most SaaS vendors don’t know what they need to do to drive customer success or where to even begin building an effective CSMcapability.

In truth, Customer Success Management has as much or more to do with the people, processes, and organizational development of your customer as it does with the actual system you are selling. In this two-part series I hope to take a broader, more strategic look at customer success and shed some light on how you can focus your efforts to deliver the results you and your customers require.

Success is from the customers’ perspective

There is a lot of conversation in the CSM community about where to start building a CSM team. The tendency is to spend a lot of time talking about who should lead the CSM team, whether the CSM team should have renewal goals or not, and whether it should be part of the sales or service departments. The discussion also often centers around how to measure the performance of the CSM team and how to compensate CSM staff. In short, most of the conversation seems to be more about how to make the CSM team successful than how to make customers successful.

Setting out to build a CSM team based primarily on an internal focus and internal parameters is as pointless as trying to Feng Shui the deck of the Titanic. Sure, you can do it, but it probably won’t solve your problem. A far better starting point is seeking to understand how and when your customers determine if they are successful.

Customer renewals based on experienceInitial purchase decisions are based on hope. Renewal decisions are based on experience

When your customer makes their initial purchase decision, they are buying your software based on their hopes and expectations that in the near future they will realize tangible business benefits from its use. All of the evidence they consider – marketing information, product demos, references from previous customers, reviews on social media – all contribute to their expectations for the future.

This is very different from how customers make renewal decisions. The decision to renew is based on customers’ actual experience working directly with your product in their organization. If the customers’ experience is positive and the value they have received from using your software matched their expectations, customers renew quickly and easily. If it doesn’t, well, you know what happens.

Map the critical path to customer success: first for your customer, then for your company

Map the critical success path for your customersWhen do your customers succeed or fail? How and when do they know they are successful? What does it take for them to achieve success?

One of the first things I do when working clients that are implementing SaaS solutions is help the client executives map out the critical path from the time they decide to invest in technology all the way to the point at which they will declare their program a success. This exercise typically reveals that the client had initially defined success as “deploying on-time and on-budget”.

But when I ask them what constitutes success 5 to 10 years after go-live, the answer shifts quite substantially. Now the answer is typically some version of, “our employees have fully adopted the system and we are getting measurable business value from using the system.”

This shift in what constitutes success reveals two critical path items where customers struggle and where your CSM program needs to focus:

1) The need to focus on driving effective, consistent user adoption.

2) The need to help your customer realize (and measure) clear business value from their investment in your system.

Customers have transferred a portion of their user adoption risk to SaaS vendors

One of the biggest problems organizations face is getting their staff to adopt technology and incorporate its use into their daily work activities. A system that sits unused is not delivering any value to the customer’s organization. This user adoption risk — the potential that staff will not adopt systems and business processes as they are designed — is perhaps the greatest threat to customer success.

Since customers will not renew a system that is sitting idle, and since you (the software vendor) need customer renewals in order to grow, you now share a portion of your customers’ user adoption risk. In many ways, customers’ user adoption risk translates into your renewal risk.

Develop a CSM capability that moves customers along the critical path to success

When you go to build your CSM team, you need to have a clear view of your customers’ entire critical path to success. Map out what it would take for your customers to drive and sustain full user adoption of your system over the next 10 years. What you will find is that there are a large number of technology, people, process, culture, and organizational dynamics that all impact customers’ adoption of your system.

Once you understand the critical path to success, you need to figure out where customers are getting stuck and why they struggle to move forward. You will find that a large number of these issues have nothing directly to do with your system. Yet you need to figure out how to get customers to resolve these issues.

You may think it is not your responsibility to help your customers resolve their internal user adoption issues, and in many ways you are right. But remember, while that may not be your responsibility, it is most definitely your problem.


In the next article in this series I will offer insights into how you can build a CSM team that helps customers minimize user adoption risk and maximize customer success.


Do you have a Customer Success Management program? If not, why not? If so, how has it affected your customer churn? 

Please share your thoughts and experiences on the Customer Success Practitioners group on LinkedIn.



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Is it in the system? Require IT use at each project approval stage


The other day I was talking with a woman at a large non-profit that is trying to improve their enterprise knowledge management efforts. She said that they are using a CRM system and SharePoint to manage information related to all of their internal projects. The CRM is used to track all of the people involved and track key activities and SharePoint is used for sharing and storing all project specific knowledge content.

The problem, as you would expect, is that very few people were using either tool. Sure, there were some pockets of success, but for the most part each individual or team would just do their own thing. Obviously, this did little to preserve knowledge and make it accessible for future use.

She needed help and asked me what she could do to increase effective use of the systems.

Do you have different approval stages for your business projects?

When we were talking about how they manage their internal projects, she indicated they have various formal project reviews and approvals required for a project to proceed to the next stage. The reviews are primarily to manage quality and were required in order for the project to get funding. But they didn’t actually check to see if internal processes were followed or if people were growing the institutional knowledge of the organization.

Make complete & accurate IT use a condition for project advancement

Require IT use at each project approval stage.One of the easiest things you can do to help increase effective IT user adoption is to integrate it into the workflow and approval process of your normal work activities. This can apply to internal projects as well as sales reviews.

To be effective, define very specific, measurable system use requirements that must be met in order to gain approval.

This could be things like requiring all related contacts and accounts (specify required fields) are entered, that all major pre-requisite activities are entered (specify required vs. optional activities), and that any required documents are entered. 

Also, make sure that all naming conventions and status fields are correct. This is not just an opportunity to make sure information is entered, it is also an opportunity to maintain the quality of the data.

Include timely system use in individual performance reviews

If you want to encourage regular, timely use of your systems (instead of just ensuring data is entered immediately prior to an internal project review), think about including a quick audit of created dates as part of your project approval process. If an individual did not enter the data within required timeframes  -- and thus deprived other people the ability to make use of the data in a timely way --  you can identify them and then take appropriate action. 

For example, I know of a sales professional at one organization who made his numbers, but didn’t enter the information in the required timeframes. As a result, he was ineligible for a major sought-after reward, namely attending the President’s Club celebration.There are lots of ways you can encourage (or discourage) effective system use as part of your regular business processes. How can you do it in your organization?


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Watch out, SaaS vendors…your customers have a BS detector!


In the olden days (you know, about a week ago), before the rise of cloud computing, software vendors could use a lot of big words, slick demos, and fancy marketing props to entice people to buy a system. They were selling hope.


Sales are easy. Customer Retention is hard.

And many vendors are feeling the pain. The above video from Adobe does a great job of highlighting the issue. SaaS systems, with low upfront fees and the relatively easy ability to switch to a completely different system, enables customers to learn for themselves what your system can deliver.

Subscription pricing means you need to prove your worth. Everyday.

The impact: every time you have a renewal sales discussion, your customer immediately knows if you are BSing them or not. And they won’t tolerate BS.

Ensure your customers' success if you want to keep them.

What this means is SaaS vendors need to ensure they stop BSing customers and start ensuring their success. Make sure your customer has achieved measurable business value from investing in your system. To do this, evolve your sales, implementation, and customer management processes.

Help customers address the two biggest issues they face  – namely, driving and maintaining full, effective user adoption of the system AND realizing the clear, measurable business benefits. If you can’t do this, your only choice is to try to BS your customer.

Good luck with that.


Do you have a Customer Success Management program? If not, why not? If so, how has it affected your customer churn? 

Please share your thoughts and experiences on the Customer Success Practitioners group on LinkedIn.



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“We don’t care. We don’t have to.” …uh, yes you do.


Do you remember this Saturday Night Live advertisement skit with Lily Tomlin as a phone company employee?


I remember watching this clip when I was a kid and laughing because it was so true. Back then, the phone company was the only game in town. And they knew it.

Customer choice means vendors need to care

Now, just a few years (ok, decades) later, these same phone companies are struggling to reduce customer churn. They are (finally?) realizing that things have changed and the customer now has more power in the relationship. And customers are not afraid to use it.

SaaS vendors need to focus on keeping customers...

Like phone companies, SaaS vendors – or any vendor selling on a subscription basis – realize that reducing churn and keeping customers for as long as possible is essential to their success. Unlike the phone companies of yesteryear, they can’t hold customers hostage and just expect the money to keep rolling in.

…but what do they need to do to reduce churn?

Many organizations recognize the need to retain customers, but they are not sure how.

The secret is simple. If you want to retain customers, make sure they:

1. Are getting value from your product or service, and

2. They enjoy their experience with your organization


If you can do that, you will keep them. As soon as these two things fall short, your customer will leave.

Focus on customer success to reduce churn

Many companies have invested in improving the customer experience and increasing customer satisfaction ratings. Now they to focus on making sure customers are getting full value / benefits realization. 

For many organizations, this means creating a Customer Success Management program. Customer success is not account management or even customer service. It is all about helping the customer achieve the measured benefits and ROI that is meaningful to them. It requires different methods, tools, and activities than before.

Do you have a Customer Success Management program? If not, why not? If so, how has it affected your customer churn? 

Please share your thoughts and experiences on the Customer Success Practitioners group on LinkedIn.

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