Increasingly, investors and SaaS leaders are recognizing that customer retention is essential for their success. As a result, they are rushing to build Customer Success Management (CSM) programs that will help their customers maximize IT adoption and ROI from their systems.
However, they are facing significant challenges because Customer Success Management is new to most organizations and they are not sure exactly how to get started or what to do first. They don’t always know that right question to ask, how to allocate scarce resources, or how to prioritize their efforts to get the best results.
Investing in a CSM strategy will save you time & effort
The first place to start is to create a CSM strategy and road map. Your CSM strategy should identify exactly what you are trying to achieve, define how you will achieve it, specify who will make it happen, and provide a clear road map moving forward. Your CSM strategy will help develop a shared understanding and vision for what you are trying to achieve. It will also enable you to move forward with confidence while allowing you to avoid costly pitfalls and mistakes that can threat your CSM program before it even gets going.
So, how do you create an effective Customer Success Management strategy? Here are 5 things to help you get started. Keep in mind that this is often an iterative process, and decisions you make later on may require that you revisit some of your earlier decisions.
1. Define your goals
Not surprisingly, the first step is to figure out exactly what you want your CSM team to do and the results they need to achieve. This will set the goalpost from which you will determine the specific staffing, services, tools and methods you will need in your CSM team. It will also help you identify the budget you will need to allocate for building and maintaining your CSM capabilities.
2. Define roles, responsibilities and org structure
One of the first questions people ask is what exactly should the CSMs do and where do they fit within the organization? Should the CSMs be responsible for sales and renewals, or just for driving customer IT adoption and satisfaction? Do they report to sales? Do they report to customer service? Sales? And what authority do they have when it comes to working with other departments internally (like sales, product management, professional services, customer support)?
3. Develop CSM methodology, tool and processes
Once you have figured out what you are trying to achieve and how you will work internally, identify the specific tools and processes you will need to make it happen. This may involve internal-focused tools, such as having a way to identify and report on actual customer-use of your system, and externally-focused tools, such as creating a CSM consulting methodology / toolbox that you use when working directly with your customers. You may require a combination of tools such as IT systems (like the one offered by Apptegic), spreadsheets, presentation slides, email templates, report templates, and other such things that enable your CSM team to deliver a consistent, effective, high-quality CSM service.
When building your CSM strategy you only need to identify and prioritize the methodology and tool development requirements. You don’t actually create all the tools until after the strategy is finalized since it may go through a few iterations before you have final agreement on how to move forward.
4. Recruit and develop exceptional staff
Identify how you will recruit and develop exceptional staff. This may include identifying a high-level profile of the types of temperament, skills and required experience levels you will want for your CSM team. And, it should outline how you plan to quickly on-board the CSM staff, train them, and ensure they are able to get up to speed quickly.
Just a quick word of caution: at its core, CSM is about driving IT adoption of systems. In order to be effective, CSMs need to understand the root cause of IT adoption problems and have a firm grasp of the proactive steps you can take to increase adoption. This is knowledge and skill that, generally, are in short supply. You may need to provide additional training and development to help your CSM staff learn the skills they need to be fully effective in this role.
5. Manage the roll-out (internally & externally)
Introducing your CSM capabilities requires changes both internally to your organization and externally with how you interact with customers. Both can be major transitions and you will want to map out in advance how you will manage these changes.
For your internal roll--out, consider how introducing CSMs will change the way existing staff perform their jobs. Have you changed the job responsibilities of sales and service staff? Will having the CSM team impact revenue and renewal targets for sales professionals? How will you go about informing people about the new service? Introducing the CSM function will kick off a domino effect of changes to all other parts of your organization.
For your external (customer) roll-out, be careful how you introduce the CSM function to both new and existing customers. Take care to ensure you set accurate expectations about what the CSM team will – and will not – deliver to customers. Also, you may want to consider if you want to pilot the CSM effort with select customers before rolling it out to everyone.
Be part of the conversation. Join the Customer Success Practitioners group on LinkedIn
When I speak with the leaders of Customer Success Management (CSM) programs they often ask about how they can make their program more effective for increasing customer renewals. This leads to a discussion about the focus, methods and tools they use to deliver their CSM service.
More often than not, it becomes clear that the CSM tools and methods they use are part of the problem.
At its core, CSM is about helping customers adopt your system
The purpose of Customer Success Management is to help your customers fully adopt and maximize the value they receive from your software or service. Many times, the root-cause issue that needs to be addressed is that people are simply not adopting the system – which is almost never a technical issue. If the CSM team can maximize and sustain effective user adoption, the value to the customer (and renewals to you) will follow.
So, how do you maximize IT adoption?
How does your CSM team identify all barriers preventing adoption?
Many people assume user adoption is 100% discretionary effort on the part of the end-user. This leads them to focus all of their efforts on trying to help the end-user know how to use system and see how it will make their lives easier.
The reality is quite different. User adoption is not entirely at the discretion of the end-user. There are many non-discretionary factors that can make users unable to adopt the system - even when they want to use it!
Almost every IT project on which I have participated (like, 99% of them) there have been some organizational or system-related issue that actually prevented people from using the system. These issues fell outside the users’ span of control and required action on the part of management to resolve. Yet management was unaware of these issues or how they prevented system use.
In order to be effective, your CSM methodology needs to help customers identify barriers to IT adoption. But how will you do it?
- Do you know how to identify potential IT adoption barriers?
- Does your current CSM methodology actively uncover all barriers that affect IT adoption?
- If not, how will you change your approach?
How do you remove barriers to IT adoption?
Once you have identified barriers to adoption, how will you make sure your customer takes action to remove them? Sadly, driving and sustaining effective IT adoption is not a core capability of many client organizations. Even if you are able to help your customers identify barriers to adoption, it does not mean that they will know how to resolve them. You may need to help.
Change your CSM approach
Like most initiatives, your CSM capabilities and approach will need to mature over time. Initially your CSM team can be successful just helping customers get minor increases in adoption and ROI. However, to maximize customer renewals and, if possible, expand accounts, you will need to adjust your approach to help customers fully resolve their IT adoption issues. To do so, you will need to expand your knowledge regarding the root causes of IT adoption and the most effective methods to influence it.
I recently had coffee with a very gifted organizational change consultant and we got talking about different change challenges organizations face. She was telling me about one of her clients, a CIO for a large, global organization that is struggling to improve internal operations and performance.
After a few months of work, her client asked, “So, are we changing yet?"
The answer was no.
How will you recognize when change is happening?
How will you know if things are changing or if you are just spinning your wheels?
Will you know where you are in the change process?
How will you know when the change is complete?
While every organization has unique needs and challenges, it is important that you think about these questions. And write down your answers. The more you can do to recognize where you are in the change processes, the better equipped you are to make change happen.
Set specific change goals. And deadlines.
While some changes are harder to map out and recognize (e.g., organizational culture change) other changes (e.g., adopting a new system or adhering to new policies) can be mapped out with clarity. Whenever possible, setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound) change goals can help align efforts and drive action. Of course, these can then become the metrics against which both change and users are measured.
For example, many organizations do not even set specific user adoption targets when rolling out a new system. When I have helped organizations set targeted weekly CRM system use goals (like create 4 accounts week 1, create 3 opportunities in week 2, etc.) we have consistently seen rapid increase in effective system use.
Assign ownership and accountability
Making sure that everyone is clear on who is responsible for making the change happen, and how and when you will hold them accountable, is critical to your success. Many change efforts are focused on completing change activities, but they are not focused on achieving change outcomes.
If you want a specific change outcome, make sure your change leaders understand the outcome they must deliver and what happens if they hit/miss/exceed those goals.
Pivot when necessary
Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum and when you make one change, it kicks off a domino process. Other changes – some planned, many not – will happen. You need to make sure you are constantly monitoring your organizational landscape to address any emerging issues and opportunities.
But be careful. Pivoting to respond to emerging issues is important, and do it in a way that does not remove accountability for achieving stated goals. When you shift your goals (short- or long-term) make sure everyone is still clear on ownership, expectations, incentives, and accountability.
(Hint: it is AFTER go-live)
A friend of mine was telling me about an upcoming event that is focused on discussing failed organizational initiatives as way to learn and improve going forward.
This got me thinking, “At what point are IT projects considered failures?”
Is it when the system doesn’t work? Is it when the system is delivered late? Do projects fail before go-live or after? Or, is it when the system meets all functional requirements, but sits idle and unused?
IT projects fail when they don’t deliver business value
Sure, you could make a lot of great arguments about the system failing due to technical reasons, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but for me, the answer is more complicated than that.
For example, the overall purpose of any software is for it to be used in a way that adds value to the organization. Even if a system doesn’t meet all functional specs, but is still used and delivers some business value, then it is still a win.
IT success or failure happens after users get the system
Arguably, IT projects don’t fail before go-live. Systems are tested before they are deployed. (At least, they should be.) And, if they don’t work, they don’t get deployed. But even if a system is deployed – what kind of business value does it generate if it just sits there and costs you money?
The reality is that IT systems only deliver business value when they are being used…which can only happen after go-live. (See where I’m heading here?) A system that meets all functional specifications but is ignored by end-users does nothing to create value.
The challenge then is how do you make sure your system is actually used and – therefore – creating value?
User adoption is on the critical path to IT success
Generally, the problem with most IT project plans is that they only cover the time up until the initial system deployment, ending at go-live. However, as we’ve already established, success is not achieved simply because you go live. The hard part is that after go-live – in the years the system is used -- is the period of time when the project will be deemed a success or…a failure.
So, like anything else in life, if you want something to happen, you have to be pro-active and make it happen. Include user adoption on the critical path to success. It is not something that just happens at the conclusion of a successful IT project – it’s planned, managed and made to happen.
Include user adoption activities in your project plan
If you set the endpoint of your IT project beyond go-live and to the date by which you expect to achieve your ROI goals – that is when you have created business value – how would this change your critical path? What activities would you include on your critical path from the point of go-live forward? Do you have milestones for measuring user adoption? Do you have the resources you need? Do you even know what resources you need?
Recognizing that you need to drive IT user adoption in order to achieve IT success is a really the first step. Next, develop a comprehensive user adoption strategy, determine the appropriate user adoption methodology, and ensure you have the right resources to make it happen.
Without this, your IT project will not be a success.
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