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You’ve heard it, you’ve used it, the catchy, trendy term “Customer Success.” Type it into Google and you’ll receive about a billion hits.

We’re also seeing customer-facing job titles specific to Customer Success. However, we believe that every company needs to be focused on customer success, whether there is a designated person in this role or not. In the words of Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight, “The success of your business is inherently intertwined with the success of your customer.”

None of us has a business if we don’t have customers. Customer support, strategic account management, and customer success all aim to retain, nurture, and grow customer relationships by helping your customers gain more value from your company. So why do you need a separate and distinct customer success role? And if you decide on creating such a function, how do you make sure you succeed at it? Let’s explore the answers to these questions. First, let’s be sure we’re in synch on the definition of Customer Success.

While there may be a variety of definitions around customer success, we like the one from the Customer Success Association, which defines customer success as “a long-term, scientifically engineered, and professionally directed strategy for maximizing customer and company sustainable proven value.” This definition helps differentiate Customer Success from Customer Support. Customer Support is reactive, solving customer problems as they arise. Customer Success is proactive. It proactively supports the second and third pillars of Marketing’s responsibilities – keep and grow customers.

First Customer Success Then Your Success 

We’ve often quoted Phil Kotler, who said the purpose of Marketing is to “find, attract, keep and grow the targeted customers by creating and delivering superior customer value.” Creating and delivering superior value over the long term is how you keep and grow your customers. Customer Success is a directed strategy focused on value, value for both the customer and for your company. Therefore, the key to customer success and a function supporting it is understanding two things:

First, what is of value to your customers.

Second, what is YOUR value to your customers.

We strongly recommend that before you create a plan for your customer success organization around increasing renewal rates, upsell, and so on, you have an answer to these two questions and a plan for how you will continue to create and deliver value to your customers.

How to Decide Which Customers Earn a Customer Success Plan 

Select customers for your success planning.

Decide which customers earn a success plan.

Of course you want every customer to be successful. If you are a relatively small organization or your target market consists of a very few customers, then having a plan for every customer is realistic. For example, if your total customer base will only be a few dozen companies, then it is vital that you have a customer success plan for each and every one. On the other hand, if your total customer base is thousands of companies, then you need a different approach to a customer success plan for each customer.

In this situation, you are going to need to segment your customers. There are various ways companies approach customer segmentation. Some segment by profitability. Others by potential footprint expansion. Others by strategic value. There is no one right way: the important thing is to have a way. To develop a segmentation approach you need to know the following:

  1. Who your customers are
  2. Which ones are profitable or provide value to your business
  3. What is the satisfaction level for each customer
  4. What do they buy and what is your share of their wallet (you can expand the business you have with the current buying group)
  5. Which ones provide footprint expansion opportunities (you can expand beyond the current buying group)
  6. Which ones are in markets that provide growth opportunities for your company
  7. Which ones are influencers in their market

With this information you can create a segmentation model. Once you’ve segmented your customers, apply the answers to the questions above to each segment to determine if there are any segment overlaps or potentially micro segments. Now you can decide, based on what’s going to create value for customers and for your company, which segments and specifically which customers need a customer success plan. This doesn’t replace the need to solve your customers’ problems as they arise. You will also still want to provide a superior customer experience to every customer every day.

The Anatomy of a Customer Success Plan 

Your customer success plan is not a strategic account plan. As a former strategic account manager and a customer success director, I truly believe these are unique roles. Strategic account management is a “farming” role for a small number of carefully selected accounts, whether current or prospective customers that your company believes are strategically significant and financially valuable. Your strategic account plan is structured around creating NEW revenue from value-based solutions to meet both the customer’s and the company’s future growth requirements. For existing customers, strategic account plans may entail outcomes associated with product adoption that will positively impact both share of wallet and footprint expansion. For prospective customers, strategic account plans focus on acquisition of the customer.

There’s nothing salesy about customer success in its purest form. The focus is on the customer and what it will take for the customer to succeed. Customer success plans are only for EXISTING customers, and while there are revenue components, such as renewal and share of wallet, the real focus is to increase loyalty in order to reduce churn and increase referral rates. As a result, a customer success plan may vary greatly from one customer to the next. One customer may need additional training or onboarding, while another may need help increasing their own sales or adoption of their product in a market.

Every customer that is part of your customer success initiative needs their own plan. This plan should identify

  • what success means for that specific customer in specific quantifiable terms
  • their expectations from your company for helping them achieve success
  • how they believe your company is delivering on the expectation
  • what they anticipate they will need from you to achieve success going forward, ideally outlined by their growth roadmap
Costumer success plan structure

Customer success plans are only for EXISTING customers.

We recommend having a formal document process for engaging with customers to gain the answers to these questions. Once you have the answers you can develop a success plan for that customer. We also recommend that you collaborate with the customer on the plan and at the very least, secure their thumbs-up for the plan. This serves two purposes. First, it signals their importance to you. Second, it informs them of what you are doing and why.

Once you have clarity around how your customer will measure success, then you can create a quantifiable objective(s) for that customer that will serve as the agreed upon measure of success. Be sure to secure agreement from your customers for the measure(s).

With the measurable objectives you can now develop the appropriate strategy and supporting programs and tactics for your plan. It is the responsibility of the customer success manager to work with the customer and internal team to manage the implementation of the plan, monitor progress to the plan and make adjustment recommendations, and report on results. Follow our best practices for creating the plan. You can use our Accelance® Blueprint Methodology to create these plans.

Measuring the Success of Customer Success for Your Company 

Whether your customer success initiative stands on its own as the lead for this effort for your company or is a function integrated within another part of your company, it is an investment that merits its own plan and measures. While each customer associated with the initiative will have its own plan, your customer success initiative needs one plan. That is, what is the business outcome being driven by the initiative, how is the customer success initiative expected to positively impact this outcome, and what measures will tell you that progress is being made.

Create measures and metrics for your customer success planning

Measure the success of customer success.

At a minimum your customer success initiative should contribute to a business outcome associated with loyalty and be tied to customer value. Once you’ve defined the business outcome, create the measurable customer-centric objectives, strategies and tactics for the function. Keep measures such as retention and referrals in mind as you craft the plan and build your metrics logic chain.

A wealth of data can be captured from the customer success initiative that your company can use to define new products and services and improve customer experience. You should have a plan and process to capture and analyze the data and share the insights as part of your customer success initiative. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need assistance developing this plan to help your company gain meaningful insights into your customer and market.

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