Customer Success as Growth Engine

If our interviews with executives in the #HowIBuy series have a common thread it’s that buyers seek success, not sales.  Buyers query their networks to see who is having success with what products, try products on their own, and double down on current products that their team are having success with.  Sales is not the engine of growth, customer success is.  

 

This is very much inline with current thinking around Account Based Marketing and the #FlipMyFunnel movement; find a customer, make them very successful, seek out a small number of similar customers, and repeat the process.

 

Organizations today who are looking to be leaders in their industry are investing heavily in the customer success function in order to drive the revenue engine of their business.  But with the additional focus on the customer success function comes a new set of challenges.

A Challenge of Measurement

Customer Success as a Growth EngineMeasuring customer success is not a simple task.  There are many things that can be measured, but often, on closer inspection, they don’t quite align with creating revenue growth.  You can measure various aspects of product usage data, support tickets, and net promoter scores, and each measurement will provide a view into the activity and success of the current user base.

The challenge is that those are often measurements of how current users are tackling a current problem.  They fail to measure how executives feel about your solution, whether those executives are even aware of what the solution is doing, and whether you’d be considered for any future opportunities (especially ones that might not be an identical use case to how they are currently using your solution).

 

Reactive Management

How can customer success teams become more proactive with customers?  It’s the question that’s on the mind of CS leaders everywhere.

The explanation is simple – customer success teams are attentive to customer needs, highly responsive, and diligent in responding to customer requests.  This is what makes them successful and builds customer relationships.  However, it also creates challenges when customer success teams are responsible for driving revenue growth.  In some accounts that have gone quiet, there may be no interaction at all, and in others, the interaction will be exclusively with one user, or perhaps a small number of users.

“Customers may come for your product, but they stay for your people”

When this happens, classic measurements might indicate that the account is in a good situation; usage is high, net promoter score (NPS) is high, support requests are low.  However the account is likely not in a good spot in terms of growth as the relationships are not deep and broad enough throughout the account.  This leads to the challenge of “surprise attrition”; the loss of a champion can mean the loss of an account even when product usage would indicate that there’s nothing to worry about.

 

The Crucial Measurement

To resolve this challenge, the best customer success teams are measuring more than just product usage and support requests; they are measuring the breadth and depth of relationships at the account.  Understanding who your team has relationships with, and how strong those relationships are gives crucial insight into the accounts that are at risk of missing growth opportunities, or losing executive sponsorship.

A simple threshold, by tier of account, gives a warning when an account has a challenge; enterprise accounts might need at least 5 strong relationships, while mid-size accounts might need only 3.  Setting these thresholds allows a focus on at-risk accounts and an action-driven approach to growing the right relationships at accounts in need.

 

Customer Success as Teamwork

Ensuring that accounts are maintained and grown is not the sole responsibility of the customer success function, although they are the main coordinator.  Understanding who has (or had) what relationships with the customer’s organization can show insights into how best to proceed, especially in situations where the relationships urgently need to be built more broadly and deeply across the team.  

The sales team might have relationships with the original purchasing executives, the training team might know a broader set of users than the customer success team, and the support team might know a set of users who are working on more challenging or unique use cases.  Knowing where these relationships exist can open up opportunities to build them further and identify growth opportunities on the foundation of early success that the team has built.

 

Thoughtful Interactions

Many sales team approach new interactions with a bit of a “scorched earth” mindset.  Relentless, persistent, automated sales outreach either results in a meeting or alienates the prospect.  Although distasteful, this “hustle” approach can work in markets that are so broad that you can treat them as unlimited.  Customer bases, however, do not fit this description.  The risk of offending a customer has to be carefully balanced against the potential value to be gained, so each outreach needs to be thoughtful and relevant.

Understanding the context of who knows each executive is an important first step.  If there was a relationship a year ago, referencing it provides an important continuity.  If there are active conversations happening, it’s crucial to ensure you know who is talking to whom.

While the relationship context is valuable, it’s equally important to have a point of view.  Knowing what that executive stands for, and what is happening in the overall business at the current moment in time is important in developing a point of view on how your solution can build upon early successes and grow in new ways.  

Both relationship intelligence (who knows who how well) and sales intelligence (what is happening with the business and the person in question) are key to success.  Customer success teams must develop the breadth and depth of relationships to set each account up for maximum likelihood of renewal and optimal growth opportunities.

 

 

 

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