You’ve been brought in as the founding member of the Customer Success team — congrats! Your company is making a major investment in helping customers derive more value from its products and services. Now you’re faced with the inevitable question: where to begin?
This roadmap will outline what you should expect to accomplish in your first 90 days. At the end of this timeframe, you will understand your product’s use case, know when and how to encourage customers to take actions that drive value, and have a vision of where you want to lead your team in the future.
30 Days: Get a Lay of the Land
"The primary goal of this initial phase is to establish a foundational understanding of your ideal customer."
Become a Product Expert
This is your starting point. Having an in-depth knowledge of your product will ensure you are able to share relevant best practices, weigh in on how to optimize configurations and workflows, and identify potential case studies. Everything builds on your foundational understanding of the product.
Speak with Customers
While you will learn a lot from diving into the product, you will learn even more by speaking to real life customers. Look through your customer roster to identify some folks who might be willing to walk you through their use case, discuss any challenges they’re facing, and review how their progress compares with their purchase goals. Pair these customer calls with discussions across Sales, Support, and Product to create a holistic view of these customers. During this fact-finding phase, I find that managing a simple spreadsheet with basic information such as number of users, business vertical, use case, pricing model, etc. is the way to go. You won’t get a lot of value out of a Customer Success product this early on.
Understand Ideal Customer and Use Case
Ask Sales, Marketing, Product, and Support to describe your company's ideal customer and use case. Then, compare these responses to what you heard on your customer calls. If your business really wants to deliver value to its customers, everyone needs to agree on at least a basic outline of your ideal customer and use case(s). Customer Success is in a unique position to facilitate this type of collaboration between siloed teams. Share the resulting profile across the entire company and make sure it gets updated over time.
Because Sales and Customer Success work together closely there needs to be a process to share key customer information. Closer coordination with Sales decreases the time it takes for you to start adding value and ensures any critical insights gathered during the sales process are shared with Customer Success. The customer’s pain points and buying reasons can also highlight any holes in your ideal customer profile.
Review Pricing Plans
Connect the value customers are receiving from your product to the money they're paying. Startups often tinker with pricing models in their early days. Experimentation is a great way to figure out what works, but it also means that Customer Success teams can be left juggling numerous cost structures and incentives. If one customer is charged per seat and another is paying by API traffic, you need to be mindful of these factors when making recommendations. You should also provide feedback to the team that manages pricing. An important consideration is how each pricing model lends itself to future expansion / upsells. Successful SaaS companies often have pricing models with both fixed and flexible components which allow them to capture additional revenue when customers receive additional value from the product (great piece on SaaS pricing here).
Let me be blunt — you should be prepared for only mixed success when it comes to getting in touch with existing customers. Some folks will only reach out when they need you, while others might never respond at all. The goal is not to speak with every single customer in the first 30 days. The primary goal of this initial phase is to establish a foundational understanding of your ideal customer. In the next 30 days you will develop strategies to deliver on the customer’s goals and expectations.
60 Days: Establish a Success Baseline
Map the Customer Experience Lifecycle
The customer experience lifecycle outlines the various phases of the customer's relationship with your company. The fundamental stages of a SaaS customer lifecycle are: Acquisition, Engagement, and Retention. This map will allow you to customize your interactions with customers depending on where they are in their lifecycle. For example, it’s probably not a good idea to suggest an annual pricing upgrade to a customer who has yet to complete the setup process.
- Is marketing targeting the right type of prospects?
- Does Sales close customers who can derive value from our product?
- Do we have a clear product owner within the customer's organization? Are the people and systems we're working able to drive success?
- Do users' actions indicate they will likely be engaged with our product long term?
- Are customers achieving their goals and objectives?
- Can we demonstrate value?
- Do features that we release enhance value?
- Are the majority of customers growing and expanding their usage?
- What's our NPS?
Connect Characteristics of Successful Customers to Data
Product usage is a key component in both the Engagement and Retention stages of the customer experience lifecycle. Through your initial conversations with customers you gathered examples of how your product is being used. But how do the workflows and implementations your customers described translate into product and feature usage? More importantly, how do you know which characteristics and behaviors lead to a successful customer? Linking anecdotal success indicators to cold, hard data allow you to drive value systematically and at scale. What does this look like in practice?
Recognize which users need additional education about new features.
Provide better feedback on which features customers want prioritized.
Identify customers that aren’t seeing value and might churn.
As these examples demonstrate, the first step towards implementing a data-driven approach to Customer Success is figuring out what data you need to track. Because this data is only meaningful if it actually helps drive customer value, it’s worth spending some time considering what data will be most relevant for your product and customer base. This article does a nice job explaining how the team at Twitter determined that a key indicator of long term growth was that a user had followed at least 30 accounts. Aim to identify similar milestones in your product.
Create an Engagement Model
By now you should have an idea of what characteristics and behavior you want to direct customers towards at each stage of the customer journey. The next step is to tie these desired actions to an engagement model. At a high level, an engagement model includes meeting such as QBRs, monthly calls, bi-weekly monthly usage updates, and trickles down into individual user-level communication via user onboarding and product updates.
Identify Opportunities for Expansion / Upsell
As part of your engagement strategy you should use data to identify which customers might be ready for an expansion or upsell. If a customer is hitting their monthly data limit on the 15th of every month, getting in touch to discuss upgrading to a plan that includes higher data limits isn’t sales-y or spammy, it can actually improve the user’s experience and show that you have their best interest in mind. Or you might reach out to customers that have consistently responded with a high NPS to propose they take advantage of your 12-month pricing discount. Customer Success is focused on encouraging user behavior that is known to drive additional value for the customer — reaching out to customers about upsells and expansions should not be an exception.
90 Days: Begin to Scale
"Focusing on net churn allows Customer Success teams to concentrate on growing usage, adoption, and ultimately value across their customer base."
Solidify KPIs for Customer Success Team
There are a lot of great resources that discuss which KPIs and metrics Customers Success teams should be tracking. Here are a few articles that outline the KPIs each of these companies uses to measure the efficacy of their Customer Success team: Groove, Drift. If you want to start simple the single best metric to measure the impact of Customer Success is net churn. Focusing on net churn allows teams to concentrate on growing usage, adoption, and ultimately value across their customer base. It also allows CSMs to offset healthy or inevitable churn through the expansion of successful accounts. I recommend reading this blog post by Tom Tunguz on the impact of net churn.
Expand Customer Success Team
After 90 days in your new role you will likely identify a few skill gaps on your team. Possibilities include the need for an analytical mind who can crunch numbers and ensure the integrity of your user data, a customer education person to create help desk articles and case studies, or a new Customer Success Manager to assist customers in realizing more value. Which hire should you prioritize? And at what stage do you need to worry about having too many accounts per CSM? This blog post outlines my views on the appropriate CSM to account ratio and shares some lessons from scaling a Customer Success team.
Evaluate Tools to Help You Scale
There are a lot of great Customer Success products out there that focus on different aspects of Customer Success. Good Customer Success products leverage usage and behavioral data to allow your team to move towards proactive customer engagement. Exceptional Customer Success products merge machine learning for predicting behavior and big data analytics for deeper customer insights. Looking for a Customer Success solution? Check out Natero. I also encourage you to consider how to scale your engagement strategy using a customer communication product. Tools such as Intercom allow you to message segments of your customer base depending on where they are in the customer journey and / or their behavior in the product.
Being the first member of a new Customer Success team can be simultaneously thrilling and overwhelming. Having a 90 day roadmap ensures you will be able to solidify a company-wide ideal customer profile, increase the value your customers receive from your product, and create a foundation for scaling your team in the future.
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About the Author
Brooke has spent the past 6 years delivering more value to customers. She was most recently an Account Manager at Intercom, a messaging platform that empowers businesses to have human conversations and create personalized experiences with users. Brooke enjoys exploring her new surroundings in Barcelona, practicing yoga, and blogging about Customer Success on Medium.