Customer Success Is Not What YOU Think

Defining Customer Success


Customers purchase your software to address a business challenge or opportunity.

Transitioning to your product will likely require changes in processes, work practices and behaviors. This represents a risk for the executive sponsor, the champion and the leadership of the department concerned.

As a Customer Success Manager, you can mitigate this risk by putting your customer’s definition of success at the center of your efforts.

Let’s consider a customer who has decided to implement a Sales CRM. They currently rely on Excel to manage opportunities, and their challenges include:

  • Limited visibility and control of the opportunity pipeline.
  • Inability to accurately forecast revenue or assist upsell opportunities.
  • Inconsistent process for reviewing pipeline status against a target.
  • Undeclared opportunities for senior reps trying to overachieve on quota.
  • Insufficient pipeline for junior reps who need more assistance.

The first step in the Customer Success process should be to understand what success looks like for the customer in terms of their business. The next step is to define and agree on a success plan for these desired outcomes. The last step is to work this plan using your customer success processes at scale.

Step 1: Understand Your Customer’s Definition of Success

In our scenario, success from the customer’s perspective will not just be the successful implementation of a Sales CRM. Implementation is just one milestone towards achieving successful business outcomes.

Other measures of success will include:

  • Increased visibility of opportunity pipeline, ability to forecast accurately and apply help where needed.
  • Smooth technical rollout of the software, from pilot to production with fully configured dashboards.
  • Trained and engaged staff who abandon their old workflows in favor of your new solution.
  • A management process is in place to review the CRM data regularly.

In a high-touch model, a Customer Success Manager will have the opportunity to agree on these business outcomes directly with the customer. In a low-touch model, it will be important to work closely with Sales to gather this information instead.

In the latter case, this requires a business process that enables sales reps to document key information such as customer goals, success factors, contacts and relationship redundancy.

Step 2: Agree on a Shared Success Plan

The next step is to agree on a success plan with the customer which reflects their key milestones as well as additional activities necessary to achieve these outcomes.

These may include:

  • Stakeholder management.
  • Project governance — ownership, project management, executive sponsorship.
  • Change management — preparing users and supporting them through transitions in work processes and role changes.
  • Roadmap definition from pilot to production — including technical implementation plan and software configuration plans.
  • Business process redefinition.

A shared success plan that all stakeholders buy into, with key value milestones and additional supporting tasks, lays the groundwork for a successful outcome for you and your customer.

Success milestones with appropriate metrics offer you the opportunity to emphasize what has been achieved and reinforce the value of your product.

Each milestone delivered is an opportunity to take the sale and request advocacy. For example, this may result in a testimonial, a potential expansion, or an introduction to explore a cross-sell opportunity.

Putting the customer's success goals at the center of your work will likely require more effort upfront, but doing so will ensure a smoother journey and lead to more successful customers.

Step 3: Execute Your Customer Success Process

The last step is to execute your success plan and deliver the agreed upon value. Read our next installment, The Customer Success Journey, where we explore a systematic process that leads to Customer Success at scale.


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