I organized the industry’s first Customer Success Summit five years ago. This year I was back as a speaker. The big topic of conversation was how to align the entire organization, including sales and customer success, behind retaining and growing existing accounts.
Here are my key recommendations:
Step 1: Make customer success about customer impact, about how you improve your customer’s business.
Generally speaking your solution will either:
- Improve revenues
- Reduce costs
- Make things easier
Step 2: Get all departments to do their part by renaming key meetings in the sales process and customer journey to be about “impact”.
- Discover Call = Impact Discovery
- Demo = Impact Demo
- Contract Negotiation = Impact Commit
- Kick Off Meeting = Impact Realization Plan
- Executive Business Review = Impact Review
Here are some examples how simply renaming these meetings will change the mindset of the different departments involved:
Impact during the discovery call
During the discovery call, too many SDRs or AEs are focused on “qualifying the customer”. This is not in the interest of the customer. Instead, SDRs and AEs should be focused on the question, “Can we improve the customer’s business in some way — reduce costs, increase revenues, make things easier?” If the answer is “yes”, then the customer is qualified, unless there is some specific reason they cannot move forward right now (e.g. champion is distracted with another bit implementation, etc.). If the answer is “no”, it is best to say, “Acme corporation is not for everybody.” and walk away from a no-fit client.
Impact during the demo call
During the demo call, sales engineers or AEs should be demonstrating HOW Acme corporate is going to improve the client’s business.
Impact during the kick off meeting
During the kick-off call with the client post-sales, the CSM team should agree on a detailed plan with the client on WHO DOES WHAT to achieve the impact. The client has a responsibility in this process too and can be assigned tasks and deadlines. Document roles and responsibilities in an impact commit plan. This way, if a customer is slow to implement or use your solution, you can remind them of the joint goal (impact) and the shared responsibility.
Step 3. The quality of your executive business review meeting is a huge factor in the success of your renewal and expansion sale.
In the last thirty days, have listened in on at least three kick off calls and three executive business reviews of your peers and/or subordinates? If not, get on it. What is actually being said during the kick off call and the executive business review has a huge impact on business outcomes. We are not advocating scripts, but we are advocating a structure to your calls.
Here are some best practices:
Every impact review meeting should start by restating the original objectives and follow a proven blueprint. After taking control of the meeting and setting the agenda, restate the original impact the prospect was striving for by saying, “Originally, your situation was x and y, and your pain z, so we set out to achieve impact abc. Is that still the case?” Assuming you are not surprised by a new direction, proceed by reporting on impact achieved, then benchmark your client against other clients in the industry to find more opportunities for future impact. This gap analysis is a logical bridge to a conversation about renewal and expansion.
I recommend that you record and review the impact review calls to coach CSMs and Account Managers. Modern conversation analytics software, such as from Gong.io and Chorus.ai, makes this task much easier — especially when comparing actual calls against a desired blueprint such as the one below. Read more about that in our post on “DiscoDojo”, a similar process for recording sales discovery calls.
Step 4. A customer success playbook should document both scheduled and alert-driven customer interactions.
For most companies, it is sufficient to have only two scheduled touch points with a client during your contract period:
- A kickoff call,
- A review call about ninety days before the end of the contract.
Of course if you have a more complex implementation, more on-boarding calls might be needed. If you have a very low price point, perhaps no meetings are warranted. However, please remember:
Having more meetings with your customers isn’t necessarily a good thing. Nobody is waiting for more meetings, unless they are relevant and well timed.
Having only two scheduled meetings only works if these two conditions are met:
- In between kickoff and meetings, you communicate with both end-users and business champions through monthly reports covering adoption and impact.
- Configure alerts that will trigger a customer interaction; either positive (expansion opportunity alerts) or negative (potential churn risk). Having a meeting when there is something to talk about and they need help is more efficient for both you and your customer.
Create a detailed playbook that outlines which actions a customer success or account manager should take should an alert go off. Automate as much of these alerts and the workflow follow-up as possible using your regular sales and customer automation tools.
Step 5. Make your customer success team responsible, at a minimum, for generating expansion leads for sales.
Customer success may not be the team that is actually closing the renewal or expansion sale. While I have seen very successful customer success teams in closing roles, for other organizations it is more efficient to have a separate account management team handle the actual process of renewing or expanding a contract. If that is the road you choose, realize that the customer success team will have to function as the “SDR/lead generation team” of the account managers. Through their day-to-day interaction with customers, customer success managers are in the best position to identify opportunities for expansion. Automated alerts can help too, as mentioned in step 4. You don’t have to put your customer success managers on a lead quota, but you should make it clear what are your expectations (quantitatively) in terms of expansion leads and make it part of an MBO discussion, in addition to customer adoption and satisfaction goals.