It’s Time To Stop Talking Adoption. Thoughts On Customer Success In 2019
Customer Success Management is a fast developing profession that’s critical for any B2B SaaS company. As an emerging profession it can avoid the deep level of scrutiny that’s common in for example in Sales, or Marketing. We can’t, nor should we want to, expect that to continue.
What then should customer success professionals focus on in 2019 to accelerate the development of the profession and to prepare for the inevitable increase in expectation and scrutiny that will come with that development.
Stop Talking About Adoption
2019 should be the year we stop the vague talk about a CSM’s role being about improving/driving/increasing adoption. If you don’t think that’s true pause for a moment and ask yourself this question.
What is the unit of measurement for adoption?
The answer of course is either a) there isn’t one or b) it’s a different set of metrics for every vendor. Adoption was fine in the early days. Customer success was a new discipline, everyone was figuring it out and improving/driving/increasing adoption sounded great. Who wouldn’t want more adoption?
It’s no longer good enough because it’s so non-specific and it does too little to help people understand what customer success is about.
In place of adoption customer success professionals need to start talking, thinking and working in the specifics of adoption for their solution. Those specifics are unique to every vendor and need to be directly linked to the outcomes and value you expect your customers to be able to realise, and measure, from your solution.
If You’re Winging It Start Adding Structure
If your customer’s experience of your customer success team varies materially from CSM to CSM you’re winging it and you need to add structure. If you don’t have a clear outcome led framework for customer success that’s hyper clear on the KPIs you use to measure and demonstrate value to your customers you’re winging it and you need to add structure. If your new hires have to figure things out on the job you’re winging it and you need to add structure.
If you’re winging it and you need to add structure you are not alone. You also don’t need to spend time worrying about it but you do need to take action: either get help or get started. Find some time every week to add structure. The payback will be huge and the clarity for you, your team and your organisation on what customer success does in your company invaluable.
Segment – Your Customers Are Not All The Same
If you have all of your customers in one bucket you are going to encounter problems sooner or later. There are around 160 working hours in a month. Take out travel, preparation, admin, context switching and so on and you have, let’s say, 80 hours per month when you are talking to customers. If you are a CSM responsible for 40 customers, which is far from unusual, that’s 2 hours per customer per month. Two hours per month with a one-size fits all approach may be appropriate for your smaller customers, although even that is debate-able, but it’s a very high risk strategy to spend so little time on your high value customers.
If you are already spending more time with the high value customers, and therefore less with the low value ones then recognise that you are already segmenting, you’re just not in control of it or managing it consistently.
Improve Your Signal To Noise Ratio
SaaS companies have a lot of data. They usually also have customers in various positions along the customer journey and/or divided up using a segmentation strategy into distinct groups. If you don’t already it’s time to develop a clear approach to the use of your data to ensure you maximise the insights available to assist you to improve the way you operate.
This is best explained by way of an example.
If you measure customers who are (as a company I recently spoke with do) in trial, in on-boarding and who are established, as part of the same renewal number you have more noise that signal. The benefit of breaking these out into three separate numbers is I hope clear, you can much more easily identify where you have issues if you examine each group individually. Fixing the problem of ‘churn’ at each of these stages is going to require different strategies so zero in on the problem with data allowing improvements to be clearly identified.
Prepare For And Get Started With Automation
If you are not already automating or preparing to automate then 2019 is the time to start.
Segmentation will be critical as part of your deployment strategy for automation. A high signal to noise ratio in your data analysis will also be essential. You can’t automate in the absence of a structured approach.
If you’re segmenting, mining your data for insights and operating using a structured success framework your ability to leverage automation will be considerably enhanced. 2019 is a good a time to start preparing for and deploying automation: the availability and capability of these tools is poised to go exponential.
Align Your Company
The customer success efforts of your company will plateau unless you engage the entire organisation. There is only so much a customer success team can do if it’s working out of alignment with (or sometimes even against) the rest of the company. A fundamentally mis-sold customer is always going to be demanding and likely to churn, a product that does not provide analytics that allow a CSM team to prove value is always going to be tougher to renew than one that provides complete clarity.
2019 is the perfect time for customer success leaders and teams to recognise that customer success is a whole company effort. The ideal focus for this alignment is customer outcomes. Every member of a SaaS company who touches the customer should be clear on the outcomes and value their customers are striving to achieve and on how those are best delivered. In 2019 customer success leaders should instigate and lead these conversations. Start this conversation at senior leadership level.
Deal With Too Busy
The more professional we get, the more structured we get, the greater the demand for, and the greater the scrutiny on, customer success teams will be. Customers will want more customer success as it gets more and more able to articulate, demonstrate and deliver its value.
We already see this – CSMs are stretched thin over ever expanding customer bases. Scope creep in the role, to do with an incomplete understanding of the benefits of a clear focus, makes this dynamic even tougher.
Companies with a clear definition of the role, a well designed structured framework, clear segmentation, good use of their data and appropriate automation, and a well aligned executive and organisation are poised to capitalise on this demand whilst providing a great career for their CSMs. These teams are sprinting ahead. If that’s not you then 2019 is time to get started unless you want to be jogging along behind.