Customer Success Truths. Across the entire journey. Balance for impact.

Written by 
Ben Hancock

Don’t fall into the trap of treating accounts as the next renewal. Segment early, rely on data metrics, be timely and always relevant. Above all, communicate and help users from inside your product. 

The trial is just the beginning

For SaaS, the different functional teams need to work more closely. It becomes obvious to a user when sales doesn’t talk to customer success who doesn’t appear to talk to product. That both frustrates and causes friction.

Customer success is pulled in sooner, often before a deal closes - with or without sales - and at that point the success journey begins. Most relationships start with a trial. 

The point being -- try out the product for yourself -- leading to the next step and become a paying customer. Activation is next in the journey where the user gets past log-in and starts to use certain features for early results.  

Once a user is fully active, adoption begins. The goal here -- as it becomes part of the user’s workflow -- is to become a necessity. No value = no stick. From there Level-up is about reaching pro status and a great opportunity to capitalize on expansion which, hopefully translates to a win-win.

If you have a shared view of your customer journey, you’ve likely benefited from a framework to not only help create playbooks but to decide the right points of measure. 

GTM teams and especially customer success on the ‘front-lines’, need to find both leading and lagging indicators. Operating in a reactive mode is never good.

How smooth are user journeys, really?

Does your user journey actually play out the way you’ve painted it? Do all users step through it in a similar fashion and timeframe? Heck no. This post will uncover some Customer Success Truths, try to understand why and importantly what we can do to overcome them.

Ultimately the primary goal of most CSM’s is to keep the user ‘on the train’ and move to the next natural step, or success outcome.

Prioritize journey stages

As a CSM, how do you prioritize at the different journey stages?

Well let’s face it, first impressions do count. Good onboarding helps set the foundation for a successful and hopefully long-term journey ahead.

The first few weeks and months do matter. Of course don’t neglect the mid-late stages, but once a customer invests, they’re eager to get stuck-in. We recommend investing more heavily early on.

You may not own all parts of the journey, depending on the team makeup, size and maturity but you do need to become an expert, developing the right playbooks when managing your “book of business”. Users expect it.

How do you track when users fall off the journey?

Relationships count. But, data reigns supreme. If you know the leading indicators to watch for, you should know if users are struggling. The data of course may live in many systems but collect the minimum set to start out. That usually means usage data. Over time, you have to blend customer sentiment, usage and user attributes to get a fuller picture.

CS Truth! If the user simply isn’t logging in, there’s a potential issue. At some point it requires a conversation.

The Coveted renewal! How to approach?

When you’re a CSM managing a large number of accounts at a lower ACV, it often feels like you are just negotiating contracts. Turning into a “renewal factory” isn’t ideal. It’s not good for the CSM and it’s never a great feeling for the customer. 

CS Truth! The trick is figuring out how to spend your precious time. That’s actually a critical part of the CSM role. It’s something that’s often learned on the job and usually never written down. Ideally the broader team has shared playbooks and a tech-stack to leverage. If that’s not the case, you have to build it.

When a CSM is handed a set of accounts, it takes time to understand each account status and where users are on the journey. At a minimum you need to segment. This can be filtered by user stage, user persona, plan type, usage metrics or a blend of a few.

When managing a small number of high value accounts, you take a more tailored approach. But you still need to understand status, sentiment and in some cases, you have to hit the reset button with a candid conversation. 

Constantly balancing time for impact

The job is a balancing act. CS teams are under pressure to get renewals and in many cases upsells. With younger companies, CS is doing a much broader set of tasks, from the moment a trial starts, often answering support tickets throughout. 

Dying on your sword to get the coveted renewal is often not the best approach. As a more seasoned CSM, you learn to stand-back, figure out where to invest time, giving certain accounts more heat and light. 

Continually ask the question, “what am I trying to achieve here?” Making a bad-fit customer turn successful can take a ton of energy and if the customer is unwilling, it can backfire. 

Never operating in a silo

As a team, you touch users at many lifecycle points. You simply cannot get work done unless you interact with other functional teams. This too requires practice and skill.

Sales and CS go hand-in-glove with hopefully a clean hand-off and not too many promises. Getting those promises realized means working with a product. Feedback comes directly in a variety of ways. No matter what the vehicle, you need to pay attention and take action. Because when GTM teams aren’t in harmony, issues creep in.

Guiding principles

It’s always good practice to keep your guiding principles in the back of your mind. This helps with focus, especially with many moving parts and pressures. 

  1. Be timely. Consider your customer’s priorities. Communicate when they are ready, as long as it’s within a reasonable timeframe, of course. It’s best to move someone through the journey when they are committed with their full attention. The same goes when re-engaging a colder, older account.
    Don’t be the overbearing “helicopter parent”. Of course ambitious but never aggressive. Sometimes you just need to listen and ‘shut-up’. Let them fly and self serve.
  2. Be relevant. For new accounts, it’s tempting to show them every “bell and whistle”. At the outset, focus on core functionality, helping a user adopt the first set of features for fast value.
    Never treat all users (or customers) the same. Everyone is different. Roles, use-cases, industries, size, pain-points etc. Be conscious of that and tailor accordingly. Segments and playbooks are your best friends.
  1. Keep users in-app. So you're following the rule of ‘focus on value’, great! Now you need to keep users inside the product, as much as possible. How else will they learn and adopt? That means pretty much all communication. It’s almost like you’re training from the very beginning and that is how they will learn, plus digest content or any news from you.

The low-touch and high touch debate

Generally, organizations divide teams up to a pooled CSM model for the higher volume / Low ACV accounts and then a dedicated, strategic CSM for the high value accounts. 

CS Truth! The world isn’t so binary, nor should we treat customers in the same way. A small low ACV account could grow to become a high value account or an individual user could leave that account and advocate for you at a different company. Consistency of service is the overarching goal. There’s actually elements of each approach that are really good and in some cases, a more blended low/tech touch with high-touch is what’s required.

It’s all about tech tools

So we all agree that data insights are critical to inform how you guide users on the journey path. 

Every user deserves an amazing experience and while you can’t have 1:1 conversations with thousands of users regularly, you can think of multi-touch ways to engage and scale over time.

Empower CSMs and give them control

If you arm the team with the right tech stack to help impact users, it will be more efficient and also provide consistency across different segments. There’s valuable learnings which should be shared with all CS team-members, including product.

Don’t fall into the trap of treating accounts as the next renewal. Segment early, rely on data metrics, be timely and always relevant. Above all, communicate and help users from inside your product. 

Striking this balance is key. As a CSM finding those diamond accounts that grow and blossom makes it all worthwhile. Tune in to this webcast series where we uncover truths at each step of the wonderful user journey.