Why should you implement a Customer Success (CS) solution like Strikedeck, Gainsight, or Totango? These projects can be risky for a CS exec. What are the prerequisites to ensure the project succeeds and you don't become hated? What should you automate and when? Boaz Moar, VP of CS at OpenGov.org, moderated a panel for the Customer Success Leadership Network that addressed these questions and many more. The panel featured industry veterans Mark Pecoraro, Principal of CS Leadership, and Keri Keeling, Global Head of Customer Success at Juniper Networks. Between them, they’ve implemented or supported over 50 CS deployments to date. This post captures the highlights of the 85-minute discussion and is a helpful primer for anyone considering deploying a CS solution.  

Why deploy a CS solution?

The right CS solution adds value and can reduce your operating costs, improve your margins, and can make your CS team more effective. Most importantly, a CS solution can have a profound impact on your relationship with your customers and internal executives. You add compelling value to your customers by being able to show them their health score and discuss how to improve it. As a CS executive, providing an actionable 360 view of the customer and being able to show and explore the data with your peers creates great confidence in your CS function. 

The right solution can also improve your team’s morale by making their work lives easier, and helping them be more productive. Since more and more companies are adopting CS solutions, savvy Customer Success Managers (CSMs) value companies that allow them to use the latest technology and best practices. 

For many organizations, deploying a solution is the only way to scale affordably. It’s much more efficient and effective to create a workflow that helps lower-tier customers onboard independently, or re-engage dormant accounts than to continually add headcount as new customers join. For younger companies, it’s never too early to consider a solution, if certain criteria are met, as discussed below. 

Prerequisites for deploying a CS solution

"Buying software doesn't solve a business problem."

Mark Pecararo

Mark emphasized a key point, “Buying software doesn’t solve a business problem.” Before you select a solution, you should understand and align key stakeholders on the goals of Customer Success and what you hope to achieve by deploying a CS solution. 

Specifically, get aligned on key outcomes and metrics that CS should improve after you deploy the system. Here are some example goals Keri and Mark shared:

  • Provide a new capability, a customer 360 view, that showcases at-risk accounts
  • Reduce time spent on reaching out to dormant customers by 300%
  • Reduce the time spent on meeting prep by 100%

One of the biggest reasons CS projects fail is the lack of alignment among key stakeholders on what the project goals are.

--More than a few unemployed CS execs

If your executives expect to be able to see and drill down on red accounts, but CSMs expect to automate SMB onboarding and your CS operations person is building an NPS program, expect problems. Your job as a CS exec is help align these stakeholders on specific outcomes and then manage their expectations accordingly.

Beginning with the master customer record 

Both Keri and Mark were very clear on the first step of an implementation--create a sufficiently clean and useful master customer record. How can you expect your CSMs to be effective if they can’t generate a reliable list of customers, contact information, and what they purchased? The master customer record includes at a minimum: 

  • The customer or account is that signed the agreement 
  • The contacts and their roles 
  • Products and services purchased and effective periods
  • Service commitments, SLAs

Mark shared, “You’d be surprised how many mature companies can’t generate a reliable list of customers.” Keri elaborated, “Especially in more mature companies, they have numerous systems that don’t talk to each other and these disparate systems have grown organically over time.”

You probably want more than this, but it’s a good starting place. Getting this data sufficiently clean and useful can take time. If you did align on your project goals and understand the data you need to achieve your goals, it’s easier to get support for fixing or improving data. When you need to get others to act, sometimes “Exposing stakeholders that manage teams that are not creating reliable data seems to work. “When I saw how bad the data was, I started running reports and showing the executives who owned the data. Things got better quickly when I demonstrated the gaps that existed,” Mark explained.

Data is never done

--Every smart, still employed CS exec who embarked on a CS technology project

A key lesson Keri, Mark, and Boaz shared was this--data is never done. It’s on ongoing responsibility but when it is sufficiently clean and useful, you can begin delivering internal value and winning allies to help you. 

After the data is sufficiently clean, what’s next? 

Metrics! 

As Keri explained, “Even if you don’t have a 360 view, you can start looking at and understanding revenue and churn, as well as the customer journey. You can begin to understand customer health so you can, as a leader, figure out where to hire, what to automate.”

Mark expanded on the opportunities that having good data and metrics provides. “Now that you have this data, you can start developing a health framework so you can do your CS work. But just having this transparency is very powerful internally; CEO/leadership will find it very valuable,” Mark explained. 

In short, with clean data from the different systems, Customer Success can begin to bring visibility into the real state of a customer. This clarity informs budgeting and programming decisions and helps the CS team add real value to the business. Whatever metrics you can get, start with them, and you can always add later.

Beginning to automate engagement

“You’re never too small to begin automating,” Mark shared as he explained how he’s helping a 12-person startup. 

Keri added, “...the reality is you can’t provide the same level of service for every customer. But when you understand per segment what the customer needs you can leverage technology to deliver re-engagement campaigns or leverage just-in-time experiences. For example, if you know the customer hasn’t logged into your application for over a month, instead of having a CSM spend hours reaching out, you can send an email with a link…”

Gaining support for CS solution deployment 

“Some years ago, CS leaders had more trouble getting budget for technology but things have definitely changed,” said Keri who recounted the budgeting challenges of customers and prospects from her Bluenose days. While CS leaders are enjoying growing budgets, you still have to justify your investment. Benefits like cost reduction and margin improvement speak to the CEO and CFO, but you also need other key allies like the CRO or head of Product.  

Mark shared a story in which the CS team determined that a lower than expected NPS score was attributable to product challenges. When Mark shared these insights with the Product leader, that person wanted to work with Mark to get more data and move quickly to fix the gaps. In short, find win-win opportunities that CS can partner with and make allies of other groups that are invested in your customer’s success. Think about both the value you add internally and what value you add to your customers and how you can tie that to revenue when making your business case.

Choosing a solution? 

Boaz asked Keri and Mark which solutions CS leaders should get but of course, they did not fall for this trick question. The answer is “it depends”. Mark, who has deployed BlueNose Analytics, ClientSuccess, Strikedeck, and others, reminded us, “Many of the systems have similar features and many are just fine. You have to figure out which is the best solution for the problems you’re trying to solve.”  

In conclusion, the session ran for over an hour long and covered so many great points not shared here. I highly recommend you take the time and enjoy the full recording on your commute, or visit the Customer Success Network site to view other past events.