How to Develop a Cohesive Customer Success Management Strategy

Many SaaS vendors recognize the need for a Customer Success Management (CSM) function, but they struggle with knowing where to begin creating this capability. They often start with doing what they are comfortable with and already know how to do. But this won’t solve their problem. It is time for something new. Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series by customer success management & IT user adoption expert Jason Whitehead, CEO of Tri Tuns. Read the first part here.
The explosive growth of cloud based, subscription software is dramatically shifting the relationship between software vendors and customers. While the exact impact of these changes is still unfolding, one thing that is clear is that we need to develop new approaches for how systems are implemented, adopted, and managed. And we need to evolve the skills, expertise, methods, and tools needed to drive customer success, as well.
In my previous article I discussed how SaaS vendors need to map out their customers’ critical path to success and then develop the capabilities that will move customers along this journey. In this post, I will share the first two steps necessary for actually doing it.

Step 1: Find Out How to Solve Customers’ User Adoption & ROI Problems

Let’s be clear – the whole reason you are devoting time and resources to building a CSM team in the first place is that your customers are unable to achieve success using your software on their own.  If they were, they wouldn’t need help and you wouldn’t need a CSM team.
The absolute first place to start is to identify what constitutes success for your customer and then figure out what they need to do to achieve it. All of your actions moving forward need to be maniacally focused on making sure customers take the actions necessary to achieve this goal.
Many customers and SaaS vendors get into big trouble before they even start. They think user adoption and ROI issues are about software functionality or the on-time deployment of the system. They are not. For most customers, success or failure is determined by what happens after the system is live. Success is not a technical issue.  Success is a user adoption and business results issue. This is where many of your customers are struggling. Consequently, this is where your CSM program needs to focus.
Customer Success is Determined by What Happens After Go-Live
It is critical that you get your initial needs analysis for your customers correct. If you get this wrong, you will squander precious time, money, and resources trying to build a CSM capability that has no chance of solving your customer’s underlying problem – getting their staff to use the system.
When doing your initial needs analysis, consider the following:

  • Analysis Skills & Perspective: The issues you identify in your needs analysis and the corresponding solutions will depend entirely on the lens of the people you have doing the analysis. Keep in mind the problem you need to address is an organizational change and a performance issue. It is not a technical, sales, or customer service issue.  Make sure that you have people with expertise and a proven track record of driving and sustaining user adoption and organizational change doing the analysis.
  • User Behavior: You need to identify all of the drivers and barriers that affect user adoption within your customer’s organization.  You need understand why the customer’s staff is not using your system and why your customer is not achieving their goals.  Once you identify the root-cause problems then you can begin to help customers take action. This is not easy to do.
  • Methodology: Investigate the methodology your customers use to introduce your system and then the methods they use to manage ongoing user adoption.  You will likely find that many of the user adoption and ROI problems are management issues and not user-resistance.

Only once you understand exactly where things are breaking down should you attempt to move forward by deciding how to fix it.

Step 2: Develop Your Customer Success Management Strategy

Your CSM strategy will depend on the nature of your customers’ issues, the value the customer brings to your organization, and the costs associated with delivering CSM services. You may need to segment and prioritize your customers and then make decisions about where to target your CSM efforts for maximum results.
Now we are getting into an area that requires some new thinking. In order for your CSM function to be successful, you need to figure out:

a) how your customers can actually solve their problems

b) what resources you are prepared to provide to help

That requires you making decisions in two key areas:
Self-Service or Professional Service

How Do You Determine the Right Level of Human Touch?

Buying a House in the USA David Skok on Utilizing the Right Customer Acquisition Model

Where on the self-service vs. professional service spectrum do you place each customer segment? Do you expect customers to solve their user adoption and ROI challenges on their own or will you help them?

  • For lower value customers you might help put together basic toolkits to help them build their internal user adoption / ROI programs. This approach tends to be low in cost, but also low in effectiveness.
  • For more valuable customers you might offer a full professional service that helps them drive and maximize user adoption and ROI over the life of the system. Yes, this should also be a revenue-generating service, just like any training or technical service you provide.

Build, Buy, or Partner
For those customers that require a professional service, you need to decide how you will provide it. Below are three key questions to ask to help you determine your approach:

  • Do you want to develop internal user adoption and ROI expertise within your company? If so, build it.
  • Do you want to just bring in expertise on an as-needed basis? If so, buy it (by subcontracting out this work).
  • Do you want to stay focused on the technical expertise in your company while also ensuring customers have the service they need to sustain ROI over the long-term? If so, partner with firms with expertise in developing effective user adoption programs.

By the way, if you are worried that customers won’t pay for a professional service to help them get full business value from your system, don’t be. I have worked with many clients that fully recognize the need for help in this area. In fact, one of my customers, a large organization with a presence in all 50 states, is currently engaged in a major, multi-year enterprise implementation. They recognized that user adoption and what happens after the system goes live is actually the most critical determining factor of their success, so they are directing 80% of their budget and resources to the user adoption program and only 20% to the technology.

Next Steps

Once you have your customer success management strategy in place you can then turn your attention to developing your methodology and tools and making the internal organizational changes necessary to launch and start introducing your new CSM capabilities to your customers. I will go over each of those steps in detail in the third part of this series. See that post here: “The Biggest Barrier to Customer Success Has Nothing to Do with Your Software”
Photo by: Forrest Cavale

Jason Whitehead
Jason Whitehead

Jason Whitehead is CEO of Tri Tuns, a Customer Success Management and IT User Adoption consulting company. He has over 17 years of experience working at the intersection of technology, process, culture and people to help clients drive effective user adoption and realize their IT and business goals.
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