The Customer Success Function’s Role on the Path to Value for Customers
- Delivering on value is a two-sided equation: anticipated outcomes and the customer’s success milestones
- Validating the customer’s definition of success is an essential first step in mapping out success milestones
- The customer success function plays a critical role in establishing these milestones and ensuring they’re monitored
We often navigate toward reaching milestones or pinnacle moments in our life, such as graduating from high school, meeting a significant other and/or having children. I am currently striving to master the flying pigeon pose in yoga, which may not seem like pinnacle moment to most, but for someone who has struggled with balance and grace her whole life – trust me, it’s a milestone! Whether your lifetime goals are accomplishments, gaining knowledge, emotional achievement or a combination, we all seek to reach some sort of attainment.
The B2B environment is no different. Your new or existing customers aren’t merely buying a particular feature or function for the sake of purchasing; they want to reach a business outcome. To deliver on this business outcome, organizations need to be aware of the two-sided equation that must be solved to ensure success: Understand what the customer wants to achieve, and understand the steps the customer has to take to reach these achievements.
The function of customer success managers (CSMs) is to provide a transparent process of moving customers toward attaining the benefits of their purchase across the post-sale customer lifecycle. Many organizations map out their customer journey and articulate the organization’s milestones for each phase. But what about the customer’s milestones? Success milestones must be focused on the customer and demonstrate value, whether it’s tangible (financial, operational efficiencies, time savings) or intangible (deepening a relationship, building trust in the organization).
The first step is to ensure that the promises made during the buying process still resonate and anticipated outcomes are validated. The CSM should know how the customer is defining success – it’s essential to understand the desired result, which will most likely go beyond the functional use of the product or service and have profound importance to the customer. Here are some questions to consider when uncovering the customer’s perspective on business outcomes:
- What is the desired result? For example, during the sales cycle, the customer indicated that decreased process time was a key driver – is that still true? If so, how long does the process take today?
- How does the customer currently measure success? Will this change as a result of the purchase?
- How is the customer measured today?
- What is the customer trying to achieve with the product or service purchased?
Validating the business outcomes will help ensure realistic expectations are established for success milestones – a critical step in the onboarding phase of the post-sale journey. Savvy CSMs realize the importance of the onboarding process to help customers attain value from their purchase. Onboarding is when customers may start to see some early success – this may be from the product or from seeing value in the relationship for the first time outside of the buying process. The onboarding phase helps establish the tone for the long-term relationship, and includes the following success milestones:
- Access to the post-sale team and systems. An early and foundational milestone for the customer is knowing who to contact within the organization for support (e.g. subject matter experts, implementation team, support organization) and having access to the necessary systems to conduct business (e.g. billing systems, support platforms, customer community).
- Engagement plan for delivery. Engagement plans document the challenges addressed by the organization’s offerings, along with the tactics and concrete success milestones to meet those challenges and attain value. The organization and its customers should agree on the plan to ensure both parties understand how this milestone activates and are jointly accountable for taking the necessary steps to reach success.
- Implementation. The implementation process should only begin when success measures and milestones are defined and agreed on by the organization and customer.
- Go-live/offering execution. Significant success milestones should be established for what go-live will include, such as specifications, sign-offs, geography or departments, agreement on specific features or programming elements, and even a phased approach to training or features used over time.
The customer success function is responsible for delivering value across the entire post-sale lifecycle and ensuring customers have seen benefits from their purchase. Ultimately, the customer lifecycle is about making sure the customer trusts in the organization’s ability to deliver on its promises. Driving an experience that demonstrates the attainment of value will encourage customers to continue and expand their relationship.