My name's Melissa Logothesis and in this article, I'll be discussing knowing your customer and preparing customer success plans. I have over 15 years of customer success experience, I have managed accounts as well as built out customer success teams from the ground up.
I have a computer science degree, as well as an MBA and I've recently obtained three CSM certifications.
I will start by going over knowing your customer, why you need to know your customer and the methods for gaining that knowledge.
Next, I will cover the steps to gathering this knowledge and how you gather all this knowledge about your customer.
In the last section, I will go over success plans, how they differ from the account plan and I will go over how you actually build out your plan.
Toward the end, I will show you some examples.
Knowing your customer
Why do you need to understand your customer? The goal of a customer success manager is to become a trusted adviser for their customer. In order to do that, you need to understand what that customer is trying to do and the business environment in which they're trying to do it.
By understanding everything you can about your customers it allows you to build credibility, trust, and more effectively manage any issues that come up for that customer so you can solve their problems.
All of this leads to you set the stage so you can become that coveted, trusted advisor.
What are the methods for learning about the customer?
There are several main methods that we use when we're learning about our customers.
The first is by an internal handoff - straightforward talk to the people who've already been talking and working with a customer, they will have a tonne of knowledge to share with you.
Next, you're going to research, research, research. You're going to research through many different sources and I'll cover that in just a moment.
You'll also have an opportunity through this process to have a kickoff with a customer and gain any missing pieces.
Let's look at these sources of where we're going to get this information from.
The first place is through an internal CRM. This is where the sales teams, it could be the sales reps, a pre-sales engineering team, marketing, it could be anybody that has a touch on that customer ahead of time, they're going to put information into your CRM. This will be a lot of information, some will be useful, some will not, some will be able to guide you through this process.
But all of your basic information, your customer name, address, location, type of industry they're in, you'll be able to find all that information in your CRM. Sales and pre-sales teams are going to have a tonne of information for you regarding various topics of what they're trying to do, the problems that they're trying to solve, and how soon they want to do it.
The customer website is another great place to go and learn about their industry, customers, you can even find news articles that will be helpful as well.
If you're still missing information, you want to find out who their competitors are and learn more about the industry, do a straight-up internet search.
This is our opportunity to really gain a tonne of knowledge about this customer. We get that deeper understanding of our customer from people who already worked with them and have had an experience with them.
This internal meeting is generally attended by not only sales reps, the pre-sales technical teams, sometimes support teams if they've been involved, the CSM obviously, as well as any other coworker or team member that's been involved in the pre-sales process.
This internal meeting allows you to understand not only what was purchased, but also what the customer’s expectations are. You need to have a solid understanding of their statement of work, what was sold to them and what they're looking to receive.
You want to make sure that all commitments are honored. The internal kickoff will also be able to provide you with key contacts and stakeholders within the company.
The sales and pre-sales teams should be able to provide insight into how these individuals communicate best.
- Are they phone people?
- Do they want to talk on the phone?
- Do they want an email?
- Do they prefer in-person meetings?
All these things are useful when going forward and working with your customer. The last thing you want to do is communicate to them in a method that is not preferred.
You also want to understand the pricing:
- What has the customer agreed to price-wise?
- What are their expectations when it comes time for renewals?
- Are there certain discount structures that they believe they're entitled to?
All of these are things that you want to know and understand when you're working with these customers.
You also want to understand what the expected customer outcomes are.
- What are they looking to get out of this product?
The timelines are also very, very important. If we cannot hit a customer's timeline, they're not going to be successful, they're not going to renew. We need to make sure that we understand these timelines, and that we can work to actually meeting them.
Occasionally, there might be a situation where there's a third party that's involved in this process, it would be stated out through the SOW but you need to understand:
- Who are these third parties?
- What is their role?
- What's the expectation with these third parties?
Make sure that they get incorporated into all of the processes as well. Sometimes there is a project manager at your customer site and they will have their own set of requirements for meetings, reporting, things like that.
You need to understand what are those requirements so they can be built into your process and managed as well.
Problem resolution process
A big piece that many people miss is the problem resolution process.
- What's the escalation path not only internally within your own company, but within the customer's company?
If something is not happening on time, you need to know what's going on. Whereas if the customer has to do something, to move a project forward, and it's not happening,
- How can you escalate that within the customer side to get things done?
What information do you need?
Next, I'm going to talk about what information is really needed to be able to build out this success plan. There's lots of information available about your customers, you just have to know where to go and get it.
After this internal handoff, we need to fill in the rest of the information that's needed. By now we should already have the basic information, the name, location, industry, the size of this customer.
We should already have that information now, we should be able to get it from the CRM.
Next, we want to start taking a look at the customer's industry.
- Where do they sit within that industry?
- Are they a leader?
- Are they a generalist?
- What's going on?
It helps to understand that customer’s vision and what their overall plan is. We also want to know what they do.
- Do they provide a service?
- Do they sell a product?
- What do they do?
We need to know so that we can understand some of their business drivers.
- Why do they do what they do?
- How do they get that done?
We want to understand those things.
We also want to understand their business structure. Understanding their business structure will allow us to better anticipate some of the questions that will be proposed by the customer.
We can anticipate those situations and be able to answer questions, prepare scenarios, work around obstacles, anything that comes up around the business structure.
Vision & strategy
You also want to understand their vision and strategy.
- Where are they going in their view?
- What problems are they trying to solve?
- What are their overall business goals?
This will drive us forward much faster through the entire process if we can understand what their vision and goals are so that we can align our success plan's goals to that process as well.
You also want to understand the overall industry that the customer is in:
- What's the market size?
- Who are the key players?
- What are the current opportunities and challenges?
- What are the important KPIs that they need to hit as a business within that industry?
Things that are important to the industry itself, are all things that you really want to understand and keep mindful of as you're building out your plans.
Anything that's missing from the internal kickoff, we should have researched online, and all of these items we should be able to get information on.
The customer kickoff
This step is an important opportunity to make a great impression on the customer. This is where we're going to plant those seeds to be that trusted adviser. You need to validate the information that you've already collected and if you don't have a solid understanding of something, this is where we can get the additional information.
We need to fill in those missing gaps in our understanding of this customer so that we can go forward and actually build the success plan.
Build your success plan
Now we've got to build it, you have to build your success plan.
Some people say, "I have an account plan, why do I need a success plan?" Well, they're actually very different entities, similar, but different.
Account plan vs. success plan
An account plan is an internal document. This is not something that we're going to share with the customer, it is for internal use only.
It will have the guidance and plan on how we're going to help this customer achieve success. What are the internal requirements and activities that have to take place in order to have this customer be successful?
Everything from the customer onboarding, training, ongoing maintenance of the account, through a renewal phase, upsells, cross-sells - all of these aspects are going to be included on an account plan.
We need to use this to manage the data we've collected about this customer. All the research we've done building this overall picture is our blueprint, it's our roadmap, how we get this customer internally to be successful.
When you look at a success plan, this is an external document that's meant for the customer to use. Again, it's still a roadmap and guide for that customer’s success.
This customer's going on a journey from the pre-sales, to onboarding, adoption, expansion, renewals - there's a journey. Every product and every company has a different journey that their customer's going to go on but there's a journey nonetheless.
We need a roadmap, we need those little GPS coordinates to get us from point A to point B and make that customer successful. You can have a customer come on, not have a very good onboarding session and by the time they get to the renewal, they may not renew, they were not meeting any of their requirements.
If you have a customer that had an incredible onboarding experience, they really saw value right away from the product. Guess what? They're more likely going to renew.
There are all kinds of studies out there about it, I'm not going to get into it here but understand that having a success plan, following it, and having that customer be successful very early on in the process, seeing that value early, is going to be very important in order to retain that customer long term.
This plan is going to have all the customer’s goals and objectives and the biggest piece around it is that it provides accountability. This is a document where the customer can be held accountable and the CSM can be held accountable to make sure that everything gets done that's supposed to get done.
Why are we building these success plans?
It provides that reference and roadmap for that customer journey. It's going to list all the expectations for the CSM and the customer. It's going to set the goals.
- What are these outcomes that we're expecting through this process?
- What are the milestones that have to be hit?
As you go, you're supposed to hit this milestone, this milestone, and this milestone - if you don't hit them, you're not going to be successful.
Again, accountability, it's providing that document and way of managing and saying, "Hey, this is how you're accountable. This is what you have to do for this". When you have a successful customer that's meeting their pre-defined outcomes, you greatly increase the likelihood of retaining that customer.
How do we build these success plans?
There are many, many, many different styles. You need to base it on what works for your company and the type of product that you have. We have all this data, now we have to put it actually into the plan.
It depends on your company and your product
Some of the data is just going to be for reference and for knowledge and understanding and other pieces of it we're actually going to insert into the document. You need to choose a style that is going to really relate and be applicable to your product type.
Some products have a better chance of going awry when you're setting up this customer so you may need to have greater detail in your plan. Many more milestones, many more markers that say "Yes, this is what I'm supposed to do. This is where I'm supposed to be. This is the outcome I'm supposed to experience".
For some products, it could be one or two and for other products, it could be 15 - it all depends on many factors.
This is something that you will have to work at and may have to do many iterations of to get it just right for your environment. There's no set prescription on what it needs to look like.
Providing this information is important to the customer. Again, it comes back to accountability, having the milestones, having the outcomes on there is accountability.
A living document
This is also a living document. This is something that's going to change as your customer moves down through the journey. The milestones and outcome pieces that occurred during an onboarding phase are very different from someone who's going through an expansion phase.
Every one of these phases of the customer journey, whatever it is for your environment, needs a different success plan. It has to get modified as you go and these success plans are very important when it comes to doing executive business reviews either quarterly, annually, or however often you do them.
You can go into an AVR with a success plan and very easily show, 'We did this, this, and this. This was on time, this was not on time. This is the outcome we hit good and bad'. It's a way to really show what has progressed, what the goal is, what the outcomes are:
- Did we get there?
- Did we hit those value markers early on to help secure this customer’s renewal down the road?
This is all part of laying the groundwork for becoming that trusted advisor. It is a very coveted position to be in because now the customer will listen to you whenever you say, "Hey, we need to do this or we need to do that". They're going to listen to you.
It makes them stickier within your business. It's a renewing customer, and it's also a referring customer. It's very important that you get these success plans done right.
What does the success plan look like?
Here are a couple of examples. I got these examples from several people that I know and have worked with. They're very different styles, as you can see.
They all have a lot of similar features, they're all going to give company information.
- Who is the company?
- What is it we're going to do?
- What are their objectives?
- Where are they trying to accomplish?
- Where are their milestones?
There's a way in here for each one of these to track and measure against making sure that you're hitting the pieces that you need to hit along the way, hitting those milestones, hitting those success criteria. What are we actually doing? What are we trying to solve for?
These are just some of the possible layouts, there are many layouts out there, you just have to find what works for you. Initially, it can just be a straight list of information or you can make it as fancy as the success plan in Canvas from the success coaching site where I pulled that down.
Or as Customer Imperative uses theirs.
There are many different ways that you can do this. Every company will be different, every product will be different, you can have different success plans for different products within the same company.
Don't be afraid to experiment a little bit in designing your success plan. I hope you found this to be very informative and I wish you lots of success in the creation of your success plan.