On April 29th, the Boston-area Customer Success community gathered at the offices of Crimson Hexagon. On the agenda was a discussion with Dana Miller, SVP Client Services at Crimson Hexagon, and Barry Daitch, Global Leader of Customer Success at Autodesk, on how they have steered their respective organizations to deliver results in environments in which “customers” aren’t always the same as buyers or even influencers and where many factors impact customer retention.
Because Autodesk and Crimson Hexagon serve very different markets and customers, and both deal with highly complex environments, their methods of achieving customer success varied. The discussion offered an interesting range of ideas across the following key areas:
- Standardizing operations
- Managing customer relationships
- Hiring CSMs
- At Autodesk, very large accounts with many users and many different products require standardized processes for nurturing, monitoring and growing customer relationships. A “Client Engagement Plan” developed by the CSM focuses on deepening relationships and delivering value while an Account Manager’s “Account Plan” sets growth goals and milestones, and an “Adoption Plan” defines opportunities for product cross-selling and usage. [view video clip]
- At Crimson Hexagon, the company’s rapid growth and combination of large and small accounts has necessitated the development of “playbooks,” or standard processes for addressing frequently recurring customer situations, as a way to drive faster ramp-up and more consistency among CSMs. Additionally, because the company’s diverse customer base thwarts a “one size fits all” understanding of and approach to customers, the organization takes a disciplined approach to identifying drivers and mitigants of churn. [view video clip]
Managing customer relationships
- For Autodesk, ensuring the health of their complicated customer relationships requires a combination of disciplined expectation-setting and risk-mitigation. The organization’s “governance model” defines the responsibilities of the Autodesk team and those of the customer team, as well as scopes and reinforces the boundaries of Customer Success and Professional Services. [view video clip] Because even satisfied customer relationships are threatened by the departure of key customer personnel, Autodesk also strives to strategically build bridges throughout the customer organization and to identify and capture customer success stories that can be used to highlight value delivered. [view video clip: 0:00-2:10, 5:50-]
- Crimson Hexagon’s offering—delivering insights for brands on their social media presence—leads them into customer relationships with marketing agencies that can lose accounts and in-demand social media leaders [view video clip, 2:10-5:50]. As a result, they spend more time and effort on finding ways to identify churn risk outside of application usage, which isn’t strongly correlated to non-renewal [view video clip: 0:00-3:15], and are planning to invest in resources for building and leveraging customer advocates [view video clip: 1:21-].
- At Autodesk, CSMs play the role of a business consultant to customers—advising them on best practices and opportunities for efficiency gains. As a result, Daitch places significant weight on candidates’ industry knowledge to ensure they will be credible with demanding customers. [view video clip: 0:00-4:48]
- At Crimson Hexagon, application complexity, lack of clearly established ways to quantify the value of social media monitoring and rapid growth all drive an emphasis on customer-centricity (the ability to see things from the customer’s perspective) and project management capabilities among candidates. [view video clip: 4:49-]
Taken together, Barry Daitch’s and Dana Miller’s discussion [access all the clips] offered disparate but valuable examples that organizations could apply to their own CS teams as well as be part of a blueprint for the questions to ask and issues to address.
In late February, after weeks of snow-bound hibernation, Customer Success leaders from around the greater Boston area emerged from their offices groundhog-like, didn’t see their shadows, and continued on out to Brainshark headquarters in Waltham. There, we had a lively Q&A with Pat Kelly of Brainshark and Jeremy King of InsightSquared about the challenges of and strategies for scaling CS operations to meet the needs of smaller customers. Here are key points of our discussion:
- Challenge 1: Helping SMB customers think about ROI. Enterprise customers typically have to justify any significant purchase and so think about SaaS applications as an investment for which there needs to be a return. Since SMBs frequently don’t apply the same rigorous discipline around procurement, they often jump into a purchase without thinking through the ROI case for the application or the value they hope it will deliver. Strategy: Provide training and tools for use in the onboarding process to guide customers in identifying their key measure of value. Ideally, some aspects of these tools and this effort would be extended forward into the sales process so that at least some insight into pain points and needs is captured prior to implementation.
- Challenge 2: Keeping momentum during implementation despite frequently rescheduled and canceled meetings. The reality is that SMB staff wear many hats and, as a result, are pulled in many directions and face changing priorities. This means that it’s hard to get them to commit time in their schedules for training and business reviews and even harder to get them to keep those meetings. Strategy: Make the time you do get with SMB customers as productive as possible by pushing them to accomplish more between meetings and by keeping the agendas of meetings very focused. When possible, shift relationship-building and value-added content delivery to non-meeting interactions (see Challenge 4 below).
- Challenge 3: Staffing effectively to meet customer needs without sacrificing profitability. As mentioned above, SMBs often require upfront help to define their objectives and present more challenges then Enterprise customers when it comes to making steady, managed progress towards those objectives. Partially as a consequence of these issues, SMBs frequently have more questions. All this would seem to lead to a CS burden equal to, if not greater than, that of Enterprise customers. Strategy: This challenge necessitates a different approach to staffing – and on larger CS teams often leads to the creation of a dedicated SMB team, with its members carrying a larger book of customers. The members of this team typically don’t have extensive experience at the Enterprise level, so they don’t have to unlearn habits that don’t translate well to SMB customers.
- Challenge 4: Providing value-added guidance outside of a 1:1 model. For almost all B2B applications, Customer Success is not only tasked with driving adoption, but also with providing best practices and advice on related strategies for maximizing impact (e.g., guidance on general marketing strategy for applications focused on specific aspects of marketing). Due to the much more limited time available for each customer, CSMs for SMBs can’t dedicate meeting time to providing this value-added content. Strategy: Move value-added content into more broadly distributable assets and deliver them via a strategic communications program. For example, related strategic advice can be presented via live and on-demand webcasts; best practices can be delivered via case studies and infographics promoted through emails.
Customer Success is gaining significant traction, but it is still the “new kid on the block” in the leadership ranks of most SaaS companies. And just like the new kid, CS leaders need to find an ally who can guide and support them in obtaining both an appropriate share of spending and a voice in strategic decision-making. At the recent inaugural session of the Boston chapter of the Customer Success Association, I led a discussion with a panel of two CFOs who, through their comments, made a strong case for the CFO as a prospective ally.
If these two CFOs were at all representative of their peer group, we learned that there are several reasons for CS leaders to be optimistic about developing a fruitful relationship with that member of the executive suite. Specifically, CFOs:
- Understand the financial necessity of capturing renewals and maximizing CLV
- Aren’t caught up in who-should-be-responsible-for-what; they just want to see the financial impact
- Are interested in a strategic view of improving the long-term health of the business and customer relationships
- Believe in data
For CS leaders to forge strategic relationships with CFOs, they need to take leverage the CFOs’ mindset and respond to their motivations. The case for investing in Customer Success needs to be made based on evidence that spending—on CSM software, on an onboarding program, on additional headcount—will provide a return above baseline in the form of improved retention and/or increased lifetime customer value. This evidence, according to the CFOs, can take the form of plausible outside benchmarks or (and better) can be derived from testing.
Importantly, in calling on CS leaders to create tests to make the investment case, they are not looking for elaborate experiments that could be blessed by a statistician. They simply want real-world evidence of efficacy. For example, to make the case for the impact of CSM software on renewals, select a test group and more closely monitor customer utilization for a month. To make the case for investment in a customer marketing program, send several newsletters to a test group and analyze the correlation between engagement and the likelihood of renewal. Moreover, the tests themselves are an opportunity to forge an alliance with the CFO: by working with the CFO on the test design, CS leaders can not only assure buy-in if the test proves successful, but can also gain credibility and earn trust.