Piyush Agrawal entered the IT industry in the early 90s with stints at Infosys and Citibank offshore development units when their revenue was barely 10 million USD. He has experienced and influenced firsthand the transformations through the Y2K, dot com, social media, and recently software-as-a-service (SaaS) revolutions in the IT sector from those days to now. Piyush is currently supporting the booming SaaS industry as a leading thought leader, influencer, and technology enabler via his latest initiative, Latviv, that offers a combination of content, services, and software to help vendors manage their customer relationships better.
Mid-2019, I met a Turkish company CEO, my former classmate, and mentioned what I was “up to” those days. I had just launched a customer success (CS) management platform back then, so the CS topic came up. His first reaction was, “aren’t there a lot of CRM vendors already?”
The CS space appeared undefined, and that there was a lot of explanation needed. Since then, executives are more aware of the customer success solution as a category, but it still has a long way to go.
Although the term CRM, i.e., customer relationship management, implies that it covers customers’ entire life cycle, most CRM vendors did not build CRM platforms to cater to this all-inclusive need. CRM functionality is currently limited to supporting the sale of products and services. Leads are collected via marketing automation systems and transferred to a CRM platform after initial nurturing traction. In CRM, warm leads are converted to opportunities and then tracked, monetized, and reported to senior management till they are closed, either as won or lost.
So, what happens after an opportunity closes? CRM systems do not manage the account after this stage.
Desired Business Outcomes
Customer success interaction starts from the sales phase and, to some extent, marketing. Each interaction—from discovery, product demonstration, proposal development, and contracting—is an opportunity to impress the customer and provide a superior customer experience. In this phase, from the customer success standpoint, expected outcomes, supported by key performance metrics, are documented clearly in a customer success solution and shared with the customer contacts, sponsors, influencers, and decision-makers. With clear expectations and supporting documentation, product implementation, user onboarding, adoption, and ongoing renewals become much easier undertakings.
Customer Success Practices Post-Sale
Representatives from customer and vendor sides, including the customer success manager (CSM), negotiate given constraints and then build project plans keeping desired outcomes in mind. Continuously updated documentation with audit trails set up projects for success. Lessons learned from both successful and unsuccessful deployments pave the way for the next successful one. The vendor’s senior management and customer sponsor review plans, provide guidance and handle escalations.
Building and configuring a solution is only half the battle. Popularly called the onboarding activity, getting it out to the end-users is the other equally significant undertaking. Marketing is an important skill when engaging with this large user community. CSMs leverage recorded verbal and written mass communication pieces to continually emphasize the solution’s importance and benefits in collaboration with the customer’s core team of project managers, influencers, and champions.
Prep for Renewals
Only when a product is woven into the fabric of an organization and translated into a naturally understood value, it finds adoption. Vendor CSMs juggle multiple responsibilities to reach this goal:
- Maintain relationships with customer product champions engaged throughout the implementation process.
- Serve end-user needs and address their feedback promptly.
- Celebrate end-user success with the product in all possible forums.
- Make customer contacts the hero in their respective groups and organizations.
- Work with customers to document case studies, record videos, and prepare presentations.
- Look for winning techniques that help customers be more productive, effective, and successful at their jobs.
- Ensure end users have access to up-to-date training materials.
- Help them spread the word and get you more license revenue.
Quarterly Business Reviews (QBR)
CSMs schedule quarterly business reviews (QBR) meetings for the whole year based on the nature of the business, customer-specific situation, and availability. They request customer contacts to collect adoption metrics and send out adoption assessment questionnaires before these meetings. Then they use this combination of actual or extrapolated quantitative and qualitative data to create a perspective, a hypothesized value talk track, on the adoption before the quarterly business review meeting.
As a CSM, handling multiple customer relationships, or as a group leader supervising multiple CSMs, overseeing your entire organizations’ recurring revenue is not an easy responsibility. Periodic reporting of usage metrics, project status, end-user feedback is an essential component of CSM’s obligations to provide adequate visibility to supervisors and other stakeholders on the vendor side.
Bringing it Together
Vendors have deployed CRM (customer relationship management), project management, support desk, email campaign, and survey tools to manage some of these needs. The challenge with these piecemeal steps is the lack of an integrated system with a holistic view to create a seamless link across these products. Given the magnitude of this information, a customer success software solution helps streamline this data set. Customer success platforms make more effective and integrated operational and communication systems, with the customer experience at its core! So, to round out my conversation with my former classmate, customer success management is not CRM, at least given the way CRM platforms are architected.