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4 Steps To Develop a Proactive, Confident CS Team

Success Chain

Confident Customer Success Managers

When we ask clients what they most want to have as an outcome from Customer Success (CS) training, they often indicate that they wish their Customer Success Managers (CSMs) will become more confident when working with customers.

They want customer success staff to be more proactive, deliver a great experience, and make sure the client achieves their goals.

What is interesting is that when we ask them about what their staff is like now, they are often far from this mark.

They tend to be reactive.

They tend to be “pleasers” – that is, they want to deliver everything a client asks and not push back.

They tend to be experts in the product, but not in how to help the customer get their internal staff to use the product in a way that delivers success.

And they often tend to be intimidated or uncomfortable when working with senior leaders on the customer side. Oh, and many of them to tend to be early in their careers without tons of professional experience (or life experience).

So, if this is your situation, where do you need to focus? How do you start to develop your team? Here are some essential items that will help you develop your team.

1. Develop their ability to build trusting relationships

There is a broad spectrum of proficiency when it comes to knowing how to quickly establish solid, trusting relationships that enable people to collaborate effectively. This is especially true when it comes to external staff (e.g., CSMs, consultants, etc.) trying to work with new clients.

Spending time teaching CSMs the skills, processes, and techniques on how to develop these relationships will significantly enhance their ability and confidence when working with clients.

2. Develop the ability to focus on mutual business success

CSMs need to learn how to help clients identify the business outcomes they hope to achieve through the widespread, consistent, effective use of your technology.

CSMs need to help the client shift from the features and functions of your product, to instead focus on the business outcomes they receive from the use of it.

We have found that when we teach CSMs how to discuss client and vendor outcomes in the context of mutual success, they gain the skills and confidence to “push back” effectively and professionally when the clients may ask for things that are outside the scope of what your CS team can provide.

3. Build their subject matter expertise in software adoption techniques

For CSMs to guide customers with confidence and authority, they need to have advanced knowledge about the actions that customers need to take to drive effective software adoption that will deliver the business outcomes that customers need.

If CSMs don’t know the activities that will make customers successful (and which ones to avoid that prevent success), then they will never be truly confident in leading customers.

By giving CSMs advances skills in this area, you increase both their ability to drive customer success, and their confidence to lead customer discussions on this topic.

4. Provide ongoing coaching and support to CSMs

While providing training is a great way to jumpstart CSMs knowledge and confidence, training alone is not enough.

We have found that what CSMs need is ongoing coaching and support after the initial training to help them apply what they have learned and continue to advance their skills and confidence. Based on the results we have seen from working with clients on a post-training basis, we have added this ongoing coaching and support to our training programs.

Recommendation

We have trained numerous customer success staff members in techniques around developing relationships, discussing success, managing client expectations, and methods for accelerating and sustaining effective, long-term user adoption of software.

We are constantly impressed with how quickly CSMs can grow and develop with focused training and support in these areas. If you are looking to advance your CS capabilities, we suggest you focus on these areas.

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The Top 2 Questions Customer Success Managers Should Ask in Every Meeting

Many Customer Success Managers (CSMs) struggle with lacking the confidence, or the experience, to have the most productive conversations with their clients. They tend to get nervous or uncomfortable with asking clients about business issues and discussing what it will take for the client to renew. For some reason, many CSMs just don’t come out and have a direct conversation and ask the client what’s important. Here are two simple questions that CSMs should ask in every meeting to delight clients and be able to deliver the kind of value and service that will get clients to renew year after year.

START EACH MEETING WITH THIS QUESTION

The first question happens at the very start of each meeting. When kicking off the meeting, share your meeting goal and your proposed agenda. Then, before getting into any content, ask your client, “What will make this meeting a success for you?” Or, put another way, ask, “What will make you walk away at the end of this meeting and say this was a great use of your time?”

DELIVER CLIENT VALUE IN EVERY MEETING

By starting the meeting this way, you show that you have prepared for the meeting in a way that is intended to respect the client’s time and add value to them. Stopping to ask the client what success looks likes to them reinforces that you are focused on providing value to them in every interaction, which is your ultimate goal.
Also, by explicitly asking your client what success is for this interaction, you have the opportunity to adjust on the fly to make sure the meeting is valuable to them ? no more missing the mark with clients!

USE FEEDBACK TO PIVOT AND DELIGHT YOUR CLIENT

If you’re surprised by what they say, you should ask clarifying questions to find out why this is the correct success definition for this meeting, for them.

By understanding what’s important to your client and what success is for them, you can adjust your approach and your agenda in a way that brings more value to them during their interaction with you. What could be better than that?

CLOSE EACH MEETING WITH THIS CRITICAL QUESTION

Assuming that you have set the expectation with clients that you want them to get so much value that they renew and expand their relationship for 20 years or more (you are doing that, right?). The second question will affirm your commitment to this lofty, yet achievable goal.

The second question you should ask at the end of every meeting is, “If you had to renew today, would you? “You can clarify this with some variation such as: “Have you received enough value from our relationship thus far that you would want to keep working with us and renew today?”

While you might feel uncomfortable asking this at first, if you do it as a matter of regular practice, it will quickly feel normal to you AND your client. Also, it is a very explicit reminder to your client that you ? and they ? need to focus on the business value they are getting, not just the features and functions of your software or service.

USE CLIENT FEEDBACK TO ACCELERATE SUCCESS

If the client answers “Yes, they would renew today”, that’s wonderful and keep it up. You can even ask them, “What was most valuable for you in this meeting? What would you like to see more of in the future?” After the meeting, reflect on what is working and how you can build on what you have done to keep delighting the client in the future. What worked well with this client that you should do with other clients?
If the client answers “No” (which will happen in some meetings ? especially at critical points in a project), you now have the opportunity to ask clarifying questions, to drill-down for more details and learn more about where the value leaks are for your customer. You can come back next time to share what you did with their negative feedback and work with your client to improve going forward. Feedback, while it may hurt in the short-term, is a gift that allows you to delight customers over the long-term.

TRACK THE VALUE YOU ADD & CUSTOMER HEALTH

The next thing you should do is to go through and track the answer (“Yes” or “No”) given in every single meeting. You can even combine this information with other customer usage and health data, to come up with a more comprehensive customer health score that includes accurate data about your customers’ intent to renew.

Start to look at trends in client responses. If you get more than 3 “No’s” in a row, this is an early indication that you have a problem and need to take action to address it. If you have five or more “No’s” in a row, it’s time to escalate things internally so that your executives can take action to save the account before it is too late!

Additional Resources

Want to learn more about how you can deliver amazing customer success services that delight clients and accelerate value creation? Check out Success Chain and get started today!

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3 Steps to Build Better Customer Success Relationships: “The Go-Slow to Go-Fast Approach”

Success Chain

Many well-intentioned CS professionals are so focused on the details of their product or service and are in a rush to get the customer to cover lots of information that they skip the critical relationship-building tasks that form the foundation for a strategic, trusting relationship. As a result, clients are cautious and hesitant to engage with them and introduce them to other parts of the organization. The net result is that things take much longer and are less effective than they should be.

To address this critical issue, we teach our clients the “Go Slow to Go Fast Approach” for building effective relationships.

The essence of this approach is that you need to take the time to build a trusting relationship with a client before you are ready to start working on content. When you do this, you prevent many of the delays and missteps that always slow down the process later.

The trust you build upfront – the relationship capital – will allow you and your client to move faster and further later in the process.

One of the most common problems we hear from Customer Success (CS) leaders is that their team members don’t have the right kind of relationships with their customers. They tell us:

  • We want our CS teams to work with customers on more strategic / business issues
  • Our customers view our CS team as junior, support resources
  • We can’t get the right person at our customers’ organizations to speak with us. Our only contacts are in procurement or IT.
  • Our customers won’t even get on the phone with us or engage with us
  • When we then work with their teams, and we ask them precisely what they do when engaging with customers (especially new customers), it is no wonder.

While some CS staff members instinctively know how to grow a new relationship, most customer success professionals have never learned how to build trusted, strategic relationships with their customers.

Step 1: Build a Trusting Relationship

During your initial few client interactions, you need to spend time learning about the client members with whom you will work. You need to understand who they are, their strengths and weaknesses, their view of their organization, and what constitutes success for them and their organization. It is especially important to focus on the executive sponsor(s) and your primary contact.

You also need to share with them about your background, expertise, and weaknesses. You need to demonstrate how you can help them achieve a level of success they can’t achieve on their own. Be honest and upfront with what you do well, and where you will rely on others to get the expertise they need.

Your goal is to start to learn about each other and figure out how you can work well together. Building these relationships take time and will continue over several interactions and meetings. This is not a single discussion topic on the agenda.

Step 2: Agree on the Process

A crucial step in building trust is to define the process by which you will collaborate with the client team and executives. Spend time right up front asking when the executive wants to be involved in decisions, where they want to be kept updated, or where they want you or your team to handle issues for them. Directly review expectations and get agreements about roles and responsibilities for you, the client executive, and the client team. Also, discuss how these will change over time and in different project phases.
Ask how to communicate with them (phone, email, meeting, etc.) and how frequently they want to be informed. Some clients are busy and don’t want you clogging their inbox with unnecessary details. Others want to be involved in every step of the way. Find out your clients’ preferences.
Another key issue here is to discuss and agree on how to handle any conflicts, issues, or risks that will inevitably come up over the project. Make sure you have a clear escalation path and plan with your clients.

Step 3: Content Discussions

Only after you have done the upfront work of building relationships, trust, and agreeing on how to collaborate, are you ready to get into the detailed, content discussion. This is when you can start talking about your project plan, deliverables, activities, etc.

Also, make sure you have the right people in the room for these discussions. Many CS staff members make the mistake of asking the detailed content discussions to the first person they encounter, often the client executive. A better approach is to explain the nature of the exact questions that need to be covered and ask them who is the best person in their organization to address them.

Recommendation

Try the Go Slow to Go Fast Approach with your next new client and reflect on how it changes the relationship. Note where you avoid delays, conflict, and problems because you have built relationships and are transparent on roles and responsibilities. Do you have issues with current clients where you might have skipped some of the steps here? That is OK; you can go back to them now and work on building trust and agreeing on collaboration processes now. It can only help.

Additional Resources

Want to learn more about how you can improve customer relationships and success? Check out success program and learn how to deliver proactive, confident, and effective customer success services!

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The Very First Question a Customer Success Team Needs to Ask

Success Chain

If you are like many customer success managers, you are probably extremely focused on the question:

“Will our customers be successful with OUR software?”

You and your team probably ask yourselves what you, as a customer success professional, need to do to ensure the customer is successful using your product.

But there is a more critical, more fundamental question you need to ask first.

You need to ask, “Can our customer be successful with ANY software?”

Shifting focus is critical

By asking if the customer can be successful with any software, you are identifying if the customer has within its internal organization the knowledge, skills, experience, and capacity required to get maximum business value from its software investments.

You are identifying if the primary problem you need to solve first is related to your customers’ organizational capacity to adopt and benefit from any technology or if the major challenge is specific to your system.

Once you understand this crucial distinction between the customers’ ability to achieve success with any software versus their ability to achieve success with your specific software, you can focus and prioritize your CS efforts on the right things.

Here's the problem

What may come as a big surprise to you, is that most buyers of software don’t know how to get their organizations to drive change, get their staff to adopt software effectively, and ensure they get the full business outcomes they expect.

The issue is not the software.

The issue is a lack of knowledge, experience, and expertise in driving new behaviors and ways of working across the organization to get the full value from the software.

When we train the buyers of software on user adoption techniques and practices, they are amazed at how many things they are doing wrong that prevent their success in getting value from software. The vast majority of these issues are people, organizational, and process issues. They are NOT specific to a given piece of software.

It doesn’t matter if it is a cloud system, on-premise, or a custom-built application. The crisis of effective user adoption is ubiquitous.

Here is the solution

Here are some questions you need to ask your customers to identify if the biggest blockers of customer success are tied to your specific product or are related to the customer’s internal ability to absorb any technology within their organizations:

  • What do you do internally to drive adoption and realize business benefits when implementing any new system? Do you have a defined user adoption program and methodology?
  • How do you ensure systems are quickly adopted and that you sustain effective adoption 3, 5, and 10 years down the road?
  • Across your software portfolio, what percent of applications are delivering the full business benefits and outcomes you expected? How many of the systems would you consider a mind-blowing business “success”? What makes them so incredible?
  • What prevents you from getting more value from your existing IT investments?
  • What will you do to ensure that your investment in our system is a success and delivers all of the business benefits you expect to achieve?
  • Where do you need our help to ensure that your investment in our system is a success and delivers all of the business benefits you expect to achieve?

What to expect...

What you will most likely hear from your customers is that they have a plethora of systems that are NOT successful.

The vast majority of their systems are likely underused or underperforming. There is probably a lot of value leakage in their existing IT investment portfolio.

Many of your prospects and customers likely provide a limited version of “change management” (typically focused around the go-live date). These are probably the customers that report very few systems delivering full business value.

It will be the rare gem of a customer that has a structured, ongoing program to sustain effective system use (and business outcomes realization) over a 5 – 10 year period. These forward-thinking companies are likely the ones that report high success rates across their software portfolio.

The red flag for your customer success approach

When asking these questions, you will quickly see that many of your customers are unlikely to achieve great success getting value from any system, not just your system.

When you encounter this, you need to ask yourself if there is something magically different about your software. What is the magic that will lead customers to achieve success with your software when they have proven time and time again, they struggle to adopt and get value from any system?

If your software is sans magic then, you need to offer a different approach to helping your customer achieve success.

Otherwise, your system will quickly become just another underwhelming investment in your customer’s software portfolio.

Solve the first problem first

Before you waste a ton of time, resources, and effort narrowly focusing on the success of your product, you will likely need to help your customers recognize that they need to address this fundamental capability gap within their organization first.

They will need to spend time learning the principles and practices of software adoption. Then they must adjust their internal efforts to get more value from any of their software investments. Only then will they even have the potential to get full value from their investment in your system.

Your customer will be amazed at how you helped them

Realizing this, you need to focus your customer success approach on building your customer’s capacity to adopt any system effectively. They will then apply this skill to adopt your system.

And then everyone wins.

There is also an added benefit for you from this approach. By enriching your customer’s capacity to adopt any system, you will tremendously differentiate your company and your customer success program from all of your competitors.

Your customer will view you as the coveted “trusted advisor.”

Your customer will give you rare references and reviews.

Your customers will renew and expand their accounts.

And you will amaze and delight your coworkers, managers, executives, and investors.

Everybody wins.

Learn more

Success Chain provides a variety of Customer Success and Software Adoption training and consulting services to help buyers of software get full value from their IT investments.

Contact us to learn how we can help you or your customers increase their potential for software success and develop their internal software adoption programs and capacity that delivers success.

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How to Increase Customer Success and Reduce Customer Churn

Success Chain

Customer Success provides a solid foundation for a company to grow and scale with customers for life. In today’s competitive market, SaaS providers fully depend on upsells, referrals and renewals year after year. Most SaaS companies put all of their focus and effort into developing their product(s) and acquiring new customers and logos. The problem with this strategy, and why so many SaaS companies are becoming increasingly stressed about customer churn, is customer acquisition is just the beginning of a long-term service engagement with your customers. The services your Customer Success Managers (CSMs) provide as well as the quality and focus of their interactions with customers, can deliver unbeatable value and have a greater impact on your customers’ success than your product(s). You could have the best product in the world with all the bells and whistles, but it won’t give you a competitive advantage or loyal customers if the quality of your customer engagement is lacking or focused on the wrong things.

To start, there are three key focus areas for improving the quality and results of your customer success efforts and interactions as a CSM. First and foremost, you must understand, educate and reinforce with your customers (and most likely with your internal C-suite and colleagues) that Customer Success is not a short-term focus on your product’s features, functionality, and benefits. Customer Success is a proactively managed, long-term relationship strategy with your customers.

If your CS team is focused on your product rather than helping your customers overcome real and potential obstacles to using your product, then you’re not helping your customers be successful in a significant and valuable way. And they won’t be your customers for long, which brings us to the second key focus area.

The second key focus area is you need to remember that getting to “Go Live” is just a milestone. It’s not the end goal. Getting to Go Live is a small piece of a very large puzzle, so don’t get stuck there with your customers as a CSM. Let your IT team have conversations with your customers about the requirements and getting to Go Live. Your focus must be larger, broader, and more strategic than that. You need to be focused on what success looks like for your customers after Go Live and how you can and will facilitate their success in the short-term, medium-term, and long-term. Your customers’ success is your number one priority and focus, which brings us to the third key focus area.

Third, as a CSM, you are not there to troubleshoot and answer technical questions for your customers. You are not there to write “one-way, one-size-fits-all” communications about the benefits of your products. And you are not there to provide system training. Let your Customer Support, Communications, and Training teams provide that value for your customers.

Your purpose, as a CSM, is not to provide technical value. Your purpose is to provide business value by being your customers’ trusted advisor throughout their relationship with your company. For example, as their trusted advisor, you need to ask your customers about what their long-term goals are, where they are struggling, what’s changing in their environment, what’s their organizational structure/hierarchy, what do they value, recognize and reward, what are their processes and performance expectations just to name a few important questions. Have you ever asked your customers these questions? If not, why not?

This is all key information that you need to know as a CSM to understand how ready, willing, and able your customers are to successfully incorporate your product into their unique and most likely complex environment and daily routines. Would you know what actions to take or recommend based on your customers’ answers to these questions? If not, you’re not alone. Most CSMs are not focused on these key questions and focus areas, and as a result, they are missing key opportunities to accelerate their customers’ adoption, value, and success.

 

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Why Is Your Customer Success Role Incredibly Important?

Success Chain
 

The funny thing about technology is it can have a tremendous impact on productivity and effectiveness, yet it can also be a real source of fear and frustration. And with the rapid pace of technological change, many organizations are struggling with how to make software a real source of value.

Time and time again, we’ve seen software buyers and sellers waste their valuable resources (e.g., time, energy, money, reputation etc…) launching software that sits idle. They unintentionally prevent real and measurable value from software by doing the wrong things. For example, organizations (both software buyers and sellers) tend to focus on:

  • Selling the benefits of the software features
  • Providing some training on how to use the software functionality
  • Mandating use of the software
  • Expecting people to use the software as designed and intended

Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t work because software adoption is not about what the software does. It’s about what the user does, which requires moving beyond the product and focusing on people and behaviors.

It requires teaching your stakeholders to take on something more complicated than just learning how to use the software and helping them change how they perform their jobs on a daily basis.

This is where a lot of organizations struggle because they don’t really know how to enable users to incorporate new behaviors into their daily routines. And this is why the role of Customer Success is so important in helping organizations identify and adapt to the changes (e.g., new processes, functions, roles, responsibilities etc…) that are needed to generate value and achieve the desired business outcomes from the software.