Customer Success Plans That Rock!

June 14, 2021

Marley Wagner

Category: Customer Adoption, Customer Experience, Customer Onboarding, Customer Retention, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Strategy

Let’s talk Customer Success Plans. What’s a Customer Success Plan, you ask? Well, let’s just say it’s the wind beneath your customer’s wings. It’s the recipe for their success. It’s the chocolate in their cake. Or whatever flavor of cake you like best. My amazing metaphors aside, Customer Success Plans are essentially the “what” and “how” of delivering on your CS strategy. Also known as a Success Plan or a Joint Success Plan, it is a document that’s developed collaboratively with your customer at the start of your relationship.

When everything is new and fresh and exciting, a CSM will sit down with their newly minted customer to understand exactly what that customer expects to get from using your product, and how they define success of the relationship. By having the customer share their perspective, this takes much of the guesswork out of guiding them to achieve value realization – what value the customer needs to derive from you to feel satisfied (and, ideally, ecstatic) about being your customer. Then, the CSM will use this conversation, and the document created from it, to build out a plan for delivering on that value throughout the customer’s lifecycle.

One way to help this process go smoothly is for sales and CS to work together during the handoff between pre-sales and post-sales. This transition is really key to getting all the pieces to fit perfectly together in a picture of blissful customer satisfaction. We’ve found that incorporating the development of the Customer Success Plan into the transition from sales rep to CSM also helps align sales and CS goals and, most importantly, keep customers happy.

Working side-by-side with sales

You and I both know how much we all benefit when CS and sales teams work together to achieve our goals. The possibilities are practically endless. One of the ways they can work together to everyone’s advantage is by bringing the CSM into conversations with the customer early on, so the team can establish a clearer understanding of what the customer values and the outcomes they are looking to achieve by using your product. Starting this dialogue early makes the conversion from prospect to customer easier on everybody.

Depending on the nature of your business, this could look like introducing the CSM to the customer during the pre-sales process and jointly building out the Customer Success plan with the sales rep. This can be especially beneficial if you typically have long procurement cycles, where everyone is itching to get started, but you don’t quite have dry ink on that contract. Alternatively, if you have a shorter sales cycle, it might make more sense to tackle this during onboarding. Either way, there are benefits to doing this at the beginning of the customer relationship and involving sales in the process.

One of the goals here is to take some of the heavy lifting off of the sales rep. If they share the management of the customer relationship with the CSM during the sales process, the CSM can help support the customer early on and even assist in a quicker sales conversion. This collaboration also allows for a smoother transition once that deal is closed, enabling the sales rep to focus more on bringing in new business engagement rather than staying too actively engaged with a customer post-sale.

By tapping into the sales rep’s knowledge about the customer earlier on, the CSM can drive quicker time to value for their customer and increase customer satisfaction in the onboarding process.

The anatomy of a Customer Success Plan

While at its most basic level, a Customer Success Plan is a document, the best way to look at it is that it is meant to facilitate a conversation with your customer. The CSM’s goal should be to dig deep and find out what the customer wants to accomplish from onboarding all the way to renewal. You’re looking to define their goals, their current pain points, what drives business value for them, and how they view success. You also want to establish key milestones for when they expect to have accomplished these outcomes.

Different stakeholders might have different answers to all these questions. Be sure to tap each one to get a full picture of the customer’s larger objectives and how to prioritize each one.

By doing this work upfront, the CSM will have the information they need to build a roadmap for what success looks like from the customer’s point of view. Then, the CSM can compare and contrast that with their own internal business goals and create a plan of action to meet the needs of both sides.

There are many different ways to build out a Customer Success Plan. Here are a few of the elements you should cover in your conversations with stakeholders.

What does success look like to you?

An obvious one, yes, but perhaps the most important. This section delves into things like identifying your customer’s priorities, what they care about, and what objectives you can achieve together.

How will you measure a successful outcome?

If you don’t agree on how to measure success, then you and your customer might as well be speaking different languages.

What are the key milestones?

When do we expect to hit each objective? This will help you manage customer expectations around short- and long-term goals.

What are the key success factors?

Name three to five actions you can take to make the customer’s goals a reality.

What are the key commitments?

Together, based on the answers your customer gave, what can both sides do together to ensure success?

Conversations, not presentations

These questions aren’t always easy for customers to answer on their own, so CSMs should come into these sessions armed with suggestions and examples of how other happy customers have measured success and the path they took to get there. This can not only help customers think through their options, but can also help create commonalities among your customer base. Just be sure you’re not trying to impose your company’s definition of success onto your customer.

As CS legend Ed Powers likes to say, Success Plans “should be conversations, not presentations” – so be sure that they’re always developed collaboratively with the customer. PowerPoint slides can only do so much. You need to engage with your customer, ask open-ended questions, and really listen to what they have to say. Only then will you be able to engineer a Customer Success Plan that ensures real value realization for your customers.