Implementing Customer Success in non-SaaS Businesses

March 18, 2020

Marley Wagner

Category: Customer Experience, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Resources, Customer Success Strategy

You’ve likely heard that Customer Success was born out of the subscription economy, and new market needs of subscription customers. This is 100% true. This also means that CS is primarily referenced with some level of connection to SaaS.

But just because CS originated within SaaS does not mean that it only applies to businesses with an ‘as-a-service’ business model. I challenge you to think of an industry in which helping customers succeed isn’t beneficial. No, really – if you think of one, drop me a line.

The internet is littered with examples of how auto body shops, gyms and yoga studios, retail stores, manufacturing, professional services, hardware, even funeral parlors (yes, you read that right) either are currently, or could potentially, utilize Customer Success within their businesses.

Non-SaaS businesses are hopping on board the Customer Success train to meet market demand and consumer expectations. But it won’t only benefit your customers, it will benefit your business too! In both SaaS and ‘traditional’ business models alike, CS improves customer loyalty, save you money, grows revenue, and boosts your customer acquisition strategy.

Believe it or not, you’re likely already doing things in your business that are part of a formal Customer Success practice, although you may not call them by that name. So, you may be closer to your goal than you think. But, since implementing CS within a non-SaaS business often comes with its own unique set of challenges (like a lack of data or little in-house expertise), we’re here to help you navigate the road ahead.

It can get messy

Often, the most effective and efficient way to implement something new is to follow two mottos: ‘start by starting’ and ‘fail fast and learn’. By following these guidelines, you avoid ‘paralysis by analysis’, and instead set the expectation that everyone must quickly ‘learn from their mistakes’. (I know, I know, that was a lot of clichés in one paragraph.)

While these noble fenceposts can certainly enable the journey you’re embarking on, it can be difficult to anticipate just quite how messy that can make things. Messy doesn’t necessarily equate to bad (in fact it’s often quite the opposite in the long run) but know that your journey to Customer Success may not follow the straight and narrow.

Non-SaaS businesses often have specific needs that are different from born-in-the-cloud companies that can add additional levels of complications. Like the need to build a Customer Success enablement toolset from scratch, the need for thought leadership on CS best practices that may or may not exist within internal resources, or the urgency of getting a CS practice off the ground in order to keep up with market demand.

Setting up a foundation like adding a CS tool (or set of tools) plus an outside partner like ESG is a great place to start to meet these needs, especially since getting started is often the most difficult part.

Understand your organizational maturity

In order to effectively plan where you’re going, you must first understand where you are. Especially when implementing something brand new like a Customer Success practice in a non-SaaS business. We’ve developed a 17-point Customer Success Maturity Model that measures where you are today so you can accurately plan for tomorrow.

Since we know that activity does not always constitute progress, having a benchmark to start from can help ensure that you’re focusing time and energy in the right places to move yourself along in your maturity journey.

Understanding your current state can also help with gaining executive buy-in. Many executive leaders are just beginning to understand the full scope of what Customer Success entails, so having a visual representation with specific areas of strength and opportunity can spur additional understanding and support.

Align your activities with your maturity progress

Once you understand your current Customer Success Maturity, you can create and implement a plan to move yourself forward along the scale. If there are areas that you score particularly low in, those are often good places to start. But regardless of where you begin, make sure you have a defined roadmap that outlines that for all stakeholders.

We also recommend identifying your objectives and key results, and leveraging strategies such as Minimum Viable Product (MVP) or pilots in order to efficiently and effectively build a strong foundation. Determine which metrics matter most to you and ensure that you have access to accurately measure them over time.

The metrics you measure will vary based on your industry, business model, and access to data, but these lists for non-SaaS businesses from Gainsight and Teamgate are a good place to start. Remember, metrics won’t change overnight! It will likely take months to start seeing changes in your leading indicators and may take a year or more to see an impact on lagging indicators.

Finding the right partners

Like we mentioned, it’s often very difficult, particularly in non-SaaS businesses, to build a CS practice from scratch all on your own. Luckily there are a growing number of resources out there to help.

This could include internal resources within other departments of your own company who are customer-facing and know your customers best (like sales, marketing, or support), industry experts, CS tools, and education and training for your new and growing CS team.

Start by identifying the partners that most closely align with your goals and priorities, then lean on them to help you get the boost you need.

Keep up the momentum

There will undoubtedly be bumps along the way, but don’t lose faith. Keep this quote from Lincoln Murphy in mind “I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime down the road we’re no longer talking about Customer Success as a separate function within a business, but simply as part of the way you do business.’

So, try, iterate, measure, and repeat. Keep going and stay in the fight!