I’m nine years old, sitting on the long bench in the back of the minivan my parents bought a year or two ago. My older and younger brothers are sitting in their own personal seats in the middle row, my mom in the front passenger seat, my dad’s driving. Why do I always get the back seat? Everyone else gets their own little cubbies and cup holders. It’s really dark back here—there are hardly any lights along the road. Also, I guess my legs don’t need the space that both my brothers’ legs need—middle child alert.
Whatever. At least I can lay down back here. But mom says I have to keep my seatbelt on if I do—kind of hurts my side, so I stay sitting up. Dad says we’re about to start up some mountain and we’re almost there; all I know is, we’re on the way to Cherokee, North Carolina for our first family vacation that isn’t to visit my great grandparents down in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Don’t get me wrong…I love visiting them the few times a year we get to—there just isn’t much to do in the middle of the country where they live. They do make good breakfast though: cheesy eggs, yummy sausage, and their biscuits with gravy are the best.
Now I’m hungry. I shift through the cooler for a snack as I feel the van start to climb a hill; this must be the mountain Dad said we’re passing through—or over, maybe? I don’t think there’s an actual tunnel. That would be cool though. It feels even darker now. I look behind me and it’s like someone painted the rear window black. I can’t see a thing out of the side windows either. It’s actually kind of eerie. I don’t like it. I ask my brothers if one of them will trade spots. I’ll let you guess what they said. My mom and dad try to scare us with whispers of spooky noises, but I’m not falling for it—at least I can’t let them know I’m falling for it.
I lean my back against the seat, finding some comfort in tightening my seatbelt around my waist and chest. I can’t even see what, if anything, is on the side of the road. I’m guessing trees, maybe bushes, but we are on a mountain. It could just be a cliff going straight down. I don’t want to think about that. The climb up the mountain somehow becomes steeper; I can feel my weight push back against the seat harder as I tighten my seatbelt a little more. There isn’t a car in sight and the darkness seems to be darker now. How is that possible? Where is everyone? I’m not really hungry anymore.
Now, when it seems the darkest outside and my family seems the furthest away, I decide to stop looking out into the unknown and instead focus my sight forward. Directly in front of me, I have a straight view through the middle of the van and out the front windshield. In this moment, I can feel the image being burned into my mind—the brightness of the headlights chasing away the night, lighting the road ahead of us as we cut through the darkness. I loosen my seatbelt and lean forward a little bit to see the reach of the light in front of us. I can’t believe how bright it is up there. The curves, the turns, the trees on the side of the road (yes, trees—not cliffs), it’s all so clear. I feel a sense of relief and safety. I can actually enjoy the ride now.
Perhaps sensing my relief (and looking for a bit of comedic relief of their own knowing that their spooky whisper noises didn’t really scare us), my parents throw a new possibility out there—
“It sure would be crazy if the headlights stopped working.”
Wide-eyed and silent, I lean back against the seat, tightening the seatbelt around my waist and chest.
New fear officially unlocked.
Today, over two decades later, I still think about this experience often: the silliness of my parents in trying to scare us, the darkness that seemed to wrap around the van, the reality that I always got stuck sitting in the back seat. I remember the clarity of the lines on the road as the light passed over them. I remember the sharpness of the dirt mounds and trees on the side of the road as we passed. I remember feeling comfort that my dad was driving—remember, he was a pro. But most of all, I remember the light. I remember the clarity, focus, direction, and safety I felt by the presence of the light; the imagery of the van chasing the light, and the light chasing the dark has never left me. However, while the light gave us the means to see through the night, it was still my dad’s decision where to focus that light—and it’s this analogous decision that I want to explore this week.
Last week, I listed out some common ideas and practices that we should not spend a lot of time chasing, leaving unanswered questions about what is worth the chase in Customer Success. This week, I want to focus on the specific areas we can metaphorically “focus the light on” to make the catch worth the chase. With so many areas to stop chasing, where should we redirect our resources to get the most impactful results in the most efficient way?
Let’s dive in—
Chase an assessment of your current state. This one is easy to say but not always fully executed upon. Whether you’re a Customer Success leader who just came onboard with a new company or have been in the same leadership role for a few decades—do this exercise. There should be multiple layers to your assessment, but I want to specifically focus on three:
1. Customer Success Maturity Assessments
You need a complete picture of your Customer Success organization’s maturity. I hear it all the time—people want to baseline for the purpose of showing future progress, but don’t want to or can’t adequately measure the variables needed to baseline. ESG offers this service. I’m not here to sell it to you, and I won’t go too much into the methodology or the offering. But if you aren’t thinking about your Customer Success organization with this level of detail, you may not be getting a complete picture of your current state. Even if you don’t plan to purchase our assessment, feel free to use our framework as your guide.
This type of assessment gives you specific areas to focus on—the headlights of the van, if you will—by scoring you in specific categories (based on data points you provide about your business) and providing you a robust report with suggested action items from low scoring categories to mature the business. It can be a little uncomfortable to be as honest and open about your business as an assessment like this requires, but without the vulnerability, you may be left chasing perceived business issues that appear to be bigger threats than they actually are. Specific to Customer Success Operation’s leaders, ESG offers a free CS Ops maturity assessment that focuses on the CS Ops organization specifically. (It’s not salesy if it’s free, right?) These types of assessments give you a baseline by specified topics that shine the light on where to focus your efforts based on the needs, resources, and budget of your Customer Success organization.
2. Customer Success Account Coverage Model
I rarely see this done in practice, but the premise is simple: you need a way to see, by geography and segment, the current coverage distribution of CSMs in relation to Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR). Below is a snapshot of a very basic, semi-automated report built-in Excel that gives you an overall picture of your current customer coverage, with the ability to filter by specific geographic regions. (Psssttt…you can download this template at the bottom of the page!)
Note: all company names and associated data were fabricated for this template
Using a model like the one above gives a quick view of your coverage and where you should review to potentially reassign CSMs if appropriate. For example, we can see in the example data above that there are four accounts in the Tier 1 segment that have not been assigned a CSM, totaling $1.1M in ARR, while there are two accounts in the Tier 4 segment that are assigned a CSM, totaling $607k in ARR. This is worth investigating. Maybe accounts aren’t being segmented correctly. Maybe the assigned accounts in lower segments are big-name brands who could potentially expand quickly with your product or service. Or maybe no one has been paying attention to this basic level of detail and it’s clear you need an analyst who can help monitor, report, and investigate abnormalities in the data.
Think about how easy or difficult it would be today for you to get this information. Is it available in your Customer Success tool? Is it in your CRM or your reporting tool? If not, why not, and what insight are you missing by not being presented a clear and concise view of your current coverage of CSMs? Side benefit: this model can serve as a foundation to feed into a future capacity plan or ROI model…actually, that should be the point of this model. Displaying your current state is step one. Making sure you’ve maximized your current headcount, identified any hiring gaps, and measured those actuals and predicted returns against the full cost of the business is step two. How can you adequately do that without knowing you’ve got the right accounts, with the right associated revenue, covered by the right CSMs?
3. The Metrics Matrix
A couple weeks back, I introduced the VoC Metrics Matrix. The concept involved selecting metrics that make sense to your business and plotting the distribution of customers within the matrix to easily identify which customers to target for immediate remediation and which to target for advocacy motions; I also mentioned that the metrics are interchangeable in the matrix to help you focus on an approach that holistically assesses your customer base. To prove that point, I want to show you how you can use the concept of a metrics matrix to assess your current state.
Note: all data is fabricated for the example.
The model above is a metrics matrix for your customer base that looks at four variables: segmentation, ARR, CSM coverage status, and customer health. Again, pick these metrics based on what makes sense to your business, but I’m going to stick with these four for the sake of this example. For each cohort of customers in this matrix, there are specific actions that can be taken. Here are a couple examples:
- The six customers in the Top Segment, assigned a CSM, with greater than $1 million ARR, and red customer health, could be low hanging fruit. Your CSM likely knows why the customer’s health is red and should be taking action to remediate.
- The four customers in the Top Segment, not assigned a CSM, with a greater than $1 million ARR, and red customer health, however, could mean revenue is at risk for churn.
- The 25 customers in the Top Segment, assigned a CSM, with a greater than $1 million ARR, and green customer health, would be ideal for advocacy or champion motions depending on where the NPS falls—which could also be layered into the metrics matrix.
The purpose of this matrix is to give yourself another tool to visually assess where your customers are falling. Make it robust or keep it simple. Just make sure to look at the metrics that are important to your business objectives to get a true understanding of your current state. Best case scenario, you get an understanding of how your customers align based on selected demographics. Worst case scenario, you realize customers are being segmented incorrectly, CSMs aren’t being assigned to the correct accounts, and your health score model is broken. Either way, it is your current state—chase it, catch it, document it.
Chase the ability to be empathy-driven. This one’s so important I had to say it twice. But unlike an assessment of your as-is state, you’ll never fully catch this one—and if you think you have, it means you’ve actually lost it.
Chase your customer’s definition of value. The SaaS and Customer Success industries love talking about value; sellers desire to deliver it and buyers desire to consume it. Both sides understand its importance and impact on performance, revenue, and time. But both sides also seem to define value very differently. If I threw a dart at a board filled with all your customers, would you be able to tell me the specific business problem you are solving for that customer and how your product enables their business? Would you be able to tell me what value you are providing them? More importantly, if I asked that customer what value they receive from your product or service, would your answer match theirs? I’m sure some would, but I’d love to see a metrics matrix that includes that binomial.
So, how can we ensure we are providing value that meets the demands of our customers? (Hint: the answer isn’t hidden in your login or usage data alone.)
Here are some suggestions—
- Ask them. I hate when the answer is this simple.
- Document it. Living Customer Success Plans that are shared with the customer are ideal for documenting how the customer’s use case aligns to the value that your product or service provides. It could change along the journey, or as they expand. Don’t let the Customer Success Plan become outdated.
- Track it. Think of value as a binomial: customers are either receiving value or they aren’t. By tracking how and when they recognize value over the customer journey, you can run analysis and compare them to other customers with similar demographics.
- Ask them again. You need their feedback. You need to know what features are providing them value. (Again, just looking at usage data isn’t enough to definitively declare value.) Most importantly, this collective feedback from your customers should be the foundation for enhancements or alterations to your product or service.
Chase improvement in yourself and in your product. Don’t let impostor syndrome rule you, but also don’t be subjective to mediocrity. The Customer Success community is strong and willing to collaborate. Chase after those resources to help you improve as a leader, as a professional, and overall, as a person. Apply that same principle to your service or product offerings. Don’t get stuck in a legacy business model that puts the business over the customer, that focusses on dollars over value, and that doesn’t chase after continuous improvement and progression. Your data might not be perfect today, but at least it’s better today than it was yesterday because of the action you’ve taken. Your reports might not tell the full story today, but you’ve written the first few chapters with a roadmap to be executed on in order to finish the book. You might have some customers that aren’t good fits, but every new customer that signed this year so far has met the criteria of your Ideal Customer Profile. You might not have a Customer Success tool today, but you have robust reporting built in Excel that is scaling for the time being—and will be easy to display your use case to any vendor you trial when that time comes. Focus on the chase and keep running.
The chase is on!
And while others may choose to chase their data quality issues into the unknown, sprint after a zero percent customer churn rate, or erroneously collect data points that aren’t tied to business outcomes, we can keep the high beams on ahead of us by focusing on the small and simple strategies that lead to accelerated transformation and perennial growth.
Chase on, my friends.
Until next week.
Missed last week’s installment of Rants of a Customer Success Analyst? Go back and read! And keep an eye out for the next Reason, Rant, and Resolution next week.
Download the Customer Success Account Coverage Model