The role of Customer Success (CS – but in professional services I call it Client Success) is now a pivotal position in technology firms, and some would say, even more important than customer acquisition.
We’ve all heard of the saying “it’s 8 times harder to find a new customer than it is to grow an existing one” and a customer focus with an internal leverage is THE goal for technology companies because it allows firms to solve problems, get feedback, guarantee and track value, and build profitable renewals.
I started my career in CS for a technology start-up. It was incredibly rewarding being the voice of the customer. I loved solving technical problems with them, educating them on how to use the software, holding user groups, seeking development feedback, showing them the product road map and seeing sales opportunities. It wasn’t sales and it wasn’t account management because it was much more at the pace of the client and 100% focused on their happiness in the present. Back then the only concrete goal was renewal and problem solving.
But, times are changing in the technology sector. The entrenchment that enterprise technology systems used to gain through costly and lengthy implementations is becoming a thing of the past. With the adoption of cloud based SaaS systems it’s now really easy to sign individual teams up below the control of procurement, but also incredibly easy to lose them as well.
So, is there a future for CS in professional services firms? I think there is.
Where CS sits in the sales process
Before I go into why, lets just briefly reflect on where CS sits in the sales pipeline and the typical type of person involved.
- Direct and indirect sales – non technical salespeople (eg not pre-sales or delivery) who are responsible for segmenting, targeting and opening the market, qualifying leads and progressing them to close. Bringing in the technical teams when needed and as defined in the sales playbook.
- Sales leadership and support – education and mentoring, performance management, proposals, data and analytics, feedback etc. Specialists in their own right who finely tune and support sales team performance.
- Client success – responsible for the successful adoption and usage of products and services once they have been closed as new business. Focused on smooth delivery, embedding clients and their renewal rates. it’s a 1-to-many strategy.
- Account management – the up-sell and cross-sell into an existing key growth account – the strategy and execution of the largest growth opportunities. ABM (account based marketing) is the tip of the pyramid and an essential component that needs reinventing in most firms to be fit for the future. It’s a 1-to-few or 1-to-1 strategy.
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All professional services firms are leveraging digital channels to augment and streamline their services. In some cases we are still talking about enterprise software supporting the level of complex consultative sales that takes time and a lot of bespoke thinking to deliver a differentiated technology enabled solution. But it also means access to new markets and segments where the average sale is much smaller, more transactional, and with a far lower price point – supported by apps and much cheaper cloud based technology.
This degree of technology and go-to-market complexity needs a scalable and blended support mechanism, otherwise the leaky bucket could become more than firms can handle. While enterprise based and app based models need different support functions, they still need scalable and affordable CS.
CS is not just about minimising churn, it’s about making clients happy and getting your firm deeper into their route to an established and aware view on value. It’s also about bringing in the right experts, eg sales person, when a new sales opportunity is spotted.
Here the devil is 100% in the detail for CS as it’s largely focused on the here and now of each important client. So when an enterprise client fails to join a webinar, for example, the CS rep can follow that up for every person (across the accounts that matter) who signed up. This is normally rather ‘in the weeds’ for an account manager or sales person to even think of, let alone action.
A client using an app based service might need a completely different type of support to ensure education, problem solving and deployment achieves its maximum potential. Sales and account management teams certainly need to focus on their own set of priorities.
This degree of segmented focus will accelerate client adoption and embed them in your world much faster, make them an advocate much faster and allow you to expand the cross-sell and up-sell at pace.
How to make CS work?
Give CS some form of revenue target and have them sit in the sales team. Their KPI could purely be focused on renewal rates initially, but it could also progress to account expansion once the CS function is established – it all depends on how you want to segment your teams and their primary goals.
One thing I’ve seen commented on social media regularly is that you can’t have a new business lead head up CS – because the motivations and focus are quite different. You want healthy competitive tension with constructive collaboration between CS and the inbound and outbound sales function.
Don’t isolate CS from the clients as they move through the buyer journey towards a DECISION, especially in enterprise sales. Give them a presence and role in helping the client see who, what, how and when handover from sales to CS happens. They need to have a solid relationship before handover. The handover is the most stressful and uncertain time for the client if there is no prior relationship.
What are the best KPIs for CS?
Consider both lagging and leading KPIs so that short and medium term performance is always managed:
- Lagging indicators – further ahead activities that lead to sales. Eg new bookings/retention and renewals, increased advocacy/ net promoter scores across the different decision makers and users etc, deepening understanding of issues and needs that leads to sales.
- Leading indicators – more readily achievable and direct sales. Eg pipeline generation, qualification and closure.
This means the buyer journey isn’t just about happiness, it’s also about evidenced value and achievable growth in the digital age.
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