2020 has been a time machine for all aspects of life. We’ve been catapulted forward in terms of e-commerce activity, food delivery, telemedicine, online education, and much more. In the Customer Success world, as one CS exec told me recently, it’s become clear that “this is our moment.” With new business sales slowing and clients needing more help than ever, Customer Success has proven to be existential in 2020.
To this point, we polled CEOs and CXOs of large SaaS companies in May and asked them to rank their go-to-market priorities. Retention and adoption were far and away the most important topics right now, in their eyes.
Also, as Customer Success as a field matures, most companies realize that it requires a company-wide commitment, not just a CSM department.
Combining these two realities, we launched a new program to facilitate executive workshops at large SaaS businesses to determine what it takes to be world-class at Customer Success in 2020. We are calling this initiative Pulse Boardroom. We are combining best practices from our clients, typically presented at our Pulse conference, alongside additional perspectives on how the organization is positioned to succed with their current priorities.
We conceived of the idea in July. As I met with CEOs over the last several weeks, I started offering this as a value add. Out of 20 CEOs that I approached, all 20 indicated, “This is exactly what we need to be discussing right now. How soon can we do this?” One CEO told me that he could quadruple his stock price if he gets Customer Success right.
Having now conducted the first eight of these interactive sessions, here are 5 emerging trends around Customer Success at the executive level in 2020.
1. CS 2020 Requires Alignment Across Customer Success, Sales, and Product
There are very few rules in business. One of the few I’ve learned is that nearly everything can be explained with either a 2×2 matrix or a triangle diagram. I created the below chart on the fly for one of these meetings, trying to show how the “Three Musketeers” of company-wide CS are the post-sales organization (CSM, Services, Support), Product, and Sales. We then outlined the critical business processes to be defined between these functions. And the fact that these Pulse Boardrooms included execs from all three functions meant that we ended up hearing a lot of cross-functional alignment in real-time.
2. Product Analytics Is a Must In 2020
The cloud, in theory, should let vendors have more visibility into their clients than ever before. In reality, many “cloud” companies still run like on-premise firms—they have to guess what their customers are doing with their products. That is no longer acceptable in 2020. Nearly every management team is looking to invest in deep instrumentation to understand product usage, user segment activity, feature adoption, and the like.
3. “Tech Touch” and Scale Through Journey Orchestration Is Hot
Every company we met has some level of Customer Success implemented for their “high touch” clients. But they struggle with a reactive and manual approach for smaller customers. Some have tried mass emailing clients but have seen those campaigns quickly become ineffective due to the “batch and blast” approach. All are looking to implement integrated journeys across automated email, in-product communications, and limited human outreach to drive personalized customer journeys toward key behaviors like onboarding and renewals.
4. Driving Value from Sales to Post-sales Is Essential
One of the most commonly-discussed terms in Customer Success is the “handoff” from sales to CS. For many businesses, the client spends weeks or months explaining their desired outcomes to Sales, only to reexplain the same to the Customer Success team. In the process, CS teams get mired in focus on satisfaction and adoption and lose sight of why the client purchased—business value. Every team we presented to had a desire to drive an end-to-end value process—from defining value in the sales process, delivering value in implementation and the product, and then demonstrating value in Customer Success. The result is higher renewal rates and faster expansion.
5. When Done Right, CS 2020 Drives Renewals and Expansion
Sales teams are realizing the massive benefit of Customer Success and rethinking their processes. Companies are implementing more data-driven renewal forecasting motions, with CS and Renewals collaborating:
And CS and Sales are teaming up more on Account Planning to drive expansion, mapping out key stakeholders and sentiments with two sets of eyes:
2020 was the year when we all hit fast forward. In many ways, this year has been tragic. A small silver lining is that companies finally realize how vital their existing clients genuinely are.