Customer Success account segmentation is one of the fundamental discussions which occurs at the beginning of any customer journey discussion.
How will you treat this Customer A vs. Customer B? Customer C is unique and requires something special. However, the #1 question I still get to this day from fellow Customer Success leaders is “How were you able to build a success Strategic Account engagement model and monetize it?”
Today, I want to share 10 tips to successfully engage strategic accounts from the interactions I had while managing these accounts for most of my career. This is not meant to be direct answers to every question I have been asked, but rather a guide to enable process creation based on my experience growing this segment’s revenue by ~800% in 4 years and my “Personalization at Scale Approach”.
1. You MUST understand the Outcomes the customer is trying to achieve.
This sounds trivial but most people don’t invest enough time here. We ask for project outcomes, but don’t dig deeper into the company’s objectives and KPIs. For example, when is the last time you had a conversation with your contacts on what motivates them? What are their KPIs for the QTR, the year? How are they motivated personally and what are some of their career goals? (…and yes, this takes a close relationship which is my next point)
I remember my first day of classes at Texas A&M. I sat in my engineering class as we immediately were asked to take out a pen and paper for a quiz. The professor read the problem: “I have an orange here. The Teaching Assistant (TA) and I both want it. What do we do?” Everyone sat there (scared of course) as people began writing as we had 5 minutes. Everyone wanted to immediately write an answer. Some wanted to finish first, some wanted to write a novel on the topic.
As we finished turning in the assignment, the professor sits quietly, and someone finally asks, “So…what is the answer?” The professor explains, “The wrong answer is that no one asked for more information. You see…I wanted to eat the orange and the TA wanted the rind of the orange for his compost. Most of you said ‘cut it in half and share,’ which would have given me 50% of what I wanted and 50% of what the TA wanted. If someone would have asked one more question, we would have both been able to get 100% of what we wanted.” From this moment on, I learned that there are always questions to be asked to understand what the real solution may be, whether it be an outcome from a customer, or you are trying to “sell” into an account.
2. You MUST establish a true partner relationship with the individuals you work with.
A partnership is a symbiotic relationship where you have bi-directional accountability. In a relationship like this, both parties can achieve outcomes which are beneficial to the respective party. One benefit of a true relationship is that each party understands the politics the other is playing in. People will share details of those politics if they build trust and camaraderie that goes along with this type of relationship. The relationship must be genuine and not staged.
3. You MUST create a process.
No matter what CS organization you exist in, resources are not unlimited. We must create an ecosystem which has boundaries and internal processes which allow the ecosystem to serve all parties productively. Gainsight elaborates this well in The Essential Guide to High Touch Customer Success Management.
4. You MUST create a motto for the team to get behind and support.
In my previous role, our motto was “Personal, Proactive, and Predictive”. We operated in the data management space and the ability to stay “personal” while providing systematic alerting and predictive analytics through AI is not a trivial task. Every customer wants to be more proactive, but you must work with your customers to understand exactly what that means and the level of human interaction to maintain the “personality”.
5. You MUST earn trust and be an extension of the customer’s team.
Respect is earned; not given. As a CSM, we must prove ourselves and the value we create for the customer. If we can do this successfully, we become an extension of the customer’s team. If you are invited to team gatherings, if they celebrate your birthday, if they ask you for feedback about their team then you know you are in a good spot.
6. You MUST keep it simple.
We have all heard the motto here, but it is true with Customer Success as well. If you over complicate the process, then CSMs will get frustrated, and customers will take notice. When they get frustrated, they follow the process with diligence which now becomes robotic and non-personal. We must limit the exposure of this frustration.
7. You MUST always keep the customer experience a priority.
I guarantee that there will be a process that “must be followed” in your organization. Whether it’s due to how and where the data is stored, how data is captured and loaded into your systems, how it’s always been done a certain way. The customer must never experience these. We must remember that these are our problems to solve! The customer experience must be as easy and clean as possible while we “clean up the mess” on the back end. Make the customer feel special. Celebrate their milestones with them and reward them in meaningful ways that are personalized.
8. You MUST realize that no process will be perfect.
No matter what processes we put in place, never be complacent. Every process needs to be a work in progress; refined and reviewed on a regular basis. Never work to make processes perfect, but rather optimal for both the customer and internal stakeholders. A good example of this was when my senior management asked about why they are hearing of less “customer issues” when a CSM is involved (which is the outcome we wanted right?). My answer is always the same. It’s not always the case that customers are having less issues, it’s that their issues are “managed” and they know they have a trusted advisor to assist them along the journey. In this regard, a CSM acts as an insurance policy to manage expectations, clear articulate progress, and communicate with all necessary parties for consistency. We must realize that if we are proactive, we can reduce the “noise” from the real issues…and the real issues are “managed” effectively. The process evolved, and expectations needed to be reset.
9. Monetized Customer Success: something to think about.
Think about the last time you thought about paying for an experience – a vacation, a new car with a premiere warranty, etc. My most prevalent one was with Disney, the happiest place on earth. A family can go to Disney and get into the park, have a fantastic experience, and make memories. Or they can purchase the “Enhanced Experience,” accelerating and exaggerating the “personal, proactive, and predictive” model I discussed. They don’t have to wait in lines, they have a personal assistant in the park, and they use predictive logic to know what you will want and need (bring gifts to the room for the kids based on rides and behaviors). Customers are paying over double the entrance fee for this! This is the monetized customer experience all companies can consider and it became successful in my last role. It must have the value that customers are asking for and it must be easy to consume.
10. You MUST keep it fun.
Customer Success should be a “philosophy” of every company. We must understand how every customer interaction creates a possible inflection point for a customer. If CSMs are not having fun, it is evident in these interactions and will ultimately lead to customer frustrations. When I sign contracts with other companies, I observe the employees. Are they having fun? Are they enjoying what they are doing? Are they being treated with respect? The answer to these questions tells me a lot about whether I want to support this business and have a relationship with them. This should be true of every CS organization. We are the face of the company brand in many cases.
And by the way, many of these can be the foundation for your other customer segments as well! Every customer needs to feel like they are the most important customer to you.
This post was written by Aron Lanclos from Abrix Solutions.