How to Optimize your Board, Staff, and Customer Success Meetings Image

How to Optimize your Board, Staff, and Customer Success Meetings

By Dan Steinman

How to Optimize your Board, Staff, and Customer Success Meetings

If you're a VP in charge of retention or renewals/upsell, there are several meetings on your monthly calendar that I know you'd LOVE to make more productive.

What if I told you that I have a few tricks that can make every single one of those meetings you have on your calendar MUCH more productive?

Well, you're in luck; not only can the following ideas help your meetings be more productive, but your meetings might even be a bit shorter.

More productive AND shorter meetings? I must be talking about something magical, right? Nope. There's no magic - or smoke and mirrors - going on here.

Though the results may seem like it.

I have to be clear, though, that there are several Customer Success vendors out there claiming to have "magic algorithms" that will help you predict exactly what is going to happen with every customer and when it will happen.

And while there is no doubt that data science and analytics are an important PART of every Customer Success solution, it is not THE solution.

The core problem that needs to be solved is not an analytics problem.

Let me repeat that.

The core problem that needs to be solved for Customer Success and Account Management (AM) teams is NOT about analytics.

As a point of reference, let's look at Customer Relationship Management (CRM) as an analogy.

CRM as an Analog

Is Salesforce an analytics tool? Most certainly not. Are analytics an important part of the solution? Absolutely. Check out the recent Analytics Cloud announcement for more details on that. But that happened 15 years into the life of a $30B company.

Clearly, it is not the primary problem they have solved to create a dominant market position. Well then, what is it? Salesforce has become a very complex platform (far more than just an application) but the main problem they have been solving for years for enterprises, and specifically for Sales organizations, is really two things - 1) Providing structure and workflow (pipeline) for Sales teams, and 2) Providing visibility into the Sales pipeline and activities to the rest of the company.

Simply put, Salesforce makes it easy to create and manage a sales pipeline and then provides the rest of the company visibility into that pipeline for many valuable purposes.

So, is Customer Success really analogous to CRM? I think so.

As the craft of Customer Success matures, many of the elements of CRM are emerging:

  • Contact tracking (customer instead of prospect)
  • Activity tracking (customer meetings, calls, QBRs)
  • Forecasting (renewals instead of new business)
  • Pipeline workflow (Customer Success Managers - CSMs - working through customer challenges)
  • Health scoring (akin to lead scoring plus pipeline movement)

With so many similarities, it appears pretty safe to argue that the winning play for Customer Success vendors is the same one that made Salesforce wildly successful.

Concentrate on operationalizing the Customer Success and/or Account Management teams and then support that with reporting, analytics, data science, etc. and you will win the day. Success will not come by leading with analytics.

If that were true, BI tools would have solved this problem years ago.

Okay, with that very long interlude, let's return to the subject of meetings.

How to Optimize 5 Common Meeting Types

That background is important because all of these meetings will be only marginally improved by pure analytics. After all, there are Excel spreadsheets in every one of these meetings today and it doesn't help much.

But what if you had a solution that was truly operationalizing your team and providing you health scoring, workflow, activity tracking AND analytics?

Well, let's take a look at each meeting and how having access to a system like that would make your meetings more productive (and maybe even shorter).

Executive staff meetings

I started with this one that probably causes the most angst for VPs of Customer Success. That's because there are two things that CEOs really care about that the VP of Customer Success is responsible for:

  1. Renewal forecast - which customers are coming up for renewal, what is their Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR), health score, risk factors, chances of upsell, etc.?
  2. At-risk customers - who is at-risk, why, who is responsible for resolving the issues, what is the next step, when is the next step, when is the renewal, what is the ARR, is any help needed from the rest of the company?

As you can see, some of the questions are analytics-related, but the majority are not. This meeting would be far more productive (and way less scary), if all of the above questions were answered in your Customer Success solution. And shouldn't they be? Can it really be called a "solution" if it only answers 20% of the critical questions?

Board Meetings

If there's a meeting that's scarier than you're staff meeting, this is it. The difference is that, at this meeting, your CEO usually has your back. The hardest part of this meeting is preparing for it. And, not surprisingly, the things you need to prepare are many of the same things you discuss at every e-staff.

But because your board meetings are less frequent, there are a few more things that will come up here that aren't necessarily discussed at every e-staff:

  • Any churned customers? If so, what happened and why?
  • Top 10 customers, bottom 10 customers
  • Customers/ARR at risk
  • ARR by lifecycle stage
  • Customer Success productivity
  • Upsell success and opportunities
  • Health score for all customers
  • Most used features, least used features

Now you're starting to see the breadth and depth required of your solution in order to cover the needs of these senior level meetings. It's a tall task to cover all of these but the task gets much taller if you keep going.

Code RED meetings

This meeting is a particularly challenging one for many reasons. Often, customers can stay on your Code RED list for several weeks, sometimes even months. It's not enough to just know that a customer is Code RED and why. You have to somehow advance the discussion every week. That means you can't just have a health score or an indictor of risk, but you have to know:

  • Who is responsible
  • What needs to be done next
  • When the next step will happen
  • What is the deadline for resolution
  • Who else beyond the CSM needs to help and what are their tasks

Please note that exactly zero of those critical items are answered, or even helped, by an analytics solution. Consider that carefully - the whole point of a Customer Success solution is to help identify at-risk customers, a significant task in and of itself.

But if it doesn't help you track the responsibilities and resolution and time-to-resolution of the associated fix-it plan, it stops well short of success. Don't settle for less than a complete solution here. Code RED resolution is at the heart of Customer Success.

Quarterly Business Reviews

QBRs, aka Executive Business Reviews or EBRs, are really important meetings because they are usually reserved for your most strategic customers. If done right, these meetings are great opportunities to show the value of your solution, and your team, to your customer's executive sponsor.

This meeting has historically been part relational and part statistical but the statistical part of the equation was extremely painful to create.

With the right solution, most of the statistical portion of this meeting can literally be created with the push of a button. If you have a complete 360 view of the customer, which includes a scorecard with historical trending, you will have everything you need for your EBR.

That is, if your 360 view is really a 360 view and not just focused on usage data. You see, your customer cares about the overall experience she is having with you as a company, not just who is using or not using, your product.

She wants to know how they are engaging with your Marketing, what their Support experience has been, are they paying their bills on time, what their health score is, why the score is what it is, where they are in your lifecycle stages and why, along with specific information about who is using your product, how they are using it, and how often. Most importantly, are they getting real value out of it. ROI.

Can you show your customers how your product is driving ROI for them? If not, every single customer is at risk of churn.

One-on-one meetings

For years my one-on-ones went something like this. "I hope all of your customers are happy and healthy. Please tell me they are all going to renew their contracts. Is there anything I can help you out with?" Very fluffy and non-specific.

Now my one-on-ones have changed dramatically with clear measurements and specific goals, including retention. Can you measure your CSMs or AMs, on an individual level, as follows?

  • Retention
  • Upsell
  • Health score
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • Calls-to-action open
  • Calls-to-action closed
  • Time-to-close calls-to-action
  • QBRs complete
  • Customer touches/last touched
  • Milestones accomplished
  • Lifecycle stage of each customer
  • Overall contract growth

Measuring all of those is far beyond pure analytics and also notice that a deep integration with your CRM system is also necessary for a few of these.

Customer meetings - last but not least, you need to drive more effective and more productive customer meetings. And to have an effective customer meeting requires them to be information driven. I believe that the days of the check-in call should be over. If you understand the concept of the Challenger Sale, you'll understand what I mean when I say "Challenger CSM".

Every single conversation MUST add value to the customer and that means driving the conversation with information about the customer and every interaction with your company and your product.

Remember that they want value for their purchase just as much as you do. The synergy of their goals with yours can make your job easier if you are armed with all the right information.

It turns out that the set of data required for effective customer meetings is basically a conglomeration of everything we've talked about previously, minus the individual measurements of the CSMs.

Holistic Customer Success Management

So, there you have it. Every regular meeting you have can be made significantly better if you are wielding the right information.

And the right information should all be at your fingertips through your Customer Success solution. If you don't have one of those, get one. If you have one and it's not giving you everything I talked about here, then insist that it does.

If those requests fall on deaf ears, then get yourself onto a platform like Gainsight that gives you what you need and is driving the Customer Success future with performance, scale, and functionality that you may not need today but you now you will.

Picture of Dan Steinman
Dan Steinman GM, Gainsight EMEA GM, Gainsight EMEA
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  1. George Ballaseux
    Feb 22nd, 2015Reply

    Excellent overview of how to measure the CSM role and give insight to responsibilities to various stakeholders. It would be great to have the ability in Gainsight to input data and commentary (and history maintained) that support these metrics. Integration with SFDC helps, but history is difficult unless it’s in Tasks or Meeting Notes. We’ve modified SFDC to include fields that address items you list in Renewal Forecast and At-Risk Customers. SFDC has an Escalation Management add-on (free) that addresses your points for Code Red Accounts, but we haven’t deployed yet. It’s great to see the Thought Leadership from Gainsight!

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