The Essential Guide to Choosing a Customer Success Solution

Customer Success is the key to reducing churn, improving retention, and driving revenue among all businesses. But to truly capitalize on the benefits of a Customer Success model, companies need to incorporate a technological solution into their organizations.

Chapter 1

Why Should I Care About Customer Success?

Gone are the days of the uninformed customer and the shelfware product. Vendors can no longer build massive, hardware-demanding software and then lock customers in with long-term contracts and massive upfront investments. Instead, recurring revenue models require few upfront costs and minimal contracts.

What’s this mean for you? Just as your customers’ barrier to trying your product has dropped (e.g., through free trials, online signups, and monthly pricing), their barrier to exit has dropped as well. Their commitment to you is only for as long as you’re delivering value. And even if they’re in a multi-year agreement with you, they won’t buy from you or recommend your product again—unless they’re seeing value.

Furthermore, your customers are more tech-savvy and well-informed than ever before. They understand that a software, application, or piece of technology is only as good as its implementation and adoption. Therefore, they expect you—their vendor—to care not only about their use of your product or service, but also about their success in general.

Today, customers hold the cards—not vendors.

Because of these trends, technology companies and traditional vendors alike are establishing Customer Success teams and programs. The concept of Customer Success is simple: make your customers successful, and your business’s success will follow suit. More specifically, Customer Success:

  1. Reduces churn and increases upsells. By focusing on your customers’ success and using data to understand them, your business will:
    • Find problematic customers early and “save them” before they need saving.
    • Identify opportunities for upsells and cross-sells.

  2. Increases lifetime and shareholder values. Customer Success isn’t only about mitigating risk and stopping problems before they start. It also drives revenue. In a recent study cited by David Skok of Matrix Partners, companies with a 2% reduction in churn or a 2% increase in upsells saw a 20-28% increase in shareholder multiple.

  3. Aligns companies around their customers. From a strategic standpoint, Customer Success rallies a company’s various functional teams around customers and their needs. Done correctly, Customer Success becomes the eyes and ears of the company.

Chapter 2

Why Does My Business Need a Customer Success Solution?

Just as marketing teams use marketing automation software (like Marketo) and sales teams have customer relationship management (CRM) systems (like SalesForce), Customer Success teams need systems to assess, analyze, and automate their Customer Success operations. Such systems do three core things:

  1. Assess the health of an individual customer based on a variety of factors, including:
    1. Product usage and adoption
    2. Community interactions
    3. Support activity
    4. Bill payments
    5. Survey feedback
    6. Marketing interactions

  2. Analyze all the collected data to present customer trends and patterns at both micro and macro levels. For example, the system can help you understand the signs of future churn and the hallmarks of successful customers.

  3. Maximize the probability of renewals, upsells, and user success by determining and recommending the right action to take at the right time for the right customer.

Essentially, Customer Success is impossible without technology. The data amassed by a Customer Success solution provides invaluable business intelligence and informs the overarching strategy.

Chapter 3

What are my System Requirements?

Now that you understand why Customer Success matters, how it benefits your business, and why a tech solution is a critical component of an effective Customer Success model, it’s time to investigate Customer Success solution options. To do that, you need to pinpoint your system requirements.

Determine Your Touch Model

A “touch model” refers to the amount of attention a business can afford to pay to each and every customer. Broken into three tiers, touch models typically align with the value of an individual customer.

High Touch (more than $100K annual recurring revenue)

Companies with high customer lifetime values often take a “high touch” approach to Customer Success. In these environments, every Customer Success manager typically manages a relatively small number of accounts (e.g., 5-20), which means they know everything about their customers and communicate with them frequently. They use their Customer Success solution to be better prepared and more consultative in those interactions. Thanks to the software’s intelligence, they know the right times to communicate and what conversations to have. Finally, they can report on customer health internally in a repeatable, quantitative fashion.

Low Touch ($5,000–$100K annual recurring revenue)

Companies with mid-sized customer values often opt for a “low touch” Customer Success model. Customer Success managers manage 50–200 accounts, and their mission is to interact with customers “just in time” rather than all the time. Using their Customer Success solution, the managers will determine which customers to contact—and when—as well as what message to use or approach to take. For example, if a customer is coming up for renewal and isn’t using one of his or her purchased modules, the manager would receive an alert and recommended actions.

No Touch ($100–$5,000 annual recurring revenue)

Finally, many companies have customers with more minimal recurring revenue. Therefore, human outreach may not always be practical or economical. Each Customer Success manager could manage hundreds to thousands of accounts, or there could be so many accounts that none of them are assigned to specific managers. In these types of environments, companies use their Customer Success solutions to deliver automated and personalized communications to customers based upon data, similar to the manner in which marketing teams use marketing automation software to send “nurture” emails to prospects. For example, the Customer Success solution could trigger messages full of training materials to those customers who haven’t used a particular product. Within the no touch model, the Customer Success software typically integrates with the company’s underlying marketing automation system.

Understand Your Current and Future Growth Stages

Once you’ve determined your company’s touch model, pinpoint your growth stage and how it’ll evolve over time.

Stage 1: Adoption ($1–$5 million in revenue)

When companies are starting out, they often don’t have a lot of renewals coming up, especially if they employ annual or multi-year contracts. As such, Customer Success at this point isn’t about retention or upselling. Instead, it’s about getting customers to use and get value from your product. In this stage, Customer Success solutions can identify and inform Customer Success managers as to which customers are successfully using products, which are struggling, and which are failing to adopt entirely.

Stage 2: Retention ($5–$20 million in revenue)

Once a business has a sizable base of customers coming up for renewal, the company must shift its focus to reducing churn, maximizing loyalty, and increasing lifetime value. Here, Customer Success solutions proactively identify renewal and retention risks and recommend the appropriate actions and timelines.

Stage 3: Expansion ($20–$100 million in revenue)

In an effort to accelerate growth, thereby better positioning themselves for an IPO or another exit event, companies start introducing multiple product lines or take a land-and-expand approach. As a result, Customer Success teams focus on identifying expansion opportunities, and they use their Customer Success solutions to:

  1. identify the right time to have an upsell or cross-sell conversation with a customer and
  2. determine what type of approach to take and messaging to use.

Stage 4: Optimization ($100 million–$1 billion in revenue)

In this stage, mature businesses want to scale cost-effectively by automating processes and relying more heavily on the Customer Success solution in order to:

  • increase the number of accounts per Customer Success manager or
  • push responsibilities to the support team or marketing automation system.

Stage 5: Transformation (more than $1 billion in revenue)

Most newer businesses are still working toward this stage. But that means there’s a huge opportunity for Customer Success to be a long-term initiative—a valuable strategy for the business and its customers. Salesforce is probably the best example of a B2B SaaS company in this stage; its customers view Salesforce as a true strategic partner—integral to their business. Outside of the SaaS world, though, most Fortune 500 and similar style corporations would fall into this stage. Whether your company is a B2B SaaS or a massive, brick-and-mortar corporation, Customer Success software at this stage can help the Customer Success team add value at every single phase of the customer lifecycle.

Identify Your Desired System Capabilities

You’ve identified your company’s touch model and growth stage. Now it’s time to drill deeper and decide what your business specifically needs out of its Customer Success solution. To help determine just that, answer the following questions.

Usability

  • How do your users want to access the system?

  • Do they want to log in to a standalone application, or access it through an existing system like your CRM system (e.g., Salesforce)?
  • Do your users want access to data and reports?
  • Do you want them also to have a workflow system to manage their activities?

Integration

  • Which systems do you need the Customer Success solution to integrate with? (Think about your company’s CRM, support, services, marketing, billing, HR, and community systems.)

  • How do you plan to capture usage data?
  • Do you want to instrument your application with code, or sync data from your existing database to the Customer Success software?

Analytics

  • What type of analysis do you want to do on your Customer Success system?

  • Do you want to report on usage and adoption?
  • Do you want to segment your customers?
  • Do you want to analyze churn and upsell opportunities?

Data Science

  • Do you want to leverage the Customer Success solution’s data science and predictive analytics resources? Or do you already know what causes success and churn within your company?

Security

Customer Success solutions track your customers and their actions; that’s very valuable and confidential data. What are your security requirements for such data storage and collection?

Extensibility

Customer Success technology can be very useful across your entire business. Done right, multiple departments can use the solution to various degrees.

  • How do you want the system to scale?
  • Do you need it to easily integrate with all of the data in your CRM system?
  • Do you need an open API/two-way integration?

Identify Necessary Features

In the chart below, we list some of the most common Customer Success solution features for companies based on growth stage and touch model. Your answers to the previous section’s questions will help you determine if your company’s needs align with the suggestions in the chart or if you’ll need to combine features to create a more custom solution.

Growth Stage Adoption Retention Expansion Optimization
Touch Model
High Touch 360-degree view and health score of customer Proactive touch management Client benchmarking Automated quarterly business reviews
Low Touch Adoption and satisfaction tracking Churn and renewal alerts and corresponding playbooks Upsell alerts and corresponding playbooks Workflow and team management
No Touch Integration with marketing automation platforms Alerts to trigger email campaigns Alerts to trigger email campaigns Retention analytics and upsell trends

How Should I Choose a Customer Success Solution?

Your company is unique, and so are your customers. Plus, like most enterprise businesses and tech companies, you have an in-house IT or engineering department. So, you might be saying to yourself: I get that my company needs Customer Success software; why don’t we just build our own? Perhaps your developers will build it on top of your business intelligence platform or natively into your CRM. Stop right there. Custom-built is not the answer. Read on to learn why.

Chapter 4

Why You Should Purchase a Customer Success Solution Rather than Build the Software In-House

Your company is not a Customer Success company.

Customer Success strategy, organization, and systems are not your company’s fortes. Your domain of expertise might be a lot of things, but it probably isn’t Customer Success. So, why build an in-house Customer Success software when top-notch solutions already exist? These organizations exist solely to deliver Customer Success solutions; trust their core competencies.

In-house costs more money and time.

Let’s face it: time and money are two resources everyone wants more of. Why devote either to building something outside of your core competency? And it’s not just IT resources you’d be using. You’d need resources from nearly every department to pull off ideation, creation, implementation, and adoption. Then there’s maintenance and updates to consider. The technology industry moves pretty fast; are you ready for frequent releases to keep pace with security, software, and infrastructure changes as well as the developments in your business’s own market?

Customer Success—not the technology—is the competitive advantage.

As this Forbes article explains, “Perhaps your business is a retail furniture store. In this case, building amazing technology would unlikely be a factor that sets you apart from your competition, nor would it likely be something that would help you provide a higher quality service or product at a lower cost and make consumers want to choose your store over others.” To put it simply, your company’s Customer Successstrategy can be a key difference-maker, but developing the technology yourself won’t be. Furthermore, if you go with a true Customer Success solution—one that’s a genuine business partner—you can trust that its technology will provide everything your team needs to set their level of service apart from your competitors.

In-house doesn’t scale.

Customer Success software collects a lot of data, and it needs to quickly and effectively manage all that data. Your in-house system needs to carefully handle and scale with the vast number of nuances surrounding data structures, data storage, and data access. And it needs to do that while accounting for all current and future integrations.

Like I said above, the tech industry moves fast, and if your business isn’t prepared to keep pace, your in-house efforts will be for nothing in no more than a few years. As this Business Bee article explains, “Because technology is constantly evolving, you may have difficulty adapting to new platforms in the future. Although developed software may work well for a while, it could become defunct in a few years. This can force you to spend more money on developing new software.” Meanwhile, Customer Success solutions are iterative products. They’re constantly innovating and evolving; that way, they can always deliver the best possible systems to their customers. Furthermore, their continued business with customers depends on their ability to scale. Just like your business, scaling is a matter of life or death. Thus, scaling their solution for each customer’s unique business needs is a core competency.

How to Shop for a Customer Success Solution

Ready to shop for a Customer Success solution? Great. It’s imperative to understand, though, that selecting a solution is a commitment; it’s a business relationship, so finding the right one takes time and effort. Don’t go into your software selection lightly. Here’s the shopping process we recommend:

1. Determine Your Tier

CRM Buyer breaks down Customer Success solution requirements into three tiers based on business needs. Using your system requirements research and referencing your touch model and stage of growth, you can further hone in on the types of products and services you’ll need from your Customer Success solution.

Tier 3

Tier 3 is the lowest tier and is ideal for “No Touch” companies. It typically includes:

  • Self-service support
  • Self-guided training and tutorials
  • In-product guides
  • Automated engagement tactics, like one-to-many messaging
  • Usage and behavior tracking with an analytics dashboard

Tier 2

Mid-size businesses—or companies with “low touch” models—might benefit from a Tier 2 solution. At this level, the Customer Success solution includes everything from Tier 1 as well as:

  • Adoption Monitoring: the system tracks usage and trends to monitor adoption and make recommendations.
  • Survey Monitoring: the system distributes NPS surveys, tracks results, and makes recommendations based on the data.
  • Upsell and Renewal Monitoring: the system identifies opportunities for upselling and cross-selling, and tracks contracts and provides notifications regarding the right times to talk renewals.

Tier 1

Ideal for large, enterprise-level companies or those businesses with a “high touch” model, Tier 1 includes everything from Tiers 2 and 3 as well as:

  • Assigned or dedicated Customer Success manager or team
  • Quarterly business review, which is “an analysis and review of client's goals, issues, etc.”
  • Best practice advice, which is essentially advice on how to better use the Customer Success software
  • Training

Once you have a strong idea of what you need out of your system, start searching online for Customer Success solutions. (We recommend checking out industry leader Gainsight first and foremost.) Scope out offerings and schedule demos or sales calls with those companies that best align with your business’s wants and needs.

2. Ask Lots of Questions

During the demonstrations or sales calls, be sure to ask the following questions:

Functionality

  • Do you provide a dashboard that offers a 360-degree view of the customer across purchases, product usage and adoption, key milestones, support cases, payment history, reference activity, survey responses, and other factors?

  • Do you allow users to define a customer health scoring model and apply automation?
  • Can I easily track adoption by customer, by user, or by a group of customers based on certain metrics or KPIs?
  • Can I benchmark customers across median customers and best-in-class customers on a variety of metrics?
  • Can I filter all data and reports by all fields in my CRM system (e.g., renewal date, industry, etc.)?
  • Can I integrate with third-party client satisfaction measurement systems and/or deliver surveys natively from the system?
  • Does the system require a separate user login or does it integrate with my CRM system?
  • Does the system require a separate user interface or can 100% of the functionality be completed from my CRM system?
  • Can the system create tasks within my CRM system?
  • Can I manage proactive and recurring touches (e.g., quarterly business reviews or monthly health checks) in the system?
  • Can I get an early warning regarding at-risk customers and manage those customers through an easy-to-use workflow?
  • Can I get alerts about upsell opportunities and manage these customers through an easy-to-use workflow?
  • For each early warning or upsell trigger, can my Customer Success team get a standard set of recommended actions?
  • Can I produce PDF reports to present to my customers about their adoption and success with my products and services?
  • Can I produce customizable dashboards for various audiences to report on and trend the metrics in the CSM platform?

Security

  • Do you integrate with my CRM system’s authentication model?

  • Where is my data stored? Is it in a location I trust, like my CRM?
  • What security controls are in place?

Experience

  • What size are your typical customers? Do they match my company’s size?

  • What level of Customer Success maturity are your typical customers? Do they match mine?
  • What touch model do your typical customers use? Does that match my company’s touch model?

Extensibility

  • Do you offer a published API to load data into, and extract data from, the system?

  • Does your system automatically integrate with the custom objects and workflows I’ve built into my CRM system?
  • Does your system offer flexible, customizable reporting?
  • Does the system track usage data at a company, instance, and user level?

Integration

  • Do you integrate with:

    • marketing automation systems like Marketo, Eloqua, Act-On, Pardot, and Hubspot?
    • analytics systems like Google Analytics?
    • support systems like Desk and Zendesk?
    • billing systems like Zuora and Aria?
    • community management platforms like Lithium and GetSatisfaction?
    • CRM systems like Salesforce, Netsuite, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP?
  • Can you access data in real time?
  • Do you provide a data integration framework to automatically synchronize data with your internal databases and other custom systems?

Analytics

  • Does your system provide customizable dashboards?
  • Do you provide analytics for:
    • health scores?
    • churn, renewals, and revenue-increasing opportunities?
    • customer satisfaction and adoption?
    • Customer Success team operations?

Data Science

  • Does the vendor offer a data science service to:

    • analyze your data and identify the early signs of churn?
    • analyze your data and identify upsell and cross-sell opportunities as well as the right times to deliver those messages?
    • help you define your health scoring model?
  • Does the vendor augment your internal data with external data in its data science processes?

3. Determine Potential ROI

Nowadays, very few companies have incremental budgets for technology solutions—particular within the year. Therefore, you need to make sure you can demonstrate the impact of a Customer Success solution. You should break this impact down into three quantifiable benefits:

Reduce churn through early intervention.

Calculate the following:

  • How many churned customers does your company have per month?
  • What’s the dollar value of these customers?
  • How many of these churn instances are controllable (e.g., the customer didn’t go out of  business)?
  • Out of these controllable churns, how many could you have saved if you’d gotten to them earlier (30/60/90 days before)?
  • What’s the annual impact of reduced churn?
  • What’s the lifetime value (over multiple years) of this reduced churn?

Drive upsell.

Calculate the following:

  • How many customers do you have today?
  • What percentage of these would be ready to buy more products and services if you got to them at the right time?
  • What would be the average value of these products and services?

Scale the team.

Calculate the following:

  • How many account managers do you have currently?
  • How many accounts does each person manage?
  • How could that ratio increase through the use of Customer Success software?
  • How many new hires can you defer thanks to implementing software?
  • How much money would you save on those new hires?

4. Map Out the Implementation Plan

Like any technology solution, expectations management is critical in buying a Customer Success solution. To ensure you get buy-in across all departments (that’s the next step), you need to develop a realistic project plan that includes:

  • Clear goals and measurements for the project (make sure these align with your prospective Customer Success solution)
  • A regular process for evaluating those goals both internally and with your Customer Success system
  • A project manager and IT contact on both your side and the prospective Customer Success vendor’s
  • Executive sponsorship of the effort
  • Timeline for how things might evolve (see below for an example)

Timeline Example

2–4 Weeks 4–8 Weeks Beyond 8 Weeks
  • Determine first value or initial milestone

  • Outline Agile method
  • Obtain 360-degree view with usage displayed in SalesForce

  • Finish onboarding

  • Operationalize
  • Create playbooks for risk and upsell

  • Incorporate data science to determine early indicators of risk and upsell

  • Roll out to sales and other groups

5. Get Buy-In

At this point, you’ve narrowed down your choices of Customer Success solutions to one to three companies. To ensure you make the best decision, you’ve got to get buy-in from key decision-makers. Remember, implementing a Customer Success solution requires a strategy and organization focused around Customer Success. So, as you pitch the solutions to your stakeholders, keep everything framed around how the Customer Success solution will 1.) benefit customers and 2.) specifically help the stakeholders and their departments. For example:

  • Product teams will appreciate knowing which features customers love and what types of customers are using which products.
  • Marketing will love the ability to find references, testimonials, and advocates.
  • Sales will appreciate the ability to identify not only upsell and cross-sell opportunities, but also the precise time to connect with those customers.
  • Training, onboarding, and implementation teams will love the ability to analyze and monitor the effectiveness of their efforts.
  • Support will find the ability to immediately assess the “health” of customers when they call to be very helpful.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind for other stakeholders:

CEO and CFO

  • No CEO or CFO will approve a solution that doesn’t help you achieve one of your core objectives for the year. Make sure your pitch is aligned with company goals and strategies.

  • CEOs and CFOs are frustrated by countless technology projects that go nowhere. Talk about internal buy-in and the vendor’s commitment to your success
  • Metrics are everything to CEOs and CFOs, so detail how you’ll measure the program’s success.
  • Vendor pricing can be confusing, so come up with the bottom line (initial cost and ongoing cost as you grow and scale). Also, make sure you articulate your calculated potential ROI.

IT / Engineering / Operations

Be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • How does this fit with our other systems? Does this become part of our CRM system or is it another tool?
  • Does it integrate with our other technologies? Does it overlap with any of these?
  • Do we have the data today? How much value will we get from this solution based on the data we currently collect?
  • How much time will this take? (Remember, the long-term impact of implementing a Customer Success solution will result in lots of time saved and money generated.)

5. Negotiate pricing and contracts.

You’ve picked your Customer Success solution; now comes the fun—or least fun—part. This step will come down to your budget, growth stage, touch model, customization requirements, and the number of needed products. Remember, your Customer Success solution will be a true business partner, so be honest, upfront, and flexible during this final purchasing stage.

As with the product or service you sell, you likely will get out of this effort what you put into it. But if you take it seriously, the positive impact of investing in and implementing a Customer Success solution can be massive. Use this guide as your roadmap to getting there.

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