Waypoint Group is a collaborative, seasoned consultancy in the Bay Area that thrives on partnership. We help B2B teams act on customer feedback and increase the rate of profitable sales growth by linking insights to financials.
We are often asked about various technologies that best support a Customer Success (CS) team. We’ve found that there are 2 general approaches to CS technology, and selecting the right approach generally depends on the complexity of the products and services your company provides. The key question is, what is your company’s “posture” when selling into new companies?
1. Are you “dating” your customers? Are you providing products and services into a mature market that knows how to make it work? Is switching “easy” and generally controlled by end-users?
If you’re providing a stand-alone product, probably with lower cost and lower complexity and one that generally doesn’t require “administration” or integration, then a solution that allows you to easily monitor utilization and adoption is key. The end-users in this category probably make the decision regarding if / how / when they use it, and they care about how the tool helps them personally.
In other words, the end-users in this category hold the power with regards to whether they use the product, and your primary concern as a Customer Success practitioner is whether the product is easy to use and helps end-users get things done more productively and/or with higher quality than other methods. The right CS technology here monitors product utilization and helps you spot declining usage that might indicate competitive incursion (i.e. declining wallet share). If an end user stops using the product, then outreach from the CSM to remediate would be ideal. You probably want to consider Customer Success Platform products such as Gainsight, Client Success, etc.
2. Or are you getting married? Is there business process-integration that is required to truly achieve the promised outcomes? Do you provide best-practices to help customers acquire the value? Are you selling a complex product that requires “organizational change” principles to acquire results? Does your product allow for many use cases that need to be configured?
If your offerings are part of a larger set of business processes and require integration with other systems and/or processes in order to genuinely acquire the value then there’s undoubtedly a “buying committee” (whether formal or informal) that is making the purchase and renewal decisions. Here, monitoring utilization is *not* sufficient. You will need a solution that keeps your key Buying Committee members engaged, helps you strengthen relationships, provides clarity around their perception of value, and that shows you if your offerings are driving the promised business outcomes (measurable results).
In other words, the Buying Committee holds the power with regards to whether the end-users use the product. While “ease of use” is certainly a concern, your first-order mission is to make sure the business processes are defined, that the Buying Committee (decision makers and influencers, who probably aren’t directly interacting with your product) are engaged to drive the necessary organizational change, that they see value and success, and that you are helping your customers through the “change.” A solution that keeps your Buying Committee engaged and on the right track is key. In this area, you will want to consider Engagement solutions such as TopBox, Kapta, or perhaps Medallia for B2B to complement your Salesforce-based infrastructure.
When looking for support CS technology, the key is to align with your company’s “posture” when selling into new companies: Do your company’s Sales and Marketing efforts communicate that you supply products? Or, do you provide outcomes?
Customer Success is not a “one-size-fits all” – there are different CS processes for different types of markets and products – and selecting the right approach is critical if you want to manage retention and accelerate expansion. For example, does your company sell to both enterprise (complex) accounts, and also to small businesses? Selling into the Enterprise market is generally more complex and generally a relationship sale, but not necessarily so… are your offerings part of an integrated process, or more of a stand-alone tool? Does the business sell to an audience (perhaps by geography or use-case) that is more ready/mature, or is it just getting started? You may find that serving multiple markets requires multiple approaches with differing technology (automation/scalability) requirements.
We often find providers saying that they want their customers to think of them as ‘partners’ and not just vendors. But “partnership” (by definition) is a 2-way street: You can’t expect customers to consider you to be a partner if you’re not also demonstrating partnership. As a result, most companies have a mix of different customer types – and therefore have a mix of supporting technologies – and generally place customers into differing tiers (e.g. Tier 1 / 2 / 3, or high-touch / mid-touch / tech-touch) to establish the level of investment to make in how customers are served. If you’ve not established your customer-tiering strategy and definition then you’ll want to start here before selecting any technology.
Bottomline: Before you select a technology platform, be sure you understand your customer engagement strategy FIRST, followed by the processes you want to embed and automate with the technology. Once you have a clear approach nailed down, selecting the right types of tools and providers should be an easier process.
A TopBox-client since 2015 asked us to help them predict future financial outcomes based on the operationalized B2B-customer feedback data that they had been harvesting over the past 4 years. Having achieved steady improvement in customer engagement and sentiment with the same accounts and contacts over time (longitudinal trending), they wanted to leverage TopBox to predict future growth for better financial management:
What rate of growth could they expect from the existing customer base?
Which accounts are more likely to expand? And by how much?
Which accounts are more likely to churn?
And since they had 4 years of customer feedback from “Buying Committee” members – not just end users or champions, but feedback from those people participating in buying decisions – the analysis was straightforward.
The findings are striking, yet similar to what we typically see when doing this exercise:
Initial research highlighting the need for customer engagement as a means to reduce churn
1. Silent accounts are much more likely to churn than accounts that provide feedback:
76% of the accounts that churned did not provide feedback (i.e. not responding to feedback requests or joint account planning processes). Although these accounts have been using the products, they’ve been otherwise silent.
69% of the customer-accounts that didn’t grow (accounts with 0% growth) over the last 4 years were also silent.
This compares to 9% churn-rate for accounts that participated in the feedback process, regardless of whether the feedback was positive or negative!
Commentary: B2B customers that aren’t providing feedback are ~7 times more likely to churn than customers that are providing feedback (for this client… and across clients we tend to see this number between 3x to 14x depending on market- and customer-maturity). The take-away? Get customers to provide feedback! Here’s a whitepaper that explains how to engage customers and get them to participate. Not surprisingly, the earlier in a customer’s lifecycle you’re able to demonstrate that you care, the easier it is to keep them engaged. Further, success in this effort is closely linked with showing customers how you will action the feedback they provide… which leads us to #2…
2. Accounts are more likely to expand when either (1) their own NPS is high and flat (happy/successful and stay that way) or (2) improving over time (initially unhappy but improved as our client addressed their feedback):
Of the accounts that grew by 10% or more, the majority (56%) showed flat or improving NPS from the Buying Committee members.
Only 14% of the accounts that declined in NPS (overall sentiment) had positive (expansion) growth.
Commentary: A snapshot of customer sentiment in time doesn’t give you the picture. It’s the longitudinal trending (how the same contacts and accounts feel about the relationship over time) that provides the early-warning signal for effective action. In other words, it’s how your company responds to feedback that is critical. This Enterprise-SaaS company has done a fabulous job of listening and address customers’ feedback by operationalizing feedback processesto align with ‘ journey.
To sum up what matters most:
Whether the right people in the account are providing your company with feedback (and this client sees account participation at 50%+ … yes, representative and trustworthy feedback can really happen when properly engaging your customers), and
You’re missing the boat if you’re only looking at sentiment and customer feedback as a “point in time” exercise. Since we know that the world of B2B is characterized by long-lasting relationships and outcomes (not just individualized experiences), longitudinally trending the same accounts and contacts over time that provides critical insight that can tell you if the account is in jeopardy or ripe for expansion.
Bottomline: By improving customer-participation and formalized feedback processes (programs) you’d
Gain solid early-warning indicators that can reduce churn
Identify more expansion opportunities
These results are consistent with what we typically find: Silent customers are far more likely to churn and far less likely to expand. Engaging Buying Committee members by seeing what they perceive to be working well / not working well is not only a powerful tool to drive growth in your customer base, but can also serve as a method to better predict resource requirements in the future. Put proactive engagement methods in place to just make customer feedback work for you. I do hope you’ll contact us to continue the conversation.
Too busy fighting figurative fires? Upon benchmarking his native city of Boston to his adopted city of Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin wrote the famous line “…an Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure…” and instilled practices that were proven to reduce fires in the first place. Franklin’s efforts included the establishment of training, standardized equipment, regular fire companies, and new prevention methods including better utilization of chimney sweeps. USHistory.Org explains, “Thanks to the matchless leadership of Benjamin Franklin, the dire fear of fires expired in Philadelphia which became one of safest city’s [sic] in the world in terms of fire damage.” In other words, just bringing people to fight a fire wasn’t enough. Getting proactive was the fix for safer living.
And so it goes with Customer Success. We all know we should be doing the right things that strengthen customer relationships and get ahead of the renewal so there are no unexpected surprises… but doing what, exactly?
Beginning With the End In Mind
Screenshot of TopBox Account XRay, showing breadth, depth, and sentiment of key contacts in an account.
Let’s start with the 2 key drivers of churn that we want to manage:
CHALLENGE: Loss of an executive sponsor or champion opens opportunities for competitors in the account, or for the program that you support to be canceled entirely.
SOLUTION: Proactively build rapport with all key stakeholders, so that there is strong support for your products and services surrounding any new leader. If you don’t do it in advance, trying to build those key relationships “in crisis mode” is unlikely to work.
CHALLENGE: Happy and successful customers are far more likely to renew and expand than those that are unhappy or don’t see the value of your products and services.
SOLUTION: Ensure your products and services are adding value for all customer contacts involved in buying/renewal decisions.
In other words, we need to know if the right customer contacts are happy and successful with your products and services. CS leaders know that streamlined processes and effective (early-warning) metrics are key to their success, and the challenge we’ve heard is, “How do I build scalable CS processes, and what early-warning metrics are best to meet these 2 challenges?”
Our Stakeholders Have Similar Challenges
Let’s next recognize that Customer Success teams serve 2 different audiences that also need to know if the products and services provided are creating happy and successful customers:
Chances are quite good that the true definition of success for Decision Makers and Champions is to get promoted. Our customer Champions and Decision
In the absence of trustworthy data, internal stakeholders (leadership) will likely be attacked by a HiPPO (“Highest Paid Person’s Opinion”)
Makers also need to know the extent to which your products and services are driving happiness and success for different parts of their company. Failed projects never look good, so the sooner these 2 important personae can uncover any gaps and remedy them the more likely their careers (and paychecks) are to grow.
Internal stakeholders (Product Management, Support, Training, Marketing, Sales, Services) are starving for information that can improve their own results. Each of these teams needs to do the optimal thing. Lacking data, they will go with their own hypothesis and opinions about what is working and not working.
The Solution: Trustworthy and Representative Customer Feedback (i.e. Engagement)
When we put these elements together we see the need for trustworthy data about what creates happy and unhappy customers. What’s more,
When trustworthy and representative, feedback can be a powerful tool for accelerating profitable growth. Customer Success teams should be able to address gaps at the account-level, while cohort analysis enables the rest of the company to hear directly from customers to optimize the right structural improvements, such as product, process, and position.
Just like you, our key customer Champions and Decision Makers also need to listen-in to those conversations around the water cooler. Any information that points to a failed initiative would certainly be something those personae want to address.
For larger accounts where there is likely to be a Buying Committee making renewal and expansion decisions – whether formal or informal – recognize that your customer needs the same insight that CS teams need. Who’s happy and who isn’t? Why? What’s working well and what isn’t? Why are some people happy with the solution, and others are not?
For smaller accounts where a single person may very well be occupying multiple personae, recognize that they want to know how you can help them get that promotion. Obstacles or improvement opportunities should be explored and addressed. But they don’t have time to meet with you and discuss. These folks need a rapid diagnosis from their feedback with templated processes and best practices that raise the ROI to show their management how they are contributing to the business.
Your own internal leadership and cross-functional teams also want to know what causes customer churn. But they aren’t likely to take your word for it: In the absence of data organizations are attacked by the HiPPOs – Highest Paid Person’s Opinion – which is generally based on limited views of the end-to-end customer experience and anecdotes from a handful of contacts.
But why should your customers provide feedback? Because you’ll be providing them with a “What’s in it for me” (WIIFM) by committing to
Share the feedback results with them and to work to improve their results by addressing any gaps via best practices/lessons-learned. Solutions such as TopBox, with account-centric views, comparative benchmarking, and heat maps will streamline this process. And if you or your leadership is concerned by the transparency (e.g. “We can’t expose all our warts!”) know that the data is coming from your customers. They already know about the warts; it’s your company that may be in the dark.
Champion their feedback with the rest of your company so the proper roadmaps and structural improvements can be prioritized. Analyzing the aggregated feedback results each quarter to spot trends or common patterns across accounts allows you to provide actionable insights to your colleagues across your company. By highlighting who has participated (accounts and persona) and the key themes, ideally linked to financials to strengthen your case, you’ll gain alignment with those cross-functional parts of the business that need continuous improvement. And solutions such as TopBox, with key driver analysis, financial linkage, and longitudinal trending will streamline this process as well.
When positioned this way we routinely see participation (response) rates at 60%+. This level of participation not only improves the actionability of the feedback at the account level, but also easier and faster to identify patterns and obstacles to renewal because it’s far more trustworthy and representative than what any “survey” would ordinarily provide.
Humanize At Scale
How do you do this at scale? Software and automation will provide some of the solution, and humanizing the process at *only* the required steps is critical to success and scalability of this effort. We are pleased to provide a detailed whitepaper with templates, talk-tracks, and step-by-step “cookbook” with the details, which is summarized here:
The solution is now clearer: Well in advance of the renewal, the CSM needs to know how each of the key customer stakeholders feel about key attributes of the customer experience. From value to ease, from best practices to posture, from customer experience to customer success, the Customer Success Manager needs to diagnose what is working well and what isn’t across the account – from each of those stakeholders – so that any barrier to renewal is uncovered and able to be addressed.
Human interaction: During the close of the sale (or at latest during your onboarding process), the team should be messaging the fact that their feedback is critical to their (and your) success, with an explicit “ask” if they will participate in structured feedback processes. Naming your feedback program adds credibility and evidence of its legitimacy, and by asking for their participation – even though the specific request for feedback won’t come for a few months – allows you to renew their own commitment when the time comes. Something magical happens when a human being provides a commitment to another human being.
Potential for automation: In addition to acquiring feedback following your onboarding process and approximately 4- to 6-months prior to renewal, inform those initial customer contacts (and especially your Champion) that it’s time to get a view of what’s working well and what isn’t. Remind them of their commitment to “help us help you” and ask again if they will participate. Do your best to avoid settling for anything less than “Yes” with a reminder that you’ll be sharing results and that your company is committed to addressing customer needs and gaps (i.e. that the feedback won’t go into a black hole). This is also a good time to schedule that Joint Success / Business Review meeting (for large/strategic accounts, or via individualized communications where investing in a Business Review process doesn’t make sense based on account potential) so that you can demonstrate that you’re listening and address the feedback as the key agenda item in your Business Review with the customer.
Potential for automation: As a second ask, “Who else is in a good position to evaluate the value of the products and services that we are bringing to [Customer Company Name]? In other words, who’s in a good position to assess the relationship between our 2 companies?” By getting other names (or at least validating the names of people that were initially involved) with your Champion you will become aware of changes to the customer’s buying committee, important information for closing the renewal down the road. Remember your commitment to (1) share the feedback and (2) work with them to address any gaps since these two statements answer, “What’s in it for me to participate?”
Full automation: With this validated list of contacts, you are in a good position to provide a standardized but role-based questionnaire. Decision Makers have much different experiences than End Users, so be careful about the questions you ask! Drop me a note or connect on LinkedIn with the request and I’d be happy to share a template or two.
Potential for automation: As a CS Manager you’ll want to follow-up on any issues that come out of your customer’s feedback. At minimum, you’ll want to share aggregated and anonymized feedback and highlight where the customer’s experience varies from similar accounts. Solutions such as TopBox, with account-centric views, comparative benchmarking, and heat maps will streamline this process.
Human interaction: Update the Success Plan (a template is provided here). Especially with those large/strategic accounts, you’ll want to show up to your Business Review / Joint Success meeting with your impressions and suggestions for improvement, regardless of whether the necessary action items belong to their side of the table or to your company. Use this precious time to develop the right action items and gain buy-in to the plan that will address their most important gaps.
No more “check in” calls, no more “surveys,” and no more chasing down renewals. By demonstrating that you are focused on adding value for them (your customers) you’ll be rewarded with easier renewals, stronger relationships, and advocates that accelerate expansion opportunities.
Measure Twice, Cut Once
As the child of a NASA engineer I was always taught the importance of proper measurement: It just avoids unnecessary and expensive rework down the line. Don’t wait until renewal time to see if your team is effective. Instead, set up intermediate process measures that provide important early-warning indicators:
What percentage of your customer accounts have the right set of identified contacts? The more-valuable accounts probably have more people involved in renewal and expansion decisions than small accounts, and they probably span a number of different personae. Set up guidelines to identify those account with poor coverage (footprint) so you can focus your human resources on optimizing the contact list so you’re strengthening relationships with the right people.
What percentage of revenue is providing feedback? We continue to find that silent accounts – those not providing feedback – are far more likely to churn than accounts that are engaged with you to improve. How much of your company’s ARR is contained in that cohort of silent accounts, along with percentage of revenue in low-sentiment (unhappy) and high-sentiment (happy) accounts will help you further allocate human resources to the accounts that need it most.
How are your account teams following-up on the feedback? Especially where there is a gap in customer expectations, the follow-up process is one of the most critical differentiators of your customer feedback/engagement program compared to a simple survey. Is your company following up in the right way and at the right time?
While we’re proud that TopBox contains these (and more) out of the box, you can also utilize Salesforce to make these metrics front-and-center.
Since we can’t be in 2 places at the same time, we need to pick and choose where we spend our time. Some tasks are ripe for automation, while others require a personal touch – humanization – that simply cannot be automated because of the value-add that a human being brings to a relationship. Customer Success needn’t be complicated, but it does need to leverage human-to-human interactions. Are you gathering real feedback in your lifecycle? Or are you just faking it with surveys that collect unactionable data? You know that Customer Success Managers can’t touch everyone in an account on a regular basis so they must utilize scalable methods for engaging the right contacts at the right time.
“My company continues to invest in build new product features. Meanwhile, my Customer Success Managers spend more and more time dealing with product performance (speed) issues. The right product-roadmap is probably a balance, but the product team isn’t understanding the impact of our product’s poor performance on our ability to retain customers. Any suggestions on how I can help them see the light?”
I received the above question from a VP Customer Success and thought I’d take a quick time-out from the latest “Stop the Check-InSanity” best-practices in Customer Success to address the question directly. Here’s my take… which of these 2 options (or are there other options?) will have better results:
Option 1: Make it clear to the executive team that existing customers are citing product performance as a hindrance to renewal. An example:
Dear CEO and VP Product — I continue to find that product performance is causing us to lose customers. I spoke directly to several accounts that told me that they were contemplating a switch because of performance issues. We need to fix this… My customers are frustrated that it’s timing out and they can never get things done! What can I tell them / do you have any updates on this item?”
Option 2: Amplify your customer’s voice by humanizing customers and what they mean to the business. Here’s an example:
“Dear CEO and VP Product — Our customer feedback shows that product performance is the most important issue to our customers. We’ve found that 27% of the customers that mentioned performance over the last 18 months have subsequently churned, resulting in $1.2M hit to our bottom line this quarter. Looking at next quarter we can expect another $1.45M lost if this continues. Here are representative comments:
“The system is very slow. I have heard other organizations complain about system response times as well so I don’t think it’s just me.” – [Name], Detractor, Key Influencer, Tier 1 Strategic Account [Name], ARR = $452k
“System is slow during peak usage times and often times out.” – [Name], Detractor, Key Influencer, Tier 2 Growth account [Name], ARR = $185k
“Faster speed running reports and simulations.” – [Name], Decision Maker, Tier 2 Growth account [Name], ARR = $140k
“Improve core application performance time” – [Name], Detractor, Key Influencer, Tier 2 Growth account [Name], ARR = $132k
“Improve performance speed.” – [Name], Decision Maker, Tier 2 Growth account [Name], ARR = $90k
Assuming you have a voice-of-customer platform in place, such as TopBox, then humanizing and financially-quantifying the data should be easy. Including context — such as name of the respondent, role/persona, and value — enables colleagues see customers as human beings that contribute to your business. And for many businesses, direct ARR may not be enough to move an executive to your point-of-view, so you probably want to build a coalition that incorporates a broader definition of value/ROI for creating more advocates/promoters:
Advocacy / Marketing: Are existing customers producing referrals? What is the cost per lead for referrals compared to other sources? Do referral leads close faster and/or at higher ARR? What would it be worth if the percentage of Promoters (happy customers) improved by 10%?
Cost-to-serve / Support: How many calls are received about this issue, and what does it cost to handle them?
Finance: What is 3-year future value of high-scoring (happy & successful) account in a given tier/segment, vs. the future value of an unhappy or silent/disengaged account
And when following up with customers on their feedback, be sure to ask some probing questions so you can truly get to root-cause:
What did you experience, exactly? What did you expect instead?
What is the impact of this issue? Can we quantify it?
What would be the result to your company if we could successfully address the gap?
IMHO it’s like that old game of telephone — cut out the middleman (you!) and let your colleagues directly hear the voice-of-the-customer. What do you think, and/or are there other options you’d suggest?
For B2B companies, revenue from existing customers can be as much as 80% of growth. That is, retention and expansion is the name of the game. Is your company truly focusing on retention? Or, are you chasing renewals?
A focus on retention means doing the things that make renewals a non-event.
“Chasing renewals” means trying to catch-up with decision makers to address concerns and issues at the time of renewal…when there’s scarce time to actually do anything to improve.
The subscription economy has changed Sales to “Land, Retain, Expand.”
Happy and successful customers are far more likely to be retained. Make sure you are creating happy customers that perceive success.
Recognize that there is no “customer” in B2B (and I’m not talking about B2b for selling to small business) – it’s a group of contacts in the account, that all have different perspectives, expectations, and requirements.
The key: Since people change jobs all the time, your company ought to have relationships with multiple people in the account. Engaging with only with 1 person in the account puts you at significant risk (especially for large/strategic accounts): What do you do when they leave? Is there a sufficient set of relationships that enable a smooth transition? Are you absolutely sure that person is really representing *all* interests in the account?
Smart, successful companies know how they are meeting the different perspectives, expectations, and requirements of the different customer persona that are involved in your products and services. To that end, it’s critical to measure and improve the Percentage of Buying Committee Members That Are Happy and Perceiving Success.
Screenshot from TopBox that highlights the 3 key dimensions of account health: Engagement and Sentiment from the right contacts, the right time. Click https://waypointgroup.org/topbox/ for details
You could ask your Sales and CS teams about customer sentiment, but by doing so you’re missing a huge opportunity to engage the key contacts in the account. Besides, we continuously find that the account team hasn’t properly engaged the key contacts in the account to know sentiment with confidence. As a result, they aren’t growing footprint (i.e. just relying on 1 “Champion” contact), have blind spots, will be taken aback when a key contact leaves their job, and are likely to be surprised when an account churns.
There is a better way. Customer Success teams must:
Recognize that acquiring feedback from a customer is engagement. Be concerned if they aren’t providing feedback. In fact, our research finds that silent accounts can be up to 14x more likely to churn than accounts that do provide feedback, even when that feedback is negative!
Embrace feedback: Recognize that the customer is in an ideal position to tell you what’s working and what isn’t. Set up listening posts, especially (1) following the implementation phase to ask if they feel that the onboarding effort teed them up for success, and (2) ~5 months before renewal so you have sufficient time to address issues and concerns well in advance of renewal (and repeat that cycle each year to refresh the plan with the latest members of your Buying Committee since teams change over time).
Communicate directly with the key contacts in the account to convey your commitment to addressing their feedback. Chucking a survey invitation over the wall from an automated system IS NOT sufficient!
Leverage a B2B-specific voice-of-customer platform such as TopBox to scale your process. These platforms not only allow your CSMs/Account Teams to more scalably request and act on customer feedback, but also enable the rest of the company to hear the voice-of-the-customer directly, with visualizations to address root causes. Don’t debate with Leadership and/or Product what you “believe” the right improvement investments should be — show them the data!
Commit to being transparent: Especially for large/strategic accounts, leverage your Champion in the account to help you gather feedback from the people that matter most. Share the feedback from the account, and use it to drive updates to the account plan. BTW, if you think being transparent is equivalent to “exposing the warts” then realize that they are already talking to each other anyway… you might as well be a part of the conversation.
Next step: Download this whitepaperto get the details and gain templates for the process. The paper includes a case example, a “cookbook” step-by-step description of the process, and templates ready for you to use.
Bottomline: It’s the job of the CSM to ensure revenue retention and expansion. Ensuring customers are happy and perceiving success, value, and frictionless experiences makes renewals a non-event. And sampling 5-10% via a survey isn’t enough — companies that do this well achieve 60%+ participation (response) rates, making it easy to have a focus on Customer Success throughout the company.
“I’m just checking in to see how things are going. Is there anything I can be doing to help?”
Ever been confronted with a question like that one? If so, I suspect you either ignored it or responded pithily, “Everything’s fine.” In other words, a waste of time.
Yet CSMs often communicate with their customers this way.
We know that every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to strengthen relationships. And if they’re not strengthening relationships, then it’s likely that they may be eroding relationships. After being asked the “check in” question, would your opinion of the CSM have improved? Everything may be “fine” but does that mean there’s no improvement to be had?
Here’s a better way to “check in” with your primary customer contact (a.k.a. Champion or Coach), assuming you are willing to take action to strengthen the relationship:
Remind your champion that you are dedicated to improving their experience and success (that’s the job of the CSM, right?).
Ask, “If I send you a link, would you be able to make 3 to 5 minutes to answer a few targeted questions to help us understand what is working well and what needs to be improved? I’m committed to following up with you to address concerns or gaps. This process
Makes best use of your time,
Helps me understand where to focus, and
Enables me to amplify your voice across the company so my colleagues will also understand where our best improvement opportunities are.
Will you participate?”
I’ve never heard of a Customer Champion saying anything other than, “Yes.”
Of course, you will need an effective questionnaire and simple follow-up process. Drop me a note: We have free templates for these that I’d be glad to provide (which are also in my book, Failure Sucks!). And TopBox, our SaaS platform for B2B Customer Engagement, provides an efficient method to automate the end-to-end process.
Oprah Winfrey said it well: “I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common: They all wanted validation.”
People want to feel like they’ve been heard. Customers are people.
And even if you already know what they are going to tell you, collecting the feedback (data) in a structured way allows you to engage with your customer, be 100% confident that you are optimally focused, and enable the rest of the company understand gaps that ought to be addressed in a more scalable manner.
So demonstrate that you care. You may not be able to do everything that customers request, but successful CSMs capitalize on what’s working well and help their customers implement appropriate solutions to address gaps. What’s more, CSMs will equip their colleagues around the company with real data – evidence – from customers that help the rest of the company make good decisions.
I’ve only scratched the surface of tips and tricks that strengthen customer relationships. Ready to take action or learn more?
Ready for something more advanced? Learn how to engage ALL of the right contacts in your key/strategic accounts AT SCALE (think Decision Makers, Budget Holders, Exec Sponsors, Key Influencers, Power Users, and more). We all know that loss of an Executive Sponsor is one of the most common reasons for customer churn, so increase your footprint by using a simple technique to develop the relationships in the accounts that matter most by engaging the right people, in the right way, at the right time.
What’s a good NPS score? How do we compare to other companies like us?
I’ve been asked these questions too many times to count.
I wish I could just say something like “30” but it’s not that easy in B2B.
The key metric, especially for growing B2B companies, should be an accelerated rate of profitable growth. When it’s trending up, NPS should be a leading indicator of expansion opportunities, reduced churn, lower cost to serve, and a higher volume of prospects in the top of the funnel from positive word-of mouth.
On the other hand, if your NPS is trustworthy (more on that below) and improving but financial metrics are flat or declining then your company probably isn’t activating those promoters. Remember, unlike B2C companies there are few opportunities to “promote” a B2B provider. You don’t generally see people talking about accounting software, construction equipment, or business intelligence products at cocktail parties. Have you provided your promoters with opportunities for exposure?
“But my boss wants an NPS benchmark,” I hear you say.
One sector, our B2B SaaS clients, range from around 5 to around 35. But a higher NPS isn’t necessarily always better. There are costs involved to improve (i.e. optimization should be the mantra). A bottoms-up approach to NPS targeting is the best way to view the aggregate score and how well your company is doing.
Benchmarking should compare apples-to-apples. NPS reflects a company’s ability to meet customer expectations across the spectrum of interactions, so different B2B solutions should have different expectations of their NPScore. As a B2B example, is it effective to compare your software company against “any” other software company? Savvy business leaders would recognize that things like solution scope, size and complexity, maturity, valuation, market position, specific sector, and price/margin all impact perceptions and expectations of a vendor, and therefore impact the measurement of any company’s NPS. Would you compare QuickBooks against Oracle Financials, just because they are both used for financial accounting?
So, what we recommend is:
Analyse for internal benchmarking: This approach probably means an apples-to-apples comparison, including similar survey methodologies. Does one segment of your customer base have a higher NPS than others? Does one account in one segment have better NPS than other accounts in the cohort? Why? What are the practices and/or customer expectations that are different in one versus another?
Be sure to activate promoters. That’s the key to accelerating growth in B2B. Since B2B folks aren’t likely to act on their own, engaging those promoters to work on your behalf is the “money move.”
What is the cost/benefit of an improvement? Is a higher NPS worth the investment? What are the key drivers of NPS for a given segment, and what would it cost to improve them? What are the resulting gains worth based on #1 and #2 above?
In other words, take a moment to educate your audience when comforted with the question of “How does our NPS compare?” Hopefully you’ll have a compelling response that highlights the ROI of improvement, and not just a comparison of scores.
But you still want a benchmark…
Most accurate benchmark would be a 3rd-party blind study asking target contacts to rate companies with which they have direct experience. By ensuring the study acquires perceptions of like persona (e.g. stratified sample of decision makers or administrators or end users, etc) across a set of directly-competitive companies using a consistent methodology you’ll see how your company stacks up against others. This is expensive and rarely worth it. Instead, consider purchasing industry studies from 3rd-parties like Temkin Group (who shows NPS for tech companies ranging from -22 to +43).
Less accurate from an “industry” standpoint (but if someone really “wants to know” a comparison): if there are direct competitors sharing a customer’s wallet, or in a situation where your customer contacts work with a number of different vendors (i.e. where your customer contacts have a direct basis on which to compare your company against others), you can add one question in a relationship questionnaire to find out how they think of your company relative to the other companies with whom they work. With that you’ll at least be able to see how well your firm meets customer expectations relative to the others they engage. Hopefully your firm is at the top of their list.
Internal benchmarking is the best direct apples-to-apples comparison and least expensive. Compare one cohort of your customer base to another to discover bright-spots that can be replicated to other parts of your company. What causes one group of customers to love your firm, and another to be the opposite?
Understand the “why” behind the question: Even if you have an NPS of +100, does that mean you’re “done” with driving improvement? Maybe… or, what will your competitors be doing? Or, if you’re not in a competitive industry then maybe a -100 NPS is just fine. The taxi industry thought they could treat customers like garbage until Uber came around…
What’s the advantage of working with a promoter versus working with a detractor? Promoters tend to be less costly to serve, not to mention easier on employee morale. But that comes at a cost… understand and communicate if a higher is NPS definitively better.
Critically, is your NPS trustworthy? Does your Net Promoter Score represent the business and are you really hearing from all the right people? If your own score comes from 50% of your buying committee members but a comparison score comes from 5% of their end-user population, then you certainly aren’t comparing apples-to-apples. NPS can decline as response rate improves, not to mention differences in respondent persona, so where and how you measure NPS is critical. Given low response rates from most B2B NPS efforts, you may be surprised to find your NPS coming from less than 5% of your total company revenue and/or from a mixed bag of persona or non-influential customer contacts. How can comparing that un-trustworthy number to other studies with different methodologies yield anything but more Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt?
So, what did I miss? Why do so many business leaders want to compare their NPS other companies — does that tell them something that I’m not understanding?
Customer Success is typically defined as, “ensuring customers achieve their desired outcomes while using your product or service.” If you’re relying on this explicit definition to drive retention and expansion then you’re missing a better opportunity.
The key to scalably accelerating profitable growth is by creating truly loyal customers. And the shortest path to true loyalty is by demonstrating that the people within your company are listening. Here’s why that’s true and how to make this critical, emotional connection with your key customer contacts to strengthen relationships and drive true loyalty.
Attitudinal Loyalty Accelerates Profitable Growth
Do you really think of this as loyalty?
We all want loyal customers. Consider that there are two types of loyalty:
Behavioral loyalty, which is often the mantra of B2C companies that measure loyalty through repeat purchase behavior, and
Attitudinal (heartfelt) loyalty, which must be the mainstay of B2B companies because
We all understand the notion of “trapped” customers due to high switching costs (i.e. unhappy customers may still buy from you but are unlikely to expand, are likely to be working behind your back to spread negative word-of-mouth, and will find a replacement that will later come to your surprise);
Companies don’t have emotions; people do. The “customer” for most B2B providers is really a Buying Committee — a collection of people with differing roles/persona (decision makers, budget holders, business influencers, architects/designers, program and project managers, end users, etc.). There are few opportunities for the people in your customer accounts to actually demonstrate “repeat purchase behavior” because purchase decisions generally fall to teams and not individuals.
We know that people leave their employers to go to new companies, and you ideally want those people to take you with them.
Critically, you’re probably finding that the Buying Committee members differ from year-to-year as people change jobs. This means that the players have less skin-in-the-game because the initial decision wasn’t theirs. You’re also likely to find less alignment on this team on this team around the required processes to acquire desired outcomes.
Your company also has employee turnover. I sure hope your Customer Success / Account Management teams aren’t relying on the customer to provide the lay-of-the-land when getting introduced into the account. Your company needs clear processes that capture and self-document what’s working, not-working along with the plan forward.
True (attitudinal) loyalty goes deeper than retention. There are many reasons businesses will continue buy from a supplier and exhibit behavioral loyalty. A renewal isn’t enough to demonstrate loyalty: Those people that are attitudinally (truly) loyal will drive their organizations to buy more, expand into your additional product lines, tell their friends and colleagues to buy from you, serve as a reference, and be less costly to serve.
Demonstrate Listening to Create Loyalty
On her final broadcast, Oprah Winfrey shared this key learning from 25 years as host of her show:
“I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common: They all wanted validation. If I could reach through this television and sit on your sofa or sit on a stool in your kitchen right now, I would tell you that every single person you will ever meet shares that common desire. They want to know: ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?” – Oprah Winfrey
B2B == Complex Relationships: Who Has a Full Picture of the Account Relationship? The customer certainly does… are you listening?
The beautiful thing is that all companies ought to have a robust customer feedback effort anyway. Who knows best what problems / concerns / issues your customers are experiencing? Who can tell you clearly what is working well and what should be improved? Who can tell you if the customer is happy or unhappy, and why? In all cases the answer is CUSTOMER. Sadly, most companies seem to think they know better, coming up with solutions to problems that may or may-not be the top priorities (or may not even exist). But even when working on the things that will better serve customers, if your company isn’t demonstrating listening then you’re missing out on the opportunity to drive true loyalty.
Proper execution of this process results in:
1:1 improvements: Customer Success / Account Management teams will more easily strengthen relationships with the key contacts in the accounts that matter most: decision makers, influencers, and other leaders that can drive growth (think expansion into new divisions and/or products, not just more licenses to the same).
1:Many improvements: Product, Service, and Support teams drive the optimal set of product and service improvements (not just what they think could be most effective).
If your objective is to accelerate profitable growth (and why shouldn’t it be?), then your customer feedback program ought to go well beyond just measuring Net Promoter Score (NPS) / customer sentiment and instead be oriented to capture the voice-of-customer. We like the H-E-A-R framework:
Harness a coalition to ensure the company is ready to listen: With whom do you need to partner inside your company to ensure listening? I hope you don’t just want a vanity metric… I think we’re all tired of those NPS press releases that promote a company’s own artificially-high/gamed Net Promoter Score. Product, Service, and Leadership all probably need trustworthy and representative feedback to drive priorities.
Engage the right contacts in the account to acquire feedback. No point in trying to get feedback from the wrong contacts! You’ll probably want to engage your account teams to help validate the list and help show that their feedback will be addressed and not go into a black hole. Warning: Don’t be so focused on end-users that you’re skipping the Buying Committee members.
Enable front-line Account / CSM teams to examine the feedback from (at least) each strategic account, individually (“1-to-1”): At least for those accounts that are critical to your company, CSMs have an opportunity to show the key contacts in the account that their feedback matters (i.e. that you listened to them). Use a solution like TopBox to make this easy with insights that show the areas in which the CSM can best make a difference (not to mention that systematically capturing feedback will self-document what’s working well or not, enabling others around the company to assist or takeover when the CSM moves into a new role). Make the time to show them what you heard with this Business Review / Success Planning template to use with your customers. Once you’ve highlighted their feedback results, it becomes easy to establish a plan with each of your strategic accounts to decide what needs to be done and who’s going to do it. No doubt there are workarounds, different approaches and best -practices, customer education and training, and existing roadmaps that your customer will want to know about.
Analyze the feedback by segment (“1-to-Many”): Understand where the optimal improvement opportunities lie by using the right tools to identify those patterns across accounts that require attention from Product, Service, Support, Marketing, etc. Just because something scores low doesn’t mean that an improvement there will drive the biggest bang-for-the-buck. Key-driver analysis becomes critical here.
Reveal the results. Close the loop by showing your customers that you heard them. Even those customer contacts that didn’t respond will be interested to know what you heard and what you are doing about it. High-growth companies have created sections in their website to showcase their customer listening. Even without taking that step, don’t you owe it to your customers to let them know that their feedback didn’t go into a black hole?
An Insight-to-Action process drives ROI, starting with candid DIALOGS centered on your customers’ needs
True loyalty isn’t just retention. There are many reasons why a customer may stick with you yet be unhappy and likely to spread negative word-of-mouth or jump ship at the first opportunity.
Loyalty is an emotional bond that enables your customers to work on your behalf, drive expansion opportunities, spread positive word-of-mouth, help you innovate, and be easier to serve.
True loyalty comes from demonstrating that you hear your customers. Stop talking about yourself and listen.
Leverage the H-E-A-R framework. Demonstrated listening comes from asking for feedback and then following up to address what you heard. For strategic relationships, think of this activity as 1:1, working with the key contacts in the account to drive the right plays. For the long-tail of small accounts, an effective analysis of all the feedback is critical so you can explain how you are addressing what they tell you. After all, if you asked for feedback, then you should care to listen to it. If you don’t, know that surveys without action do more harm than good.
Bottomline: Make the time to get the feedback; hear what your customers (i.e. the contacts/persona within your accounts) are thinking and feeling. Then confidently know that you’re doing the right thing(s), closing the loop with your customers to show how you are listening. You will then reap the rewards of customer loyalty: easier renewals, new expansion opportunities, accelerated sales via more referrals, better customer references, and the thrill of knowing that you’ve been able to help your customers succeed (since, after all, Failure Sucks! More For Your Customers Than For You)
Back in 2003 a mentor told me, “Steve, you get 1 point for highlighting a problem/concern. You get 5 points for highlighting a solution to a problem. You get 10 points for addressing a problem. You get 100 points for proactively addressing a problem before it becomes an issue. So, if you want to win in your career then don’t come to customers, managers, or colleagues with problems. No one wants to hear about problems. Your ideal posture should be to communicate how you resolved/addressed issues. Be the solution.”
Product teams have many different ways to get input on product direction: strategic direction set by the Board/CEO, sales requirements (that next BIG deal), market strategy, and the list goes on. They also get a mouth full from the Tech support team, that generally operates a reactive break/fix posture. However, as a Customer Success professional, I have learned that I have an opportunity to take the voice of the customer and be the conduit back to the product team to drive and prioritize where the focus of the product needs to be, from a customer perspective.
Having a “good” product is critical for customers to be successful and keep Customer Success Managers out of being a mis-labeled support team. What do I mean by “good” product? (we all think our product is awesome, right?) A “good” product is one that delivers what sales promised, deploys easily & quickly, is high quality, has an intuitive UI, plays nice in your ecosystem of data & applications, and ultimately provides the end customer with a valuable outcome and user experience for which they originally purchased the product. For products that fall short in these areas, no reasonable amount of CSMs can be a band-aid that will scale up with your company. I once had a CEO tell me about his 30-person CS team, of which 20 were really tech support folks “masking product deficiencies”. Having seen that movie before, I knew his CS team had a long painful road ahead of them.
So, how can you take the voice of the customer efforts, and use that hard-data, from the mouth of paying customers, to drive product changes?
Most of us are familiar with Net Promotor Score (NPS), and the resulting data that gives you Promoters (score 9-10), passives (score 7-8) and detractors (score 0-6). You ultimately end up with a score that ranges from -100 to +100. NPS usually has a comment field that asks why you gave the score you did. Using these comments, both good (promotors) and bad (detractors), can prove to be extremely vital feedback to your product team.
Recently, I completed a CS Automation implementation for a SaaS eCommerce company. They had no Voice of Customer programs, so that gave us an opportunity to start with the basics. We implemented some transactional surveys starting with how their on-boarding experience went and how we did in technical support. They also had never done a NPS program, so using the new CS automation platform, we started sending out NPS surveys to the customer base of over 3000.
In this specific VOC example, the NPS efforts were very effective at getting us data on product related issues and we suspected this would be the case from the on-set of the program. The reason for this was our NPS survey was largely targeted at hand-on users of the application, which meant for this case in particular, we would receive feedback from 1000s of users within the enterprise customer base. This effort was distinctly different than the transactional surveys we executed at the end of the on-boarding process and after each technical support case was closed. Those surveys were targeted at feedback for very specific interactions we had with the customer. The transitional surveys had multiple questions (4) and were specifically targeting feedback on our performance so we can find areas to improve upon in our processes. The NPS effort was an on-going program, intended to monitor the progress of our relationship with the customer, and the systemic root causes of that feedback. Once an NPS survey was responded to, we didn’t survey that specific user for a minimum of another 120 days. Over time, we intended on getting users to continue giving us feedback so we could track the NPS score progress, but just as important, our progress with the underlying reasons for the ratings, and a closed loop process into the company to take action on the primary drivers of the NPS VOC program.
After three months of data collection, the NPS score for the overall customer base left something to be desired. The real question that needed to be addressed was “What was the root cause driving the NPS number?” We have tons of comments associated with the ratings customers had given us, but we needed to figure out how to distill that down into something that’s actionable. We created a taxonomy that allowed us to categorize the comments into some basic buckets. Having been in the software industry for long time, I’ve come to realize there’s a very limited number of buckets that these comments fit into, although it seems overwhelming when you’re just looking at the raw data. We used a pretty simple, but effective taxonomy. These tags can be associated with any score from 0 to 10 and any comment can have as many tags as it takes to get the essence of what the customer said. If the rating was low, you can bet that the tag had a negative connotation. However, if the comment was associated with a high rating, then it probably had a positive connotation.
Sample NPS Tagging Taxonomy
Prod – UI
Prod – Features
Prod – UX
Prod – Performance
These tags are fairly generic to most SaaS companies. Your company might add, subtract or modify this list for your business, but for the most part, this encapsulates the main buckets that I’ve seen for most SaaS/software organizations. As we would get responses back from the NPS surveys, we had a process to look at all the comments, regardless of score, and each comment would get one or more tags that was appropriate for the comment. As an example, you could get a promoter that loves support and a detractor that hated support, and they would still get the tag “customer support”. With the comments now normalized with these tags, you could start to take groupings of say the detractors, (the ones that rated 0-6) and see what tags were most prevalent in those comments. The same thing would apply to folks who scored us a nine or 10. We would then rank order how many times the tag was used in those feedback buckets. With this data now neatly organized and presentable, we were then in a position to start to push it back into the organization. The CEO was absolutely thrilled that he had data he had never had before: A 360° view the customer, their health, and some simple voice of the customer programs that unfortunately showed there’s lots of work to be done. Customer Success leaders were now in a position where they were not just handing over raw data but also presenting the customers’ priorities from their own voice in the form of feedback about the company. When we presented this to the product leadership, they saw this as an incredibly positive opportunity to take action where we were having the biggest challenges in the business.
The data doesn’t lie.
The data became an additional, informed vector for product to now influence decisions about priorities and resource allocation. There were clear themes in the data that was showing certain product issues were causing negative impact on the customers. By being transparent with this data, we were able to help influence & prioritize feature requests, invest more time and energy into quality, and focus on other areas that were points of concern for our customers that they expressed through their own voices. The product leadership was so interested with this data, they asked this customer success team to actually start setting up feedback sessions with the customers so that engineering could dive deeper into some of the customers that had further valuable input. Based on my experience, the importance of gathering VoC extends to more than just retention and upsell opportunities. The value of collecting feedback and proving to your customers you will take action with it in areas such as product, can have incredible effects on the next iterations of your product, in turn improving your company overall.
To learn more about our guest blogger Mark Pecoraro: