Jun 2, 2017

6 min

Dear CSM: Stop calling customers just to “Check In”, Marketing, CS, and Sales Alignment, and Getting CS Budgets Approved

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Earlier this month, I was on the other end of a phone call from a Customer Success Manager (CSM) at the bank my family uses (I won’t put them on blast right now) that started with “I’m calling because I just want to check in and see how things are going.” Fair enough! I had just signed up a few months ago so I appreciated the call to see how satisfied I was with the services they offered. I answered that things were going well and that was it. My CSM shared nothing in terms of a value proposition or tips to make my life easier, or to alert me of any issues with my account.

After a bit of an awkward goodbye, we parted ways and went about our days. What a waste of time.

Does this scenario sound cringingly familiar? If so, you’ve probably made a similar call when trying to reengage a tenured account, check-in on a soon-to-renew customer, or simply “add value.” 

Before you make that next call, let me give you a few reasons to legitimately call your clients and bring value so that the next time you call, they’re more likely to pick up. By using one of the goals below below, it’ll be much less awkward for you and them next time you have a conversation:

  • Inspire them. Your customer onboarded with specific goals in mind, and somewhere along the way, they stopped pursuing those goals. If they haven’t reached their desired outcome, then brainstorm a few ideas to help them achieve their goals with their existing investment. I’ve found this to be successful because it invokes trust and let’s them know you care enough to not let their investment go to waste.
  • Hold their hand. Did you see in your Customer Success software that your customer was using that new feature for the first time? If so, that’s a perfect opportunity to reach out and ask to lend a helping hand. In my experience, I’ve found that I can do a fantastic job of showing a client a feature’s value on our initial calls, but if they go to use it and find it to be too time-consuming, then they’re much less likely to try to use that feature ever again.
  • Highlight a win. Take a look at your customer’s usage data within your solution. Have they met one of the personal or organizational goals they set when they first onboarded? If so, use that opportunity to highlight and celebrate their win.
    • Bonus: If you’re working with a user, send along the success story to their manager or superior. They look like a rock star, their superior knows they met their goals, and you gain a soft intro to someone else within the organization (if you hadn’t already).
  • Introduce a complementary feature. Let’s say, your customer purchased your solution to do “X,” but they’re currently only using 2 out of 10 of the main features needed to achieve “X.” Use your Customer Success software or usage data from another source to compare actions between your customer and users with similar attributes. “You’re already using feature #1 and #2. When customers within your same vertical also use feature #3, they’re able to achieve “X” just by expanding their understanding of how to use our product.” Show them a quick win and they’ll be more likely to pick that phone up next time you give them a call.

There are many reasons to reach out to a customer. However, not all reasons provide value (and some make customers less likely to value discussions with you in the future). Using the information that you already have about their organization, their goals, and what they’re doing today, you can call (with a few more minutes of prep work) and quickly add value while minimizing the impact on everyone’s time.

Customer Success Around the Web

  • Driving alignment between Sales, Marketing, and Customer SuccessMissing numbers – even by the smallest margin – is never fun. But for this executive, the real trouble went much deeper than a group of numbers and a ratio on a spreadsheet. The fact that mission critical teams were misaligned and showing signs of turning against each other needed to be addressed immediately. Our dinner group spent the next couple hours sharing our individual experiences and brainstorming ways our friend could address this problem head-on. For better and worse, I’ve seen this problem on multiple occasions in different companies. The first time was back in mid-2007. In my search for ideas and advice about how to get ahead of a looming challenge, I came across an excellent piece about the war between sales and marketing in Harvard Business Review, written by Philip Kotler, Neil Rackham, and Surj Krishnaswamy. It introduced me to a useful framework that I’ve modified and used several times over the years to help align the sales, marketing, and customer success teams I’ve worked with. I reference it in a handful of places below and encourage you to read it; it’s worth the time. This post goes on to talk about how companies can align customer success, marketing, and sales so that everyone wins. 

Word to the Wise

This week’s wisdom comes a recent post from CSM Practice about “How to Focus Customer Success on Advocacy” and specifically where Jesse Goldman, VP of Customer success at Influitive, talked about the best way to get a budget approved to launch an advocacy program:

The key is to align the vision for the advocacy program with existing funded initiatives. You must ask yourself: what are the top business priorities for the company, and how could the advocacy program support and promote them? Once you come up with a list, you can begin building your business case around it.

Let’s walk through an example. Suppose increasing customer retention is one of your organization’s top priorities. Before you pitch your request for a budget, you should be able to answer ‘How can an advocacy program support reducing churn?’. As VP Customer Success, in this case, I remind the executive team and the board of directors that research shows that companies with customer advocacy programs tend to have lower because advocates are more engaged and make for committed stakeholders. They tend to invest more with you and stay with your solution longer, even as they switched jobs.

Another key to successfully getting the budget approved is to plan ahead for the upcoming budget year. Start your budget planning cycle with a request for a budget that is supported by a specific positive impact, such as customer retention.

Even better: team up with others. When groups across the organization team up to highlight the combined impact on their respective objectives, the case is even stronger. For example, Sales, Marketing and Customer Success teams can come together to make a case for investing in a program geared toward converting customers into passionate advocates. Why?! Because this can amplify leads, sales, retention, product, and other objectives.

The potential impact of the program can come to life when you consider all of the possibilities across the organization. Especially when you look at it in the context of each group’s key objectives.

When Customer Success is collaborating with Marketing to get the budget approved, it is important to decide in advance which team would be responsible for which part of the advocacy program and its daily operations. It is important to have a mutually agreed upon vision of how the advocacy program might be run, its key metrics and how those metrics align with company objectives. It’s all about effective teamwork..

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