Business Outcome Management -The Next Customer Success Core Competency?

A co-authored article with James Scott of SuccessHacker

We believe Business Outcome Management is the missing Customer Success core competency. It is a bold statement and one that warrants further unpacking and discussion. In this post, we’d like to start that conversation and invite you to join the debate.

Let’s start with the facts. There is a problem that needs to be addressed in customer management. Companies and Customer Success teams, in particular, need to understand customers better. Research out of Gallup shows only 31% of B2B customers believe their suppliers understand their needs. That means that 69% of suppliers can do better a better job of understanding the needs of their customers.

This research demonstrates a level of misalignment; the root causes of which, on both the supplier and the customer side, can be complex.

Consider first the supplier side. The problem is rooted in long-standing issues created by departmental silos, employee turnover, poor communication, and the absence of a customer-centric vision and execution strategy. This lack of internal alignment also has a direct impact on the customer experience. When a customer feels that a supplier does not understand their needs, the supplier has failed in their primary responsibility. This can create compounding issues over time for the supplier; with the ultimate result being customer and revenue churn.

On the customer side, there can be issues as well. We know that it takes two to create a long-standing, stable and productive relationship. The customer plays a critical role and must communicate their expectations to the supplier. The customer also needs to explain the roles of key stakeholders and guide the supplier through internal process and politics. Like suppliers, customers can also struggle with poor communication across departmental silos, unclear job responsibilities, and shifting priorities. If one side of the customer/supplier equation is not aligned with the other then both sides are on a collision course for an unhealthy and potentially short-lived relationship.

To improve, organizations need to level up their customer management strategy. There needs to be a new level of discipline incorporated into the understanding, management, and measurement of the needs of our customers across the entire customer lifecycle. And this needs to be done at scale. Outcomes need to be the true foundation and centerpiece of, not only a Customer Success team’s strategy but the whole organization.

Let’s begin by being more precise with the way we talk about managing customer outcomes. We believe Business Outcome Management, or BOM for short, should be a core Customer Success competency. We define BOM as the practice of suppliers proactively collaborating with customers to maximize business value creation throughout the relationship lifecycle.

Business Outcome Management (BOM) is the practice of suppliers proactively collaborating with customers to maximize business value creation throughout the relationship lifecycle.

For customers, business value is created through the repeatable delivery of outcomes. It is commonly accepted that the path to customer success is by achieving the desired business outcomes through the appropriate experience. But stating we want to help customers achieve their desired outcomes is one thing — crafting and executing on a plan to do that is another. To do this we need to operationalize that plan using our products, services, expertise, strategies, people, partners, and other assets. This is where companies struggle the most.

BOM sits within the customer lifecycle. The stages of the customer lifecycle have been established in Customer Success but the main focus throughout the lifecycle should be to ensure the customer is always on the correct path to achieving value. We must be thinking about the actual activities that are occurring specifically to the products and services we provide to the market. Customer Success Managers (CSMs) are doing these activities today in some cases, but in our experience, the organization of these activities is chaotic at best and CSMs are often organizing the work and customer conversations ad hoc. There is not a consistent approach to the defining, management, and measurement of business outcomes.

To date, account planning and succession planning have been the means to working an agreed upon plan with a customer. While these two strategies are valuable and important, BOM is a more appropriate strategy for orchestrating and executing the tactical steps necessary to ensure a customer achieves the desired business outcome.

“We believe Business Outcome Management is a more appropriate strategy for orchestrating and executing the tactical steps necessary to ensuring a customer achieves the desired business outcome.”

These tactical pieces encompass the usage of products and services, strategy, best practices, and assets which can include tutorials, knowledge base articles, case studies, ebooks, whitepapers, etc… BOM incorporates not only success planning but successful execution.

To deliver on its potential, BOM needs a methodology to be successful. The methodology outlined below can be leveraged with or without software. The goal is to create a consistent process for discovering, documenting, delivering, determining, and demonstrating the work required to ensure a customer, is well positioned to achieve desired business outcomes.

DISCOVER

What are the business outcomes that your customer needs to achieve? Consider stakeholders, success milestones, metrics and end results desired. You should be able to define the stakeholder(s), the goal, and the reason for the work. Why are you doing this? What does a successful relationship look like? What are the challenges and problems your customers are facing relative to their strategic goals? How are you going to measure success? This is traditional sales discovery, hard work is required to fully understand your customer’s business.

DOCUMENT

Documenting the outcomes is crucial for alignment and accountability and it increases chances of achievement. Creating a path to achievement requires the orchestration of the work across your products, services, strategies, best practices and assets. This includes outlining and organizing all work required for the achievement of the outcome. In other words, what is the path the customer needs to go on to achieve the outcome and who is going to do what? Once documentation has occurred the plan should be disseminated across all stakeholders to ensure it is well understood. It is the source of truth for the relationship.

DELIVER

Execution is the hardest aspect of ensuring your customers are achieving their desired business outcomes. Once documented you will need to manage the customer along the path to outcome achievement. This phase is the how. You must know how your customers are going to achieve the outcome through the delivery of your products and services. This will also include the assignment of work to key stakeholders on both sides of the relationship. Training will surface as a key driver in this stage too. It is critical that CSMs and supporting customer roles are well versed in your solutions. Customer training is also very important here. It starts with the need for a world-class onboarding program and transitions to an ongoing customer training strategy. Alignment, accountability, and execution are critical in this phase.

DETERMINE

Like all project work, tracking progress is crucial. All stakeholders need visibility into the progress against key milestones. Tracking also allows for accountability. Achievement of business outcomes is the ultimate goal, but to confirm progress we must measure the work against agreed upon success milestones. Are your customers exhibiting the behaviors and completing the tasks that will lead them to the next milestone? Are CSMs doing what they need to do to support the customer in this journey? What are the leading indicators that give you high confidence that you’re on the right path?

DEMONSTRATE

Once we have a handle on the work it takes to accomplish the outcome(s) and the data to determine its success or failure, we can turn our attention to demonstrating the impact on the business. It is important to demonstrate value in a way that is not only helpful to those who use your product, but also others too. For example, consider those in the customer’s organization that may have an influence in the renewal decision — how will they understand value?

One way to demonstrate value is to tell a story.

“Before we invested in “x” and did the work to achieve the outlined set of outcomes we were in ‘this’ state. After our investment and through the partnership we were able to achieve “y” business outcomes.”

The Demonstrate phase is a good place to harvest case studies and testimonials as we work to tell the story of change and ROI.

The BOM Workflow

We also need to consider how the phases of BOM work together. The graphic below explains how to think about the flow.

The Discovery phase is the starting point and it introduces the opportunity to Document, Deliver and Determine. We believe that these three phases can be iterative in nature. It is possible that we are cycling through these phases for a while before we are able to enter the Demonstrate phase. And this process is not necessarily linear. Customer priorities and supplier capabilities may change and, for this reason, flexibility is required.

Once the Demonstrate phase is entered it may represent the completion of the work or it may lead to new opportunities to define new outcomes. This is the ultimate goal. The supplier has created enough value throughout the usage of BOM to earn the opportunity to grow the relationship.

The Key Benefits of Business Outcome Management

Customer Alignment

Alignment is everything when it comes to the customer/supplier relationship. Customers enter into a business relationship because of the outcomes the supplier promises to deliver. BOM creates an opportunity to make the business outcomes the centerpiece of the relationship. BOM can provide the structure needed to align Sales, Customer Success, Marketing and Product teams around the most important piece of the customer relationship — the business outcomes. It will create new levels of internal and external alignment, both within the customer’s organization and within the supplier’s.

Visibility & Accountability

The most successful relationships between suppliers and customers are driven by visibility and accountability. To achieve customer success, we need to consider how, when and where these elements fit into the mix.

We think that Business Outcome Management creates new opportunities for visibility into the work and the relationship as a whole. When we are Discovering, Documenting, Delivering, Determining and Demonstrating with our customers, we are providing a new level of visibility throughout the customer lifecycle.

It also makes accountability much easier. As we work through the Deliver and Determine phases we are doing so with stakeholder alignment. Both the supplier and the customer share the responsibility of the work and can hold each other accountable.

With increased visibility and shared accountability, both parties are being placed on a better path for improved collaboration and success.

A Guide for the Work

The path to outcome achievement is created through the orchestration of work across products, services, strategy, assets, and stakeholders. Only when the proper orchestration occurs can a customer realize the full benefits of the supplier relationship. This orchestration will likely look different for different segments of customers and the BOM methodology can serve as the guide.

Growth Planning

One of the key objectives of Customer Success is to grow the customer base. BOM provides a tool for growth planning. As stated earlier, we believe BOM is the foundation of a customer’s success plan which can be used for both near term and long term objectives. The long term plan may include outcomes that align to products and services that have not yet been purchased. This dynamic creates an opportunity for upsell/cross-sell but with future outcome achievement as a planning mechanism.

Better Customer Experience

Research continues to prove out the importance of delivering a great customer experience. B2B companies are taking more cues from the popular B2C success stories such as Zappos, Nordstroms, and Amazon. In B2B, however, there are still many opportunities for improvement in this area. But we think that if companies do a better job of business outcome management, the customer experience will also improve. If suppliers value the importance of world-class customer experience, then bringing BOM into strategic planning will become a priority.

In conclusion, we believe Business Outcome Management offers a structured methodology for us to understand our customers better and more effectively align our company’s solutions to their business needs. We know that suppliers need a better way to ensure the delivery of business outcomes, and owe it to their customers to find a better approach for executing on value propositions and staying true to brand promises. We believe that BOM has the potential to meet both these needs.

What do you think?

Dave Duke 
Co-Founder/Chief Customer Officer 
MetaCX

James Scott 
General Partner SuccessHACKER 
Top 100 Customer Success Strategist