​10 Things to Consider When Formulating a Success Strategy

I think we can all agree that Customer Success is the one thing your company cannot afford to not have a plan for if the goal is to succeed in the subscription business. Strangely enough, many companies simply don’t. Instead, they execute against events as they occur….totally reactive, and without anything “on paper” to guide them. Their approach, more stream of consciousness than methodical plan.

Some attempt to justify this operational approach by explaining that it’s “too challenging” to plan for Success due to the wide-array of variables involved. Instead, they explain that they favor a more “organic” approach to handling the “constantly evolving” situations. While I can understand that it is definitely a challenge to “herd the cats” in the beginning. The alternative is really not an option if you are seeking to grow your business, become operationally disciplined and produce repeatable success….and eventually do so in a way that has positive impacts on margins.

Yes, our environment is dynamic. However, as most in the Success community will attest to, Success rarely happens by accident. So, instead of being carried like a leaf on a stream of events. I want to give you a start on making a plan that will enable you to ensure that your customers succeed from day one.

Getting Started

Ensuring recurring and sustainable revenue is a challenge that all growing companies need to master if they are going to be successful. There’s a lot of great information out there on the subject of strategy and Customer Success. The unfortunate thing is that the bulk of this information is not practical nor, is it easily utilized. While it’s all thought provoking, it’s a real struggle to take the information and put it into action. Which means a lot of companies, who are working to build their initial strategy, end up getting confused on where and how to start (and then stall). So what do you need to think about when you’re ready to take your first steps?

First Steps: Creating Your Success Strategy

The distance of the road to success becomes shorter as soon as you take the first step. — Greg Phillips

This article is the first in a series of eleven posts. It’s intended to give you a simple, easy to understand set of key things to think about as you get ready to build your initial Success strategy or review and revamp your current one. In the following series of articles, we will explore each of the elements and ideas in detail giving you practical advice and concrete examples of how to approach and incorporate each element as you build out your Success strategy.

Creating a Success strategy may seem like a daunting task. There are many elements that you have to factor in and there aren’t any templates out there that you can plug a few variables into and have it spit out what you’re supposed to do. However, with the aid of this series you should have everything that you need to start your journey. To that end, here are 10 things you should consider when setting out to build a Success strategy for your company:

1. MAPP out your Strategy. Like a chain, your Success strategy is only as strong as your weakest link. The MAPP concept focuses on looking at the core elements involved and helps you to define what your strategy is and where your challenges may lie. It’s a simple but powerful framework that assists you with understanding the underlying elements of your Success strategy, the “clay” you have to work with if you will. MAPP enables you to investigate your assumptions, probing them to uncover your ideal strategy. MAPP stands for:

  • Misson: Understand what the goals are, identify the measures of Success and ensure that you have the support of the entire group of key stakeholders, including the C-Suite. Remember, just because it’s on slides doesn’t make it so. Your ability to deliver Success is just as dependent on the people and the politics as it is on the plan and the strategy. Getting the Mission crystal clear should give the team a clarity of purpose and uncover any impediments that might exist. A clear understanding of Mission will also assist you in understanding and defining what type of experience you want the customer to have along each step of the journey. This understanding will assure that everybody is on the same page when it comes to understanding what will make you and your customers successful.
  • Alignment: Alignment is critical. If you don’t have it, it’s like knowing that you have the right key for a lock but not being able to get it into the keyhole. While I believe that in most cases, everybody is trying to do the right thing when dealing with their customers. I often find that their definition of the “right thing” is not in line with what the program or process says to do. It’s simple human nature, we believe we know what’s best and often times that leads to us doing what we interpret to be best thing, sometimes with less than optimal results. Alignment is also critical when it comes to a program that has multiple touch points with the customer. Without proper alignment you’re going to run into challenges. Make sure each role knows their role and their responsibilities when it comes to driving value.
  • Principles: Establish the guiding principles. What type of Success organization do you intend to become? What is your organizational “North Star”? Start out as you’d like to finish. Document the principles for your Success program. This step is crucial as these principles are keystones and define the core values for your Success program and will have a profound impact on your culture.
  • Plan: Plan big or go home. Once you’ve gathered the above elements, you’re ready to start planning the work. Architect an overall plan, create a lean Success Plan and roadmap for the effort. One good way to visualize this plan is as a “product” release. A great way to do that is to use Agile practices. Create it as set of user stories, generate a backlog and then organize it into Sprints that lead up to a “Release”. This practice helps break the effort down into bite-size chunks that can be assigned to key players for delivery. It’s a great way to be able to define what done is, measure progress against your goals, and hold the key players accountable. I know that the term “Release” may seem scary. Yes, it can take some time to build what you have envisioned. Just remember, Customer Success is an endurance event; it’s a journey of a thousand steps. Don’t kid yourself otherwise. Start with the first 90 days but think about the long-term vision. What does your 2 year plan look like? You need a roadmap — leverage the Capability Maturity Model concept to lay the foundation for a long-term plan. With a model, you should know what each gate in your progression looks like and what you should be focusing on at each level of maturity to help you get to the next.

2. Define what Success looks like. People often ask me how I define and measure success. The first thing that you have to do to in order to be able to answer that question is to identify what Success looks like from your customers perspective. Once you know your customers definition, your definition of success should be very easy to define. Strive to align the two. Focus on only what’s important because there will be a lot of noise to distract you. Once you are crystal clear, seek the one measure that best represents that state and that’s your yardstick. It’s the critical measure your should focus on. Speaking of focus, a big part of being able to deliver a successful outcome to your customer is their fit. You need to be sure that you are acquiring customers that you can make successful. A great way to get started on making sure that you are bringing on the right customers is to define what your ideal customer looks like. Build the criteria of what that customer looks like in order to understand your ideal and your stretch customers. Solidify what a good fit and a bad fit looks like and work with Marketing and Sales to find a way to make the winnowing process for fit as self-selecting as possible. If you already have customers, use your new guide to evaluate the customer base and validate that you’ve got it right. You can do this by looking at things like satisfaction level, the number of support tickets submitted, the level of effort to renew, the number of feature request submitted, adoption, etc.

3.Measure everything. Lord Kelvin famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” and he was spot-on. One of they keys to a great strategy is that you have built it with instrumentation in mind. You need to be able to identify how you are doing against your measure of success. Determine what your Customer Success Indicators (CSIs) are. Make sure that you have constructed your customer journey in a way that makes this data available. Create your basic set of reports and get focused on being data informed but not to the exclusion of the qualitative aspects of the experience.

  • Especially measure Happiness. The first opportunity you get, think about putting an NPS survey in place at each of the key milestones in your program. This simple step gives you the ability to understand how you are doing success-wise at each of the critical junctures via transactional surveys. Start with a transactional survey at the end of the onboarding phase to gauge how well you did. It’s a great trip wire and will help you to identify where you had a sub-optimal experience or fit. Use the results to engage with your Detractors to determine what you need to do to turn them into Promoters. Work with your Promoters, recognize that and actively work to turn them into ambassadors. Most of all use the opportunity it affords you to improve your Customer Experience, Product and Service Delivery through targeted feedback.

4.Define the Journey. There’s a lot of talk about the customer journey being key. It’s not BS. You absolutely have to get very clear on what the journey to success will look like for your Customers or you’ll end up feeling like you are spending a lot of time fumbling around in the dark. Use the exercise to understand where there is unnecessary friction in your customer experience. Look for the critical gates that a customer must pass through on their journey in order for them to be on the path to success. Tie it to your Engagement Model so that your choreography is solid. Remember, often times when people talk about their “Experience” with a product and/or company that means that it’s something that was memorable and notable. Typically that means one of two things:

A.) It was the best thing since sliced bread, effortless and easy; something that others will try to imitate.

B.) It was like a soap opera, overly complex and filled with unnecessary drama; a cautionary tale to others.

Which is it going to be? Be sure to look for those places where friction and drama occurs by not just mapping out the actions but also the sentiment.

5.Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch. Yes, you need to build a kick-ass strategy to be successful. Just don’t forget the people that power it. Make sure that you put in place the culture to support and drive your strategy. Get this wrong and it will make for tough going — unhappy employees will never generate happy customers.

6.Got Process? You better. Is it down “on paper”? I know that it can seem onerous to have to document all of your processes but it’s the only way to understand what you are doing and where you can improve. Without documented process you’re going to stuck in tribal knowledge mode. Don’t stunt your growth, give yourself permission to set aside some quality time with Lucid charts to get things documented. It’s the only sure way to make things repeatable. The added benefit is you can use it as a powerful expectation setting tool when you combine it with your Service Promise. The clarity will enable you to know what is supposed to happen and when with confidence. Never underestimate the power of being able to properly set expectations. Another great thing about having your process down on “paper” is that it enables you to sweat the small stuff. The devil truly is in the details so you need to make sure you know all of them in order to be assured that you are going to deliver the outcome that your customer expects.

  • Remember the 6P’s of Success. Create Success plans for each of your products, customer segments and lifecycle phases. Include plays for each step in the plan (including actions for when things don’t go quite as planned). Remember the 6 P’s of Success — Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.
  • Build in feedback loops. Metrics are great but, do you get feedback directly from your customers? Use NPS Surveys to capture sentiment and consider adding evaluations into each critical element of your process (but don’t go overboard with it). Performance Improvement Evaluations (15–45 days post-onboarding) can help you validate that you delivered success to the customer and highlight areas for improvement. Consider how you can also build in alerts (usage, late pay, anniversary, etc.) around positive and negative actions to maintain positive control over the lifecycle and avoid falling into a reactive state. How do you give your customers an option to share sentiment at every touch point and key moment?

7.It takes a Village. We’ve all heard the talk about Success being everone’s job. Make sure that your strategy enables you to identify what that job is so that you can provide each player with a “job description” that makes clear how they are expected to help. Weave this into your engagement model and measure it with scorecards. Make sure that you also think about how you incent compliance with the expectations so that you create a positive feedback loop and the “duties” are not seen as “one more thing to do”. After all, those paychecks aren’t going to keep coming if the revenue drys up so making sure that it is recurring is job #1 for everyone.

8.Is your Product helping or hurting? Look at your Product, what can be done to make it easier to get started. What are the critical things a new customer needs to do get “hooked” on your Product. Don’t chase features if your in-product onboarding experience sucks. Also avoid the fallacy that throwing bodies at a problem that can (and should) be solved in the Product is a viable long-term solution. You’ll hire way too many people and your margins will suffer. Instead, focus on nailing the onboarding in the Product. Get your customer “hooked” and using. Your team should be acting like tour guides not adventure guides. Where possible, look to leverage tools to help with the onboarding and feature utilization aspects. Check out the onboarding and tutorial offerings that are available. These tools can make a huge impact when you’re looking to guide your customers to the features that make the most impact and provide the quickest path to “WOW”. If you don’t have the skills in-house to dissect your onboarding experience, look to engage a pro like Samuel Hulick to do a teardown and give you direction on how you can improve. Most importantly, drink your own champagne. Use your own Product but don’t just use it, deploy it regularly as well. Far too often we spend all our cycles on improving the Product feature-wise without putting any thought to the first impressions that we give during onboarding. Make it effortless and revisit it often to make sure it stays that way.

9. Tools and automation are your friends (when you’re ready for them). Get technology to work for you as a force multiplier but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that technology can make up for a lack or resources, management or process. Think about Success as an assembly line. You don’t build one and bring in the fancy robots until you know what it takes to assemble your “product”. Like a craftsman, build your Success “product” by hand with Excel and elbow grease first. Then once you have things “dialed-in” look to super-size your results through automation and tools. There’s no quicker way to fail than to bring in tools ahead of your ability to really use them. Build this aspect of your evolution into your Maturity Model based plan and when you’re ready add the tools to your arsenal they’ll have the punch you expected. There’s a lot of great ones out there that can help you to become a repeatable Success machine but as with all things, there’s a time and a place to use them.

10.Talk about it. This one gets overlooked a lot and it’s a shame. Talk about your journey. Customer Success is a huge differentiator. Talk about what you’re doing to make your customers successful. More importantly, get your customers to talk about it. That’s right, there is no better lead gen than advocate marketing and referrals. Customers talking about how you made them successful is great social proof and will attract other customers. Success stories provide some awesome content marketing opportunities and they demonstrate that you’re more than just your software, you’re a trusted advisor who cares. Demonstrate that you have the domain expertise to help your customers to achieve success as they define it and it will definitely bring more folks to your “door”.

Next Steps

Setting up a winning Success Engine isn’t a mystery. You just need to know the components and how to build them out so that they all fit into your process and organization. For now, consider these 10 things and think about how you will work them into your strategy. If you have questions about how to proceed from here or have a great addition of your own to share, please leave it in the comments below.


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