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How to build a culture geared for Customer Success

17th Nov 2021
VMware Tanzu
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In the era of the subscription economy, B2B Customer Success Management (CSM) models have never been more important. Indeed, in the tech world, research shows that vendors are losing upwards of $1.6 trillion each year due to customer churn. It seems that in an increasingly competitive software market, once a customer struggles to define the value of a specific software, or experiences low user adoption, it won’t be long until they part ways.

This is where CSM becomes a critical function. According to McKinsey, when 70 percent of digital transformation initiatives fail, CSM is vital to retention, renewal and growth. By leveraging a CSM’s deep customer knowledge, companies can drive adoption, understand what customers need in today’s fast-moving environment and seek to provide solutions accordingly.

CSM strategy that represents the real world

CSM, as with any part of a business, requires exceptional people that are able to champion the customer and have a deep understanding of their objectives and pain points.

That means acknowledging that business leadership has progressed and diversified; whilst previously successful sales deals could be conducted over a good malt whiskey, it is now about developing solutions that deliver real business outcomes to meet the needs of a diverse range of users.

It is increasingly understood that the most successful CSM teams have an equal mixture of EQ and IQ, combining strong emotional intelligence with more technical intellectual abilities, including an understanding of psychology and organisational development. They must also be diverse – and to do that, companies must be thoughtful in their hiring and ensure that they retain the right talent.

After all, for a customer to get on well with their CSM team, they must be able to see a diverse range of individuals and viewpoints reflected. With the right team in place, successful CSM is the trump card of retention and growth. 

A three-pronged culture of Customer Success

A successful CSM model can therefore be determined by three key aspects – an obsession with outcomes; meeting the customer where they are; and a dose of realistic optimism.

Firstly, when it comes to defining outcomes, CSM’s must take time with a customer to identify what constitutes success on their terms, not yours. Traditionally, many of the metrics used to determine customer success measure the success of the company, not the customer, which is a common pitfall and ultimately, a missed opportunity.

Longer-term success does not stop at a timely roll out or increased functionality, but focuses on what happens afterwards, in terms of user adoption and the impact on the business. At every stage therefore, it is vital to refer back to outcomes, evaluating the time-to-value journey.

Secondly, a good CSM will also meet the customer where they are. Where CSM differs from traditional customer management is in how proactively customers’ experiences and needs are addressed to deliver maximum value-in-use.

It is therefore important to take time to analyse the real situation alongside your customer – from user behaviour, to barriers to adoption. Who are the key players: what is their role, what are their responsibilities and attitudes to the project? What can we learn about their attitudes and needs?

By asking these questions and facing into the reality of challenges facing customers, CSM teams can avoid getting lost in the future or in irrelevant roadmaps – instead making sure they know what works now and can drive value from real-time changes. Indeed, it is only by taking the time to understand the experiences of your customers that you can deliver the value they need to justify investment in the first place. Above all, this means knowing your customer’s personal and corporate values, to be able to adapt and respond accordingly.

Thirdly, a sense of realistic optimism will go a long way in developing a strong CSM model. Both CSM teams and customers know that large scale transformation associated with software development, including influencing user behaviour, doesn’t just happen overnight.

Instead, change will take place on a journey taken together – which is why it’s best to never sell perfection. When it comes to expectations and agreements, make sure both you and your customer come to the table with clarity, to steer clear of unnecessary disappointments further down the line.

So, did we deliver?

The best CSMs will take time to check in and evaluate how they are doing – whether they are ultimately delivering what they should to customers and avoiding the risk of reducing the consumption of products and services.

If you are successful, then this is an opportunity to share the journey, learn, grow and expand, in accordance with the customer. And if not, this is still an opportunity to learn from the customer, reflecting with honesty, and listening and responding as appropriate.

When it comes to the delivery of a CSM offering, no matter where on the journey you are, the awareness that this discipline is a blend of art and science in harmony will position your organisation in the best place to create an engaging and inclusive experience for your teams and your customers. Establishing strong cross-functional collaboration across your Sales, Product Development, and Customer Success organisations will rapidly increase your ability to address real-time customer feedback as it relates to what and how you sell.

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