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5 Surprisingly Simple Practices of Stellar Customer Success

These are the 5 concrete things anyone can do right now to start crushing it as a customer success superhero.

In my last article, 5 Counter-Intuitive Ideas of Phenomenal Customer Success, I described the unconventional shifts in mindset that are key to generating exceptional customer success results in SaaS/B2B. Each one challenges a dominant mode of thinking in the customer success world, and together they constitute a departure from conventional customer strategy. I call this approach, Client Velocity.

If you have not already read the article, I strongly recommend that you pause now and read it before proceeding. I promise what follows will make a lot more sense. Principles are magic in the way they clarify what matters. And when we can see what matters most, we also see what matters less. These principles are a tool for focusing scarce resources where the leverage is highest. The next step is to translate principles into action.

What follows are the behaviors that put each of the 5 Principles into practice. They are specific and concrete. They can be performed by any person or team, in any organization, and do not require a new customer success playbook, or a snazzy new system. And, best of all, they are very simple things you can start doing right now.

But don’t be deceived, these are the most powerful actions you can take to significantly up your game and create enduring bonding with your customers. I have demonstrated that, if done consistently, they drive incredible results. So let’s get started…

The 5 Practices of Customer Success


First Principle: Success [not happiness]

A strategy focused on customer happiness is not the key to long term renewal. Focus instead on understanding and driving the customer’s own definition of success.

Practice 1: Plan for Success

Create a custom success plan for every client. It’s impossible for me to believe that any success manager can be intent on driving their customers’ outcomes without a plan. Creating a custom-tailored success plan for every client is the first essential practice of Customer Success, yet it’s astonishing how many people don’t do it.

What is a Success Plan? This discipline ensures all the essential elements for client bonding are in place. First, you cannot take ownership of the customer’s success if you don’t know what it is. Naturally, it has to be measurable, and there must also be a clear target the customer would view as unequivocally successful. No plan would be complete without a timeline, milestones, and a clear definition of all the roles and responsibilities. That’s basically all there is (except for one additional key 6th element that I discuss below).

The formula for a great Success Plan:

  1. Clearly define the client’s Purpose (what is success?)

  2. Determine the Metrics and how to Measure

  3. Agree on the Target

  4. Create the Timeline and Milestones

  5. Define the Roles and Responsibilities

Beware of the tendency to over-engineer the Success Plan. It’s great to have a beautiful document, but that’s not what a success plan is. Obviously it must be written down, but stay focused on the reality of the success plan as something you do, rather than fetishizing the written object itself.

What is NOT a success plan?

  1. an account status update

  2. an overview of the account

  3. a write-up of the last interaction

  4. a “next action” plan

  5. a QBR (though it should always contain the Success Plan!)

Which customers need a Success Plan? All clients need a success plan. But in practice, only customers with a success manager are going to get one. Creating a success plan is, by definition, an individual process in which each plan is specifically tailored to the client and their own vision for success. This is not something a robot can do, it’s why you (the CSM) are so valuable in SaaS/B2B. You’re welcome!

When do clients need a Success Plan? Now. It’s almost never too early to start. The best process introduces success planning before the client even purchases the solution. It’s also never too late to start. I’ve built success plans for clients after they’ve cancelled, and won them back!

Some common objections to creating a Success Plan for every account:

  1. “All my customers have the same motivation. The ‘plan’ is always the same.” This belief is a delusion created by starting from the wrong place: your product/service. You must open your mind to the variety that exists in your client group, and the only way to do that is to switch your perspective to focus on the customer.

  2. “My customer won’t engage with me to make a success plan.”
 This speaks to a more profound problem in the relationship. The good news is now you know so it can be addressed. Beware the urge to presume the relationship is otherwise strong and therefore it’s a bad idea to “rock the boat” by demanding more engagement. Do it now. This account is red.

  3. “The customer doesn’t know what their purpose/success is.”
 This mostly likely means you are engaging at the wrong level in your account, which is endemic in customer success. What has happened is your account has “fallen” in the customer organization to the level at which it will eventually fail. The solution is to up-level your engagement inside the customer. Do it now. This account is red.

  4. “There’s no way to measure success.” See “Practice 3: Measure + Materialize” below.

  5. “I don’t think this customer will follow the plan or fulfill their responsibilities.”
 This is evidence that your entire on-boarding and customer success process is not designed to drive specific, measurable, success outcomes that are meaningful to your customer (see previous objection). This could also be due to the problems described in the second and third objections above.

  6. “I don’t have time to do a custom success plan for every customer.”
 First, you need to take a hard look at how you spend your time. Anything else you are doing is lower leverage. Success planning takes priority. Second, you are probably over-engineering the process. Keep it simple.

Here’s the key to client success planning: do it. Just push all objections and worries aside and start today. Go through your accounts, one at a time, and engage with your clients. The process is magic. Your customers have probably never had this experience with a provider. It’s refreshing. And, here’s the secret: you will discover your bonding takes hold almost immediately, even long before you complete the plan and hit your goal. Of course, the target is important. But you will find just engaging in this practice transforms your customer relationships.

Finally, don’t just do it with the “good” customers that you are comfortable with. Your troubled accounts need it even more, and have the potential to respond even better. Try it with one of your difficult accounts today. Hey, it can’t hurt, and you may just be astonished at the turn-around that happens!


Second Principle: Behavior [not technology]

Technology does not transform organizations. Business process change transforms organizations, and technology makes it possible and scalable. Success is dependent on helping your customers change how they work.

Practice 2: Add Expertise

Add expertise to every interaction to help your clients change how they work.

The second key practice is based on the understanding that technology will not transform your customers’ business unless they also change how they work (see principle 2 here). Organizational change is hard, so owning their success inevitably means getting involved in their process change.

However, it is not as complicated as it may first appear. You don’t need to be McKinsey and create a big corporate change initiative to have a real impact. All you need is to recognize that the key to the change that matters most is found in the unique expertise locked within your company.

This practice is simply about continually sharing key insights, tips, and suggestions gathered from within your company and across your clients to help your clients change and improve how they work.

Some common concerns with adding expertise to your regular interactions:

  1. “I don’t know what expertise we have to offer the customer.”
 Here are some simple ideas for gathering expertise: