De risking the first 90 days for your SaaS Customer

The following is part of a conversation about Customer Success Management (CSM) between Amity and Jason Whitehead, CEO of Tri Tuns.

Amity looks at CSM from the perspective of the tools and platforms CSMs need. Jason brings the perspective of the consulting methods and approaches CSMs should employ to drive user adoption and ROI with their customers. The result is some fresh perspectives on how CSMs can best address the people, process, technology, and organizational needs of their customers.

Jason: The first 90 days of an implementation are critical. Customers have high expectations about the value your system will bring and how quickly they will start to see improvement in their business operations. There is often a lot of visibility into the project and executives are under pressure to show success.

Yet, this is often of the hardest points in an implementation for both customers and SaaS providers. There are all kinds of technical, organizational, and user adoption risks that need to be addressed.

The Customer Success Manager (CSM) needs to work quickly to establish credibility and demonstrate to the customer that they will help them achieve their business goals.

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges that CSMs have during this first 90 days?

Amity: At this juncture, you are no longer trying to “make the sale”. The first 90-days is your opportunity, as a CSM, to start influencing customer outcomes. However, the biggest challenge today – remember this is still a fairly nascent industry – is having the right tools to be successful in the role.

Most companies likely employ a number of systems to satisfy business requirements ranging from email, billing, and sales automation to support tickets. And although there is a treasure trove of information contained within each, they contribute to but were not built to match the use case of managing the entire customer lifecycle. They lack the comprehensive view of the customer – the account information, usage data and engagement mechanisms required for a CSM to effectively establish credibility and help the customer achieve their business goals.

And if the CSM is flying blind, chances are the rest of the organization is too – including the C-suite.

Jason: Those are all great points. The idea that CSMs need accurate product usage data to inform their actions to drive customer success cannot be stressed enough. Customer product adoption is on the critical path for the customer to realize their business goals.

One of the overarching problems I see in the SaaS industry, in general, is that many vendors are still approaching things from the old model where the focus was on delivering software. Today’s customers demand more. They demand to see measurable business results and clear ROI from their investment in technology. If they don’t see it, they walk.

The biggest challenge here is that many CSMs don’t know the actions they should take to help their customers achieve the business outcomes they want. They don’t have the strategies, processes, and methods they need to help their customers change the way the customer does business.

In short, the CSM needs to shift from being an expert in implementing their system to becoming an expert in helping their customers’ shift the way their employees do their jobs – using the SaaS system – to deliver measurable business results. CSMs need to become experts on helping people and organizations change; they cannot be just technologists.

Amity: That is a pretty tall order and may explain why several organizations find it difficult to staff their customer success teams with qualified individuals. It requires a skill set that is part art, part science, and part psychology.

So how does the CSM start helping people and organizations change? The CSM needs to be proactive about engaging with the customer on a personalized level. The one-size-fits-all support approach will no longer work. Regardless of how big the book of business, each customer will require individual attention. Your company understands your SaaS system inside and out because you conceived and built it BUT the customer does not. And each customer’s experience will differ. At the end of the day, they are all solving a common problem to which your SaaS system was the solution, however, they have unique goals and objectives.

The CSM needs to demonstrate how naturally their offering fits into the operational day-to-day lives of the customer by quickly identifying and eliminating any friction they may be experiencing with the system.

Personalized proactive customer management is only just being established in the first 30 (typically the lifespan of a trial offering) or 90 days. The CSM has set the bar and the customer’s expectations, which will continue through the entire customer lifecycle.

Jason: One of the first things CSMs need to do is meet with the customer to learn about their specific goals and to set realistic expectations about what it takes to achieve these. Many times customers have seen great demos and the salesperson set high expectations about what is possible. It’s now the CSMs job to set expectations about what is realistic and practical within given time frames.

A good starting point is to help the customer develop a clear roadmap that identifies the customer’s journey from Day 1, through the initial go-live, driving user adoption after go-live, and then measuring business results / ROI. Key things to address include:

  • Identifying who within the customer’s organization is responsible for ensuring long-term user adoption and ensuring business goals are met.
  • Determining the organizational and people issues that need to be addressed to drive and sustain user adoption over the life of the system.
  • Defining the specific actions that need to be taken before, at, and after go-live in order for the customer to achieve their business goals.

Agreeing on the specific roles and responsibilities for each customer-facing and CSM team member working on the project.

Amity: Great insights and suggestions for how the CSM can truly establish a level of personal engagement with the customer!

Additionally, the CSM plays a very pivotal role internally. As a conduit into the customer and their behavior – their usage patterns, their adoption levels of functionality, their friction, their excitement and their feature wish list – the CSM is an invaluable resource for technical support, marketing, sales, product management and development teams. With all this knowledge and understanding they just need a means of communicating it.

The CSM could get invited to core departmental meetings or taking a page out of Agile Development – they could start a 15-minute daily stand-up. Invite a key participant from each department and share what you know, what you’ve heard, what you think and what you need.

Remember no one individual “owns” the customer. In order to be a truly customer-centric organization, the entire company has a role to play in helping the customer succeed. It just begins by de-risking the first 90-days.

Read more: Time vs. Usage: How to Start Building Your SaaS Trial Journey