Are You Making the Biggest Customer Success Mistake?

By Jeremy Gillespie

The biggest customer success mistake a company can make, other than ignoring customer success outright, is to think customer success starts once a prospect becomes a customer. This myopic approach is often influenced by the metrics customer success is measured by (churn, expansion revenue). Companies who truly understand customer success know that it starts before someone becomes a paying customer.

Moving to a model that incorporates customer success from the very beginning of a client's lifecycle requires that a customer success mindset be pervasive across the entire company. In particular, Marketing and Sales teams need to incorporate customer success thinking in their processes. There are two main areas where CS leaders can help to set this tone and win customers:

How You Market Your Product

The tip of the spear for customer success is held within marketing. Successful customer acquisition requires a well-defined, target customer profile. After all, marketing really comes down to answering two questions:

  1. Who is your target customer?
  2. Where is your target customer?

When companies think about their target customer, they often refer to personas. Personas are great, but they should be informed by your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). Lincloln Murphy popularized this framework and I couldn’t agree more with his approach. His framework covers eight criteria to consider when developing your profile.

Primary questions:

  1. Problem - What’s the problem your product solves?
  2. Ready - Does the customer have the problem?
  3. Willing - Is the customer ready to solve the problem?
  4. Able - Does the customer have the means to solve the problem?
  5. Success potential - Will your product solve their problem?

Secondary questions:

  1. Acquisition efficiency - Are the marketing channels to reach customers cost-effective?
  2. Expansion potential - Does the customer have opportunity for up-sell/cross-sell?
  3. Advocacy potential - Would this customer be ideal for advocating your product?

Rolling your ICP out to the marketing team should be a collaborative effort that involves solid data on your current customer base. Work with your marketing team to define these criteria and re-visit annually to refine. This is a lengthy, but essential process.

How You Sell Your Product

Once a prospect reaches the sales funnel, the initial mission shouldn’t be to assess their wallet size and determine how much money you can squeeze from them. Instead, the first order of business should be to determine whether or not the prospect fits your ICP.

The sales process cannot start until a prospect has been qualified. Take a selfless approach and build a set of discovery call questions around “Can we help you?” Work with your sales leaders to develop qualifying questions using the primary ICP questions above. If you don't start with qualification your organization runs the risk of selling to customers who aren't a good fit, and either churn out early or are poor prospects for expansion selling. 

After a prospect has been qualified by your ICP, the conversation can shift from “Can we help you?” to “Can you help us?” During the sales process, make sure to use the secondary ICP questions to evaluate expansion and advocacy potential.

Customer Success is an Attitude

Considering customer success before money changes hands is necessary to provide long-term value for both parties, but working across departments to make that happen isn’t always easy. Making customer success a part of your company's culture is an essential step in the right direction. It should be an attitude your company stands behind, not a department created to combat churn. Once there is a culture of customer success across the company, it will become easier to work with marketing to build your ICP and with sales to determine a qualification process for prospects. 

Does your organization have a true Customer Success attitude? The Success League is a consulting firm that works with executives to unlock the retention and revenue a top performing customer success team will bring to their business.  We transform support into success by building metrics, goals and processes that enable customer success teams to perform at their peak.

Jeremy Gillespie - Jeremy is a growth-oriented marketing geek, technology enthusiast and customer evangelist. He loves using complex data to build creative retention solutions. By leveraging technology, Jeremy excels at creating scalable retention marketing programs.  He works for LinkedIn, holds a BA in Communication from the University of Pittsburgh and MBA from Point Park University.  He is a proud former Pittsburgher, but currently lives in San Francisco, CA.