Building A Customer Success Playbook

By Kristen Hayer

If you’re not a sports person, you might not know that playbooks were originally used in American football to catalog the various plays a coach wanted his team to practice and run.  Companies later adopted the term to describe the documented tactics a sales leader wanted her sales team to practice and use with prospects. 

Over the past few years, Customer Success teams have become larger and more independent within most organizations, and have started to build playbooks of their own.  However, success teams own the customer relationship over the entire client lifecycle, so their playbooks can be far more complex than those in sales.  If the idea of building a Customer Success playbook for your team seems daunting, here are some ideas to get you started.

Why Do You Need A Playbook?

Playbooks are, at heart, written instructions on what to do when, and how to do it.  Often customer success teams have picked up or been assigned a wide array of processes and tasks, so it might seem overwhelming to think about documenting what everyone does.  Here’s why it’s important:

Clarify Roles – Where do the roles of a salesperson end and a success person begin?  Who delivers training?  Who is responsible for selling to existing customers?  A playbook can keep your team from dropping the ball or stepping on each other’s toes.

Simplify Training – When a new CSM joins your team, how are they trained on processes?  Are you sure they are going to remember what to do in every situation?  A playbook will ensure that your new team members have answers at their fingertips.

Measure Results – If you haven’t defined what to do in different situations, what are you using as a basis for coaching?  Gut feeling?  Experience from a prior, unrelated business?  A playbook will clarify expectations for you and your team, and allows you to measure performance against a solid benchmark.

What Should A Playbook Include?

I think it’s easiest to break down playbooks into 2 parts: “What to Do” and “How To”.  The “What to Do” section outlines your plays (what to do in a specific situation with a customer).  The “How To” section gives step-by-step instructions on the more complex processes or tools that are a part of your success team’s daily life.  Organizing your playbook this way means that you can more easily modify it when things change, but also that you can share components with other teams who follow the same processes or use the same tools.  Here are a few things to consider when you’re designing the sections in your playbook:

Customer Touch Points – I find it most intuitive to organize plays by different stages in the customer lifecycle or different touch points along the customer journey.

Best Practices – Incorporate your best practices into your playbook.  If you work for an early stage company and are still learning what works for your customers, do some research online to learn about the best practices of similar companies.

Detailed Instructions – The playbook will be used for training, so the “How To” section should be detailed enough for a new person to understand it.  Testing it on someone from another department is a great way to be sure you didn’t gloss over anything.

While you do want to document most things, don’t spend time writing up corner cases or issues that only come up occasionally.  That’s why success teams still need a manager - those issues should be addressed with coaching.

How Do You Use A Playbook?

Train New CSMs – When a new person joins the team, one of the first things they should be trained on is your customer success playbook.  I recommend talking new reps through the “What to Do” sections so they can ask questions.  Most people learn new processes and tools best by using them, so I generally let new CSMs run into a situation where they need to use a “How To” before having someone walk them through it.

Reference Tool – Current CSMs can use the playbook as a reference for situations they haven’t run into for a while or as a refresher. I recommend taking your entire team through the “What to Do” sections when you first roll out a new playbook.  It is common for reps who have been around for a while to forget touch points, miss plays or skip steps.

Measure Team Performance – When your team is getting used to the new playbook, I recommend measuring performance on whether or not they are following the processes.  After good habits have been developed, and those processes start producing great results, you can shift to measuring their performance on results.  If a CSM isn’t producing the results you expect, go back to the playbook and make sure they are following your best practices.

It is never too early to start building a playbook for your success team.  A playbook is a living document.  As your company grows and changes you’ll need to make edits.  Even though it takes time, the organization and efficiency a playbook brings will enable your customer success group to scale along with your company.

No time to build your own playbook?  The Success League is a consulting firm that helps Customer Success leaders define, refine and build processes that produce positive customer outcomes and scale as your business grows.