Annual Planning for Customer Success

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By Kristen Hayer

It’s a little too early to start planning for 2019, right? Wrong. If you’re a customer success leader, now is the best time to get started. You have a lot of ground to cover before the end of the year. For most industries summer is slow, so you can get a bunch of the analysis and process redesign done in July and August. Here’s a 6-month plan that will have you and your team ready for the new year:

July: Review Customer Data

Find time this summer to review the data you’ve collected on your customers, and decide if you need to make any adjustments to your program going forward. Look for areas where customer behavior is changing. Are they purchasing more, on average? Are they taking longer to onboard? Are they giving you different reasons for churning? Use this information to determine whether you need to make any changes to your customer journey map, segmentation, or processes. You’ll need to watch for additional changes throughout the rest of 2018, but you’ll have done the heavy lifting in July.

August: Evaluate Tools and Processes

The work you did in July leads right into an assessment of your processes and tools in August. Can you track all of the data you need? Are you maximizing your existing tools? Do you need to add processes to create a better customer experience? If you noticed a lot of customer behavior changes in your July analysis, you may need to completely revisit your customer journey map and team processes. If you suspect that you aren’t using your tools to the fullest, schedule demos with your vendors and have them review best practices. This is also the month to evaluate new tools.

September: Align Metrics and Goals

Once you have your program outlined you can think about what makes sense from a metrics standpoint. Consider metrics in 3 key areas of customer success: retention, expansion, and satisfaction. Think about the tools and measures you already have in place, and create a plan that leverages that data. If you need to add new measurement points, add those now so you have a 3-month baseline going into next year. Once your metrics are established, use those to draft department and team goals. Again, these may need to be adjusted over the next 3 months, but doing this work now gives you a solid starting point.

October: Build Hiring and Comp Plans

Use data from sales, combined with your own churn expectations, to determine how many customers you’ll be serving in each segment every month. This will indicate when you need to hire. Don’t forget about managers and operations staff. Think about compensation as well: most customer success roles now include variable comp. Create a compensation plan that is tied to the goals for each role on your team. Clear role descriptions will help you align the existing team members to their roles, and help you hire new CSMs who are top performers.

November: Develop a Budget

Some organizations are great about getting their annual budgets finalized early. Unfortunately, most end up pushing final approval well past the end of the year. This makes it tough for you to get the resources you need to hire, equip, and train your team in the early part of each year. You can get around this common issue by developing a working budget ahead of time. Talk with your finance team about the format they use, and develop a draft budget that includes headcount, variable comp, tools, training, and team events. Ask for approval to use this working budget until the official company budget is finalized.

December: Communicate and Train

At this point you will have done a ton of work on your program, but you probably haven’t included your team in every part of it. You need to clearly communicate any changes that you’ve made to the program, roles, goals, and compensation plans. You’ll also need to train the team on any new processes or tools that you’ve decided to add. December is also a good time of year to develop skills that the team will need for next year, so consider adding skill-building workshops to your training plans. Keep in mind that different people learn in different ways, so be sure to communicate both in meetings and in writing to cover your bases.

By following this plan you’ll be less overwhelmed with planning in the fall, and your team will be ready to hit the ground running in January. Of course, if your business doesn’t run on a calendar fiscal year, adjust this plan as needed to match your company’s operating schedule. Good luck as you begin planning for 2019 (now!)

Need some help? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that helps leaders build and develop top performing customer success teams. We offer short-term consulting engagements that can kick-start your planning efforts, as well as coaching for leaders who need some weekly advice. Check out for details.

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Kristen Hayer Kristen believes that customer success is the key to driving revenue, client retention and exceptional customer experiences. Her areas of expertise include developing success goals and metrics, designing the optimal customer journey, selecting technology, training teams, and building playbooks. Prior to founding The Success League, Kristen built and led several award-winning customer success teams. Over the past 20 years she has been a success, sales, and marketing executive, primarily working with growth-stage tech companies. Kristen has her BA from Seattle Pacific University and her MBA from the University of Washington.