Customer Fit (or Know When to Fold 'Em)

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By Steve Schwartz

I spent a few days last week at a conference in the desert oasis known as Las Vegas, but all too often referred to as Lost Wages. When I had a break, I found myself down in the poker room facing off against casino regulars, tourists, and other conference-goers. I’m a very patient player and have lots of time to think while folding awful hands. One thing I realized is that poker hands can be a lot like the three types of customers that I’m sure you all have experienced: perfect fit, good fit, and bad fit. You may not know what type of customer you have when they first sign up, but as more information is revealed about them, you need to act accordingly.

The shortest primer on Texas Hold’em I can offer is this: each player is dealt two cards that only they can see and a round of betting commences. Each player will use those cards and five community cards to attempt to make the best hand possible. There’s a round of betting and then three community cards (the flop) are revealed. There is another round of betting, then one more community card (the turn). Then another round of betting, and a final community card (the river). Finally, there is one more betting round before either one player remains or multiple players show down their cards to see who has the best hand.

PERFECT FIT CUSTOMERS

You look down at two tens and raise the pot only to be re-raised by another player. You call and the flop brings two more tens and an ace. It doesn’t get much better than quads (four of a kind)! While you’ll have to invest some money for them to pay off, you’re confident you’ll be rewarded in the end.

Perfect fit customers don’t come along as often as you’d like, but when you find one, you want to maximize their value. That means that you’ll certainly want to invest heavily in their success in order to reap the profits of case studies, white papers, speaking engagements, and references.

GOOD FIT CUSTOMERS

This time you look down at an ace of spades and a king of hearts. It’s one of the better starting hands so you raise your opponents. You get a few callers and the flop comes king of spades, with the ten and 9 of diamonds. You’ve got a good hand, but there are still two cards to come and anything can happen. Someone could already have a straight or have a high likelihood of beating you with a flush. You’ll have to pay attention to the signals from the other players as the rest of the cards come to decide whether to keep going with your hand or to fold and give up.

Similarly, the most common customer you’ll find is a good fit. Their goals align well with your product offering, but things can change as their needs change or as they learn more about what your product can and can’t do for them. As you gain more information about your good fit customers, they may need significant investment in product enhancements to stay a good fit. At this point, you need to decide whether you’re willing to make those investments for the greater customer base, or let this particular good fit customer slip into the realm of a bad fit.

BAD FIT CUSTOMERS

In our final hand of the night, you look down at two sixes (clubs and hearts) and call another player’s raise. The flop brings a jack, nine, and eight, all spades and there is a bet and raise before it gets to you. If another player has two spades, you’ve got a less than 3% chance of winning the hand. You could certainly invest more money and try to get lucky or bluff the other players, but most of the time you’ll cut your losses and fold the sixes.

We’ve all had bad fit customers, but sometimes we don’t realize it until we’ve invested far too much and can’t let them go. They ask for enhancements that aren’t worth investing in, their product usage doesn’t look healthy, and their expectations don’t align with what can be delivered. Just like our sixes, sometimes the best decision is a quick fold so you can focus on the next customer.

Whether with customer success or poker, it’s always difficult to make a decision when you’re heavily invested in a customer or a potentially good hand. My advice is to always use as much data as you can, whether it be product investment costs versus potential lifetime value or odds of catching the cards you need to win versus cost to see those cards. And remember, don’t believe the phrase “it’s better to be lucky than good.”


I’ll bet you didn’t think you’d learn all about poker reading a customer success blog! The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers training and coaching for customer success leaders (and those who want to be). Check out our Leadership page for more information on our programs, and learn when to hold ‘em and fold ‘em!

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Steve Schwartz - Steve is a customer success leader who enjoys starting and building high-performance teams at early-stage startups. He has worked in startups for the past 14+ years in a variety of customer-facing roles. By engaging with customers during the sales cycle, he ensures customer expectations are fully understood and can be exceeded. When not writing for The Success League, Steve is co-leading Customer Success at Carrot Fertility. He holds a BS from Tufts University and an MS from Virginia Commonwealth University, and spends his free time with his wife and two kids exploring the Bay Area.