The #1 Tip for Selecting the Right Customer Success Software

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By Chad Horenfeldt

You've just convinced your CFO and other key executives that you need a Customer Success (CS) platform and you’ve been given the green light to start an evaluation process. Congrats! That’s an achievement in itself. Before you start lining up those demo calls, have you thought through how you're going to ensure you purchase the right solution, get your internal stakeholders bought in and successfully implement it? This can be a daunting task for any Customer Success leader. 

There's a lot at stake here. Your team is depending on you. Your company is depending on you. Most importantly, your customers are depending on you. How will you ensure that you get this right?  If you think it comes down to matching the features that you need with what the CS vendors tell you they have, you’re setting yourself up for a massive failure. Rather than rehashing the basics of choosing and implementing a CS platform, I’ll focus on the most important tip that I’ve learned. This can align the critical people in your organization, prevent those annoying gotchas down the road, and lead to a successful implementation. 

With all of the Customer Success software that’s out there these days, I want to first clarify that by Customer Success platform, I’m referring to those solutions that are at the core of your technology stack. These include Gainsight, Totango, ClientSuccess, Churn Zero, Strikedeck, Natero, Bolstra, and Catalyst, just to name a few.

Detect and Address Landmines as Quickly as Possible

“What do you mean you can’t integrate with that system?” These types of landmines are unfortunately quite common when it comes to buying software, especially CS software. After you’ve started the implementation process you realized the solution you purchased doesn’t account for your organization’s particular needs. This occurs because many software evaluations focus on features such as health scores, reporting and alerting, without doing enough due diligence to see if these features will match your current and future customer success requirements. 

In addition, you want the various stakeholders who are either signing off on this purchase, helping to implement it (internal and external) and using it on a daily basis to understand what you want this software to actually do. Does your operations person understand what “Success Plan” actually means? Will your CEO care about “usage alerts”? How will you ensure that the system you’re purchasing can integrate all of the systems and data that you need to make this a success? Will your CSMs get the right data they need to do their jobs effectively? You need alignment across all of these different groups as you will need everyone’s help to make this software purchase a success.

A foolproof method I learned from our Operations team to match your requirements with a CS software vendors’ true capabilities is creating use cases. A use case simply outlines how a user uses a system to accomplish a particular goal. Easy right? The trick is how you write them and how you incorporate them into your decision-making process. 

It’s important to write out your use case in the following way: “As an “X” (the type of user), I want to “Y” (the desired action)”. Here is an actual use case that we created: “As a CSM, I want to receive an alert/task so that three months following the client go-live date I am prompted to schedule a EBR with my client.” Notice how specific this use case is and it clearly communicates not only the functionality that is required but how you will use that functionality. This is helpful as it makes it very clear to the vendor, to the key stakeholders in your organization, and to you on what you’re looking to achieve. 

Trying to frame your needs into use cases will force you to think through scenarios fully, and test the requests that the CS team may be asking for. As an example, if a CSM wants to be alerted when there is a drop in a certain type of usage, you need to evaluate if that data point will actually provide the right information that will help you take the appropriate action. Use cases will help you answer the questions: 

  • Why is this important? What will it achieve?

  • What data is needed to make this reality and how will you access that data?

  • Does this process currently exist? What do you need to do to make this successful?

Before you build out some additional infrastructure to support a new data point or a new process, you can determine if that use case is really applicable. Use cases help limit those destructive hazards from derailing your Customer Success software implementations.

Putting Use Cases into Action

The use case alone only goes so far. After you understand if a vendor has the basic capabilities you need based on your stated objectives, it’s best to put together a list of your use cases in a spreadsheet (example below).  Beyond the use case, outline the integration that may be required, the priority (from 1-10), how valuable you deem it to be, the effort required by your internal teams to set this up and an assessment of how accessible the data is.

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This process can take days or even weeks and should be a consultative effort with your CSMs, other functions such as sales, as well as with executives who may want certain data points or features. It’s a document that you will adjust over time as you learn more about what vendors can and can’t do and you’ll also find that priorities may change based on what you learn from the vendors themselves. It’s important to start writing down every use case you can think of and not just those that are applicable to your current situation. Even if the first draft is incomplete, you will adjust it over time. 

This process will help you determine if the CS software will serve you in the next 3 months as well as the next three years and beyond. While you can switch up the software at some point, you don’t want to face a situation where you miscalculated an important need a year into your contract and find yourself having to implement a new software. By documenting this out you can also ask the right type of questions internally and with the vendor to ensure you can carry out the specific use case. If there is ever any uncertainty, demand that you see for yourself how the use case would play out in their software.

When purchasing CS software, you will need to make tradeoffs as there are features that may not be included by certain vendors based on your budget or may not be in your product package. Creating this type of spreadsheet allows you to determine which uses cases are the most important as well as being very transparent as to the effort that will be required. You can then determine as a company which CS software will work best for your current situation and future scenarios. You may also realize that you need external help from a consultancy. Make sure you consider these important decisions now and not down the road when it may be more difficult to get the budget you need.

As an added bonus, I recommend that you use this type of evaluation to drive your CS software implementation. When we implemented our CS software, we determined that the customer lifecycle was our most important need and required minimal effort so we changed our implementation plan. This allowed us to start delivering QBRs, NPS surveys, and other client health checks on a more regular basis and demonstrated value right away and not get bogged down on other areas. We rolled out the software in phases that met our needs - not the vendors. Don’t always follow what the vendor thinks is best.

Armed with your use cases, you are ready to set up those CS software vendor demo calls. You have a clear understanding of your needs and you have the right buy-in and cooperation from the critical people in your company. There is a clear understanding of why you’re seeking out a CS software solution and what it will achieve. There is a clear line of sight into the pains it will alleviate. There is even a justification as to why you may need to pay more for one solution over another based on a requirement from your Operations or Engineering teams. While you may be caught up in the flashing lights and slick integrations with Slack in those sales demos, you can always refer back to your core requirements and stay on track. You are ready for battle. Go make the right decision.

Is your company due for a big change but you're not sure where to start? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers customer success evaluations that are a great way to see what is working well and what needs improvement. For more information on our consulting services and training classes, please see TheSuccessLeague.io

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Chad Horenfeldt - Chad is a customer success executive with 15+ years of experience building and developing high performing teams. Currently, he is the Vice President of Client Success at Updater. Prior to Updater, Chad held CS leadership positions at Bluecore, Influitive, and Oracle (Eloqua). In addition to writing for The Success League, he also writes regularly on the topic of customer success on his blog The Enlightened Customer.