Customer Relationships

The Building Blocks of an Account Plan

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By Ashley Hall

Account Plans. They are just like going to gym: We should be doing more! Just like exercise, the more you schedule your account planning time and respect that time on your calendar the more successful you will be.

No single account plan can fit all clients across all industries, and compliment all platforms and services. Try as we might to have a standard approach to all our clients, at the end of the day they truly are all unique. Luckily, regardless of the variables, your team can define the basics of a comprehensive account planning approach.

Here are my non-negotiable requirements when it comes to building an impactful account plan.

Org Chart

My first step to building an account is always defining the team and their titles. Understanding your customer's internal organization is a huge part of your role. It’s your responsibility to be able to tell the story of the client and define their roles and goals. Think in terms of who is your main point of contact, your “champion,” their peers, and also two levels of leadership above them. The more contacts and touch points, the better.

Reasons for Purchase

Understanding their motivation for purchase helps set the tone of the relationship and gets you started on the right foot. That understanding sets you up to deliver upon their first success criteria. I love being able to look back on those original struggles or challenges months down the road and tout how we were able to solve for them. In other cases, if they are still struggling with those same challenges, you can highlight some red flags to tackle.

(Evolving) Success Criteria

In addition to the original reason for purchase I always like to highlight 2 or 3 other areas where they are trying to improve. This way our calls are impactful and goal-driven, not just “check in calls.” Again setting these criteria, and achieving them over time, fuels the content for future impact reviews and QBRs.

Red Flags

Highlighting red flags is another huge part of your role. You shouldn’t be solely responsible for solving them, but these are important to raise up to your management. Staffing changes, a high volume of feature requests, and escalated support issues are prime examples of red flags to monitor.

Initiatives & Next Steps

Next steps are such a huge help for me in my day-to-day. They are a reminder of what we are working on, and if I owe an action item or waiting for the client. Initiatives can be unique to our working relationship or their current team. Being able to recall and support a larger initiative of theirs will show the customer that you’re aligned with their current needs and supporting their bottom line.

Account plans provide your team and your clients continuity and structure. Account plans allow you to collaborate with your team internally, and are the basis of knowledge-sharing when it’s time to transition accounts from onboarding, to success, and at your next promotion. While they can sound daunting at first, this is an important initiative to begin. Start with the basics and you can always revisit and refine over time.

Looking for more tips on how to build account plans? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers online training and workshops, including our upcoming classes on Customer Goals & Outcomes and Kicking off the Relationship, which are both a part of our popular CSM Training Program. For most information on this and our other classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Ashley Hall - Ashley loves to lead account management and success teams; from training newbies to building processes out of chaos to working directly with customers. She is passionate about helping customers achieve goals. With an eye on the future she is a powerhouse in building scaleable frameworks that support and drive growth. Ashley is one of the founding advisors to The Success League, and serves as a regular instructor for the company's CSM Training Program. She also serves as a customer success manager for ProsperWorks, and brings her work experiences to her articles and classes. Ashley holds a BA from the University of Colorado, Boulder and enjoys living in San Francisco while traveling all over the world.

Customer Success: You Messed Up, Now What?

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We are delighted to be joined again by guest blogger Manoj Jonna, from YayPay, with his perspective on mistakes. We know you'll find this helpful!

By Manoj Jonna

“To err is human.”

Businesses make mistakes, often. Customer success teams are one of the first groups to bear the brunt of business missteps. But what happens when customer success teams make mistakes? What do you do when you are the pitcher and the catcher?

We’ve done many things right here at YayPay. As a budding customer success team, we’ve also had our moments of introspection and learning. We learned that adopting a standard strategy can help you bounce back from your mistakes and turn things around.

5-Step Model

We’ve distilled our strategy into a repeatable 5-Step model. The model has the following key components – the five A’s.

  1. Assess

  2. Acknowledge

  3. Analyze

  4. Assist

  5. Amend
     

Assess:

When you get a disappointing note by email or a dreaded phone call from your customer, pause for a second. Fight the urge to react at that very instant.  Although the need for speed is key, we need to balance expediency with thoughtfulness. This is the time to assess the nature and gravity of the issue. This is not the time to analyze in-depth because you don’t have access to all the information. Perhaps your customer simply wants to be heard. Perhaps the problem is more serious that you anticipated. You do, however, need to have a baseline understanding of the issue at hand.

Acknowledge:

The next step in the process is to acknowledge what your customer has to say. Stick with the medium of communication that your customer prefers. You know your customers best. Pick up that phone, get into a car, type that email. Whatever you do, ensure that your customer feels heard. In many cases, the situation may very well warrant a sincere apology. This stage is also your opportunity to gather any missing pieces of information from your customer. Once your customer feels heard, you will have the opportunity to ask follow-up questions. Reassure your customer that you will resolve the issue and provide a timeline for resolution.

Analyze:

This is stage where you get to take a breather. Your customer is appeased, for now. You are equipped with the right information. You can now move from a cursory assessment of the issue to a deep-dive analysis. Break it down into chunks. Determine what went wrong, how things went wrong, why things went wrong, how things will be fixed, who will make the fixes, and how similar issues will be prevented in the future. Communicate your findings with your customer. If you need to make changes to your resolution timeline, this is time to let your customer know.

Assist:

This is the most straightforward stage in the model. Your analysis is complete and now it is time to execute on your findings. Work with your internal teams and your customer to resolve the issue. Don’t fall into the temptation of assuming that the issue is resolved. Confirm with your customer and get complete buy-in.

Amend:

This is by far the most important part of the process. The 5-Step model is built on implicit trust between you and your customer. In Step 2, when you acknowledge your mistake, you also make an implicit promise that you won’t repeat that mistake. You only have one bite at the apple. Amending your existing processes, product, or technology so that you won’t repeat the same mistake closes the feedback loop. Without this key step, the model falls apart.

While there is no perfect recipe that solves all customer success challenges, having a repeatable model will provide much needed structure in times of crisis.

Need practical tips on how best to approach your customer once a mistake has been made? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers online training and workshops, like our upcoming Difficult Conversations class (8/9). For more information for this and our other classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io 

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Manoj Jonna - Manoj Jonna is Vice President of Customer Success at YayPay, an Accounts Receivables Automation Platform. After spending nearly a decade working with fast growing early stage and mid-market companies, Manoj has developed a keen interest in finance transformation. Prior to YayPay, he worked as investment banker at Deloitte Corporate Finance where he represented businesses on M&A transactions. As a former CPA at Grant Thornton, Manoj worked closely with CFOs on business process improvement. He is a graduate of Georgetown Law.

Practical Approaches to Customer Outcomes

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By Kristen Hayer

The word I hear most in customer success is “outcomes.” We often hear phrases like “focus on customer outcomes” and “outcome-based account management.” The problem is that the term “outcomes” is used inconsistently across teams and companies. It’s ambiguous. Even if you’re clear about what an outcome is, it can be challenging to know what a customer is looking for and how to help them get it.

For the purposes of this article customer outcomes = business results. Not your product’s results or the results of initiatives specific to your solution. Real, business results. It can be intimidating to talk about your customer’s business results because they are somewhat removed from your product and they are usually at least partially out of your control. However, these are the results that matter to your clients. When you are able to help your customers achieve real business results, those outcomes turn into renewals, expansions, and referrals.

Here are some practical approaches to uncovering the outcomes your customers value most, and helping them achieve the business results they are looking for.

Understand Each Customer

First, keep in mind that every customer is different. It can be tempting to buy into your own marketing rhetoric and assume that every customer buys your solution to solve X (or Y or Z). The reality is that every customer expects a unique set of business results. It is the job of customer success to uncover those expectations and help the customer achieve the outcomes they want.

  • Do your Homework – use your customer’s website and press releases to learn about their business and the initiatives they care about. This can help to start the conversation.
  • Ask Questions – ask about their major business goals, and about the results they hope to see from your solution. Be sure to probe for their expected business results, not just what they want your product to do.
  • Discuss Expectations Regularly – plans, priorities, and initiatives change frequently. Even if you collected information about expectations at the beginning of your relationship with the customer, you need to repeat this discussion on a regular basis.

Plan Together

Once you’ve uncovered the expectations and values of your customers, you can move on to step 2, creating a plan to help them achieve the outcomes they are looking for. Two really important things to keep in mind during this process: First, this is a project you work on together. This isn’t you dictating to your customers the goals they should have. Second, their metrics are more important than yours. You’ll need to work with your customers to gain access to the metrics they want to measure.

  • Create Goals – work with your customer to create goals that will get them to the outcomes they want to achieve. Use SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
  • Develop an Account Plan – once you have SMART goals, combine them to create an account plan that spells out the month-by-month or quarter-by-quarter metrics you will work with your client to achieve.
  • Measure Results – since you’ve worked with your customer to build an account plan, asking them to share results with you should be a part of the conversation. Work together to gain access to the results that aren’t a part of your solution.

Review Results

Once you’ve created an account plan, you can start tracking results. This can be a little intimidating. What if a different client initiative throws off your results? What if you miss your goals? Is your customer going to be upset if you underperform? How do you talk about the hits and misses? Keep in mind that your customer is going to be thinking about all of this, whether or not you bring it up proactively. By being the one to initiate the conversation, you have much more control over the outcome.

  • Be Candid – don’t try to mask or hide negative results. First, if you’re talking to an executive, they expect negative results sometimes. Second, if you try to hide things, your customer will know.
  • Don’t Get Derailed – if you do have negative results, focus on reasons and solutions. This will keep the conversation from getting into the weeds or turning into a complaint session. Ask the customer for their suggestions as well.
  • Celebrate the Positive – it’s easy to forget about the wins, especially in the face of negative results. Don’t gloss over the good stuff you’ve done. Highlight and celebrate your win and the outcomes you’ve helped your customers to achieve.

Customer outcomes are just business results. By focusing on your customer’s business, you can zero in on the things that matter to them, and make sure they achieve the outcomes that will tell them they made the right decision in choosing your solution.

Does your team need help uncovering and outlining the outcomes that your customers are looking for? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers consulting engagements, onsite workshops, and online training to help your team create accounts plans that drive retention, expansion and customer satisfaction. For more information visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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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.

How to Reduce Churn With Your Cancellation Flow

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By Jeremy Gillespie

As much as we don’t want to admit it, customers are sometimes going to cancel. The real problem is that many companies simply let customers walk away with the click of a button. Yes, there are warnings, and you should have systems in place to re-engage people when they show signs of churn. In this post, however, we’re going to focus on how you can optimize your cancellation process to retain more customers, or at the very least gain value insights from their departure. 

Optimize Your Cancellation Process

You’ve worked hard to get your customers and spent resources on giving them the best experience possible. Optimizing your cancellation flow can do wonders to keep (and potentially delight) customers who are considering leaving. The two ways you can successfully handle objections during cancellation are:

  1. Show users what they’re losing by leaving
  2. Give users a compelling alternative to cancelling

A dramatic, but good example of showing users what they’re losing by leaving is Facebook. Their famous cancellation flow shows you all of the friends and photos you’ll be leaving behind. 

With B2B or SaaS companies, a common way to offer an alternative to cancelling is to allow users to pause their plan, give them a discount, or downgrade to a free plan. All of of these options allow you to continue to engage them and provide additional value over time.

3 Steps To Retain Customers Who are About To Churn

Unfortunately, those options won’t help you to retain everyone. Here's how to gather data, analyze it, and use it to prove value and win them back.

Step 1: Know why they're leaving

This is the low hanging fruit that many companies miss out on. Whether it’s manual or automated, you need to capture what has prompted a customer to leave. There are many ways to collect this information:

If you have a self-service cancellation flow, an in-app survey is highly recommended. Immediately after a user has hits “Cancel,” present them with a survey asking them why they're leaving. Use a list of preset options, but allow the flexibility to input a different response. Using presets will get you a higher response rate and make reporting simpler. Using preset options also allows you to route users as they progress through the cancellation flow and present them with the best offer. For example, if a customer is leaving because the service is too expensive, you can allow them to downgrade or give them a discount. 

Another way to approach this is through email. Most companies send a confirmation email. A better option is to build an automated email sequence sent 2-3 days after they’ve cancelled asking them for fill out a short survey. Depending on your bandwidth and the reason the customer left, you may want to set up an interview to gain a deeper understanding of their decision-making process. Email is a great way to get that scheduled.

Pro-tip: Pair an email survey with an in-app survey to increase your response rate and gather more information from departing customers.

Step 2: Offer a solution based on the churn reason

Once you’ve begun gathering data, you can analyze common reasons why customers are leaving and see patterns. Typically, you will classify them as:

Priced Out - If customers are leaving because the product is too expensive, that indicates that you may be acquiring the wrong customers or that your pricing strategy isn’t aligned with those businesses. Obviously, the easiest way to address this is through discounts or downgrades, but this is a slippery slope. You may retain them for a short time, but the overarching problem is still there. If this is your most common cancellation reason, think about how you can provide more value or consider other pricing strategies.

Outgrown - There are certainly times where your product might not fit the needs of a business anymore. In other instances, customers may think they’ve outgrown your product, but are unaware of features or functionality. At this point, you have a few options: 

  • Offer a trial of a more robust plan (if available)
  • Provide additional training and support to get the most out of your product or service

It’s important to note that if you have a lot of customers outgrowing your product, there’s an opportunity to expand your offering to serve these customers. 

Stolen - Most CS professionals have seen situations where there is a sudden or unexpected switch to a competitor. In these cases, often the best way to keep the customer is by presenting them with a discount or upgrade. While this might retain the customer, you still need to understand which competitor value propositions or features appealed to them. You will need to address those within your product to prevent this from continuing to happen.

Neglected - Some customers leave because they do not feel they’ve received the support or help needed to be successful. If this is the case, you will need to work on being more proactive. Setting up systems to flag accounts that may feel this way or holding weekly trainings is a good way to stay in front of this.

Step 3: Never stop providing value

Many companies develop a defeatist attitude as soon as a customer pokes the “Cancel” button. You have just gathered feedback and segmented these customers, so use this information to win them back. When a customer leaves, put them on an automated sequence to deliver high-value content to them based on the problem your product solves and the churn “bucket” they’re in. For example, for customers who have outgrown your product, make sure they’re informed of new features you’ve launched and what’s on the roadmap for the future. 

No Customer Left Behind

Having some customers leave is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you need to lay down and let them walk out the door. Engage them on the way out, learn from their experience, persuade them to stay, or at the very least do everything you can to prevent it from happening in the future. 

Looking for more tips on how to reduce churn in your organization? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers online training and workshops, including our upcoming class on Renewals & Churn (5/31). For more information on this and our other classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessleague.io

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Jeremy Gillespie - Jeremy is a growth marketing expert who loves using complex data to build creative retention solutions. By leveraging data and technology, he excels at creating innovative retention and expansion marketing programs for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Jeremy is a founding advisor to The Success League, and is also the founder of Built to Scale, a Bay Area consulting firm focused on helping businesses build scalable customer acquisition and retention programs. He holds a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and MBA from Point Park University. He's a proud former Pittsburgher, currently living in San Francisco.

Communications 101: Understanding The Right Way to Speak With Clients

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By Amin Akbarpour

As a customer success professional you should be spending the vast majority of your time communicating with your clients. Whether this is done via email, phone, social media, or in person, there’s a level of professionalism you should adhere to. For me? I have a few things I always check off before entering any conversation with a client. These items might seem obvious and more relevant to newer client-facing folks. However, they can still serve as a great checklist for customer success veterans.


Write Strong Emails

Imagine how much email you receive as a Customer Success Manager or Account Manager today. Your clients receive exponentially more emails! Besides receiving messages from you, they’re getting email from other partners, sales folks, and their colleagues. With such a crowded inbox, the last thing they want to see is a long and wordy email. When writing emails, remember to be concise and stay away from long sentences or large paragraphs. Incorporate bullets whenever possible, and ask yourself, “Would I have to scroll down more than once on my phone to read this email?” If the answer is “yes,” then you might want to reconsider before you press the “Send” button. If you truly have that much to say, then an email probably isn’t the best choice for that conversation.

I also would recommend reading E-Mail: A Write It Well Guide as it serves as a great resource for getting into good email habits.


Set an Agenda

Have you ever left a meeting and realized that you just wasted 30 minutes and didn’t get what you wanted out of it? Definitely not the best feeling. A good way to avoid this is by always starting any call or meeting with the agenda. Let everyone know how you plan on spending their time and make sure everyone’s needs are aligned. That way, if someone in the room expected a certain topic to come up, they can voice it right away and get it on the agenda. This allows you to manage time properly and cover all relevant topics. Win-win.


Summarize Next Steps

This is what I call, “clearing the table.” As a call or meeting is approaching its end, summarize what was discussed and what’s next on the horizon. Give direction and ride the momentum of a successful meeting into meaningful next steps and action items. You can accomplish this by assigning ownership of tasks and collecting due dates for completion. This way, you have your to-do list stated and agreed upon by all parties. After the meeting, summarize this in an email to the group so that everyone has their commitments in writing.


Add Value

My biggest pet peeve is when a client-facing rep reaches out to just "check in" or “follow up.” A great CSM knows these follow-ups are empty, and can feel like a blatant attempt at staying top of mind. I understand in some circumstances, you might find them necessary (scheduling meetings, getting signatures on contracts), but in most cases, there is a better way of staying visible. With a little tailored messaging, you can call out things about your customer's usage of your product, discuss a recent article about their organization, or even send them industry news they might find useful. These are all examples of ways to start a conversation and provide immediate value to the client. These are also good habits to get into, as they help you to stay current within the industry and thus able to connect more effectively with your clients.

These simple habits can help you to become more successful in your client interactions. These practices don't have to be limited to simply client-facing interactions either. They can be practiced in internal conversations as well as in general business discussions. Remember, repetition is the father of learning.

Are you a new or seasoned CSM looking for effective tips on how to interact with your clients? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers online training and workshops on core CS topics like Asking Great Questions and Difficult ConversationsFor more information on these and our other classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Amin Akbarpour - Amin is a customer success coach and architect.  With relationship-building at the core of his practice, he molds teams by instilling the necessary principles to transform them into trusted advisors. Understanding what's needed for organizational change, he translates theory and ideology into practice and habit. Amin is one of the founding advisors to The Success League. In addition to his work with The League, Amin currently serves as an account manager for Persado. Originally from Southern California, Amin is a University of San Francisco alum who now calls New York City home.