Customer Success Plans. Really, they’re not that hard.

INSEAD crisis

In a call earlier today with my good friend, David Sakamoto, Head of Customer Success for the Americas at Cisco, a wide-ranging conversation eventually turned to customer success plans. While we are each big believers in the tool and have had great experiences utilizing it with enterprise customers, it seems to have fallen a bit out of fashion lately. We’re not seeing success plans as a topic very much on conference and meetup agendas. If I do, it is only given the surface treatment as in, all customers should have a success plan. But no detailed sharing of experiences and of empirical proof that they matter to customers. Nor do I trip across blogs that touch on them. So I did some random, unscientific inquiries with people I know to see whether their organizations utilize the tool. The results were spotty. Some do, many don’t. Some produce them but only for strategic customers. Some only for customers that demonstrate some sort of need for one (I can’t figure out that rationale), and one that does it for all their customers (but it’s a manual process and they are a small SaaS vendor with only 50 accounts). So I dug into this topic a bit more.

A year ago, TSIA, published in their annual State of Customer Success the following graph that details how CSMs in their community of enterprise companies are spending their time. Nowhere on the list is “success plans”. What you do see are “get well” plans but you can also see from the definition that those types of plans are reactive (details the steps to put out fires that threaten future revenue) versus the proactive nature of a success plan (details the path towards achieving business outcomes).

image (2).png

So what gives? Why aren’t organizations producing success plans more broadly, as a best practice, for more of their customers? How do people offer proactive guidance that drives adoption, especially for larger and more complex environments? Is the answer to just do weekly phone calls, as if we’re still in the 20th century? Could it be that companies are now producing software solutions that are so solid, so easy-to-use and implement, and so intuitive that customers easily adopt them without the need for guidance? Ahem.

Let’s be honest, most CSMs don’t create success plans for their accounts for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. They aren’t required to
  2. Time constraints
  3. Not enough information about the customer
  4. The customers have not shown an interest in the past

All these excuses (sorry, reasons) are why there are so many “get well” plans in existence. So, let’s tackle each one:

  1. They aren’t required to – This tells me CS management themselves don’t understand the value of success plans and probably (I can almost guarantee) haven’t discussed them with customers.
  2. Time constraints – This I understand and appreciate but have you tried to automate the creation of the success plan?
  3. Not enough information about the customer – Huh? Don’t you have a CRM? Hasn’t the salesperson captured most of the pertinent information already?
  4. The customers have not shown an interest in the past – I bet they haven’t and it’s likely because they’ve not received enough value or have had very little follow-through from the CSM.

Let’s dive into #3.  Even the world’s worst salesperson will have this information documented:

Section A

  1. what industry the customer is in
  2. what they bought
  3. what they spent
  4. their renewal date
  5. the names of key contacts in the account
  6. the names of key vendor contacts (account manager, CSM)

Better salespeople will have this data as well:

Section B

  1. why the customer bought the product/solution; what are they trying to solve?
  2. partners they might be using and how (implementation, staff augmentation, etc)

In addition to all that, the best salespeople I’ve ever worked with will include the information below and be able to recite, without notes, an elevator pitch around it:

Section C

  1. a breakdown of interest of each key stakeholder in the account
  2. particular business challenges facing both the company and the industry that they are in and how the vendor can help them successfully face these challenges

Let’s not even consider AI software that can, and eventually will, vastly enrich the overall knowledge of the account that’s contained in the CRM. An example is AI software like this in the financial services industry that factors in demographic, geographic, and publicly available tax information to produce a full picture of expected costs and returns for a financial customer. Basically, they are hell-bent on replacing costly financial advisors. That’s the future and I suggest that more companies start getting serious about producing success plans for all their B2B customers.  I can hear screams of “WHAT?!?!? There’s no time!” In answer, I return to #2 in the reasons above. Have you tried automating the process?

It’s not that hard. Have your IT or CRM administrator create a form that looks like the kind of professional success plan you’d present to customers and that gets automatically generated when they sign a contract. Have that form populated with pertinent, customer-facing information (stored in CRM fields) that should already have been collected during the sales process, such as:

  • items 2, 4, 6 from Section A
  • items 1, 2 from Section B
  • item 2 from Section C

The program could also map out a timeline for the customer’s expected adoption of the product (based on best practices you should already have learned and documented from other similar size and type customers).

Once the form is auto-populated, have it sent to the assigned CSM for review before they send it on to the customer. Or go full-on automation, if you have the confidence, and have it sent straight to the customer. Am I forgetting anything?

Thanks for reading what I think is probably the most mechanical blog post I’ve written in 10 years. I hope it didn’t hurt too much.





About Peter Armaly
I get jazzed by automation, big data, and blockchain tech. Business, technology, and fitness are things I understand. Scotch, wine, food, and fiction are things I appreciate.

8 Responses to Customer Success Plans. Really, they’re not that hard.

  1. Excellent post. I like how you characterized the level A, B and C. At Cisco, we’re absolutely looking to leverage the technology and automation to minimize overhead, non-value added work (from my Industrial Engineering background) to maximize the quality of interaction with the customer. I look forward to our next conversation Peter!!

  2. Cory says:

    Some great points here Peter. You should see the cringe I make when I hear “get well plan”. It implies that the customer is sick and besides a good success plan would likely eliminate the need to get well.

    • Peter Armaly says:

      It’s amazing though how many business executives don’t understand this fundamental physics of Customer Success. One must come before the other. Proactive wards off reactive.

  3. Tomer Weinstein says:

    Very good Article. I would also add (to one of the sections) a SWOT analysis to be followed up and updated at permanent basis.That might be a good platform for brainstorming and creativity,

    • Peter Armaly says:

      You raise a good point, Tomer, and one that I neglected to touch upon. Keeping the success plans current is vital and we’ve found in the past that twice per year for automated accounts is sufficient and once per quarter (during QBRs) works for large enterprise accounts. Conducting SWOT analysis and factoring in the results makes sense for both scenarios.

  4. Andres Carcache says:

    This is a good article. I’m a PSM currently supporting partners in CANSAC and MCO regions and we have as part of the adoption training content this topic included as part of building their integral adoption practice. They have seen an increasing need of building a customer success plan for their customers to ensure they can track and monitor adoption metrics and customer level of satisfaction as per CuPL developed to. I have few partners already developing this and certainly they have seen an important value out of this building effort.

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