Mar 2, 2018

Read Time 9 min

Q&A: Managing the Customer Journey to Accelerate Account Expansion


For any SaaS company, customer expansion means understanding your customer’s business and using that knowledge to make your product a critical element of their continued growth.

Earlier this week we hosted a well-attended webinar with Customer Success Strategist and Consultant, Kia Puhm on – Managing the Customer Journey to Accelerate Account Expansion.

Topics that were discussed included:

  • How to use customer segmentation strategically to land and expand accounts
  • How to factor business maturity into your customer journey
  • How to use a Customer Success Plan to drive account expansion
  • How to know when to propose up-sell opportunities to the customer

Based on the attendee feedback we found that whether their organization was missing a strategic plan to increase up-sells or if their organization already had a systemic process in place, everyone seemed to find some valuable takeaways from the presentation.

The audience also engaged in some great Q&A with our presenter, that we thought we’d share with you.

Webinar Q&A Recap with Kia Puhm

Q: One of the questions we got came from an audience member, who is from an event software company. She asks- We’re currently segmenting by customer type- for example venue vs. 3rd party planner. Does it make more sense for us to segment our customers by needs based? So, for example are they at maximum capacity, or do they need more leads.

A: When I look at segmentation and how to segment, I do look at what are the customer’s needs and how can you categorize those. Often, I see companies starting to segment customers on how they think they should arrange them. But, the needs of your customer will tend to show trends of things that you need to help those customers with. And then it naturally makes bucketing like needs together easier, as well as how you service those customer segments.

Often, I find people think that you need to segment customers by like company size and grouping. That is not necessarily the case because their needs might be completely different. And so that’s why I like to look at, what do your customers most often need help with. And look at those needs as clues for your segmentation axis and start to look at how you can segment accounts that way.

Q: How do you scale a Customer Success Plan, since this can be a very manual and 1:1 effort? For example, if you are in B2C?

A: I love that question. So, I aim and work with my clients to not have a very bespoke Customer Success Plan (CSP) for each customer. If you’re segmenting customers based on like needs and they are general – every customer is unique, yes – but there are trends, using the 80/20 rule – 80% of your customers within a specific segment will all experience. And so, I look at mapping out a CSP that is very aligned to a customer journey and has components of what is required for that segment. And so, if you have a foundational framework of a CSP that is repeatable and generic, that’s what we look to put in place first.

Then, you have the individual discussions and you augment or broaden out what they are trying to do based on that framework approach. So that you’ve got this prescriptive approach of how you are going to look at helping customers – that should be encapsulated in your CSP, then thereafter your dialogue, your interactions, your understanding of the customer, will fill in the remaining elements that are unique to that customer.

Q: Follow-up question on Customer Success Plans. A big question is, which file format and information structure do you capture this information in? Is Microsoft Word good? Maybe customer fields in our CRM? How do you make this information searchable for the entire business and not just the Customer Success team?

A: Another great question. Ultimately you want it in whatever your corporate CRM is, so that everyone has access to it and it can be seen. You also want it to be very well organized, so that everyone understands what each of the data elements means and has a similar vernacular and language around all of those elements so that the information is readily absorbed and understood within the internal organization. That being said, I like the crawl, walk, run approach to building out tools and process in companies. And so, if you’re just starting out or you are still looking to evolve this data – collecting it, storing it, and then maybe sharing components, and looking at ways to manually distribute (if it’s a really small company) – those things are all appropriate.

I think it’s more important that you first, understand what you should be regularly collecting and what’s important, so that you’re not just collecting everything and dumping it. Because you want to be really careful about the information that is important to you, that then the rest of the organization can benefit from and use – rather than worrying about the systems, dumping everything, and then not having the data be relevant. So ultimately, you want the system, you want it accessible to everyone, you want the data to mean something, and you want the data to be very clean in terms of what you’re looking at and how it is useful in moving the customer through their journey.

Q: Who do you meet with when you’re going through a Customer Success Plan? Is it a VP, a Director, or an end-user?

A: Another great question. You should look at the journey and understand where the customer is in their evolution. It also depends on the nature of the discussion. If you are looking at diving deep into the product or tactics, then you should be working with your key stakeholders or end-users. If you are looking at an executive business review and you want to show impact and demonstrate the value that the company is receiving from your product you then want to make sure that you’ve got the key stakeholders in on those conversations as well. So, you do want to pull in as high up in the organization as you can and as it makes sense, to have those types of conversations. So, the CSP can be a deep dive if you’re with the end-user level and you’re using it to manage them forward. At the C-suite level, when you’re doing a quarterly business review it can be used at a high level to show the progress. You can still use information with all the audiences, it’s just how you speak about it and what your purpose of the conversation is, alters and changes slightly.

Q: What do you recommend when clients are resistant to sharing internal business processes?

A: That’s an interesting one. Well, I guess the first question I would ask the client is – what is the hesitation of showing that, and how do they expect to make change with the technology if the conversation doesn’t involve the businesses processes as well. So, the question would be then to have maybe a higher-level conversation of what is their concern about sharing business process – that’s part of understanding the customer. There might be a very legitimate reasons for doing that, but then make them part of the solution, and figure out how can you implement the technology and how can you help to modify their process accordingly to get benefit out of the product, if we can’t talk about the processes. And have them offer up suggestions and solutions in doing so, and if they don’t do that at all, you want to start understanding why did they buy the product. Level set again, as to what their business objectives are and if their business objectives are to tinker with the product or learn it, then you might just need to be that focused and help them with that aspect.

Q: We are getting lots of different segmentation questions. Since it can vary so much among companies and industries, do you have any recommendations for segmentation models that might be good to consider that could apply to any organization?

A: So first, I think it’s important for people to understand my philosophy behind segmentation. I fundamentally believe that in all aspects- looking at business maturity, segmentation, CSPs, all the activities that we conduct in Customer Success to move customers forward, they should holistically align to what is that journey should look like. For your most successful customers- what does that success path or journey look like? And when you start to understand what that is, and what their corresponding needs are in moving forward, those needs start to point to how you can segment, or they can talk about how you might talk to the customers or different stakeholders and who should be in what meetings – it informs everything that you do. And so, in terms of segmentation model, I would look at what those needs are.

On my website I have adoption parameters that I look when I create segmentation models with clients. That said…in a pinch, if I had to just give you a generic answer, I would tell people to look at what the spend potential is of their client and what their business maturity is within the realm of what the product serves. And when you look at those two areas they tend to give you a pretty decent starting point for segmentation.

Q: What if a client is over promised or over sold on something during the sales process? What tips do you have for the Customer Success team in handling this expectation gap with a new customer?

A: That’s always a tough one and an awkward position to be in for a CSM and have that discussion. My advice is to always be very transparent and open. Have that conversation sooner rather than later, because you are only delaying it otherwise. If there truly has been a disconnect in what the product can do and what was sold, then everyone will appreciate the time and money saved by having an upfront conversation about how there is a disconnect. And then you have the ability to start coming up with a plan that would address that and be able to see what can the product do, what objectives can it meet. If it’s a total disconnect, doing right by the customer would mean literally saying – hey, this might just not be a fit and maybe there was a mismatch in the sales cycle. But generally, that doesn’t happen very often. It’s usually about just level setting on what those expectations are for the customer about the product and what your expectation are about what the customer wants to achieve with the product.

Q: What is an answer for the objection of a customer saying they are too busy for a business review?

A: I have a blog article about this. When I hear “too busy” for me it’s a proxy of they don’t want to or don’t know what to do. And so, that to me is a warning flag for it might be overwhelming, too difficult, they literally don’t have time, but they are not that interested either. And so, you kind of need to tease out what the root cause is and understand – can you make it easier for them, can you offer some suggestions or solutions that would help them adopt the product and get them using it and getting them more engaged with you. You really want to understand what is it that they need to do and get done. And how is it that you can help.

You also need to look internally at yourself and what your processes are – are you over fatiguing them, are you having them do too much and it’s not relevant to what they want accomplished – and then they’ll tell you they are too busy because it’s not a priority and a concern for them right now. So, there’s some sort of disconnect between what their priorities are and what you are trying to have them do and you need to iron those out, so you can get back on track.

Q: What recommendations and tips do you have to get a customer to expand their usage of your product?

A: This is where product marketing, and what the initial value proposition of your company’s vision is for the product comes in – what is it that you are selling in terms of the ultimate vision of how companies benefit from your product. And then you want to see where along that path your customers are. You want to align to – this is what we are going to do to reach your objectives right now. But keep their sights focused on the bigger picture. So, you want to keep them motivated and you want to give them that higher vision and then you want to pace them accordingly so that they actually want to get to that ultimate end result that might be a lot more than what they thought was the original reason for purchasing the product. But you want to keep them excited about doing more.

I’ve seen with companies that are most successful with expansion, they look at helping their customers achieve that first initial milestone, get them really excited about the business impact it made, and how successful they were, so that they are just excited about doing more. And then have a plan ready for what they can do next. Because they already have that prescriptive approach that says – here along the business maturity of our clients at these points would be an opportune time to introduce more elements of the product or that they can do more for their business. You want to use that to the advantage of expanding those accounts.

This was just a recap of some of the Q&A portion of the webinar. In case you missed the full webcast, or would like to review it again, you can do so on-demand by signing up to view the recording.

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