Jun 16, 2017

Read Time 6 min

Setting Expectations with Customers, Becoming a Customer Success Leader, and The Difference Between Customer Success and Account Management


Have you ever looked at a car on Craigslist that seems to be the deal of the century, only to show up for a test drive and find out that it isn’t exactly what was promised in the post? It probably felt like a waste of time for you and left you a bit discouraged. The same thing can happen when we set unrealistic expectations with our customers or they’re simply misaligned. It’s like starting a road trip with your door falling off.

Misaligned expectations are one of the most frustrating parts of a partner relationship. Just like you have expectations from them as they come onboard with your organization – they also have expectations for what your organization is about to deliver for them. It’s not necessarily that new sales sold a wrong-fit customer (another issue altogether) but that folks tend to hear what they want to hear and ignore some of the details that are going to get them there. It’s our job to make sure they’re set up for success.

Without expectations being aligned, even with the best effort from your team, you’re still likely to fall a bit short. Here are just a few ideas for things you can do to make sure expectations are aligned from the start and that everyone benefits from the partnership.

Work with New Sales and Business Development

What brought our new customer to us in the first place? This is a question that often goes unanswered in many transactions once the customer has signed on the dotted line. You may have a sheet they need to fill out or get an answer that “the information is in Salesforce” but it is to everyone’s benefit to set aside some time to truly discuss what will make this customer successful from the start. It’s best to tackle this as soon as the customer is brought onboard so that the nuances of the journey thus far are fresh in everyone’s minds. Do yourselves a favor and block out some time to discuss – even if only for a few minutes.

Get Marketing Data

While we’re talking about breaking down silos it might be best to have a conversation with the marketing team. They often have valuable information about your customers ranging from what pages they’re visiting on your site, what sorts of guides they’ve downloaded, and how they interact with your organization. Ask your marketing department how easy (or hard) it would be to kick that information into your CRM and add visibility across the teams. This won’t only benefit you at the beginning of the relationship but will help you glean information as they mature with your organization. Great opportunities here to be proactive as a CSM.

Set Defined Goals

Before that initial call you should have a good idea of why they chose your organization in the first place and what they hope to accomplish. There’s no better time than now to ask them exactly what their individual and organizational goals are and to set some obtainable milestones together on your initial call. You’ll not only get the story from their end but it presents an opportunity to set realistic expectations.

For example, you customer states they “want to attract new customers”. This is a great jumping off point but wouldn’t it be better if we had a defined goal to aim for? You could say, “Ok, you want to attract new customers – how many new customers are you forecasting or hopeful to attract because of our partnership?” If they say 50,000 this month and they’re a new company then maybe it’s best to reset some expectations and ask for some bite-sized goals to push for in the first quarter for example. That way you can point back to those goals as the relationship matures to highlight wins and to create plans to get them to their desired outcomes.

Communication, communication, communication

Your customers should never feel like they’ve been left in the dark or alone to fend for themselves. Ask upfront what their expectations around communication are. You may have a predefined set of tasks that are automated to have you reach out – but what if they to start need a bit more one-on-one time to ensure they’re successful down the road? Once a month may not cut it and you’ll need to manually set times to check in every week to ensure they’re getting exactly what they need. Use this opportunity as well to describe your processes and how those processes normally lead organizations such as theirs to achieve their desired outcomes. Get their commitment that the processes work for them as your partner early on. You’ll be glad that you did.

Document Everything

Okay, so we’re not transcribing each one of our conversations but what we are aiming for is data to point back to as the relationship matures. A few examples of items you may want to document:

  • What are the specific goals you have with our solution?
  • What would they consider a failure with your solution?
  • Who should I be reaching out to if you are not available?
  • It looks like John Doe signed the agreement, is this the person in charge of financial decisions?
  • If there was something you wish your current partners did more often that would be helpful, what would that be?

You get the idea. These don’t have to be canned or even discussed during the first conversation. We do need to ensure, however, that when we have this information that we document it within our CRM and Customer Success software. That way, we can refer to it during QBRs, if we’re handing the account off to another customer success manager or department, and to keep accountability for delivering on what their real expectations are before we proactively reach out to add value or ask for their repeat business.

By following a few of these guidelines you should be able to begin seeing some change within your accounts and their initial happiness as they come onboard.

Do you have some challenges that you faced this week that you’d like to see covered on the Fight Churn blog? We’d love to hear from you!

Customer Success Around the Web

  • Becoming a Customer Success Leader: Jeb Dasteel, SVP and Chief Customer Officer over at Oracle, talks about becoming a Customer Success Leader. “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” This quote comes from Max De Pree, the former CEO of Herman Miller, an office furniture company. I believe Mr. De Pree was speaking about leadership generically, but his quote couldn’t ring more true than in reference to customer success. More over on LinkedIn.
  • The Difference Between Customer Success and Account Management: Nils Vinje starts off by saying that there’s often a bit of confusion as to what a CSM does, and how that role meshes with other roles within the organization. Obviously the CSM is a post-sales role (although the boundary between customer success and sales isn’t always so clear), but I’m often asked where account managers (AMs) fit into the equation. If it seems like there are a lot more jobs tasked with generating and maintaining revenue these days, that’s absolutely true. “Every revenue-related function has gotten more specialized over the last few years,” says Jason Lemkin of SaaStr. We’re more careful about the revenue-affecting roles because cash flow and retention are so important to SaaS organizations. Continue reading this post on Glide Consulting.

  • 10 Tips to Encourage Customer Referrals: One critical component of any customer acquisition and retention strategy is providing your customers with a means to refer their friends to your business, and (potentially) letting them be rewarded for their action. Word of mouth remains one of the most powerful agents of growth in the business world.  Turning your customers into advocates for your brand is a proven long-term strategy for acquiring new consumers at a low cost.  No matter how you enable and track referral activity, there’s a critical question to answer: how can you encourage customer referrals to shop your business? Continue reading on over at Reward Stream.

Word to the Wise

This week’s Word to the Wise comes from Noah Fleming, where he talks a bit about giving new efforts the time of day and not just taking those initiatives for granted:

“One of the common themes I’ve had to deal with in many of these organizations–regardless of size–is the sentiment that “This too, shall pass.”

You see, a lot of people within these companies have seen new initiatives come and go over the years, so there’s often a natural reluctance when somebody new arrives advocating an approach that’s different than, “The way things have always been done.”

We’re also usually asking those same people to do more work, and engage in new activities. That’s not always fun when you’ve become comfortable with doing things one way over the past ten years and in some cases many more. Not everyone likes it when a calm boat changes direction into unchartered waters. So we’ll often find people who will give new initiatives some excitement at face value, but under the guise that, “This too, shall pass.

How do we combat such a feeling? You’ve likely made investments that have passed. If it’s happened more than once, then it’s no wonder your people think this way. The challenge is that we’re often talking about initiatives, engagements, and interventions that are required–or that are desperately needed to meet the desired outcomes and reach new levels of success.”

You can read on here about how to address this issue and read about how you as a leader can ask yourself some very important questions next week as you charge forward.


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