Mar 10, 2017

Read Time 5 min

The fundamental flaw of proactive CS, fixed vs. growth mindset in CS, strategies to revamp your onboarding


Imagine this scene from a Customer Success team meeting, which may sound all-too-real/familiar for many of you:

Well-Meaning Manager: “We need to be more proactive in how we manage our customers. Going forward, I want everyone to set aside [insert alarmingly high number here] hours per week to do [insert thoughtful, though time consuming, idea here].

Stressed-Out CSMs:

As CS pros, we are always striving to be more proactive with our customers; after all, a proactive mindset is the defining characteristic of Customer Success. And there is a great deal of advice available about how to be proactive, from the basic theory of it to the practical daily realities. We recommend checking out this one (about strategies for transforming from reactive to proactive) and this one (about habits of proactive CSMs).

But if earnestly believing in the power of being proactive was enough, all CS teams would be dazzlingly proactive, magically addressing and resolving customer issues before the customer themselves has even thought of them. Yet in reality, when a new proactive initiative is put in front of a CS team – no matter how thoughtful the initiative is or how diligently obstacles to the new request have been addressed – being successfully proactive is still an uphill battle. Even once you account for the more obvious potential challenges – not having the right software, having not enough CSMs on the team, not having the CSMs properly trained – many CS teams still never reach the proactive customer success levels to which they aspire.


As this thoughtful post by Business2Community explores, the fundamental flaw with proactive Customer Success is the assumption that CS teams can determine their own proactive destiny. The blockade to being proactive typically resides outside the role of the Customer Success team and removing it requires a wholly new strategy. It starts with understanding the obstacles that are preventing the CS team from being on the offensive and then requires the development of a viable strategy to overcome those barriers.

  • What are the real obstacles to proactive CS? As B2C points out, CS teams are often simply responsible for too much: “If the CSM is responsible for handling support, providing services and/or training due to flaws in the product and is carrying out other duties such as renewals, how in the world does anyone expect them to have the time to be proactive? How can they prepare for a business review when their inbox is inundated with urgent client issues? If you try and implement proactive measures under these conditions you are either setting yourself up for a massive failure or a mutiny.”
  • So what is the ONE thing you can do to make your CS team proactive? When determining what needs to change to empower your team to be proactive, B2C recommends relying on your experience and the data you have – and then confidently making a decision of where to start, especially if you are in a fast-growing startup. They suggest narrowing in on your most critical to-dos by using a “focus question“:  “What’s the ONE thing I can do to make the CS team more proactive such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” Having a clear focus around the necessary changes will help avoid the panic – and resulting immobility – of feeling like everything has to change.
  • How do the team’s capacities and capabilities play into this? As B2C points out (in separate but very related post), complexity is the enemy of scaling. To make sure your Customer Success team is able to stay proactive while your company grows, keep in mind these two factors:
    • Capacity: The easier of the two factors, B2C states that capacity “comprises three things: people, knowledge, and technology.” Growing your CS team by hiring new people will alleviate the pressure that’s crippling your existing team, freeing more time and energy to be devoted to planning ahead, getting to know customers, monitoring their health, etc. But when hiring, you also want to consider which type of knowledge your new CSM should bring to the table: domain expertise vs. process expertise lend themselves particularly well to different roles and businesses. Finally, technology also allows you to “multiply” your existing CSMs by automating time and energy-consuming processes such as data collection, early warning systems, health calculations, and engagements.
    • Capability: As B2c astutely points out, “The capabilities you should build as your company grows depend on your business” but there are some aspects that are common regardless of your company’s size or stage. First, B2C suggests “knowing what your Customer Success mandate is, and which strategy you are putting in place to achieve it. Where does Customer Success begin, and where does it end? Both your team and your C-Suite must understand and buy into your strategy before anything happens.” Second, B2C strongly recommends prioritizing segmentation, so you can understand which CSMs get which accounts and why. And finally, B2C stresses the importance of processes and playbook management: “With a small team, processes are manual and ad-hoc. As the team grows, you need to make sure not everyone isn’t doing the same thing completely differently. Standardizing playbooks such as renewal or implementation is key to growth and being consistently proactive.”

Customer Success Around the Web

  • Fixed versus growth mindset in CSIf you enjoy reading about how to lead teams or be successful then you’ve probably come across the topic of fixed vs. growth mindsets. The concept comes largely from the research of Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University and while her research is focused on the ability of students to succeed in the face of adversity, it also has very real applications in Customer Success. This interesting post defines the characteristics of the fixed mindset versus the growth mindset and explores the positives and challenges each mindset can present in CS. A quick but thought-provoking read.
  • Strategies to revamp your onboardingEvery SaaS company has a make-or-break moment; it’s called customer onboarding. How your team onboards new customers will determine whether you retain them or not. As CS thought-leader Lincoln Murphy puts it, “The first in-app experience your customer has with your product sets the tone for your relationship, and if it’s confusing, overwhelming, or otherwise puts up barriers to achieving success (or at least recognizing the value potential in your product), you’re in trouble.” So if you want your SaaS to maximize its growth, focus on spotting issues in your onboarding process. This post offers seven great strategies to get you started on re-imagining and improving your onboarding experience. A great post for anyone who suspects their onboarding needs some re-focusing and love.
  • How much should your startup spend on managing churn? It’s an important question and one that arises most often as a SaaS startup scales. Churn, masked by growth, becomes a limiting factor of growth. So how much should your business invest in managing churn? This excellent post utilizes helpful contribution revenue charts to show you how to calculate the contribution margin per customer your CS team saves, which will yield a clear(er) answer to how much your startup can afford to spend on churn management. An important read for all startups who are wondering how they can most effectively spend their dollars.

Word to the Wise

This week’s wisdom comes from the Business Systems Explored Podcast, which offers its listeners practical and actionable insights from today’s top CEOs, entrepreneurs, and marketers. In a recent episode, Matt Goldman, CEO at – which helps businesses resolve failed payments at scale – joined to talk about how to reduce churn and retain your customers. We recommend listening to the whole episode but Goldman’s thoughts on whether there is a particular size/stage/MRR/number of customers at which a business should become very focused on churn caught our attention:

“I think the most common stage I’ve seen is right before [the company] raises a Series A – not because there is anything magical about that stage but because that’s when they are putting together their pitch deck and it doesn’t look so pretty and they have to face that their churn is too high. But at that point, it’s really too late.”

Churn needs to be a #1 priority from Day #1. #LessonsforFutureSaaSBusinesses


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