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When & How to Buy Customer Success Software

With Emilia D’Anzica, Founder & CEO, GrowthMolecules
Ben Winn
December 4, 2020
Strategy

Emilia D’Anzica is a Customer Success expert, consultant, advisor and leader. From startup to enterprise, she’s helped countless tech companies build teams, create processes, grow their revenue, and drive impact for their customers. She’s also helped many of those companies implement Customer Success platforms.

We recently had a chance to speak with Emily (video below) on the process of selecting and buying Customer Success software. In this article we’ll dig into the topics she discussed:

  • The biggest mistakes companies make when selecting a CS platform (CSP)
  • When the right time to invest in a CSP is
  • Key factors to consider when making a selection
  • How to drive effective adoption of a CSP
  • Why using a CRM as a CSP is ineffective

The Biggest Mistake Companies Make When Selecting a CS Platform

There are three significant mistakes that companies often make when selecting a CSP:

  1. They rush into selecting a platform before they have established processes in place.
  2. They don’t clearly define the end-goal of their CSP use.
  3. They don’t have clean (or clean-enough) data.

The process piece should be a relatively obvious one. A CS platform requires processes to be programmed into it in order to make it effective, so if there aren’t already established processes at the time of purchase, then they’ll be forced to figure out processes on the fly. This can cause prolonged implementation time, a lack of engagement from the CS team, and it can lead the company to resent the CS platform.

Regarding end-goals, companies should, as Stephen Covey would put it, “begin with the end in mind.” If they can start from a clear end-goal and then work backwards to create a plan that is realistic, they will be able to move further faster and leverage the platform in such a way that enables their team to get valuable insights and take critical action. It’s never a good idea to buy a CS platform for the sake of buying a CS platform. There should be a compelling end-goal, like automating away 5-10 hours/week of CSM responsibilities to give them more time to be proactive, or being able to increase each CSM’s book of business by 50% without affecting churn or expansion.

The third key mistake companies make is regarding data cleanliness. There’s an old saying, “garbage in, garbage out.” If their data is not clean when they load it into a CSP, it can send the CSMs, AEs, and anyone else using the platform down the wrong path, which can be a costly and time-consuming error. 

As Emily reminds us all, “80% of success is in the planning, 20% is in the execution.”

Why Companies Should Not Rely on CSP CSMs to Create their Processes

Some companies buy a CSP early on and before they have processes in place, because they believe they’ll be able to leverage the knowledge of the CSP’s CSMs to build out their processes. This is not ideal, as the job of a CSP’s CSM is to drive the outcomes the company is hoping to achieve via their software, and while most CSMs would be happy to offer up as much helpful advice as possible, the company will be more successful if they come to the table knowing what they want and what their end goal is. 

It’s important to note that the processes needed to be ready for a CS software are not 100-page playbooks that cost an arm and a leg, and that no one will ever read. The team simply needs to align on what their customer journey is and what the key touchpoints are for growth and churn. If the CS team, Sales team, and customers can all come to a consensus, then the company can implement a platform in a way that will be much more likely to enable customers’ success.

The Right Time to Buy a CS Platform

It’s difficult to pinpoint the perfect time to buy a CS platform, but the general rule is: the sooner the better.

That being said, goals still need to be established, processes still need to be in place, and data still needs to be clean. 

The sooner the investment can be justified to the CRO though, the sooner the company will start getting ahead with their customer management, renewals, expansions, and scaling.

Key factors to consider when making a selection

There are a wide variety of factors that companies can consider when making their decision, however there are a few critical ones that if focused on, will lead to the right choice:

  1. The company needs to ensure that the use cases they are seeking to achieve can actually be done within the selected platform.
  2. CS leaders within the company should look at the different reporting requirements they will require to be successful (i.e. what data will be needed for board meetings).
  3. The usability of the platform is critical as well. CSMs shouldn’t dread using it; they should view it as their main source for understanding exactly how customers are using the product and how they can better enable them.
  4. Integrations with other software in the company’s tech stack are very important as well, because if they’re not working together, it creates more overhead for the company’s CS team and makes them less efficient.

If the use cases can be achieved, the reporting requirements are met, the platform is highly usable for CSMs, and it integrates well with the rest of the company’s tech stack, then the odds of them being successful with it are quite high.

Driving CSM Adoption of the Platform

If a platform is not effectively adopted, it’s effectively useless. To understand why a CSM may or may not adopt a new CSP, it’s important to consider where the CSM is involved in the customer journey and what the key actions are that they take to make their customers successful. If the CSP can effectively automate or enhance these key actions, the CSM is more likely to adopt the platform.

Another simple but key way to drive CSM adoption is to involve them in the platform selection process. Having the CSMs sign off on the use cases and list requirements is an effective way to ensure that they will buy into the new platform. If the CSMs are not consulted and they feel like the CSP has been thrust upon them, they will be more likely to resist it, no matter how excellent a software it might be. 

Finally, training is critical. Someone walking through a Powerpoint over Zoom or flying through a demo of the platform is not beneficial. CSMs need hands-on training that is specifically customized for their use cases and goals with the platform. 

No matter what, the CSM needs to feel like the platform will help to make them more successful in their role. Otherwise, they will have no motivation to use it.

When to Involve Different Team Members in the Selection Process

The most important thing is to start with the budget-holder. Whether it’s a CFO, CRO, VP Finance, etc. they need to be included right from the get-go in the selection process. 

Next, the use cases need to be created, so depending on the team size and structure, this responsibility might fall to the CSMs, a Customer Success Operations Manager, or even the leader of the CS team. No matter who owns the use case creation process, all the CSMs should sign off on them in a Google Sheet or document of some kind to validate that all desired use cases have been accurately accounted for.

The CSMs don’t need to be on every call with the CS platforms and they don’t need to see every demo, however once the choices have been narrowed down, bringing in the CSMs for a couple of demos is a great way to reaffirm that this is a team decision and will lay the groundwork for successful adoption.

Once the platform has been selected, it’s then important to have a taskforce (that isn’t just CS Ops) that meets on a weekly basis to evaluate the ongoing success of the implementation, and scrutinizes the data around platform setup, CSM adoption, integrations, etc. 

Why using a CRM as a CSP is ineffective

Any CRM can get a company through for a little bit of time. If the CS team doesn’t have someone managing the back-end of the CRM however who can build and customize whatever is needed, there will be a significant amount of wasted hours from Engineering, Sales Ops, and CS Ops. Then, if all those hours are counted and a dollar amount is assigned to them, it becomes quite clear that a CS platform will be far less expensive to invest in and far more effective.

Taking a step back is always a good way to analyze these kinds of decisions. Why does the company not want to invest in a CS platform? How much is the CS team being held back due to the lack of a platform?

The number one differentiator between a CSP and a CRM is the ability to be proactive with triggers. Triggers allow CSMs, who are generally very busy, bordering on overwhelmed, to log in at the start of the day and easily see exactly who they need to touch and why. It’s almost impossible to be proactive with triggers in Salesforce the way CSMs can be proactive in a CS platform, and if a company does want to set up triggers with a CRM, it will require significant and costly engineering resources. 

At the end of the day it always comes down to ROI (return on investment). 

Emilia’s Final Tip

Companies should always remember to do their due diligence to avoid buyer’s remorse. Asking the CS platform for references, reading case studies, and/or talking to people in the community who use the platform being considered are great ways to better understand its potential and whether it is the right fit. 

For more information make sure to subscribe to Catalyst and to GrowthMolecules. Thank you to Emilia D'Anzica for her contributions to this post and for her continuing commitment to the advancement of the Customer Success industry.

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