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How CSMs Can Get Buy-In To Change Customer Success Platforms

You don't have to be a manager to get the Customer Success Platform you need.
Ben Winn
March 14, 2022
Resources

If you’re a Customer Success Manager (CSM) at a fast-growing technology company, you often don’t get much say over the tools you use or how you use them. If you joined your current org after a Customer Success Platform (CSP) was already in place, you obviously didn’t have any say over that decision. If you joined your current org before a CSP was in place, then you may have had some influence, depending on the size and stage of your company. 

But whether or not you played a role in the decision, you’re reading this because you think there might be a better CSP for you and your team out there, and whatever your reasons are, it’s important to know that even though you aren’t the budget holder/key decision maker, you can still open the door to a potential change by completing a straightforward 3-step process. 

It’s going to require some extra work (please don’t do this INSTEAD of getting all your normal work done), but it will absolutely be worth it in the end.

Step 1: Gathering & Presenting Data

The first thing you need to do is gather data. Data is objective, hard to argue with, and it provides the foundation for this entire process. Key data points you should try to gather are:

Quantitative:

  • How often are CSMs logging into your current CSP?
  • How much of your current CSP’s functionality is being used?
  • How many other tools are you using in your CS tech stack?

If CSMs are not logging in, it means that they might not be getting much value out of your CSP, and therefore your company isn’t getting what it’s paying for. If CSMs are logging in, but they’re only using a limited number of the platform’s capabilities, your company might still not getting the value it paid for. And finally, if CSMs are using other tools to do their job when your CSP can technically do those things, your company is not getting the value it paid for; and if you are paying for those other tools, that adds to the lack of ROI from your current CSP.

If you gather these data points together and they indicate that your company is not getting the value it is paying for, then you should proceed to gather qualitative data to add credibility and color to your case.

Qualitative:

  • Why aren’t CSMs logging in more often?
  • Why aren’t more functionalities being used?
  • Why are CSMs using tool X when you CSP technically can do the same thing?

Talk to your teammates to get their thoughts. Explain that this is something you’re working on, and what your early results have been. If they are excited about this and want to help, great! Get their permission to quote them when you make your case. If they are not excited and they want to keep the current CSP, ask them why and try your best to understand exactly where they are coming from. You should try to anticipate any and all pushback that might come your way. You should also stay open-minded to the possibility that you have a great CSP and that there are factors you didn’t consider when deciding to look elsewhere.

Once you have your quantitative and qualitative data, put it all together in a few slides that adhere to something like the following format:

Slide 1: Intro (what prompted you to take on this extra-curricular project)
Slide 2: Data point 1 + CSM quote 1
Slide 3: Data point 2 + CSM quote 2
Slide 4: Data point 3 + CSM quote 3
Slide 5: Potential solutions
Slide 6: Discussion

Potential Solutions

This is where you need to be very thoughtful. You should bear in mind that your current CSP was chosen for a reason, and there may be information you are unaware of that was (and may still be) important to consider. In order to err on the side of caution, you should not come to this first presentation with one solution (i.e. “WE NEED CATALYST”). Instead, you should be very honest and open with your leader about what led you to look at other CSPs and what your initial research has yielded.

If they are open to continuing the discussion, you should present some potential solutions to the challenges you’ve uncovered with the current situation. These solutions might be:

1. Keep going as-is.

If you aren’t currently hemorrhaging customers, your CS leader may not feel the need to switch platforms, even if there might be more value to be had out of another option. Also, if they’ve switched CSPs before and are concerned about the resources required to do so, they might be concerned about bandwidth. It’s important that you don’t outright declare “we need a new CSP,” but that you clearly state that keeping things as they are is a perfectly viable option.

2. Try to re-invest in your current CSP.

Many companies fail to successfully implement and use their CSP long-term, so at a certain point, they decide that instead of switching, they want to do a RE-implementation. This option is appealing because it doesn’t require a new evaluation or brand new implementation, however, it is generally ineffective because once someone has made up their mind that they don’t like something, it’s incredibly difficult to change it. Companies often spend a lot of time and resources trying to re-implement tools, only to have them fail again after a few months. Again, it is important though that you present this as a perfectly viable, reasonable option.

3. Explore alternative CSPs.

This will be seen as the most radical option, but if you position it correctly, you can set it up to appear to be the most appealing one on the menu. The word “explore” is non-committal, so it doesn’t mean your leader has to decide whether or not you’re switching; it just means they would be giving you the green light to do some more research. This means finding out what other companies’ data looks like when it comes to CSP usage and the ROI they are getting, finding out the cost of other platforms and how much lift would be required to switch, and speaking with other CSMs to hear about their experiences on other platforms. 

When looking at these 3 options, your CS leader will likely want to think about it before they make a decision, and they may also want to loop in other stakeholders, such as CS Ops. If you have convinced them that there are issues with your current platform, that better options might be out there that would increase your efficiency and revenue, and you get the green light to explore some potential alternatives, then you have succeeded in Step 1. Congratulations!

Step 2: Exploring Options

There aren’t many CSPs on the market today. In fact, there are probably only five that you might seriously consider, and hey, while we might think Catalyst is the best option, we would never say it’s the best option for every team and company. Every CSP has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and that is what you’ll need to find out in Step 2.

When exploring CSPs, you need to get answers to the following questions:

  1. Does it do all of the things that we need it to?
  2. What is the cost of the platform?
  3. Is this something my team and I would actually use every day?

In order to answer the first question, you need to start by establishing your core use cases. What do you need the platform to be able to do? Pick your 3 most critical use cases to start with. For example you probably need your CSP to serve up accurate customer health insights that flag which accounts are at risk and why.

If that is one of your core use cases, ask a sales rep from each platform to show you exactly how that’s done in their tool. Where does the data come from? How are health scores configured? Where and how do CSMs see customer health data? What actions can be triggered automatically based on changes to health scores?

Ask deep questions about each of your 3 core use cases, and record their demo/answers so that you can reference them later.

Moving onto the second question, you’ll need to give each rep some information, and they will likely give you a ballpark figure. They’ll want to know how many CSMs are on your team, how many customers you currently have, what parts of their platform you’d want to use (many CSPs have add-on modules that they upcharge you with). Record their ballpark figure—don’t try to negotiate at this point, there will be time for that later.

Finally, question three is the most critical but hardest to answer objectively. Look at the design and flow of each platform. Is it intuitive? Clean? Easy to understand? Ask your fellow CSMs to watch some of the recordings you took during this stage and give you their opinions on whether it seems like a platform they would enjoy logging into every day.

Case in point: Slack and Microsoft Teams do basically the exact same thing at similar price points, but if you show someone a walkthrough of Slack and a walkthrough of Teams, for most people, one of them clearly emerges as the more “usable” tool.

Make sure you also ask each vendor rep what their average implementation time is, what level of support you would get from their team (some platforms charge extra for white glove onboarding), and for 1-3 reference customers you could speak with to learn more about their experience (if they don’t give you references, that is a red flag).

Step 3: Making Your Recommendation

Remember, at this point, you are not recommending which platform your company should switch to. That will require a full evaluation with multiple stakeholders, and would be seen as overstepping. What you are recommending is which potential solution (from Step 1) you believe it makes the most sense to pursue, based on the data you’ve gathered.

Your presentation back to your CS leader might look something like this:

Slide 1: Intro (summary of the data points that prompted this inquiry)
Slide 2: List of CSPs you evaluated
Slide 3: Criteria you used to evaluate each one (your top 3 use cases)
Slide 4: Top 2 CSPs according to usability, price, and functionality (you never want to present just 1 option)
Slide 5: Implementation time, level of support, and reference feedback for your top 2
Slide 6: Comparing the potential solutions from Step 1
Slide 7: Discussion and next steps

Remember the potential solutions from Step 1 are:

  1. Keep going as-is.
  2. Try to re-invest in your current CSP.
  3. Explore alternative CSPs.

At this point, you can recommend ruling out option 2 by demonstrating that the time and resources required to do a re-implementation are as significant, if not moreso, than the time and resources it would take to implement a brand new CSP that shows a lot more promise.

You should point out that option 1 will always be there, and that there is very little to lose and everything to gain from pursuing option 3. If your CS leader starts an official evaluation of alternative CSPs and convenes a small group of key stakeholders to evaluate the options, it will take up some of their time; but if it leads to a CSP that increases CSM engagement, leading to stronger retention and revenue, then the positive effects are exponential and would last for years to come. If the evaluation leads to a decision to keep your current CSP in place, all that has been lost is a few hours of time.

Next Steps

Steps 1-3 will have taken you from no chance of switching CSPs, to having your CS leader actively consider a formal evaluation of alternatives. You’ve also shown your CS leader simultaneously that you are thoughtful, dedicated, and willing to go above and beyond, so even if they decide not to move forward, this will still have been a win for you personally.

Next, you should defer to your CS leader for next steps. They may want you to leave everything with them, they may want you to continue championing the project, or they may want you to drop it altogether. The important thing is that you accept their decision respectfully, whatever it is. If you successfully completed steps 1-3, regardless of the outcome, you have done incredible work that will prove to be valuable knowledge and experience for you at this company or the next.

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