Stop Creating (SaaS/Recurring Revenue/Subscription) CS Heroes

SaaS/Recurring Revenue/Subscription Customer Success Leaders – you can build effective arguments that your CSMs are heroes – that they moved a customer from red to yellow and even yellow to green, but proving that they kept a customer from ever going yellow in the first place is difficult. So difficult, in fact, that most CSM teams don’t even try. The problem with this is that if you are not actually measuring and incentivizing CSMs to keep customers in the green, and instead rewarding your team for moving customers from red to yellow to green, then you are in fact rewarding your CSM team for fixing problems that, in many cases, they should have kept ahead of and prevented in the first place. As such, the CSM’s activities will be focused on reactive, heroic tailored efforts of “saving” customers as opposed to the more predictable, repeatable mechanics of keeping a customer successful and happy. But, as we said, proving this is difficult at best. The first piece of good news is, you don’t have to prove it.

You don’t have to run faster than the lion, just faster than others in the crowd.

To put it in CSM terms, “You don’t have to prove causation, you just have to show better evidence of causation than others in the crowd.” Showing better evidence means it is important to understand that it is not enough to have success plans. You also have to drive them and measure them and incentivize your team on the metrics they produce. “But which metrics?” you might ask. They vary, but the answer starts with the desire to ultimately show correlation between how closely customers follow a success plan with renewals. Since many other organizations might claim causation for this correlation, your success plans must also lay an evidence trail to strengthen your argument of causation. This means, when you are building success plans, you need to design them in such a way that they produce a trail of solid evidence.

This trail includes, but is not limited to:

1. Anecdotal evidence – Surveys of customers and internal stakeholders.

2. Empirical evidence – Data out of various systems (LMS, Strikedeck etc.) showing knowledge, skill levels, and meaningful activity.

3. Political evidence – Buy-in from key stakeholders (internal and external) at frequent points in the customer journey that state, for example “If n individuals from a customer account successfully complete a training module, then they are ready and very likely to use important feature XYZ, which is critical for product adoption.”

This evidence trail has one more important purpose. If you create success plans and begin driving them today, it will be one year (or whatever your typical contract period is) before you can show the first correlation. The evidence trail will provide metrics to support your activities that first year or so as you build up enough data to make the correlations defendable. In most cases, leadership and key individuals from other organizations will readily agree with and support the effectiveness of these smaller points, even while they argue with your end claim of causation.

Ugh, So much work. If only I could get someone else to do it for me.

The second bit of good news is that someone else should be doing most of this work for you. Success plans are, for the most part, about defining desired customer behaviors, driving those behaviors, measuring the results, and correcting course along the way. This falls directly in the lap of your customer-facing training organization. As any training professional worth their salt knows, driving behavior is exactly what training is meant to do. You may have to remind or even realign the customer-facing training organization to understand and agree that the student is not their customer, but rather, you and the CSM Team, are.

While it is still up to the CSMs to define the desired customer behaviors and the timing, quantity, and quality of those behaviors, the customer-facing training team builds training (where appropriate – and “appropriate” covers a lot) to drive and measure those behaviors, and report the results to the CSM Team. If the customer-facing training team is still having difficulty accepting this SaaS/Recurring Revenue/Subscription reality then it may be that they are marching to old-school metrics such as training revenue and post-training event survey results. If the customer-facing training leadership is worth his/her salt, then s/he will know exactly how to design the evidence trail CSMs need to effectively strengthen your causation argument.

To be succinct, you, CSM Team, are the primary, if not only, customer of the customer-facing training team. So tell them what you need and when you need it.