The Case for Differentiation

In today’s world, the subscription market is taking over. There is more need for differentiation among the various companies and their competitors. APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are getting more sophisticated and, therefore, developers are provided with more flexibility and functionality to create their own applications to serve their customers in a B2B or B2C model. Large enterprises, such as big banks and telcos, are also slowly moving to the subscription world. We see a shift from wanting to have control over the platform CAPEX environment to a more competitive Saas one. Due to the competitive landscape, large corporations are drawn to the less expensive offer of having their own developers create an omnichannel approach to serve their customers. The use cases in the industry are very similar.

One way to differentiate from competitors would be through the experience a company wants to provide to their customers, as well as their employees. Through their contact center agents or knowledge workers, they can handle their customer interactions and omnichannel selling. The level of agent empowerment depends on the business decisions of such companies. So, instead of buying ready-made applications that serve a specific purpose and could integrate into their existing CRM or ERP environments, they purchase APIs which give them that differentiation flexibility. There are vendors that offer both ready-made applications for premise, cloud or APIs, and there are companies that offer mainly cloud-based APIs. In either case, when you deal with company APIs, you need to think about the end users: developers. They are the ones who will take the product and transform it to the applications of their needs.

Luis Columbus wrote in his “2017 Is Quickly Becoming The Year Of The API Economy” article:

Cloud platform providers all have extensive APIs defined and work in close collaboration with development partners to fine-tune app performance using them. Amazon Web Services, Facebook, Google, Marketo, Salesforce, SAP Hybris, Twitter and thousands of other companies have APIs available. As of today, the Programmable Web lists 16,590 APIs in its database.

The job of the Customer Success Manager as a post-sales account manager, when they have to work with an API company, is becoming difficult. Although the Sales Executive focuses on establishing a relationship with the Buyer, who may be the Head of Sales, Head of Services & Support or the C-level executive, typically the CSM focuses on the Influencer. In the best cases, this is the Project Sponsor, or, more typically, the Program Manager, Business Development Mgr, or IT Director who understands the use case requirements and collaborates with various internal groups to provide the vendor with the list of requirements and business outcomes needed.

When it comes to API-based companies, the CSM is typically introduced to the developers or the developer manager whose team will use the APIs to develop their own application(s). This shift in persona requires the CSM to approach his contacts and overall customer engagement differently in order to effectively guide the customer through onboarding, launch, and then adoption and renewal, and overall expedite the time to value.

Here’s what I recommend:

1. CSM – Focus on two types of contacts: the Developer/Influencer and the Buyer personas

It is important to identify the various personas in the organization. The CSM should focus on 2 types of contacts within the customer’s personas- the Influencer and the Buyer. Once they have been identified and the CSM has been introduced into the account, a Success Plan needs to be created, and the CSM can start providing them with the business outcomes they are seeking based on their role – plus more!

Corporations spend a lot of money and effort to create playbooks for their Go-To-Market organization which will guide them through the persona identification and selling methodology.

2. CSM – Great to have Technical background & expertise

This shift in persona focus also requires a different skill set for the CSM to master.

Learn how to NOT waste your customer’s time by providing immediate value!

When you are hiring a CSM, look for someone who is eager to learn new technologies and tools, and doesn’t mind getting through the technical training in order to understand the product and be able to demo it if needed. The ability to understand the problem by either looking at Logs, Developer Tools on front-end etc. will provide a ton of credibility and will increase your customer’s confidence.

Here’s an article from TSIA that positions field service engineers as your customers’ Trusted Advisors, or in my mind, potential CSM.

3. CSM – Resourceful: Communities & KnowledgeBase

What is the first thing a developer will do when they encounter an issue?

They will go online and look for articles that may describe this or a similar problem! Only after they read a few articles and try a few different ways to solve the problem, only then, will they call Customer Support, and at that point they’ll be very frustrated.

Having the right Knowledge Base tool and/or Community will actually increase the value provided to your customers and therefore their propensity to renew or buy more.

With over 20 years of experience in the space leading Customer Success, Customer Care, and Program Management teams, Emily Drenis is taking her passion for working with customers and launching her own consulting firm, Dodone.

Through Dodone, Emily uses a fine-tuned blend of her wisdom and passion for a great customer experience to help companies develop robust, efficient, and rewarding Customer Success Programs. When it comes to customers, the best way to retain them is to exceed their expectations and add value to their company. If you have the right engagement system and appropriate culture in place, the money will follow and the customers will stay.

Dodone exists to help companies develop and deploy a Customer Success strategy with deep empathy and a tailored methodology, based on their business plan and objectives, that will nurture the relationships with their clients and make them trusted advisors for life!

Emily Drenis

Founder & Chief Customer Officer, DoDone Consulting Solutions