Customer Accountability: Pushing Back to Drive Them Forward

customer-accountabilityA little while ago I introduced the concept of the Success Gap and how customers can use your product to the fullest and still not achieve their Desired Outcome.

And as the vendor you can either ignore the phenomenon and let customers fend for themselves and maybe not achieve the desired outcome – at which point they’ll blame you – or you can take the initiative to try to help them with a bridge for that success gap.

You can do that by bringing in experts, providing content, giving discounts on third-party courses, or building those bridges into the product.

But at some point you also need to let the customers know that they are accountable for some portion of the results.

In fact, one of the things we have to do as part of an operationalized Customer Success initiative is to tell the customer what they need to hear – not what they want to hear – so they do the right thing.

Which means we have to be realistic with our customers about what is on their plate – and what is on our plate – and who’s ultimately responsible for the success of the customer.

This is called Customer Accountability and it’s the missing piece in your Customer Success strategy.

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This Customer Acquisition Mistake Can Kill your Growth

This Customer Acquisition Mistake Can Kill your GrowthCan the customers you’re actively going after actually achieve success with your product or through their interactions with your company as things are today? If not, that’s a problem.

The reasons they might not achieve success range from their readiness (they don’t have the necessary data or internal processes to support our tool internally), technology requirements (we’re built on top of Salesforce and they don’t use Salesforce), or it could be that your product simply doesn’t have everything the customer would need to be successful.

This came up recently when I was talking with the founder and CEO of a SaaS startup on Clarity about their customer acquisition strategy and he said “agencies are our Ideal Customer.”

Then he told me that they currently lack the ability for an agency to do roll-up reporting across all their customer accounts, which, as he put it, is “a critical piece of functionality for agencies.”

I almost passed out at this point… but I gained my composure – and some oxygen – and was able to help him. The following is based on that conversation and I know it will help you, too…

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5 Terms to Avoid in Customer Success

5 Terms to Avoid in Customer SuccessUgh… isn’t dealing with customers that don’t get it and having to hold their hand along the way or check-in with them to make sure they’re okay, annoying? It’s so nice when you can hand ’em off to someone else, right?

I hear that all the time from clients, on Clarity calls, and from companies I work with through Gainsight to bring Customer Success into their organizations.

Mostly I hear things like that from people in companies with high customer churn, super-low Free Trial conversion rates, and an overall negative NRR (Net Revenue Retention), meaning there’s little or no revenue expansion happening within the existing customer base.

The latter isn’t a surprise once I hear the way the company talks about their customers, but it is avoidable.

In order for Customer Success to really work, it has to be part of the DNA; brought in by executives and adopted in every area of the company.

But the things we say can derail that.

You can operationalize around your customer’s lifecycle, create a professional CSM org, implement a state-of-the-art CSM software solution… but if you talk about you customers in a negative way, you’re probably not going to achieve the level of success you’d like. It’s that simple.

Words are powerful and to a certain extent drive our actions. If we talk smack about our customers behind the scenes, some – or maybe all – of that will come out in how you interact with them, it will influence the tools you create for them, or otherwise impact how you operationalize around their success.

So here are 5 terms to avoid in Customer Success… and no, this isn’t just semantics.

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7 Reasons to Optimize your SaaS Free Trial

7 Reasons to Optimize your SaaS Free TrialFor SaaS vendors, the Purpose of a Free Trial is to create a customer. Period.

If you don’t agree with that statement then you really won’t like pretty much everything else I’m going to say in this article.

Free Trials are not for tire-kicking freeloaders – and if that’s what you’re getting in your free trial, you may want to think about identifying your Ideal Customer Profile and getting them into your trial – because a Free Trial of a Premium product is not Freemium. It’s not a giveaway. It’s not a gift.

Those people who sign-up for your Free Trial are what we call Prospects (prospect is short for Prospective Customer) and you need to treat them that way. There is a lot of potential value stored in the prospects that signup for your Free Trial… and designed correctly, your Free Trial Strategy can unleash that value in several ways.

Let’s dive into those, shall we?

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Desired Outcome is a Transformative Concept

desired-outcome-transformativeOne of the most powerful concepts I’ve ever come across in business is the idea of the customer’s Desired Outcome.

And if you’re thinking “one of the most powerful concepts in business” seems like a pretty hefty charge, you’re right; this concept has transformational properties.

When I first introduced Desired Outcome, I explained that this idea came about as a simple replacement for “what does Success mean to your customer?”

But it’s SO MUCH MORE than that… let’s dig in.

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The Seeds of Churn are Planted Early

seeds-of-churn-are-planted-early“The Seeds of Churn are Planted Early” is a phrase I came up with in early 2013, published shortly thereafter, and have said and used many times since.

I wanted to go on record with that – BTW, if you see the term’s use outside of my work or that of Gainsight’s, maybe send them this link – but I also wanted to give the origin story of this powerful Customer Success concept.

It was late December 2012 when the CEO of a startup that had a major churn problem contacted me.

They were losing far more customers than they were bringing in – and they were bringing in a lot of customers – and he knew this was clearly not sustainable; I could tell he was worried.

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5 Situations When Massive Churn is Just Fine

5 Situations When Massive Churn is Just FineThe mantra of “grow at all costs” – that seems to include acquiring wrong-fit customers (those who aren’t your Ideal Customers), churn be damned – has popped up several times lately and my reaction to it is two-fold.

First, I immediately thought how stupid this is and how it flies in the face of everything that has to do with customer success and what I’ve been preaching for the last few years, but also goes against the core fundamentals of building a high-growth business (of which not losing more customers than you bring in is kind of important).

But then I thought maybe this could be a fun thought experiment where we can explore five situations where having high churn is actually just fine… in fact, it’s totally acceptable.

Cool, let’s do this.

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5 Lesser-Known Ways Churn Hurts your Company

5 Lesser-Known Ways Churn Hurts your CompanyThe common refrain by SaaS experts that think business is just a math problem is that if a customer stays long enough to pay back the cost to acquire them (the metric is called Customer Acquisition Cost or CAC), they became a “profitable” customer (“unit economics” don’tcha know) and everything is great.

Just do more of that and you’ll be a unicorn.

But the fact that your customers churned out – even after becoming “profitable” – likely means you didn’t get all the value you could from them and they definitely didn’t get all the value they should have from their relationship with you (you didn’t help them achieve their Desired Outcome).

Those customers you paid to acquire – that your company put time, energy, resources, and money into acquiring – are leaving, and there’s a cost that comes along with that that you might not have considered.

Let’s explore this, shall we?

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Podcast: Getting Inside the Minds of Your SaaS Customers

LincolnMurphy-mdiHow do you define success for your SaaS customers?

While it sounds simple, it’s not.

Success is only achieved when your customers reach their Desired Outcome by their interactions with your company.

But first, you have to understand what it is that your customers want to achieve — and that can take some work.

I was recently a guest on the business analytics podcast, Million Dollar Insights, and I spoke with host Cara Hogan about how SaaS companies can begin to define and invest in customer success, from identifying an Ideal Customer Profile to reducing churn.

If you want happy, engaged customers who rave about your product, you should take a listen.

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The Fiction that Friction Improves Customer Onboarding

The Fiction that Friction ImprovesA few months back an article was published that talked about how this popular brain training game (I can’t remember what it’s called) made their onboarding process MORE complex – not less – and increased their active users by 10%.

While the article was very clear on when to add friction, most of the discussion around the article that I saw fell into the category of “yes, that’s brilliant! I hate my users and customers anyway, so I’ll add MORE friction to our onboarding and we’ll improve like crazy!”

Crazy is the right word… but the context is wrong.

What they should have said was “I’d be crazy to simply add friction and think for a second that the outcome would be in some way positive.”

Unfortunately, this idea of adding friction has come up a few times recently on a few Clarity calls, so I feel the need to dig into why adding friction all willy nilly is simply one of the stupidest things you could do.

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