Understanding Your Customer’s Desired Outcome

Desired Outcome - try again-2So… what does Success look like for your customer? That’s the question that’s at the base of my wildly popular “The Secret to Successful Customer Onboarding” article.

BTW, this article is good… but I have another one that goes into more detail on Desired Outcome you should check out, too.

But it’s not actually a very good question. What does “success” look like for your customer? What does that even mean? Unless it’s a hard ROI, that’s a tough question to answer.

So I always found myself moving to different ways of phrasing basically the same question. And when you do that – when you have to say “in other words,…” next time just start with the “other words” and move past the confusion.

So now I ask about your customer’s Desired Outcome… but even that easier-to-understand concept has its nuances. Let me explain…

Quick Definition of Customer Success

First, let me start with the latest iteration of my quick definition of Customer Success:

“Customer Success is when your customers achieve their Desired Outcome through their interactions with your company.”

And the process used to proactively ensure that Desired Outcome is achieved by your customers is what we call Customer Success Management.

Hat-tip to my man Steli Efti from Close.io on moving this from “with your product” to “with your company.”

In fact, Steli and I talked about this during our webinar on Driving More Upsells in 2015 (check out the archive and get the slides here).

Now I’m always refining that quick definition of Customer Success – though my definitive definition of Customer Success and all of the functional areas of a business it encompasses still stands –  but that’s where I am right now and I think it works well.

I’ve found that “Desired Outcome” resonates in a way that “success for your customer” never really does.

But even then, there’s more to Desired Outcome than meets the eye… and it can be a transformative concept if you’ll let it:

The Definition of Desired Outcome

Think of an advertising product.

The Desired Outcome for the customer isn’t actually placing ads. It isn’t even increasing the click-through rate on the ads. Or optimizing spend. Or… or… or…

Nope, the Desired Outcome is acquiring a customer. Something to consider with all advertising and sales enablement tools… ultimately, we just want to buy a customer.

And even if that Desired Outcome isn’t achieved 100% within the scope of the advertising product (there are factors beyond the ad that figure into acquiring a customer), that doesn’t change the fact that the Desired Outcome for their customer is acquiring a customer.

Okay, so knowing the Desired Outcome and being able to build your value prop – and ultimately your marketing, pricing, sales process, onboarding, and overall Customer Success program – around that knowledge will make your company MUCH more valuable… both to the customer, but literally more valuable as an entity.

That said, the key to leveraging the Desired Outcome is to understand that…

Desired Outcome has Two Parts

Desired Outcome has two parts… Required Outcome and Appropriate Experience.

I made the mistake originally of saying “Great Experience,” and while “great” is relative, that actually isn’t accurate.

Rather, the odd-sounding “Appropriate Experience” is much more accurate – though maybe someday I’ll come up with a better word – but what matters is that it’s the experience congruent with your customer’s expectations.

Okay, so the Required Outcome part is fairly obvious… this is what they need to happen.

So the Required Outcome is, well, what’s required; but how you get to that Required Outcome becomes the key differentiator for you.

I like to use the airline analogy here… in the United States, I can fly on any commercial airline to get from Point A to Point B and be assured I’ll get there fast and safely.

Fast and Safe are the baseline.

But there is a huge difference in the experience of achieving that Required Outcome depending on if I fly Southwest, Spirit, or Virgin America.

Only one will give me MY Desired Outcome and for that – in my case since I travel so much – I’m willing to pay a premium (Virgin America).

So the Desired Outcome is both the Required Outcome + Appropriate Experience… and knowing and really understanding that is huge.

At the very least it will keep you from trying to sell me a flight on Spirit knowing that I would rather walk… or just not go than fly that airline. But the up-side potential of knowing that is where things get super-exciting.

When it comes to prioritizing development and design resources, you should consider…

How to “Weight” the Two Parts of Desired Outcome

When I mention those two parts, I’m frequently asked how you should weight them; does Required Outcome matter more than Appropriate Experience or vice versa, and to what degree?

Required Outcome is a given. It just is. Of course, through Customer Development, you may discover that the actual Required Outcome is a subset of what you originally thought, reducing the effort needed to get them to that point, which is great. But no matter what, required means just that… required.

So this question is really more about “weighting” the experience side. A part of me wonders when I get this question if it’s not an attempt to explain away the need for – or to avoid altogether having to spend time/resources on – the “experience” side of things.

Okay, so it’s a legitimate question, but one – I’m afraid – that lacks a great answer, because… it depends.

Which is why I say “Appropriate” Experience and not “Great” or “Awesome” or “Modern” or whatever. It’s appropriate. That’s all.

If you are selling something to developers, you might not just be able to get away with a very basic UI that just “gets the job done” … you may be able to get away with no UI… just an API. But once you move beyond developers – if that’s a valid direction in which to move – your (potential) customers may find that API-only approach a bit lacking.

If you’re selling to Early Adopters, that cohort will usually be okay with – and even expect – an experience that others along the maturing product lifecycle would not be willing to.

And just to be clear – because I believe words matter – it’s not accurate to say they’d put up with a “bad” or “poor” or even a “limited” experience… it would be a completely appropriate experience for them.

But as your product matures and you move beyond the early adopters, you will likely have to adapt the experience to be appropriate with the new cohort of customers.

So how you “weight” the Appropriate Experience side of “Desired Outcome” totally depends on the customer you’re selling to and their expectations.

Of course, if you don’t know what type of experience your customers want/need/require/expect … then you don’t know your customers well enough.

As a quick side note for super-early-stage startups…

Why Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) often Fail

One of the reasons Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) fail (and give the entire MVP concept a bad name) is that the creator solves for the Required Outcome and not the Desired Outcome.

In fact, I just saw this tweet that illustrates this concept perfectly:

You see this all the time when a startup has a “functional” product – technically the product allows for the “job to be done” – but the experience is incongruent with the expectations of the customer.

Think about it… how can a product that gives you the Required Outcome still suck? Because the experience is incongruent with your expectations / needs / wants/ desires.

That’s why the key to success is in understanding that…

Customer Success is tied to Desired Outcome

This is where “Desired Outcome” really starts to shine as a way of thinking about Customer Success.

It’s our job to understand what the customer is trying to accomplish, but moreover, it’s our job to understand how they want to accomplish it.

And of course the airline analogy I used can play out in other transportation methods, too, but also in pretty much every product and service category.

But in technology, we’re seeing this all the time:

Enterprise software is being disrupted by cloud offerings even if on-premises products do the same thing AND there is infrastructure in place to support them simply because the cloud experience is preferred.

Products with old-feeling (Legacy) UIs are being displaced by products from smaller vendors who understand the need in certain market segments for a great, modern UI, to the point where UX trumps feature parity.

Mobile-first startups are disrupting even “modern” cloud providers as consumer desires are evolving faster than “legacy” cloud providers can – or are willing to – keep up with.

Uber disrupted the awful experience of taxis or – like in Dallas – disrupted the inefficient valet procedures at popular restaurants.

So while helping your customer achieve their Required Outcome, helping them achieve their Desired Outcome is even better.

And some people are willing to pay more for that Desired Outcome.

So… does “desired outcome” resonate better? I think so.

About Lincoln Murphy

I am a Customer Success Consultant focused on Customer Success-driven Growth. I wrote the Customer Success book which you can buy at Amazon. If you need help applying Customer Success-driven Growth principles in your company or would like me to speak at your event, please contact me. Also, connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.


  1. Hey Lincoln,

    thanks for the post. Great stuff as always.

    I wanted to comment about your definition of Desired Outcome = Required Outcome + Appropriate Experience.

    The way I see it is through the lens of the jobs-to-be-done and associated outcomes (as described in What Customers Want for example): a Desired Outcome in that case is the result of fulfilling a collection of functional and emotional jobs. For example with your airline example:
    – functional job: get from A to B
    – emotional job: receive friendly customer service
    – …

    There would be many different functional and emotional jobs that you hire an airline to do when you fly, but these two might be the most important.

    Regarding “appropriate” experience, I get what you mean. Reminds me of design thinking which teaches how the components of a product/service must come together to create a personalized & compelling experience. The book “change by design” at some point refers specifically to the experience of sitting in an airplane 🙂

    • Awesome… thanks for the kind words and the thoughtful comment.

      I just want to address one thing you brought up that I don’t talk about a lot. I try not to get too mixed-up in the “jobs to be done” framework – or any framework, really – because I find people often take those as the gospel even when they aren’t a perfect fit (and, frankly, when the framers didn’t intend for the framework to be all things to everyone)… but I take from frameworks and theories and concepts all day long; I just don’t get caught-up in dogma.

      Thanks Tommy…. good stuff.

    • Desired outcome resonates with me as I work to design our service to deliver on the customers desire for success, not our idea of success for them.
      If we can influence them to achieve more success than they expected…then we have truly succeeded at creating an advocate.

  2. Thanks for the shoutout my man!

    Good stuff 🙂

    Inspired by our webinar I wrote up a quick blog with my thoughts on the Upsell: http://blog.close.io/startup-sales-upselling-101

    Keep up the amazing content/teaching!

  3. Nailed it. Literally so much gold here, I read, analyzed to fit to my product/co and re-read. This is first post I’ve come across from you Lincoln and glad I did! +1 Subscriber.

  4. I have to take a moment to cheer this. After all, I named my company Outcome Marketing. I spend a good amount of my time encouraging my small business clients to perceive their prospective client’s perspective. Required Outcome/Appropriate Experience takes that deeper in a useful way – as long as I give them specific examples they can relate to. Appropriate Experience is a more useful concept than Great Experience, because it invokes deeper thought.

  5. Love this post, a thoughtful breakdown of how customer success fits into today’s ever-changing business world.

    Why not rename “Appropriate Outcome” as “Congruent Outcome”? To me, the word congruent – you used it in the article – made this concept make sense. Virgin is congruent with your desire for customer service but Spirit (ugh) may be congruent for John Doe’s desire to save all the money he can.

    Regardless, love this.


  1. […] Desired Outcome drives Customer Success […]

  2. […] how they should identify their Ideal Customers, understand how they operate, know what their Desired Outcome is, listen to what they say, etc. […]

  3. […] certain features you WANT them to use (or they bought) but in fact, they’re achieving their Desired Outcome thank you very […]

  4. […] this Success Gap that stands between what your product does and your customer’s Desired Outcome is a huge risk for […]

  5. […] customer is not always right. If they’re doing something that is not working towards their desired outcome, we need to call them out on it. Sometimes, it means telling them we’re not the right fit for […]

  6. […] talking to your customers will you be able to really understand their usage, help them reach their desired outcome, get feedback, and create this sacred link that will last […]

  7. […] could hurt your value prop if it’s a crappy experience, poorly executed, incongruent with the prospect’s Desired Outcome, etc. But a Free Trial in-and-of-itself will not hurt your value prop, but should help reinforce […]

  8. […] continue to make sales that are incongruent with your long-term success, and might even be incongruent with the long-term success of the customer; it’s this that is likely the reason it’s time to test an Ideal Customer […]

  9. […] step is either immediately after your customer achieves (or sees that they could actually achieve) their Desired Outcome by actually using the […]

  10. […] I want to be 100% clear: the most common Stick Point driver is your Customer’s Desired Outcome and whether or not they reached success milestones than anything financial or contractual in […]

  11. […] is yet another reason to really get to know your Ideal Customer, understand their Desired Outcome, and then use that knowledge to engage these psychological […]

  12. […] the problem is that the SaaS vendor either doesn’t know what the customer or prospect’s Desired Outcome is… or forgot that solving for that was the most important […]

  13. […] Obviously sending emails is very scalable and easy to handle, but that’s no the choice Steli made. Indeed, talking to your users over the phone lets you get more in-depth information. You can follow up on a question and dig deeper, in order to have a clear understanding of what he or she is trying to do with your software – what Lincoln Murphy calls the user’s desired outcome. […]

  14. […] 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). […]

  15. […] the core, customer success is simply ensuring that your customers achieve their Desired Outcome through their interactions with your company. That’s […]

  16. […] I’ve covered the secret to successfully onboarding customers before, and if you’ll recall, and one of the keys is to focus on your customer’s Desired Outcome. […]

  17. […] is only achieved when your customers reach their Desired Outcome by their interactions with your […]

  18. […] No, you may not all work in the customer success organization, but everybody in the company has to be aligned on helping your customers achieve their desired outcome. […]

  19. […] I first introduced Desired Outcome, I explained that this idea came about as a simple replacement for “what does Success mean to […]

  20. […] active a customer or user is in a somewhat passive product like this), they certainly weren’t achieving their Desired Outcome; a Desired Outcome which had inadvertently been shaped by their complete mismanagement of […]

  21. […] I first introduced Desired Outcome, I explained that this idea came about as a simple replacement for “what does Success mean to […]

  22. […] definition of Customer Success is, literally, “ensuring your customers achieve their Desired Outcome through their interactions […]

  23. […] is one definition of Customer Success that I particularly like. It’s: “ensuring your customers achieve their […]

  24. […] Understanding Your Customer’s Desired Outcomes by Lincoln Murphy […]

  25. […] your Customer Success team to find out why your product isn’t helping that user meet his or her desired outcome. If your product is a good fit for that user, you stand a solid chance of not only re-engaging the […]

  26. […] churn, and most importantly, designing those systems to support customers in achieving their desired outcomes in a way that […]

  27. […] like asking Free Trial subscribers to answer a short open-ended question survey about their desired outcomes for using your product. But from there, you’ll want a real human to help users define a goal and […]

  28. […] When every user has an entire World-Wide Web of choices, you have to compete based on the one factor that really counts: Do you have what it takes to help that user achieve his or her desired outcome? […]

  29. […] Lincoln Murphy, guru da área de CS, isso é chamado de desire outcome e é criado a partir da combinação de dois fatores: required […]

  30. […] business outcomes? It starts with understanding what a Desired Outcome really is and we recommend this fantastic read to kick-start your […]

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