Scaling Customer Success in a Down Economy

While we’re not experiencing a recession yet, with the majority of economic indicators pointing downward, I’m sure it’s on your mind. How can you find new sources of revenue in this climate? While it may seem counter-intuitive, now is the time to scale your Customer Success program. Our blog, Make Your Revenue Stream Recession-Ready, explains the surprising opportunity Customer Success offers in this moment.    

If the economy has you hesitant to scale Customer Success, we understand. We also have some ideas. We’ve done this for some of the world’s most iconic brands, and here’s how we would go about doing it for you. 

Maturity Doesn’t Matter When It Comes to Scaling 

Maybe you’re a new company that’s experiencing hyper-revenue and customer growth and are in the early stages of establishing a Customer Success function. Perhaps your practice is mature, but you need to scale to support a new product launch, the expansion into a newly available market, or a recent merger or acquisition. 

Whether you’ve just recently caught the bug, or your Customer Success function is already deeply embedded into your company’s ecosystem scalable practice can be rocket fuel for your revenue engine and a lifeline in a dicey economy.  

There are numerous ways to scale Customer Success, and a model that works for your company may not work for another. Regardless of where your company falls on the maturity continuum, MarketSource offers a strategic approach to scaling that assures you’ll be able to drive efficiencies through common tasks and operational procedures, setting you up to accommodate future growth, no matter how big or fast. It also enables you to grow your Customer Success function without compromising quality—of your team, your customers’ experience, or your results. 

Embrace Digital 

Solving a scaling issue with bodies is both cost-prohibitive and unsustainable. Rather than jumping to people resources as the solution to augmenting your team, we lean more heavily into process and technology solutions for our customers first. We ask that they be open to moving away from the Customer Success classic yet untenable one-to-one customer engagement model toward a more efficient one-to-many model.  

And we encourage them to be open to automating some of their functions. Switching from a one-to-one to a one-to-many (or “pooled”) customer engagement approach and automating universal, repeatable tasks expands your team and drives efficiencies, all without compromising the human personalization at scale that your customers not only crave but are growing to expect. I talk more about the benefits of a pooled model in this video. 

Automation can be a faster, more cost-effective way to serve your customers as you scale. There is a false belief that automating or digitizing customer interactions belies a lack of resources that manifests in an uncaring attitude toward customers and translates to telling them, “Go fend for yourself.”  

We can help you find a happy medium between personal and automated customer touches. We start by identifying repeatable processes your reps currently perform that you can digitize with a technology that manages your customers in a low- or digital-touch way without detracting from their experience. We often base your level and method of rep touches on the customer’s revenue potential.

No matter the number or frequency of customer touches we decide upon, reps cannot do it all themselves. A Customer Success operations team is necessary to build an infrastructure that equips reps with processes and technology to manage customers sufficiently. Your pooled professionals, your ops team, and your strategic leaders work together to create a flywheel of profitability. 

Leveraging Automation 

Tech-wise, the complexity and maturity of your Customer Success model will tell us where you need to go. It’s not advisable to settle on any new tech until we’ve examined processes and identified those tasks that are ripe for automation. Plus, realize that once you bring in new technology, you’ll likely need to hire someone, or even a team, to support it. You’ll also need to designate someone to “own” it, whether it’s your IT department, your sales team, or your operations lead. 

When it comes to automation, we’ll start small. For instance, we’d automate welcome emails or other cumbersome tasks that you do regularly. And we wouldn’t recommend an automation tool or a Customer Success platform until you reach at least a dozen or more headcount, at which time, we’ll have a stronger sense as to the highest and best use of technology to support your automation. 

Customizing to Meet Customer Preferences  

In the one-to-one customer engagement model, customers always know who they can go to for help and information. As you scale and move to a pooled team, customers don’t necessarily know who they will get when they call, but don’t let that detract from their experience.  

We’ll have to target and refine your customer touchpoints as we go, but pooled teams offer significant benefits to both your customers and you. In fact, rightly enabled pooled teams can not only delight customers by allowing them to choose whom on your team they talk to and how, but they also foster deeper engagement across your product line.  

Some people like text or chat, while others want face-to-face or video. Some may want to read a hard-copy manual or interact with a pop-up widget. No matter how they prefer to interact with you and your product, creating a custom-tailored experience supported by a pooled team can go a long way toward delighting your customers, even as you scale.  

Mirror Responsibilities across Functions 

If your practice is young, we’d build your initial team with scaling in mind at the outset. We’d assemble a team of multiple individuals with mirrored responsibilities so that you don’t have seven people doing seven different jobs. In doing this, we are creating a structure that starts off horizontally and builds up vertically. The aim? To give your team the space to expand to include a breadth of complementary skills that can serve your customers and empower them through a variety of interactions—face-to-face, group-led meetings, self-service – to meet the customer where they live – with the right information and modality at the right time. 

This sounds like a big order, and it is. Building a Customer Success practice is most effective when it is based on the nuances of your particular product, your customers’ buying preferences, and your sales process. That’s why we’d start with a close examination and coordination of these elements to determine the best scaling approach for your organization. 

Systematic Growth 

Increasing your capacity to manage a growing base of customers efficiently would start with these four steps: 

  1. Interview your customers 
  2. Map their journey 
  3. Segment them  
  4. Decide how you’re going to manage them (We don’t cover this here, but for more on this topic, read our blog Setting Your Customer Success Leader up to Win.) 

Step 1: Interviewing Your Customers 

Asking your customers about what’s important to them in terms of both your product and their success is an essential first step. A myriad of possible questions is relevant to nailing down customer habits and behaviors. We’d push the envelope and break down the survey so we could understand your customers’ urges, fears, and thought processes. 

Here’s a brief list of some of the questions we might ask.  

  • Why did you enter the buying process? 
  • What need motivated you to look at our products/solutions? 
  • What were the key reasons you selected us as your solution? 
  • What are your expectations for your relationship with our products and services? 
  • What have been the most enjoyable moments of your interactions with our company? 
  • What have been the biggest challenges in working with our company? 
  • How do you envision our relationship in the future… in the months or years ahead? 
  • What is holding you back from a promise of continuing our relationship in three to five years? 
  • Would you say yes to renewing your contract with us right now? Why or why not? 
  • Would you recommend us to a colleague with another company facing the same challenges? 
  • How do you learn best, and what is your favorite style of communication? 
  • How do you want us to get the job done? 

Step 2: Mapping the Customer Journey 

Now that we have a sense of what’s important to them and how they foresee your future relationship, it’s time to chart out your typical customer journey. Salesforce research shows that 80% of customers consider the experience they have with a company as important as the products and services it provides. Therefore, mapping that experience to show where and how customers engage with you is essential to discovering how best to scale Customer Success. You can’t scale if you don’t know where to build, where the volume is with customers at a high range of usage.  

The mapping process starts with everyone, including marketing, L&D, sales, revenue, etc., in a room, whiteboarding what it’s like to be a customer – from soup to nuts, recognizing that their journey is not linear. 

Some of the overarching components we’d include in your map would be:

  • Stages of the buying process 
  • Target customer personas 
  • User actions and touchpoints 
  • Emotional milestones 
  • Obstacles and pain points 

After mapping, we’ll be able to see where your customers are in the lifecycle and assess their level of engagement and product usage at each stage. We’ll know how they respond to Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs), when they call in to support, and whether they are attending support webinars. 

Once we have enough data, we can then decide how to bring them up to the next level; we’ll know how to operationalize the ways you can support them and how to help them travel smoothly through the sales ecosystem. 

Step 3: Segment Your Customers 

The concept of customer segmentation takes its cue from an analogy with handling your kids. You want to get to the bottom of what’s bothering them, but before you can do that, you must know how they are most comfortable communicating with you. 

Most B2B companies base how they serve their customers upon which segments make up most of their revenue, as they need to determine how to best serve all their customers effectively with a limited headcount and dollars. 

Obviously, a single bucket won’t hold all your customers, and it’s not affordable or sustainable to treat them all the same way or give them the same level of attention (you can’t take them all out to dinner, after all). But we can segment them by revenue, geography, account size, or market share. We would begin segmenting based on industry verticals – whether you’re in telecommunications, automotive, or building materials, for instance. That said, we might segment by product or customer size – it depends on the maturity of your Customer Success program and on your needs and goals. The most advanced Customer Success organizations segment their customers by a) their use cases, and b) how customers derive value from the company’s products and services. Steps one and two above will help us decide which segmentation approach makes the most sense for you. 

From there, we’ll further refine the segmentation by where customers are in their journey and the sales lifecycle. Criteria such as new vs. existing customers – whether they are onboarding or terminating – may be a valuable segmentation that would create alignment with the ways in which you’ll treat each segment. With a high-volume customer base, evaluating customer revenue size and headcounts may reveal other segmentation opportunities. 

Once we’ve taken a wide view in your segment analysis, we’ll proceed to a cohort analysis. For example, we can segment customers with over 5,000 employees who have been with you for a certain length of time, and that ask similar questions, or take a certain action at specified points in time. By creating a meaningful segmentation that defines subsets of customers based on relevant characteristics, we’re creating cohorts of customers based upon their similar journeys with your products and services. By grouping customers together according to similar criteria, we can determine how they interact most effectively and efficiently with different customer groups. 

Once we’ve completed your segmentation, we’ll look at behavioral characteristics that are common to each segment and that might reveal the need for proactive – or corrective – actions. For example, are customers bogged down by a single issue associated with a product that is strangling potential new revenue? The visibility Customer Success has into account behavior enables it to identify issues like this and find solutions long before they become a systemic problem.  

Segmentation also offers unique insights into customer values, enabling us to quickly identify and address potential roadblocks and challenges. This allows you to become customers’ trusted advisor, able to identify potential land mines – the “gotchas”—before they come at you, and to continue to demonstrate the value of their purchase at every turn. 

Find Tech to Match the Customer Journey 

Once we’ve mapped out the customer journey, we’ll identify the right tech that positions you for current and future scaling. We won’t recommend a Customer Success platform before we know what your endgame is, as you’d likely find that your platform is somewhat prescriptive and can stifle your ability to scale. For example, it will guide as to how we build your processes and inform how you interact with your customers, and those processes may not be optimized for your customers’ actual situations and journeys.   

Ideally, Customer Success-qualified leads (CSQLs) – those leads or opportunities that come from the Customer Success team – are generated by automated processes and passed along through a technology like a CRM, spreadsheet, or Customer Success platform. CSQLs close at a much higher rate than Marketing Qualified Leads and Sales Qualified Leads, typically faster and offering higher average deal sizes. A good Customer Success platform will be able to ‘tag it, flag it, or tick a box” so that the lead is automatically fed into another marketing cadence, taking off on its appropriate journey from there.  

Setting Benchmarks 

Once we’ve put your scaling elements in place and we’ve put your plan in motion, it’s time to establish your performance indicators. We’ll work with you to select KPIs that show you’re making progress toward successful scaling. They will reveal that customers are checking all the boxes on standard Customer Success measures, such as using your product and attending support meetings. 

For example, we’ll look at whether your company is achieving better revenues, obtaining more leads, increasing employee retention, and closing more deals. How are each of your customers helping to move the needle toward growth? To properly assess your progress in these areas, we’ll need to make historical comparisons, which will also help in making next year’s projections. 

Then, we’ll need to build in a program of continuous improvement, not only to reinforce positive results but to constantly produce even better results. In fact, this is an essential component of the MarketSource approach to optimizing Customer Success. When we get more leads and start closing more of them at a higher rate in less time, and then start closing higher dollar deals, we create a flywheel that can exponentially grow your business. We call this approach Relentless Incrementalism, and we apply it to all our customer engagements. 

And, although we are viewing productivity from a high level, scaling readiness really gets down to fundamentals, such as how many phone calls a sales team can make in a day, onboarding sessions they can finish, renewals they can register, Executive Business Reviews (EBRs) they can conduct, at-risk/remediation/success plans they can prepare, planning sessions they can hold, upselling opportunities they can pursue, and customer advocacy and referral activities they can complete.  

The role of the Customer Success ops team is to formalize and operationalize these kinds of day-to-day tasks the customer-facing staff members perform. By transferring these common activities into processes and playbooks, your customers will experience a more standardized, predictable, and delightful engagement with your team.   

Customer satisfaction automatically rises with a good Customer Success practice. Industry metrics show that Customer Success typically generates a 5% increase in customer retention, but newer metrics show a higher percentage. Customer Success-fueled companies should hit a higher Net Promoter Score (NPS), which measures customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.  

Creating A Revenue Flywheel 

Sales leaders are moving away from marketing and sales funnels. Today, the trend is toward a helical model of marketing, or flywheel, which is a revenue generation engine built entirely around providing a remarkable customer experience. The Customer Success flywheel picks up massive steam once you systematically build customer advocacy into your entire ecosystem.  Core to that momentum is your customers’ delight with their experience and deep trust in you. You ultimately want them to regard you as a trusted advisor, a professional guide that can truly help them meet their goals, increase their KPIs, and drive success for their organization.  

Customer Success is both the inward and outward reflection that your entire organization’s success is built around and aligned with your customers’ success. Done right, your flywheel will create its own efficient energy, become self-sustaining, and contribute directly to the bottom line. 

Ready to talk?

We can help you accelerate your flywheel momentum, just as we have for iconic B2B brands across America
Author: Jeff Heckler

Author: Jeff Heckler

Jeff is Director of Customer Success Solutions at MarketSource. He is a leader with over 20 years of running customer-facing revenue teams for such organizations as SAP, Accenture, and Stanford. Jeff is an author, advisor, and speaker, and recipient of numerous industry awards. Most recently, Jeff was recognized as a Top 25 Global Customer Success Influencer, 2021, and named One to Watch in SaaS, 2022. Jeff serves on the Board of Advisors for The Customer Success Performance Index™, the Product Advisory Board for, and is the Principal Thought Leader–Digital CS for Practical CSM.

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