What Is Customer Success In Saas

What is Customer Success in SaaS?

If we are going to discuss customer success in SaaS, then we must first start at the beginning of a customer’s interaction with you and review how they got to customer success. By doing so, it will provide clarity around what customer success is and what it means. 

Any customer will enter your marketing or sales funnel because they have a problem and they want it fixing. It is marketing’s job to provide a website, content, and educational material to convince the individual you are an expert in solving this problem and can help them too. 

At which point the potential customer will start a free trial of your product in an attempt to fix the problem or sales will step in to work out a detailed plan of exactly how your product will fix their problem. Either way, the customer will now end up with you in customer success. 

Your job is to ensure that the problem they have is resolved. Therefore, achieving the goal that drove the customer to reach out in the first place. 

But, that isn’t quite the end of the story because once the problem is fixed why stick around? The customer could leave, find an even better way of working, get what they currently have for cheaper among many other options that the customer has available to them. 

It is clear that the initial goal of customer success is to help the customer achieve their goal with the product but the unanswered question is ‘then what?’ Clearly, there is a lot more to customer success than helping people achieve that first goal so…

What does customer success really mean?

  

What Does Customer Success Mean?

We know the journey by which customers find themselves at the door of customer success but now what do we do? What is your aim and how does customer success help the business?

It is our belief that there are three objectives and these are especially true for customer success in SaaS. 

  1. Customer success is a revenue driver for the business through retention and expansion. 
  2. You must deliver operational change for your customers
  3. Sell the future. 

To explain more about why we believe these three principles are what should drive any customer success team, we can examine each of them in more detail.

Revenue Driver 

It is a simple fact that it is cheaper to sell to an existing customer than it is to acquire a new one. Furthermore, any company serious about scaling sooner or later will acquire the majority of their revenue from existing customers. After all, you cannot scale quickly if every time you take two steps forwards you take one step back. This is why high-growth companies are fanatical about churn. 

Look at Salesforce as an example. In 2018 only 27% of new sales came from new customers while 73% came from the existing customer base. Of the 73% of sales, 49% came from new seats/upgrades on existing accounts while 51% came from cross-selling new products.

These activities are driven by customer success. Customer success in SaaS, are the people who know the customers inside and out. They know their challenges, their objectives, and timeframes to deliver. 

You must always remember that you are there to drive revenue. How can you achieve this?

Deliver Operational Change 

Customers stay customers for one reason and one reason only. You are changing their operational process for the better. 

Think about any product or service that you use. Chances are you were working on something but wanted to do it better – quicker, cheaper, larger scale, combine features, etc.

If a product doesn’t make the improvement in your operational process that you were hoping for then you do not continue with it. 

This is the second principle of any customer success team and something you are responsible for. 

There should be a clear business objective for delivery at each account that the customer success representative is measured against. Are you on target to achieve that goal? Yes or No. 

An example could be a customer who wants to implement an email marketing strategy using automated emails that are triggered by website behavior. It is your job to make sure that happens. 

Sell the Future

Once you have achieved the operational change that the customer was looking for you must ‘sell the future.’ Companies do not stand still, just like you have monthly, quarterly and yearly targets, so do your customers. This means that whatever area you or your product operates in, needs will change and evolve. It is up to you to ‘sell that future’ to your customers. If you don’t sell it, someone else will. 

As an example, let’s imagine a customer purchases your product to collect leads from their website through forms, popups, and offers. You fix this problem and they have a steady supply of new leads. 

The customer success rep who sells the future knows that those leads are not just going to be left sitting there. They will be nurtured, passed to sales, used as audiences in ad campaigns amongst a range of other activities. That is an opportunity for your product to step in through cross-sells and upsells to meet the new requirements of your customers. 

What is a Customer Success Strategy?

Now that we know what customer success is, we can implement a system to achieve these goals. 

The system by which we do this is our customer success strategy. 

 

How do You Build a Customer Success Strategy?

We know what a customer success strategy is, so we must define how to build one.

A successful strategy consists of 8 core principles:

  • Maturity Phases
  • Metrics
  • Segmentation 
  • Experimentation 
  • Compensation 
  • Responsibilities
  • Ticketing
  • Constant Improvement

We can look at each of these steps individually 

Maturity Phases

When building a process like this it is helpful to understand the phases you must pass through as you mature. Those growth phases in customer success are:

  • Adoption – Focus on the adoption of your product
  • Retention – The retention of your customers is key
  • Expansion – Helping your customer base to expand
  • Optimisation – Optimising the process
  • Transformation – Transforming your customers through your product

By breaking down the overall process into stages like this, it is very clear where you are currently and what you must work on. 

Metrics 

If you don’t measure, you won’t improve and that is where metrics come in. Metrics can be categorised into three subcategories

Churn

Churn is simply the rate at which customers leave and should be tracked religiously to indicate the overall performance of the customer success team. Churn and leading metrics are vital to the first two maturity stages of adoption and retention. 

 

Leading Metrics

Because churn is a lagging indicator (meaning you must wait months or years to calculate churn) it is bad practice to simply wait and see what your churn rate is. This is why we need leading metrics. A leading metric is an indicator of success or failure and is unique to every business. 

By tracking your leading metric on every account you can predict their success and therefore if they are likely to churn or not. 

An example of a leading metric for an email marketing platform might be “Do people send at least 2 marketing emails every week for two months?”

This would clearly indicate usage and value in the product. 

Core Metrics

Your core metrics are those numbers that support the core functionality of your team. While these differ from business to business we have listed some common metrics:

  • Net MRR.
  • Gross renewal rate %
  • The gap between the two figures
  • Response time
  • Customer satisfaction rating
  • NPS
  • Ticket deflection and engagement
  • New business expansion
  • Time to value
  • Renewal rates of first-year vs second-year vs later-year customers

A note of caution for early-stage teams is not to get bogged down in data. If you are not sure, stick to one or two data points, know what they are telling you and use them to improve. 

Metrics are there to guide your actions so that you can improve. Not to sit on a dashboard that nobody looks at. 

 

Segmentation

Segmentation allows you to create personalised experiences at scale. It’s widely accepted that marketing teams must send content based on the interests of the individuals, so why should customer success be any different? People don’t want a generic onboarding document, they want an onboarding guide that speaks to them. 

There are no limits to how you segment your accounts and therefore how you tailor your interaction with them. 

Although, here are some common segments we use:

  • At-risk accounts
  • On target accounts
  • Possible upsells 
  • Possible cross-sells
  • By persona
  • By country 

Experimentation 

All of the previous steps have been about how your data is stored and what it is telling you. Now we must use it to experiment. You should be running experiments that are tied to your key objectives and remunerations plans. 

If you are looking for upsells, run tests to see if you can increase expansions. If you are looking for cross-sells, then create a hypothesis and test it. 

Some example hypotheses that we have seen are:

  • When an account gets within 15% of qualifying for the higher payment grade, reach out and attempt to upsell.
  • When an account has products A and B, attempt to sell them C as a cross-sell. 

By constantly testing, you will perform better over time and deliver a better service to your customers.

Compensation

Compensation is how you will remunerate your employees. At Straight Talk, we suggest a simple strategy for remuneration, which is to incentivize the behavior you want to see. 

Rather than just offering a flat rate if you want to see retention grow, provide a bonus to reps when accounts renew. 

Want to see expansion? Offer bonuses for when it happens. 

Another important item to include in your compensation, is to link sales and customer success together. If you are providing bonuses based on retention, make that bonus shared between sales and customer success. This way sales have a reason to target deals more likely to renew than if they were on a flat rate or their bonus was only paid on a new deal being signed. 

Finally, don’t think compensation is a ‘set it and forget it’ exercise. You should be monitoring the numbers monthly to identify any need to change the compensation structure. You might need to increase or decrease the bonus vs flat rate, as an example. 

 

Responsibilities 

Responsibilities and how they are defined is the biggest pitfall for growing customer success teams. You must answer “Where do responsibilities begin and where do they end?”

For Example: 

Should customer success handle all renewals?

Should they handle some renewals based on the size of the deal or company type?

Should they be involved with expansion? 

Should expansion be handled by sales?

There is no right and wrong answer to these questions. You must decide what works best for you. To help with your decision, we will give you some ‘food for thought.’ Your customer success representatives are the primary contacts for your customers and you may want to consider how you leverage this relationship to best serve everyone’s interests. 

Some decide that the representative should not be involved in sales acting as a “good cop” or impartial voice during renewals and expansion. While others find it easier to close these deals by leveraging the relationship to sell directly. 

Ticketing 

Ticketing forms another opportunity for you to not only help your customers but to improve your performance, through a data feedback loop. 

Ensure you are tracking, reporting, and reviewing all tickets, to identity opportunities for product development or knowledge base improvements. 

You can classify all tickets by account type, account size, persona or any other variable that makes sense for your business.

Then segment tickets by type. Is it a product feature request, specific area of support, and what level of support is required to resolve it? 

By combining this information, you can improve on ticket response time but also implement changes to prevent these tickets in the future and therefore perform better.  An example of this at work is, spotting a number of tickets asking how a certain feature works. Using this data, you can update your knowledge base, ensuring an article is available for people with this problem.

Continuous Improvement

The final step in any strategy is continous improvement. By leveraging data, segmentation, experimentation, and the successes/failures of accounts, you should be implementing changes to this process over time and measuring their impact with the aim being to constantly improve. 

Ultimately, you want to reach the transformational maturity stage.  

Now we know what goes into a successful strategy. We can examine how you know you have a successful customer success process. 

How is Customer Success Achieved?

If you have read much of our content here at Straight Talk, you will know that rather than give summary definitions we prefer to list the steps that must have been completed in order to say you have achieved something. Customer success is no different. 

In order to say customer success in SaaS has been achieved, you must: 

  • Have clear access to all customers

Typically this would be achieved through a CRM that tracks all of the interactions and required information for each account, such as personas, pains, goals and progress to date.

 

  • You have a plan for each account

You can achieve this through a document or snippet, including the current goals, plan, challenges, and timeframe for each account. Having a plan or document like this for every account, will enable you to measure progress against a clearly defined objective. 

If you do not know to which port you are sailing, then no wind is favourable.

 

  • You can segment by health status 

This means you have clearly defined criteria with which to define opportunities for expansion, at-risk accounts and those who are on track. You are also able to segment and see a list of each account in each category and take action where required. 

There are many tools that can help with this function, such as sales machine

 

  • You have a health status action plan

A health status action plan, refers to what happens when an account enters a particular health status. For example, when an account becomes at risk, what happens?

There must be a clearly defined plan of automation, sequences or any other actions that are required in order to save accounts from churn, ensure continued success or expand and cross-sell 

This is important because, while a health status alone can enable customer success reps to take action, it is by standardizing the process across your team, that you are able to measure and improve performance. 

 

  • Running experiments and analyzing your data

You should be constantly running experiments and generating new ideas to validate. By refining your way of working in this way and turning the winning results into your standard processes, you will continue to improve on the three core principles of customer success.

Customer Success

I hope that this guide has provided a template for you to build and implement your own customer success strategy. You can find further information on customer success on our blog. If you have specific questions, then you can get in touch. 

headshot of Dan Wheatley, Straight Talk Consulting founder

By Dan Wheatley, Co-Founder

CEO/Co-Founder of Straight Talk Consulting, a business consultancy that gets our hands dirty. We work with organisations to achieve product market fit before transitioning into scalable and repeatable growth