First 90 Days in Customer Success Management

You’ve just become the founding member of the Customer Success team — congratulations! Your company is making a significant investment in helping customers derive more value from its products and services.

Now you’re faced with the inevitable question: where to begin?

This roadmap will outline what you should expect to accomplish in your first 90 days as a new Customer Success Manager. At the end of this timeframe, you will understand your product’s use case, know when and how to encourage customers to take actions that drive value, and have a vision of where you want to lead your team in the future.

Let’s dive into your 90 day plan as a new Customer Success Manager.

30 Days: Get a Lay of the Land

Goals to achieve:

  1. Become a Product Expert
  2. Speak with Customers
  3. Understand Your Ideal Customer
  4. Review Pricing Plans

Become a Product Expert

This is your starting point.

Having an in-depth knowledge of your product will ensure you can share relevant best practices, weigh in on how to optimize configurations and workflows, and identify potential case studies.

Everything builds on your foundational understanding of your product or service.

Speak with Customers

While you will learn a lot from diving into the product, you will learn even more by speaking to real-life customers.

Look through your customer roster to identify some folks who might be willing to walk you through their use case, discuss any challenges they’re facing, and review how their progress compares with their purchase goals. Pair these calls with your discussions across Sales, Support, and Product to create a holistic view of these customers.

During this fact-finding phase, I find that managing a simple spreadsheet with basic information such as the number of users, business verticals, use cases, pricing models, etc. is the way to go.

Understand Ideal Customer and Use Case

Ask Sales, Marketing, Product, and Support to describe your company’s ideal customer and use case. Then, compare these responses to what you heard on your customer calls.

If your business wants to deliver value to its customers, everyone must agree on at least a basic outline of your ideal customer and use case(s). Customer Success is in a unique position to facilitate this type of collaboration between siloed teams.

Share the resulting customer profile across the entire company and make sure it gets updated over time.

Because Sales and Customer Success work closely together, there needs to be a process to share key customer information. Better coordination with Sales decreases the time it takes for you to start adding value and ensures that any critical insights gathered during the sales process are shared with Customer Success.

The customer’s pain points and buying reasons can also highlight any holes in your ideal customer profile.

Review Pricing Plans

Connect the value customers are receiving from your product to the money they’re paying.

Startups often tinker with pricing models in the early days. Experimentation is a great way to figure out what works, but it also means that Customer Success teams can be left juggling numerous cost structures and incentives. If one customer pays per seat and another is paying by API traffic, you need to be mindful of these factors when making recommendations.

You should also provide feedback to the team that manages pricing.

An important consideration is how each pricing model lends itself to future expansion / upsell. Successful SaaS companies often have pricing models with both fixed and flexible components which allow them to capture additional revenue when customers receive additional value from the product (see this post about SaaS pricing from the folks at Clearbit).

Let me be blunt — you should be prepared for only mixed success when it comes to getting in touch with existing customers.

Some folks will only reach out when they need you, while others might never respond at all.

The goal isn’t to speak with every single customer in the first 30 days. The purpose of this phase is to establish a foundational understanding of your ideal customer.

In the next 30 days, you will develop strategies to deliver on the customer’s goals and expectations.

60 Days: Establish a Success Baseline

Goals to achieve:

  1. Map the Customer Experience Lifecycle
  2. Connect Successful Customers to Data
  3. Create an Engagement Model
  4. Identify Opportunities for Expansion / Upsell

Map the Customer Experience Lifecycle

The customer experience lifecycle outlines the various phases of the customer’s relationship with your company.

This map will allow you to customize your interactions with customers depending on where they are in their lifecycle. For example, let’s take a look at the typical stages of a SaaS customer lifecycle: 1) acquisition, 2) engagement, and 3) retention

Customer lifecycle stages

ACQUISITION

  • Is marketing targeting the right type of prospects?
  • Does Sales close customers who can derive value from our product?

ENGAGEMENT

  • Do we have a clear product owner within the customer’s organization?
  • Are the people and systems we’re working able to drive success?
  • Does user activity indicate they will remain engaged with our product long-term?

RETENTION

  • Are customers achieving their goals and objectives?
  • Can we demonstrate value?
  • Do features that we release enhance value?
  • Are customers growing and expanding their usage?
  • What’s our NPS?

Connect the Characteristics of Successful Customers to Data

Product usage is a key component in both the Engagement and Retention stages of a SaaS customer lifecycle.

Through your initial conversations with customers, you gathered examples of how they use your product. But how do the workflows and implementations your customers described translate into product and feature usage?

More importantly, how do you know which characteristics and behaviors lead to a successful customer? Linking anecdotal success indicators to cold, hard data allow you to drive value systematically and at scale. Here’s how:

1. Recognize which users need additional training or education.

Example: A customer says they use your product to message their users. When you check their usage data, you see they haven’t used new features that allow them to send messages with richer content and more easily segment their user base. Do they understand how these new features work?

2. Provide better feedback to prioritize the right features.

Example: A user only logs in once a month to export the data in your system to a separate reporting software. What features would allow them to run these reports in your product?

3. Identify customers who aren’t seeing value and might churn.

Example: A customer with an average of 3 active users per week has been inactive for a week. This customer also used your reporting export feature 5 times in the past month, and their most recent NPS dropped to a 4. Are they considering moving to a new product?

These examples demonstrate that the first step towards implementing a data-driven approach to Customer Success is figuring out what data you need to track in the first place.

Because this data is only meaningful if it helps drive customer value, it’s worth spending some time considering what data will be most relevant for your product and customer base. This article does a nice job explaining how the team at Twitter determined that a key indicator of long term growth was that a user had followed at least 30 accounts.

Aim to identify similar milestones in your product or service.

Create an Engagement Model

By now, you should have an idea of what characteristics and behavior you want to direct customers towards at each stage of the customer journey.

The next step is to tie these desired actions to an engagement model.

At a high level, an engagement model includes meetings like QBRs (Quarterly Business Reviews), monthly calls, bi-weekly monthly usage updates, and trickles down into individual user-level communication via user onboarding and product updates.

Identify Opportunities for Expansion / Upsell

As part of your engagement strategy, you should use data to identify which customers might be ready for an expansion or upsell.

If a customer hits their monthly data limit on the 15th of every month, getting in touch to discuss upgrading to a plan that includes higher data limits isn’t sales-y or spammy. It can actually improve the user’s experience and show that you have their best interest in mind.

Or, you might reach out to customers that have consistently responded with a high NPS to propose they take advantage of your 12-month pricing discount.

Customer Success focuses on encouraging user behavior that is known to drive additional value for the customer — reaching out to customers about upsells and expansions should not be an exception.

90 Days: Begin to Scale

Goals to achieve:

  1. Solidify KPIs for Customer Success
  2. Expand Customer Success Team
  3. Evaluate Tools to Help You Scale

Solidify KPIs for Customer Success Team

There are a lot of great resources that discuss which KPIs and metrics Customers Success teams should be tracking.

If you want to start simple, the single best metric to measure the impact of Customer Success is net churn.

“Focusing on net churn allows Customer Success teams to concentrate on growing usage, adoption, and ultimately value across their customer base.”

This metric will also enable CSMs to offset inevitable churn through the expansion of successful accounts. I recommend reading this blog post by Tom Tunguz on the impact of net churn.

Expand Customer Success Team

After 90 days in your new role, you will likely identify a few skill gaps on your team.

Possibilities include:

  1. An analytical mind who can crunch numbers and ensure the integrity of your data
  2. A customer education specialist to create help desk articles and case studies
  3. A new Customer Success Manager to assist customers in realizing more value

Which hire should you prioritize? And at what stage do you need to worry about having too many accounts per CSM?

This blog post outlines my views on the appropriate CSM to account ratio and shares some lessons from scaling a Customer Success team.

Evaluate Tools to Help You Scale

There are a lot of great Customer Success products out there that focus on different aspects of Customer Success.

An effective Customer Success product should leverage usage and behavioral data that enable your team to move towards proactive customer engagement. Customer Success software like Freshsuccess helps Customer Success teams get ahead of customer risks and boost their expansion and advocacy efforts.


Being the first member of a new Customer Success team can be simultaneously thrilling and overwhelming.

Having a 90-day roadmap ensures you will be able to solidify an ideal company-wide customer profile, increase the value your customers receive from your product and create a foundation for scaling your team in the future.

 

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