Not all B2B organizations have the same needs and visions when it comes to how they retain and grow their customer base. And, the role that any technology plays in operationalizing these efforts will vary. The priorities one business places on requirements, features, and functions may not resonate with others. That said, we have yet to talk to a B2B business with a recurring revenue model who’s considering providing their team with a Customer Success platform who doesn’t want the following from their investment:
- a singular comprehensive (current and historic) view of their customer
- to accurately know their customer’s risk for churn and likelihood for growth
- a means to standardize customer experiences
- a secure and easy-to-use software
- to work with a professional, trustworthy and strategic partner
- a demonstrated Return on Investment (ROI)
Recognizing that not all businesses have the same needs and priorities, we still hear from prospects that they want to know how others have set about selecting the right Customer Success software. While we have our bias, we also know that fit is important. Buying the wrong software is not just risky, but also can incur many additional costs, such as retraining and re-implementation, lost opportunities, and business disruption, to name a few. We want our customers to know they’ve selected the right software for their business model and team. So, we asked one of our customers who had a very thorough vetting process to share how they went about evaluating and selecting a Customer Success software. Perhaps, you’ll find some nuggets in their approach as you take on this exciting process.
First things first … garner a wide range of support for the investment
Before beginning the shopping, you have to have real buy-in–not just within the CS department, but across the organization. It’s not a small investment (in cost or in change management), so having leadership support, as well as cross-functional understanding of the importance of the software is really the first step. If you invest in a Customer Success software that integrates with several tools across your technology suite, you’ll want the teams who rely upon those tools to understand how the integration will impact them and their work.
Know what you want to accomplish with the Customer Success platform
Ask potential stakeholders to envision how they want their lives to improve when they adopt a platform. Interview a variety of potential users from CSMs to CXOs, and also outside the business unit to capture their answers to these two questions:
- If you had a platform designed to help preserve and grow post-sales customer relationships, what information would you want it to make available to you?
- Similarly, what would you want it to help you do? Or do better?
Some possible answers might include:
I want to know:
- Which customers are at risk of churning
- Which customers are ripe for expansion
- How much/often my customers are using my solution
- How long it takes my CSMs to complete key tasks/provide vital services
- When the last time someone from our organization interacted with each customer, and what was involved in that interaction
I want to be able to:
- Prioritize what I need to do each day and for whom
- Create and share a wide range of reports that provide analysis of current and future states of individual customers and segments of customers
- Provide my CSMs the ability to be proactive in their engagements with their customers by knowing the anticipated lifecycle and all the activities associated with growing adoption
- Understand the effectiveness and efficiency of my (my team’s) work in mitigating churn and cultivating loyalty
Use the answers to these questions to create a comprehensive “wish list” of capabilities. Prioritize the list, and categorize items as “needs” and “wants”.
Identify the system requirements that may not present themselves through any business capabilities conversations
Before building an evaluation matrix, be sure to address your system requirements.
- Integrations: What integrations are must-haves? Which can wait?
- Replacement of existing software: Which tools will be phased out when the platform is fully configured and adopted?
- Security: What are your security requirements?
- Extensibility: How likely are you to scale and desire independence in reconfiguration?
Consider what your expectations are for partnership
Even the best software adoption is made better when the team implementing and supporting it “gets” you. You want your Customer Success software to be provided by a company you can work closely with. They must understand your business model and be comprised of people you trust. Before you begin shopping, take time to consider what characteristics and values you consider high priority in a vendor relationship.
Develop an evaluation rubric or checklist prioritizing all of the information you have gathered.
Now, simply prioritize (need/want) and aggregate your findings into a document to use to evaluate software as you research and demo them. Here’s an example of a checklist:
Which software should you evaluate?
You likely already know the major players in the Customer Success space. However, you can start to formulate a long-list by looking at crowd sourcing sites like Capterra and G2Crowd. User reviews are helpful in identifying common praises and concerns. It may be tempting to base your decisions upon overall ratings, but it’s better to focus on the areas that are most important to you, based upon the prioritization exercises you have already gone through. Unless something is glaringly deficient, don’t rule it out until you spend some time on their own website. Does their own messaging resonate with you? Do they address your desired goals? If so, put them on your short list. Request demos with your entire short list so you can get a glimpse of their product, and get a feel for their organization.
The Demo and Next Steps
Once you’ve arranged for a first conversation and a demo with a rep, allow her to take the lead in conducting a discovery. Honestly answer her questions about your current state and reasons for investing in a Customer Success platform. You will learn a great deal about the company by the questions the rep asks. Pay attention and listen for cues about how she describes her ideal customers, and note her “favorite” features. Do you sense you are trying to fit into their wheelhouse, or can you easily see yourself as one of their customers? Are her favorite features/functionality prioritized on the checklist your team created?
As part of your vetting process, ask about configured demos, Proofs of Concept and Pilots. At what point are they willing to provide these? Will there be a cost associated with these deeper demonstrations? Even if you aren’t certain if you’ll need a POC or Pilot, find out how they manage those requests. Only move forward with vendors who answer all of your questions and continue to demonstrate a possible fit for you.
Continue to reference the checklist you made, and note how many of your needs are met, and how well they meet/exceed your expectations. Simultaneously, consider contacting existing customers to discuss their experiences with the platform and the company. Know that each business case is different, but ask them about their successes, frustrations and overall experiences working with the organization and in the platform.
A final decision
There are many factors that aren’t covered in this blog that will impact your final decision (internal disagreements, budget allocation, cost, ownership, etc.) After you’ve established a short list, it’s time to bring a larger team to the table to vet system requirements, security, and budget. Once you decide on a vendor of choice, consider investing in a Proof of Concept or a Pilot. “Wrong” purchases can have profound costs. A CS platform is no small investment, and you don’t know what you don’t know until you’ve seen and used your own data in it.