Customer Success leaders face the challenge of unifying cross-functional teams to enhance the customer experience and deliver results to the company. It’s demanding to dismantle long existing silos and onerous to persuade sales reps to get on board with customer onboarding. While you know the key is customer centricity, you continually hit brick walls when proposing better practices. Bypass these roadblocks with targeted, data-driven Customer Success experiments.
The Obstacle: Resistance to Change
Change is difficult. Convincing an organization to pivot to a new customer-centric approach is often met with resistance. In fact, Britt Andreatta, author of “Wired to Resist” finds, “We are biologically wired to resist change: it’s the key to our survival and the obstacle that often gets in the way of us fulfilling our potential.” Even when change is for the best, we prefer to stay in our comfort zones. So, how can you turn the tide?
The Solution: Conduct Customer Success Experiments
To effect incremental change, consider conducting controlled experiments that target specific areas of improvement. An experiment is a test under controlled conditions. Experiments allow you to inspect ideas and assumptions and then provide insights into the cause and effect of the outcomes.
Here’s how to get started:
Identify your research question. Pick one key question or assumption you need answered and write it down.
Define the hypothesis. Hypothesis is a fancy word for assumption or observation.
Determine success criteria. Limit success criteria to a maximum of three data points. Establishing baseline metrics is critical for fully understanding the impact of your experiments. Gather a few data points and see what you uncover.
Select control and sample groups. Identify who will be in the control and sample groups for your experiment.
Case Study: Sales to Customer Success Handoffs
Rather than trying to convince sales reps to spend their precious selling time handing off new customers to the post-sales team, show your company’s leadership the impact.
Hypothesis: Sales to Customer Success handoffs reduce onboarding time and costs.
Metric: Time to onboard customers
Control group: Customers without handoff meetings
Sample group: Customers with handoff meetings
Experiment: Find one sales rep to conduct handoff meetings with new customers for one month
Results: Compare the time and costs to onboard customers from the sample and control group and share the results
Impact: Onboarding takes 20% less time saving substantial costs
Case Study: Customer Education Impact on Spend
I conducted this experiment with a large data storage company. The Customer Education team wanted to know the impact of their products and services on average customer spend over time.
Hypothesis: Trained AND Certified customers purchase more and have a higher overall spend.
Metric: Overall spend with the company from the last three consecutive years
Control group: All enterprise customers
Sample group: Top 100 enterprise customers
Experiment: Analyze the overall spend and education spend data for the top 100 customers
Results: Trained AND certified customers spend almost 40% more with the company. But more importantly, they decrease spending by 30% when they do not invest in training products.
Impact: Sales reps make more money when they attach training and certification to deals. Now the Customer Education team has ammunition to convince sales reps to sell their offerings.
Communicate the Results A simple experiment can trigger massive change. For example, everyone assumed customers required hands-on expensive technical experts to be successful at an analytics company I worked with. I challenged this approach with the assumption: “There is a scalable way to grow this company.” I interviewed 10 customers and heard these words repeatedly, almost verbatim: “We don’t need technical experts, we need a ‘quarterback’ to guide the journey.” In American football, a quarterback is an offensive position whose primary purpose is to guide the play.
Once I shared direct customer quotes with leadership and at company meetings, change kicked in. Rather than doing what Donna says is best, teams were excited to deliver on customer wants and needs. Over the next twelve months, we created Customer Success Manager roles as strategic business advisors and included Customer Success Engineers to dive in and solve technical problems as needed. Over time we moved all customer-facing teams into a unified Customer Success organization and appointed a Chief Customer Officer with a seat at the Executive table. One simple assumption eventually transformed a collection of silos into a customer-centric company.
Experiment Best Practices
Follow these best practices to get the best results with your experiments.
Keep experiments simple. Large hypotheses stall everyone out and then nothing improves. Focus on a distinct question rather than testing everything for everyone. Start with a specific customer segment or unique process change. For instance, explore the difference it makes for one sales rep to conduct handoffs, or compare the before and after impact of success plans.
Document your findings. Rather than a scattershot approach, document each experiment to track the impact of the small changes you deploy over time. Track the hypothesis, metrics, control and sample groups, experiment details, and results; simple spreadsheets are a good place to start.
Share results. Don’t keep experiments to yourself. It’s essential to collaborate with other departments and leadership to build momentum for change. I often find initial results lead to more questions that fuel further hypotheses and experiments.
Be agile and iterative, like your product team. Experimenting does not have to be time-consuming and expensive. You can define and run experiments every two to six weeks, just like your product team, which releases new features at a swift cadence.
Adopting an experimental mindset can be a game-changer for improving the impact of Customer Success on both your customers and your company. By staying agile, documenting your efforts, and communicating results, you can lead your organization toward becoming truly customer centric. Stay curious, see what trends you observe, and keep asking questions. Remember, every experiment brings you closer to a solution, and I'm here to guide you along the way.
DONNA WEBER is the world’s leading expert in customer onboarding. For more than two decades, she has helped high-growth startups and established enterprises turn new and existing customers into loyal champions. Her award-winning book is Onboarding Matters: How Successful Companies Transform New Customers Into Loyal Champions. Learn more at donnaweber.com.