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5 Keys for Building an Offensive Approach to Customer Success

This is my favorite time of year because I’m a big football fan, especially college football. There’s nothing better than waking up on Saturday morning to some College GameDay on ESPN, watching football games throughout the day, and cheering on my favorite team – the BYU Cougars. I especially like to watch teams with a high-powered offense. I know many people swear by the philosophy that “great defenses win championships” but there’s no winning without scoring so I prefer great offenses.

In the spirit of the football analogy, here are 5 key strategies to building an offensively-minded client success team that wins.

1. Establish a System

The great football dynasties of all time were successful because they established a “system” that consistently won championships. Think of the NFL dynasties of the Green Bay Packers (1961-67), San Francisco 49ers (1981-94), and the New England Patriots (2001-07). Or the college football dynasties of Miami (1983-92), Florida State (1987-2000), and recently Alabama (2009-12). Each of these teams had exceptional coaches who developed a system and culture of winning, even with players and personnel changing over the years.

Your “system” of client success starts with a culture of client success throughout your company. Client success is not a department; it’s company culture that starts at the top with your CEO and Executive team. It’s a fundamental philosophy about how you take care of your customers from the front desk to the back office. It should just be “the way” you do business and drive consistent results over many years, regardless of the client success managers (CSMs) that may come and go.

I was part of a successful “system” when managing global strategic accounts at Omniture. Part of our culture was a clear objective that “we do not lose strategic accounts”. And we never did. But it wasn’t just a one-time goal, a catchy phrase, or rally cry we pulled out now and again. It was an expectation and a matter of pride from the CEO to the engineers and across the entire company, including our strategic accounts team. And it wasn’t a defensive approach either, but rather an offensive mindset focused on winning. A significant portion of our new revenue each year came from our existing strategic accounts, so our “system” was focused on growing those accounts quarter-after-quarter and year-over-year.

2. Develop a Playbook

Great football teams have great offensive playbooks. Some may be simple, others complex. But the teams that are successful have an established playbook that is clearly defined, scrupulously memorized and consistently executed by the team. The playbook evolves from learnings of past years and past games, but is built with plays that have proven successful over time.

Great client success teams have great offensive playbooks as well. Instead of a playbook consisting of passing routes, blocking schemes, and formations, client success playbooks should consist of best practices, methodologies, and other strategies. The playbooks should be clearly defined, frequently discussed, and consistently executed by the client success team. CSMs should be trained from the playbook from day one, with repeated training over time.

The client success playbook should include best practices around relationship management, detailed methodologies for driving value throughout the lifecycle, an established framework for conducting Client Relationship Reviews (CRRs), escalation protocols, renewal management strategies, and other methodologies and best practices. It’s critical that CS teams learn from past wins (renewals) and losses (churn) so they can evolve and improve their playbook over time. Just as football teams capture and analyze stats and film from past games to improve as a team, CS teams should collect and analyze data (renewal rates, churn analysis, etc.) and ongoing insights (win/loss reports, day-to-day notes, etc.) to find ways to improve the playbook and execution over time.

3. Create a Game Plan

Football teams create offensive game plans for every game they play throughout the season. Each game plan is specific to the opponent they’re playing and includes plays from the playbook. The plays for the game plan are selected strategically by the coaching staff; targeting those plays they feel will give the team the highest chance for winning the game. Teams typically follow the game plan as closely as possible but aren’t afraid to make adjustments during the game, if needed, based on the real-time circumstances of the game. Game plans unite the team in their common goal of winning the game.

CSMs should collaborate with the broader account team (account executives, consulting, training, management) to create an offensive game plan – or account plan – for each client assigned to them. The account plan should outline specific goals and objectives the account team wants to accomplish within the account such as: developing a deeper relationship with the client executive sponsor, identifying additional products/services to sell into the account, increasing product usage and adoption, solving recurring issues that are hampering the relationship, etc. Great account plans align to the client’s key business objectives and focus on growing their business, which will naturally result in growing your own business.

The account plan should draw from the established client success playbook but allow the flexibility to be updated throughout the year as things unfold within the client relationship. I’m a big believer in simple account plans (1 pager if possible) as longer, more complex, account plan templates are rarely embraced and maintained by account teams. Make them simple and focus on execution.

4. Foster Teamwork

Championship football teams are always a byproduct of great teamwork and team chemistry. As the saying goes, there’s no “I” in the word “TEAM”. Each player understands his role on the team and they collectively work together to win. Win or lose, they stand behind each other, learn from the good and bad, and push each other to great heights.

Winning companies also foster teamwork, collaboration and chemistry. Delivering an exceptional customer experience cannot be accomplished by just one person or one team within your company. Retaining a customer cannot lie solely on the back of the assigned CSM. Growing an account is not the lone responsibility of the sales rep. Sure, heroic acts by individuals and teams play a critical role now and again, but true success must be built on principles of teamwork across the entire company.

In a previous post, I gave examples of the ideal collaboration between sales and client success teams, but it extends beyond the client facing teams. I’ve been honored to be a part of some amazing teams who have demonstrated this type of teamwork. We saw extraordinary results when client success, sales, engineering, product management, consulting, and management were aligned and focused on our customers. To this day, some of my most treasured professional relationships are with those individuals (you know who you are) from across our company who were in the trenches with us in our efforts to deliver exceptional client success. The result was significant customer loyalty and substantial year-over-year growth across our client base.

5. Keep the Offense Rolling

It drives me crazy when a football team that is winning becomes too cautious too early in the game and changes their focus from an aggressive offense to a prevent defense. Many times this strategy backfires on the winning team and they end up losing the game. John Madden once said, “All a prevent defense does is prevent you from winning”.

Sometimes client success teams fall into a similar trap by viewing their role as a prevent defense. Their mindset and activity is focused purely on retention, rather than growth. The CSMs will conduct a standard onboarding process and then passively manage their clients going forward – scheduling the occasional touch base, reactively addressing issues, and essentially “hoping” they get the renewal at the end of the term. I call this a “maintain and retain” strategy. This type of prevent defense will likely result in the same outcome for client success teams – they may end up losing clients by being too cautious in their approach.

Instead, I recommend approaching client success with an offensive mindset, focusing on how to proactively drive value and growth within your accounts. Many client success teams avoid this approach because they feel the CSMs will lose their “trusted advisor” status with clients if they display any focus on sales and growth. I respectfully disagree. In fact, I’ve seen CSMs increase their trusted advisor status while still significantly growing revenue across their accounts. These offensive-minded CSMs develop deep relationships with their clients, clearly understand their client’s key business objectives, and leverage their trusted advisor status to align solutions and services to meet those objectives. That’s solution selling at its best. These CSMs become the primary lead generation source for the sales team. The result? Retention and growth.

These strategies will help you build an offensively-minded client success team and company, resulting in strong retention and growth across your customer base.

How are you building a high-powered winning offense within your company and client success team?


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Learn more about how ClientSuccess can help your company develop a strong Customer Success methodology and strategy with easy-to-use customer success software by requesting a 30-minute demo.


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