As a B2B customer success manager, I know firsthand the importance that a well-crafted customer success strategy plays in driving business growth and retaining clients.
In a role, we were experiencing a high churn. After implementing a new customer success strategy, we were able to reduce churn by 30% within six months. Huge business impact -- all driven by the right strategy.
In this article, I'll guide you through the essential steps to creating a B2B customer success strategy that will make your clients feel like royalty (no castles or crowns required).
Differences: B2B vs B2C Customer Success Strategy
B2B companies have a smaller customer base
The customer base in B2B and B2C usually differs significantly in size, with B2C typically having a much larger number of customers compared to B2B. However, the recurring revenues from B2B customers are much higher than those from B2C customers. As a result, B2C customer success strategies cannot rely on assigning a dedicated customer success manager (CSM) to provide personalized service to each customer. Instead, they need to use technology-driven engagement models to stay in touch with their customers.
On the other hand, in B2B customer success, where the Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) is much higher, it is more feasible to provide individual attention to customers. B2B companies can appoint a CSM to a set of business customers, allowing them to provide personalized service and build long-term relationships.
The customer journey is typically high-touch in B2B
In B2C customer success, the pace of progress from one stage to another in the customer journey is relatively fast, with the sales process, onboarding, and product adoption being automated, simple, and quick. B2C companies need to monitor the number of customers entering and exiting on a regular basis, as the customer base is constantly changing. Therefore, to ensure high customer retention, B2C companies must make their automated processes agile and easy to follow, with immediate results.
In contrast, B2B customer success involves a more time-consuming process, with sales approvals going through multiple stakeholders and onboarding and training given to other users. This requires a significant amount of manual intervention to move things forward. B2B companies must closely monitor customer usage to enable product adoption, intervening through calls or meetups if customers are lagging behind in their journey. All of this slows down the customer journey, but the revenue generated in B2B justifies the cost spent on these processes.
B2B is all about nurturing customer relationships
In B2B, customer success strategies are often focused on building long-term relationships with clients. This is because B2B customers tend to have complex needs and require ongoing support to achieve their goals. Customer success teams in B2B often work closely with clients to understand their business objectives and develop custom solutions to meet their specific needs. They also provide consultation and training to ensure that clients are getting the most out of their products or services.
In contrast, in B2C, customer success strategies tend to be more transactional because of the greater volume of clients. The focus is on delivering a positive customer experience at the point of sale, rather than building long-term partnerships. B2C CS teams primarily focus on exceptional customer experience and helping consumers essentially help themselves by providing them with the right resources at the right time.
6 steps to creating your B2B customer success strategy
1. Understand what success looks like for your customers
The first step in creating your customer success strategy is understanding what success looks like for your customers.
- Identify the customer's business goals: What are the customer's business objectives? What is the customer trying to achieve and how does that relate to their larger vision for their organization, department or role within it?
- Know what pain points are keeping them from reaching those goals: How can you help remove or reduce these challenges so they can focus on achieving their objectives instead of dealing with blockers that prevent them from doing so?
2. Create a customer journey map
A customer journey map is a visual representation of the steps a customer takes to buy your product or service. It starts with their initial contact with you and ends when they are fully engaged and happy with their experience. A good customer journey map should be straightforward in order to be used as a framework for all types of communication with customers. From training new employees on how best to answer questions from prospects and customers, to using it as part of your marketing materials (like landing pages), up until the point where you're ready to scale your business by bringing on more salespeople or account managers, this map is your internal compass as well.
Start by mapping out each step in the process that someone goes through when deciding if they want what you offer.
Step 1: Customer personas This involves establishing a clear objective for the map, identifying the intended audience, and understanding their needs and interests. By collecting concrete data on customers, businesses can better serve them and deliver a more personalized user experience.
Step 2: Deep dive into the personas’ needsOnce several customer personas have been created, the next step is to delve deeper into each persona to create a more accurate representation of their experience. It is important to consider the questions they are seeking to answer and determine their top priorities to gain a better understanding of their needs and behaviors.
Step 3: Identify Touchpoints Simply put, map out all the touchpoints that exist between the brand and the customer during their journey. These touchpoints can include interactions on the website, social media channels, email marketing etc. It is important to consider all touchpoints and evaluate their engagement levels.
Step 4: Decide on desired customer actionsThis step involves identifying the common actions taken by customers at each of the touchpoints identified in Step 3. By breaking down the customer journey into individual actions, you can focus on improving each micro-engagement and move customers along the funnel more efficiently. The personas created earlier can be used to troubleshoot problem areas.
Step 5: Identify & address vulnerabilities
This step involves analyzing the customer journey map to identify areas that may lead to customers leaving before making a purchase or where they require additional support. By assessing the finished map, you can pinpoint areas that do not meet customers' needs and develop solutions to address them.
3. Define customer success metrics
So, you've defined your customer journey map and have identified what success looks like for your customers. Now it's time to get down to brass tacks: defining the metrics that will help you measure whether or not you're meeting those goals.
Metrics are an important part of any CS strategy because they give you insight into how well your team is doing at supporting customers throughout their journey with your product or service. They also give executives an objective way of determining whether or not the company is making progress towards its CS goals (and if those goals need adjusting).
Let's go over some general tips for measuring this vital aspect of B2B customer experience management:
Metrics should be specific and measurable - If a metric doesn't tell us anything useful about what needs changing within our organization (or if there isn't enough data available), then we can't use it as part of our decision-making process--and neither should anyone else! So make sure any metric has enough detail so everyone involved knows exactly what they're looking at when reviewing reports every month/quarter/year etc.
Quantify qualitative metrics - One of the hardest parts of working in CS is defining metrics that are hard to measure. Measuring churn is easy; it’s just math. Measuring customer engagement on the other hand, for example, is a number you have to figure out based on some math (like the number of sessions, product usage score etc.) but it also needs to be compared against customer feedback and this is where you need to figure out what that means for your business and create a formula that works for both of these aspects. What I do is break down customer feedback into measurable bits via surveys and then combine the results from the quantifiable metrics to reflect on whether they fall into a specific “success” range I’ve worked out for each persona. For example, let’s say that you gather customer feedback via email surveys, after onboarding. That feedback alone tells you very little in terms of whether they’ll actually churn or not because it depends on the context (except if you get really horrible feedback, of course). It can be that the customer would love a new feature or is not exactly happy with the results they get from your product/service. So to me, wanting a feature is a mild churn indicator whereas being dissatisfied with the results is a major red flag. In my books, the former is at about 20% churn probability and the latter at about 80-90% unless I turn this around. These benchmarks might seem somewhat arbitrary but if you combine them with NPS scores, adoption rate and customer ROI they can give you a quite accurate health score.
Revenue metrics - these are important as well!
- Revenue retention
- Churn rate
- Contraction MRR
- Customer health score
- Customer satisfaction score (CSAT)
- Feature adoption rate
There are definitely more success indicators to keep track of, however, these will definitely tell you a lot about your team's performance and keep the attention on what is most important - ensuring that your product/service provides maximum value to customers while gaining their trust for a long-term relationship.
4. Implement the right tools
The last thing you want is to be stuck with a tool that doesn't meet your needs. Be sure to choose the right tools for the job, and make sure they are easy to use and understand. Being easy to implement, maintain, scale and integrate with other systems within your organization (such as your CRM) is another critical consideration.
Customer success platforms have been on the rise for the past few years as we’ve finally realized that sales tools don’t work for CS. Implementing a tool like Gainsight or Planhat will help not only scale your customer success efforts but turn insights into actionable items across all teams within the company.
I recommend dedicating some time with some (or all!) of the customer success platforms on the market and taking a few demo calls to really understand which one fits best for your organization’s workflow & CS model.
5. Build a stellar customer success team
The customer success team is responsible for making sure your customers are successful with the product or service.
The ideal size of a customer success team depends on how many customers you have, and which model your B2B business follows. I’ve expanded on this topic (arguably a lot!) in my piece on “How to Structure a Customer Success Team” here. TL;DR -- The appropriate team to support a customer success strategy will vary depending on the type of product and the customer success model employed, whether it's high touch, low touch, or a hybrid approach.
The level of expertise required by the CS team may vary depending on the product or service. However, successful customer success managers are those who are highly committed to ensuring customers' success and possess good interpersonal and empathetic skills. It is also crucial to hire individuals who are passionate about constantly improving the process. Apart from the full-time customer success team, input from sales, marketing, and product teams is also important, as each of them plays a crucial role in customer success as well. As I usually rant in company meetings “CS is everyone’s job”!
6. Test - rethink - finetune
As you begin to implement your strategy, it's important to monitor and evaluate the results. This will help identify areas for improvement and allow you to refine your strategy accordingly.
Repeat this process until you have a customer success model that works for both customers and your business.
While this might seem like a lot to do, it's actually a simple process with clear steps. It's also one that can be repeated over and over again as your business grows and evolves.
Keeping your customers happy is the key to long-term growth. If you can do that, you'll have a strong foundation for success.
It is natural to face unforeseen challenges while executing a plan. However, there are common mistakes that one should avoid to have a better chance of succeeding.
One such mistake is not taking customer inputs into account while creating a plan. Setting customer goals and incorporating their feedback is crucial for the success of the plan.
Additionally, overdelivering on ambitious goals that are unrealistic can lead to disappointment and churn. It's important to set achievable and realistic goals for your team and your clients’ performance. In my experience, there’s no greater demotivator for a team than seeing their efforts flop because the goals were unattainable from the get-go.
Moreover, using vanity metrics to measure progress can be misleading. Instead, focus on value-based metrics that truly measure progress towards the current company OKRs.
Not having a customer success leader who knows how all these pieces fit together is another thing to avoid. In other words: someone who understands both internal and external processes such as marketing campaigns or sales initiatives. This person should also have some kind of organizational skillset since they will likely be responsible for making sure everything gets done according to them rather than delegating tasks elsewhere (though sometimes delegation makes sense too!).
One of James Clear’s famous quotes reads “We don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems”. No matter how well-thought your CS strategy might be, your internal workflows will all always be getting in the way unless you streamline them as well. Make sure to remove as many blockers as possible towards implementing and consistently optimizing your CS strategy.
Lastly, a lack of improvisation can hinder success. Think of your strategy as a living, breathing organism. It should be flexible and open to enhancements to tackle unexpected issues. For example, if there is an early warning of churn right after onboarding, improvising and re-prioritizing actions can help find a quick solution.
Tactics for your customer success strategy
Avoid targeting everyone and instead focus on customers who are willing to use your product or service and will likely have the highest success. Understanding the type of customer who is likely to succeed with your product or service helps in customizing your messaging and addressing their specific needs. This approach ensures that your product is marketed effectively and attracts the appropriate audience that is a good fit for your business.
Personalize your outreach
Making the experience personalized is crucial. In the present day, customers prefer brands that listen to them, comprehend their needs, and cater to their specific requirements and objectives. The initial step in personalization is to comprehend the customer's objectives. Every interaction with the customer, whether it be during the initial phase of onboarding or upselling, should focus on the customer's desired end goal.
Use product usage data
Such as time on-site or page views per session, to craft personalized messages based on customer behavior. The customer journey is an ongoing process even after the contract signing or product purchase. To ensure that customers are engaging with your product or service, companies should monitor user engagement metrics regularly, such as daily, weekly, or monthly. This is because a customer who is not engaged with the product is unlikely to see any value from it.
This is essential when customers start using your product or service, as they will likely have questions. Your support team should be available to address queries and assist customers who are stuck. Customer success involves creating a positive experience and enabling customers to see value as soon as possible. Often, customers require some level of support throughout their journey and you should guide their way via seamless support flows.
Set clear expectations & highlight gained value
Clarify what success looks like for each party involved, from the get-go. Unless your customers understand what they’re getting out of your partnership, they’re not going to hang around until they discover it themselves. You should provide them with data on why the product or service is a good choice for their specific desired outcomes, consistently and on a frequent basis. On top of that, it’s critical to be transparent about all the things you cannot do for them. Some people think this is a bad move for some reason. I’d personally argue that being clear on how you can help is one of the best ways to engage customers that actually fit your personas. Bad fit customers are not customers, they’re a waste of everyone’s time and I value my and my team’s time too much to allow this.
As you can see, there are several steps to creating your B2B customer success strategy. The good news is that they're not all as complicated as they may seem at first glance! By following this process and keeping track of the things that work best for your business, you'll be well on your way to developing a strategy that will drive growth in both customer retention and acquisition - ultimately helping your company reach its full potential.