Product management and customer success, it’s about time you become best friends!
OK, product management. If you’re not already best friends with your customer success team, it’s time to buddy up.
It was already trending before the pandemic, but crises have a way of accelerating things, as in the relationship with your existing customers, for example.
A lot of companies were exposed when the pandemic hit because their sales pipelines for new accounts literally evaporated overnight. It forced a sudden shift to existing customers as they would be the only source of revenue for the foreseeable future.
That sudden shift exposed a few holes with traditional account management. Many organizations realized they were doing very little to foster longer-term strategic relationships with customers.
Everything was tactical and short-term focused. Hence, their treatment as a vendor versus a partner.
The result of that uncomfortable exposure is the shift from account management to customer success, and it’s not just a title change. The scope of the role is expanding significantly, and it’s going to be a tremendous help to product management as well as product marketing and sales.
The Expanded Customer Success Role
The new customer success role retains most of its account management responsibilities but has one new responsibility that’s forcing many account managers out of their comfort zone – strategic planning with customers.
Strategic planning is a lot different than traditional account planning. Account planning is much more about how you’re going to get customers to help you meet your goals while managing their laundry list well enough to keep them spending money on renewals and add-on products.
Strategic planning takes the complete opposite approach. It’s all about understanding what’s driving your customers from the top down in terms of strategic priorities and how those priorities impact operational areas of the customer that are relevant to your strengths.
The end game is to make sure customers are getting “quantifiable strategic value” from solutions they already have while uncovering new opportunities to deliver further quantifiable value with strategic implications.
The thought process goes something like this. If our #1 priority is to make sure customers are realizing measurable value from our solutions, they’ll be more inclined to show their hand when it comes to strategic priorities and tell us how we can be a partner on their critical success path.
In this scenario, you’re much more of a partner because your top priority is making sure customers get value they can measure. The by-product of this approach is customers will more openly tell you where you have new opportunities.
Renewals will be far less challenging because the value is there and it can be quantified. You’ll likely get preference for add-on products because of your stronger partner relationship.
The Value to Product Management
Product managers, here’s why you need to be 100% tuned in to your customer success team.
If it’s not already happening, customer success managers are about to have conversations with customers that most of you can only dream about.
When customer success managers are facilitating strategic planning meetings with clients, they’re essentially gathering untainted, unbiased business requirements from the top of the customer organization down.
It’s not a sales situation.
It’s not a meeting to hash out product issues.
It’s not a meeting to convince customers they need to renew.
It’s simply a meeting to understand the strategic business priorities of the customer organization (without any regard to your products) and how those priorities shape the operational and tactical priorities across the business, including areas where your products and services are most relevant.
There’s also a good chance you’re going to uncover other areas of the business where you can add value that you hadn’t previously considered.
Your Current Voice-of-Customer Mechanisms
Untainted, unfiltered, unbiased business requirements are in short supply for most product management teams.
Compare what is now becoming standard practice for customer success managers to the typical customer interactions for product managers.
- It’s a product issue that requires an urgent fix.
- It’s user conversations when you’re designing new products and features.
- It’s customer surveys on your products.
- It’s customers voting for their favorite feature enhancements.
- It’s salespeople conveying prospect needs in the heat of a sales cycle.
- It’s customer onboarding teams that only talk to you when there’s an issue.
The list goes on.
Here’s the bottom line.
There’s a whole host of reasons product management isn’t having regular conversations of this caliber with customers, and it’s not likely to change until product management teams are structured to make these unfiltered conversations part of their repertoire.
In the meantime, customer success is product management’s most direct pipeline to unfiltered business requirements that will ultimately become the focal point for your product strategies and roadmaps. Take full advantage.
The conversations you’re having with users will be far more enlightening because you’ll have full value context for what those users are being asked to do and why it’s critical to the success of their organization.
It’ll keep you from solving nice-to-have problems that have no direct impact on critical business outcomes that are most important to customers.
There’s no reason to wait. Start scheduling regular meetings with customer success leads and get a whole new perspective on what’s driving your customers from the top down.
You’ll create products and features that make users measurably better at their job with a direct impact on things that are strategic to their organization.
Make a regular habit of it, and your sales, adoption and retention numbers will take care of themselves!
Want to get your product management and customer success teams on the same page? Contact us about our new training course for product management and customer success.
by John Mansour on August 28, 2022.