Why Customer Success Managers Need a Customer Success Plan

In this blog post, learn what a customer success plan is, how to create one, and the benefits it can provide to you and your customers.

This post was originally published on Medium by Shane Ketterman

A Customer Success Plan, commonly known as an Account Success Plan or Success Plan, is arguably one of the most important things a Customer Success Manager performs. 

In one way, it's pretty ironic that Success Plans play such a pivotal part in the Customer Success Manager role. And why is that? In this blog, readers will learn about this plan, how it's created and used with a customer, and its critical importance for customer longevity.

Customer Success Plan Basics

Customer Success Plans showcase the status of your customers today, where they wish to be, when they want to achieve a respective goal, and how you, as a Customer Success manager, will get them to achieve their goals. 

Are you considering not making a Customer Success plan? In my experience, I advise against that, as chaos can and will ensue. Customer Success Managers can be prone to putting out fires left and right, and because of that, they can begin to view a Success Plan as a burden. However, if you are fighting fires with the majority of your time, I argue there's a much bigger issue. Instead of viewing a Customer Success Plan with dread, try to reframe this plan as your next great adventure with the customer, giving yourself a chance to shine.

All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination. — Earl Nightingale

Much of what we do in customer success is rooted in the word ‘success’. I say that because our ultimate goal is to help our customers achieve their respective versions of success. When we do get our customers to their goal, we deliver value. When we deliver value, we keep them as customers, reduce churn, and (hopefully) turn them into advocates and increase their product or service usage.

Regarding Customer Success Plans, I argue that a Success Plans can be started as soon as you learn about a new customer (the way I like to think about it: Learn > Plan > Success). That may be jumping the gun for some. So plans are often created once the formal onboarding is scheduled and showcased to the customer during their onboarding sessions. 

Additionally, it is also worth mentioning some overarching goals of Customer Success Plans:

  1. They enable a proactive approach to customer engagement and management. 
  2. They are most powerful when shared and collaborated on with the customer.
  3. They are a living document, and CSMs should make the effort to keep them up to date.

Putting these goals into action is exhilarating to witness. And it feels even better to see your customers and their business benefit from your product or service. In some ways, you feel like a CS hero.

Framework for Customer Success Plans

What should be included in a Customer Success Plan? Below are some recommendations for different sections to include in a CS Plan. But, again, keep the customer at the forefront, considering what sections they would benefit from most and would like to see. 

Company highlights

Include an overview of the customer's company. Include what they do, their environment, what vertical they are in, and basically, what people should know about the customer's company. The overview is intended to be a quick snippet to get people up to speed.

Objectives

What objective are we working towards with the customer? Include how the customer will know when they have reached the objective and when they can expect to achieve it. Also, include major pain points that will be resolved and the customer's desire. My advice; nail this section! 

Key Challenges

Consider what drove the customer to try out your product. Explain here what could happen if they don't use the product and what potential constraints or challenges must be mitigated or overcome.

Key Benefits

Include the key benefits the customer is expecting from your product. Be sure to mention the pain points you are resolving and how you can measure them. 

Milestones, Actions & Dates

Describe what actions will be needed to achieve the customer's goals, and include any other success milestones that the customer has agreed on. This section should also include specific actions for each milestone and who will perform each.

Success Criteria

This is another high-level snippet explaining what the company defines as success. Note this is a longer-term view for the customer.

Success Measures

These metrics showcase to the customer how you will quantify success and the different measures that can capture this success. Again, these measures should be mapped back to the key benefits and directly linked to the success criteria established.

Success Plans in Action

The following snapshot is a sample layout of a Customer Success Plan. This example is included to give you an idea of what a Success Plan can look like and hopefully get some gears turning on how you would customize it. 

Customer Success Plan for Acme Supply, Inc.

Success Plans are fairly simple plans to create. But ultimately, the fact that this plan exists in the first place, and is one of the first things shared with the customer, will give any CSM the stability and preparation needed to embark on a new customer relationship. 

Paving the Way to a Success Plan 

Before creating a Success Plan, you need to nail down a timeline for how your org will get to the point of creation. Though there may be some bumps in the road, here are some pointers on creating a timeline that works best for your company:

1. Learn

Learn from Sales everything about the customer. What was the customer previously sold, why were they sold that, and what are they expecting from your company? Sales information is often stored in a CRM, but if not, establishing a transparent and trusted working relationship with Sales is key to obtaining this.

2. Set up a discovery session

Set this up as quickly as possible! In this session, be observant and activate your active listening. This session is the first opportunity to clarify the value and build a trusting relationship with the customer. The goal is to understand what the customer is seeking, their pain points, when they expect to achieve it, and what success looks like to them.

3. Assessment

Take your time assessing the information from sales and the customer and evaluate the likelihood of a successful CS outcome with that customer. Word of advice, this is the time for transparency. If we see any flags, speak up and don't hide them.

4. Establish Milestones

Assuming the customers' goals are attainable, establish specific milestones and begin to build a plan. 

5. Success Criteria & Measures

Dive deep to identify the customer's definition and measure of success.

6. Build out the framework

Collect all of the success measures, milestones, goals, timeline, and other customer specific information and establish a framework for the CS plan.

7. Share the framework

After building it, share it with the customer. It's a moment of truth to build value and trust and deepen the customer's relationship. 

8. Update, Update, Update

The framework needs updating as things change. Please make an effort to update the framework, so those accessing it know the information is trustworthy. 

After building out a timeline, it should remove many hurdles. Though no Customer Success Plan will ever be perfect, taking the time to create and prioritize it means you have a greater chance to implement value for the customer and (hopefully) establish an invaluable and dependable customer relationship. Prioritization and productivity are major values of Vitally, helping automate repetitive CSM tasks so CSMs can focus on the work that matters most, like building and following a Success Plan (plus way more you should check out).

This blog was written and contributed by Shane Ketterman. Vitally is proud to distribute thought leadership content to the Customer Success community, so if you know of an article or author with some Customer Success knowledge and wisdom worthy of endorsement, we would love to expand its reach. Reach out to haley@vitally.io with all the details, plus visit our blog to read more Customer Success content worthy of your time. 

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