This post was originally posted on The Success League’s Blog
“What are your priorities?” asks a tentative customer success manager. All they get back in return from the client is a puzzled look over Zoom, and silence. The now frazzled CSM tries again: “What outcomes are you looking to achieve?” There is more silence followed by a very guarded response from the customer “why are you asking me these questions when we asked you to help resolve these product issues?”. This CSM is now on the defensive and may have lost any ability to have a more strategic conversation with their customer. Where did they go wrong?
Outcomes & Customer Success
You can’t go very far in the world of Customer Success without hearing about “desired outcomes,” “customer outcomes” or “business outcomes” thanks to the groundbreaking work by Lincoln Murphy who popularized the term “desired outcome.” While the definition of business outcomes slightly differs across the CS industry it’s mostly centered around how your customers define value in a quantifiable way. The challenge for Customer Success Managers and CS leaders is the lack of a playbook on how to uncover what these are. Many CSMs make a similar mistake as the story above. They simply ask the client about their business outcomes without any context or before they demonstrate that they understand their customer. They haven’t been taught the secret of uncovering business outcomes: It’s all about first establishing trust with your customer. But how do you do that? That will be the focus of this post.
How to break through to your customers and have real conversations: Introducing The 3C Method
In a previous post, I wrote how a CSM can quickly build trust with their clients. Establishing trust is critical to being perceived as a trusted advisor with your client but to uncover a client’s business outcomes, you need to get to the next rung on the trust ladder.
Let’s assume that you are speaking to the right person in your client’s organization who understands their organization’s priorities. There are three areas you need to learn more about so you have the permission to uncover your clients’ business outcomes. This is what I call the 3C Method:
- Learn more about their company and how their business operates
- Learn about who their customers are
- Understand their current challenges
When you demonstrate to your customer that you understand the three Cs: their company, their customers, and their challenges, you have established the trust you need to probe deeper into their business outcomes.
I. Company: What do they value and how do they make money?
When you start your business outcome discovery session you want to start off by ensuring you really understand what their business does. It’s recommended to do your research first by reviewing recent Google News posts, their website, social media, and other industry information as a starting point but you can have the client help you fill in the blanks and provide them their perspective. Preface the conversation with “I want to make sure that I have a full comprehension of your business so I can better guide our conversations.” These are some questions that you can ask:
- What are the distinguishing and unique elements of your products or services and how do they compare to the competition?
- Which competitors do you admire and follow closely? Why?
- If it’s not obvious, ask them what their different revenue streams are. If it isn’t sensitive information, ask them which line of business is the most profitable. Which area are they trying to grow?
- How much do they expect business to grow in the next year? Where are the biggest opportunities for growth if any?
You should now have a clearer picture of how they view their business, how they view their competitors, and where they make their money. You should also be picking up on the language that they use and start to use it as well. This is all about building trust and rapport.
II. Customers: Which type of customers do they value the most and why?
Next, you want to focus on their customers. Ask them about the different types of customers that purchase from them and who they value most and why. For example, there may be a certain segment of repeat buyers that they want to give preferential treatment to or there may be a new market that they are breaking into that is more of a focus for this year. As you learn more about what their customers and what is important to them, you are actually uncovering their priorities and what is important to their business.
III. Challenges: What challenges is their business facing?
It’s important to understand the challenges that your customers are facing. For example, you may find that their company may have had a severe product defect or they may have had to conduct some recent layoffs. They may also be growing very quickly which can put severe stress on their people.
To get your customers to renewal through these challenges, you can ask them what their top customer complaints are and how they have changed over time. You can then ask follow up questions to understand the root causes of those complaints and the impact they are having as it relates to their product or service. The goal is to better understand the issues so you can help address them.
Impact and Value Questions
As you go through the 3C’s you now have earned the right from the customer to probe deeper into their business outcomes as you have gained their trust. You can now ask them what their priorities are and how they have changed over time. This is all about understanding their business outcomes. Kristen Hayer from The Success League recommends two types of probing questions that you can use to determine what success means to your clients.
- Impact questions. Impact questions uncover the specific impact that these challenges and issues are having on your client. As an example, you could ask: “What do you see as the cost of these issues?” or “How much time are you wasting due to those manual processes?”
- Value questions. Value questions clarify the tangible benefits that the client could achieve by helping to solve their problem. As an example, you could ask “If we could reduce the manual tasks your team does on a weekly basis by 10%, how would that benefit your group?”
You are now on your way to uncovering the business outcomes of your clients!
Tip: Use “Labeling” to Quickly Build Trust
While the 3C approach is the proper way to establish trust, things usually don’t go as planned in Customer Success. As a CS leader, I’m parachuted into situations and need to quickly establish trust. I take some time to research the client’s business prior to the meeting. My goal is to get enough information to take an educated guess at how their company operates and what their current challenges are. As an example, from my research on one company, I could see that they were growing quickly but had a lot of negative customer reviews. I used a technique from Never Split the Difference called “labeling” to uncover their business outcomes: “It seems your business is growing quickly and that you need to ensure that your customer experience is keeping up. Is that accurate?” Instead of asking what their priorities are, I’m taking an educated guess and showing them that I prepared for this conversation. Even if your “label” is incorrect, it usually sparks a discussion and moves the conversation forward.
As always, your conversations will only be as good as your preparation. Do your research, practice the 3C approach, and use labeling as needed. Remember that you need to earn the right with your customers to up-level the conversation and that the secret to a more productive meeting on business outcomes is building trust. Once you have established that trust you can leverage impact and value questions to understand your client’s business outcomes. Now go and have those strategic conversations that you always wanted. You can do it!