Expert Tips: Setting Goals With Your Customers

May 5, 2017 Mathilde Augustin

Expert Tips: Setting Goals With Your CustomersWynne Brown is the Director of Customer Success at Seal for the West and Central regions. Prior to joining Seal, Wynne was the head of Customer Success for GitHub.  Wynne’s roots are in sales starting with a named account position at Monster Worldwide where she grew revenue from $5M to $25M in five years.  Wynne’s career has spanned the entire customer lifecycle at cutting edge start-ups such as BaseCRM and Coupa.  Her focus for the last nearly 20 years has been on driving and delivering value for enterprise customers.  She was recently featured as one of “The Top 50 Women in Revenue That You Should Know”.  Fun fact: over the last two decades, Wynne has worked for four different start-ups on Brannan Street in San Francisco.  She hails originally from Washington, DC, received a BA in History from Middlebury College and an MA in International Relations and Economics from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

Amity sat down with Wynne to learn what her pro-tips for setting goals with customers are.

"Systematically and methodically setting goals means an instantly reduced churn rate." 

In what ways does effective goal-setting impact Customer Success?

Success is nearly unattainable without set goals. In most cases, Customer Success has to be based on measurable goals and without that, it’s impossible for customers to know if they’re on track to capturing good reasons to keep on purchasing your software. It’s equally impossible for the company to know that their customer is driving towards their business goals. Systematically and methodically setting goals means an instantly reduced churn rate. It’s very important to think about goal-setting from the pre-sales timeline forward, it’s not about handing a customer off to Customer Success for onboarding and asking them to magically create goals without having done any prior work around goal-setting. At Seal Software, the Customer Success team gets involved before the sale closes. It’s our responsibility, ultimately and downstream, to make sure that goals are defined, measurable, measured, and reported on. It’s funny how, even though Customer Success has become a known practice, we often see sales processes happening too fast and skipping over goal-setting. Even if you’re just setting one or two goals -- depending on the complexity of your software and the context -- it’s very important to know what the goal is, and why. It’s also very important to put some timeline and measurement around goals.

Any tips on aligning Customer Success with Sales?

Ideally, you want to get involved before the sale closes. That can be difficult, the Sales team often wants to move as fast as possible because they’re incentivised to close deals. If it feels like there’s an internal conflict around that, the company as a whole needs to become more customer-centric and break down those silos. It starts with the need for real leadership from the C-Level and a commitment to both new logo acquisition, and logo retention. Without that strong leadership from the top, it becomes harder for Customer Success to get involved pre-sales. At Seal, we benefit from great customer-centric leadership, we always talk about “winning and keeping” deals. Secondly, it helps to hire sales staff with that customer-centricity mentality. Our salespeople are as interested in customer longevity and customer engagement as we are, they even like to stick around past implementation. It never hurts to have multiple caring people at the table on the software company side.

From your experience, is there a go-to way to set goals with customers?

Before the sale and during implementation, it’s important to have what we call a “value session”. In that session, we have all of the key stakeholders from the software company and from the client side around the table. The purpose is to brainstorm and make sure that we have all of the potential goals laid out on the table and to start prioritizing. We identify quick wins, the low hanging fruit, and more complex goals that can go into a phase two approach. The first batch should be about one to three goals, and it should have a timeline. Our software happens to be very complex, and every goal will have a certain policy we put in place for our clients around a particular timeline. The definition of measurement depends on what type of software you produce, for us, it’s a mix of different impacts we can have. At Seal, we can do everything from identifying contracts to be renegotiated for a hard dollar saving, but we can also measure savings, revenue, efficiency savings, etc. For things like efficiency savings, it’s very important to get the client to sign-off on how that will be measured. For instance, we look at how many paralegals and lawyers were needed to review X amount of contracts over Y period of time. Then, taking into account an hourly cost, we know that our software can cut down the price by 90%. Those are soft numbers, they’re not hard dollar savings or revenue savings, so it’s important to have the client agree to how ROI is measured.

Are you noticing different attitudes in regard to goal-setting from different customer segments?

I wish there was a crystal ball from which we could predict what things are like for each customer size and vertical. The truth is, it really varies based on their culture. There’s no way to know that for sure, but you can get lots of information from your sales rep about what the sales cycle was like. Typically, the “ideal” profile is that of a customer with a very active executive sponsor, because they’ll be as interested as you are in making sure the tool is used properly. The most “difficult” customers are those who are distracted, because they might have too few people doing too many things, or because their culture lacks the support for getting things done. It’s hard for the executive sponsor or the business owner of a solution to be able to articulate goals when they, themselves, don’t know where they are going. If your customers are always putting out fires, and unable to be proactive and strategic in what they do, it becomes difficult to set goals with them. There’s no pattern or formula beyond their own culture.

How do you deal with distracted and overwhelmed customers when it comes to setting goals?

It’s difficult to do, but the best solution is to look for other allies. If you’re working with somebody who can’t partner in the way that is needed, it’s best to network and find other people who can help you deliver the appropriate impact -- the one you know you should have. You want to make sure that you’re talking with someone that will get the ROI that they deserve and that they paid for. While multithreading can help with this, you should also be having the tough conversations and let them know that this isn’t how you usually engage with customers and that this isn’t in their best interest. In a lot of ways, Customer Success needs to be a truth sayer, and while most of the time it’s for the best, it sometimes has to be a difficult conversation. Those conversations are aligned around doing what’s best for the customer, so they’re not negative, they’re just very sober and adult conversations.

What about customers who have unrealistic, unachievable, or too limited goals?

Sometimes, a customer might want 20X ROI, and you know that it’s simply not in the cards for them based on the inputs. When this happens, make sure you’re having direct conversations and break it down with realistic and positive ROI goals for the first 6 and 12 months. We all want to over-perform, but it has to be realistic and achievable.

How do you deal with customers who might be reticent to reevaluating?

What’s important here is to be very clear in the meeting, and to follow-up in writing. You have to be firm, and just because you’re in Customer Success doesn’t mean you do everything the customer wants. It’s all about being good stewards of the relationship, it’s like being a parent -- if your kid wants cake for dinner, it may sound fun but you know it’s not a good idea. In our case, Seal truly created a new software category, which means our new customers are often guessing and wishing. If you’re successfully consultative with them, they’ll start learning from you. It’s an opportunity to become that trusted advisor, which, in turn, reduces churn.

Another effective way to deal with these customers and to get them locked into what they need to do is peer-to-peer references. If customer A just wanted to be trained and left alone, creating a peer-to-peer connection with customer Y will ensure that coaching happens in a trusting environment. Hearing it from someone who’s been successful with your software will allow that breakthrough and will rid them of their fears.

How do you reevaluate goals throughout the customer lifecycle?

It goes back to whether or not it was easy to set goals in the first place. At Seal, we have a very complex product, which means that our customers want to do many different things and we have to take a phased approach. In that case, it’s easy to reboot: here’s what we did in phase one, here’s how we measured it, and here are the results, move to phase two. If your customer was reticent to setting goals originally, they might be reticent to reevaluating them. Finally, if you had a great launch and things faded away after the original goal-setting session, that’s a different situation. This can happen if your champion left the company, or if the impact hasn’t been as good as everyone had hoped. That’s when you should get back into a sales cycle.

Do you have any unexpected tips that can help with goal-setting?

I want to emphasize the role of documentation, especially when it comes to following-up from customer meetings or conference calls. I’m very meticulous in my collaborative documentation hygiene, whether that’s in Salesforce, Evernote, or a Customer Success Platform. It’s crucial to write a summary of each meeting, including the outcomes and the next steps. A lot of people miss that piece or don’t do it the day-of -- when things are still fresh in everybody’s mind. For Customer Success staff, this also means that they can take time off and be easily covered by other team members. Having some kind of collaborative documentation system allows the wheels to keep spinning whether or not you’re in the driver seat.

A different, but equally as important type of documentation is that of use cases. At Seal, we have a living library with use cases, how to measure them, and how to use them. We constantly add to it, and we use it to advise customers looking for guidance. We always need to be aware of dozens and dozens of use cases so that we’re able to suggest new things. This helps Customer Success Managers become more proactive, in that it allows them to consult with customers and tell them what they can and should do based on their goals and their business model.

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About the Author

Mathilde Augustin

<a href="">Mathilde</a> is the Manager of Digital Marketing at Amity. After moving from France to complete a degree in Political Science from McGill University, she made her way to Toronto in order to pursue her passion for Marketing and Tech.

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