What does Goal and Expectation Setting Mean in Customer Success?

November 5, 2018 Wendy Sandino

We know that having clear objectives is paramount, regardless of what project you’re undertaking, both in your personal and professional life. In Customer Success, we’re responsible for helping our customers reach their goals by pointing them towards the right tools and resources with the solution we’re supporting to ultimately help them achieve their desired outcomes. In theory, they purchased the said solution because they believe it will help them reach those results, which then makes your job as their CSM to guide them towards that end-goal. From onboarding, implementation, training to renewal, you’re guiding them throughout their path to success with the platform or service at hand. 

 

What does goal setting mean?

Goal setting (in B2B terms) means creating a business process meant to accomplish measurable objectives and timeframes. In most cases, decision makers at your customer’s organization have approved a budget for your software because they believe that it will help them reach their goal(s). This also means that if the solution doesn’t help them reach that goal (at all or in the timeframe expected), the solution has failed them and they won’t renew or recommend the solution to others. Sometimes, a customer will cancel despite still believing that the platform will help them with that same objective. However, they were unsuccessful reaching their goal in their ideal timeframe and decided to abandon and seek other alternatives (you’ll hear: “it’s just not for us”). Frustrating, right? More on that later when we cover how expectation setting ties into goal setting.  

 

Why is it important?

If you have a Sales to Customer Success pass-off process in place, you’ll probably have a good idea why the customer purchased the software and hopefully even some business goals with clear metrics in place (ie. Increase organic traffic by X %). But what happens when the customer doesn’t have clearly defined goals, or no goals at all? It’s usually not a good sign and could mean poor customer health from the get-go. But don’t worry, all is not lost. The Customer Success and Sales teams are very familiar with the main reasons why customers purchase your solution. With this knowledge, you can give them ideas on what other organizations such as theirs are striving towards and you can help them come up with their own goals by providing some suggestions:
“People get started with ___ because they want to improve their conversion rate”. Is that a problem that your team experiences as well? Great, in that case, let’s agree to focus on ___ to get started.”

Hopefully the customer is able to formulate their long-term goals (become leader in their market by 2025) and if they don’t yet know what their short to medium-term goals are, you can help guide them based on what you’ve seen in your experience as a CSM trying to help other similar businesses.

Here are some questions you can ask that will help you define what their objectives are and what will make them realize the ROI on your solution:
What does success look like to you?
In a year from now, how will you able to tell that you reached your desired outcome with the platform?

Once you’ve established what the customer’s goal should be, you’ll need to give them some direction around what should happen next to get the process started. It’s okay if you can’t agree on the details on your first call, you can ask them to come up with some suggested steps on your follow up call and build your success plan together. 

 

What is expectation setting?

Setting expectations with customers will mean communicating what is expected of them to ensure they have the best chances of reaching their goals with the solution at hand. 

You’ll usually have a good idea of what your customers are able to achieve in their first year using your solution and so you can use that to provide some basic expectations on what they can do to reach those initial milestones and get initial value with the software.  

 

Why is it important?

Let’s set aside the issue of misaligned expectations potentially introduced during the sales cycle (see Amity's sales/CS alignment article) and focus on the idea of setting expectations for your customer of what your relationship involves and what you expect them to do to reach their goals with your platform. 

For example, clarifying what your role is as their CSM can help them understand how to best leverage your knowledge: “as your CSM, I’m here to help you reach compliance on project X. I’ll be holding training for your team on the platform and we’ll meet bi-annually to review success/struggles with the solution and look at your progress towards the objectives we outlined at the beginning.”

It’s also important to set expectations around what is required on their end to achieve their goals. In Customer Success, we’re often frustrated by the fact that we cannot do the work on behalf of the customer. If they’re not using the platform, they’ll likely not reach their desired objectives. But if we can be honest and open about what they need to do to see that goal realized, they may attribute more importance to that task. 

For example, you could tell your customers: “What separates our most successful customers from those that are not is that the ones who are log in to our platform to view dashboards every day, make it part of their routine and delegate issues to appropriate teams rather than wait for automated notifications to be emailed to them when things are not going well”. 


What happens when goal and expectations are aligned?

We all know what happens when they are not aligned: the customer will either cancel at the end of their term or you’re convince them to stick around for another term. Despite your hardest efforts trying to show them how to reach success with your solution, they’ll still end up cancelling sooner than later. 

But if you confirmed the customer’s business goals and set clear expectations around what they should do on their end to reach that goal, you’re putting all the chances on your side to get them there and have the customer realize the value of the solution. 

Don’t forget to keep those goals handy and check in with the customer during regular QBRs on how they’re doing and confirm that those are still what is important to the customer’s organization. 

 

Conclusion

We already know how important goal setting with customers and communicating expectations as to what is required to reach success with your platform. However, we sometimes forget to get that information and use it as our guiding principle for every interaction with the customer.

All too often, customers may not have those goals outlined because their leadership team wasn’t involved in the purchasing process. It’s your responsibility as the CSM to help them formulate those goals and set expectations as to what is needed to reach their objectives. 

Remember, if you have a clear success plan with step-by-step instructions on how to utilize the platform to reach those goals, it’ll make it easier for you to communicate around progress and who is responsible for doing what.

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About the Author

Wendy Sandino

Wendy is the Manager of Customer Success at Siteimprove for the Canadian market. She splits her time between handling customer success operations for her local market and managing Canadian enterprise customers. She has been in the field of Customer Success for over 4 years and is passionate about helping customers reach their desired business outcomes. In her spare time, Wendy is an avid camper and is known to bake a delicious Key Lime Pie!

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