Why do you need Mutual Success Plans for Customer Success?

Dhananjay Tate
February 9, 2022
mutual success plan for customer success

Who am I to speak on Customer Success? 

My first job in the SaaS world was working as a Customer Success Manager in the graduate healthcare education sector of the US, working with project managers, program directors, and faculties of elite Nursing schools like Johns Hopkins. 

In a typical subscription cycle for my customers, the Sales phase would take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months to win the deal. Depending on the organizational hierarchy, the customer was "handed off" to a Customer Success Manager. The customer (an entire team of project managers, administrators, and end-users) and the vendor (internal teams-Support, Business Analyst, Customer Success Director) are both dependent on the coordination, communication, and project management skills of the Customer Success Manager. 

A typical day for me involved coordinating and communicating across various roles, both internally and externally. While the internal communications took place in person, via emails, on Teams, and of course on Salesforce, the interactions with customers were almost exclusively strewn over several email trails and various documents on OneDrive. 

Although I prided myself on being proactive and responsive in my management, I spent a lot of time documenting the same interactions on separate tools (e.g., sending minutes over email and copy-pasting it under "Log a Call" on Salesforce). Essentially, it was the same activity with the same content but with a different set of viewers in each context. 

Moreover, there was always the danger of some communication slipping through the cracks leading to a delayed deliverable or miscommunication or meandering through disparate and long email chains after a vacation. 

From an operational perspective, this meant that many man-hours were simply spent repeating the same message to different stakeholders on different fora. The process was suboptimal, time- and labor-expensive, inefficient, and prone to misalignments and escalations. 

What if there was an easier way for a Customer Success Manager to manage a customer?

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Managing customers the old way

Traditionally, a Customer Success Manager communicates with the client entirely via email, from asking for appointments to sending notes/MoMs at the end of the meeting to closing the loop on individual action items discussed in the previous meetings. This is where a Customer Success Manager needs to be an expert in communications, coordination, and on her toes to be able to run the ship tightly. Ideally, no email should slip through the cracks, no action item should be delivered later than promised without pro-active consent by the Customer Success Manager, and no feedback should be left unattended. 

But what happens in reality? Emails do slip through, action items/deadlines are missed without sending due notice in advance, and action items remain pending on the client-side. This leads to friction, a souring relationship, escalations, and an increased likelihood of churn. But what if these emails, the follow-ups, the assignments of tasks with presumptive due dates were a simple line item - to be co-managed, validated, and collaborated by both parties in the same view? 

Now, on the internal side, simply assigning tasks and tagging the relevant owner isn't enough. The Customer Success Manager must also provide appropriate instructions, provide relevant information to the ticket owners, guide them with the best (or at times workable) solutions and provide enough time for completion of the deliverables. This is currently done either formally via email or informally over chat/in-person. Again, what doesn't happen? Neither the client nor the vendor's management team (at least not all the time unless the client is elite or in the "red" zone) has visibility into the state of progress of the item.

How can a Customer Success Manager keep them both updated? Simple - for client communications, search for the email trail to keep the chain constant, write a new email again, and repeat the same process in the CRM tool to update the internal teams. Same task, same updates, two different media for two different teams? With these mechanisms in place, in what universe will the Customer Success Director ever scale his organization? Can there be a very simple process in place to scale the Customer Success function?

Last but not least - Customer Success Managers must be honest - be honest with the clients on ETAs of tasks, to begin with. On the internal side, though, have an open and honest reporting of the client's status, progress, task management, and potential for escalation, allowing course correction in real-time and helping the management proactively keep the RAG status green. As a client or the management, why be at the mercy of an individual and her whims and fancies? What if there was a simple, unified view of all that we have said above?

There is an operational issue here as well. On one hand, communication and coordination skills are individual traits. In contrast, redundancy in assets/resources matters most at an organizational level. A Customer Success Manager may manage the account, but the ultimate owner is the company. If the Customer Success Manager leaves the organization or moves to another position in the same company, the new hire shouldn't spend a long time in Knowledge Transition. What if a well-researched document could help educate the reviewer/new hire /leadership about the client-her business challenges, pain points, action items till now, the current state of progress, the roadmap ahead, and so on?

Is there no solution to the CSM's challenges?

The answer to all the "What Ifs" is simple - a Mutual Success Plan (aka MSP). The MSP is a simple, living, evolving document shared between customer and vendor teams, and co-worked, co-managed, and collaborated upon through the customer's lifetime, from Sales to Post-Sales, including Customer Onboarding, Implementation, and post Go Live cadence, Value Reviews, and Renewal. 

Want to streamline your communications? Share a Mutual Success Plan with stakeholders.

Wish to scale Customer Success Ops? Use Mutual Success Plan templates to standardize and scale your Customer Success playbook.

Wish to maintain a customer-validated single record of truth? Go for a Mutual Success Plan!

A Mutual Success Plan can be created by a Customer Success Manager or a seller but will be worked on in tandem with the client to ensure that all the tasks are getting documented, the ongoing status of these tasks is visible to everyone involved, and there is an objective, client-facing reporting in case any of the tasks is getting delayed beyond reason. All the stakeholders are on the same page, literally. The Mutual Success Plan will also accompany you where you work. 

Do you work on a CRM tool? The Mutual Success Plan can be iframed into your Salesforce instance. 

Would you like to receive updates on your plan by email or Slack? That's precisely where you will see them and even mark them as Complete. 

How cool is that?

But wait! Do I have to create a plan every time I get a new account? Not at all. We design custom templates for you so that your Customer Onboarding Roadmap is ready with a few clicks.

In the age of digital-first customer experience, a Mutual Success Plan is a one-stop solution for a Customer Success organization to:

  • streamline the Customer Success playbook from implementation to ongoing value delivery and renewal/expansions
  • enhance the operational efficiency
  • smoothen collaboration across multiple teams and 
  • reduce time to value for the customer

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