Mutual Success Plans are not for Customer Success, but for the Success of the Customers

Dhananjay Tate
July 5, 2022
Mutual success plans

Despite the Customer Success movement being in vogue for more than a decade now, there seems to be some sort of overlap, and even confusion, between what goes into success planning versus implementation planning. At BuyerAssist, we firmly believe that "Success Plans aren't meant per se for Sales or CS or Implementation teams. They are meant for the success of your customers". Both success and implementation plans are necessary for customer success, but not sufficient by themselves. But while implementations help the CSMs achieve their personal KPIs, success plans help the customers envision, document, and achieve their goals.

The lack of success planning right at the start of onboarding new customers results in a wide delivery gap in the perception of success between both sides (Closing the Delivery Gap - Bain & Company)  - what the vendor perceives as success, versus what the client perceives as a successful outcome. Why does this happen?

My personal opinion is that vendors believe they are customer-centric just because they hire CSMs or have a CS CRM to support them backed by a project manager or an operations manager. The management often has the right ideas for their customers, but they don't have a shared mechanism to work together with clients on success management per se. On top of it, even if they do use success plans, they are used in silos by different teams (think sales and customer success as they exist traditionally instead of being part of an integrated GTM team).

First, let us see how to construct and differentiate a success plan from an implementation plan in layman’s terms using an analogy. Let’s assume there is a buyer in the market looking for a high-end smartphone with the primary purpose of creating and sharing slick videos and photos on social media. They don’t necessarily care for the brand, but the device will play an important role in helping the buyer gain more traction on social media. Let’s say the buyer KPIs are 1000 likes on average per video on Instagram, and 3000 followers within 3 months). Below is an example of an implementation plan - the how and why behind it, followed by a success plan. 

If we look at the above implementation plan in isolation, would it by itself deliver value to the customer? Of course not! 

In what world would a phone with the right data storage get you 1000 likes and 3000 followers on social media straightaway? For that, you would need a success plan. 

If you were a vendor/influencer manager, how would you go about making a success plan for this buyer?

Cut to the SaaS world - is this reminiscent of an average post-sales phase? Are CSMs too much focussed on implementation plans, and not on success plans?

Take a look at the ground reality today. Currently, there is a POC from either side who is typically a project manager. They will overview and guide the entire project from start to completion. The CSM reports to the Project Manager, and draws up two plans:

  • an onboarding roadmap for the customers sharable on Excel or Google Docs, and 
  • an internal implementation plan for the management of a CRM

The implementation plan consists of all the granular details of execution, right from the configuration of the instance, to setting up email alerts or integrating some third-party tools in the customer’s product. For example, in my previous job, I was managing the enterprise customer segment for a flagship product, which included more than five modules, each with its own set of configurations, training protocols, and demos. As a CSM, one of my KPIs was to improve my onboarding efficiency, which required solid coordination across cross-functional teams like Support, Configuration, and Product over a timeline of three months. 

  • If I completed the implementation on time, would this make the customer successful? It would steer them toward success, yes.
  • If I improved my onboarding efficiency, would that help me retain the customer? Highly likely.
  • If I improved my onboarding and implementation skills, would that make me a better asset to my company? Definitely yes. 
  • Would that mean I am achieving my goals that my manager decided for me? Of course, yes.
  • But does this translate into actual value realization by the customer? Not necessarily!

Implementation has to be followed by a meticulously planned discovery, shared understanding of success metrics followed by adoption, training and engagement sessions with the customer team. The focus is on driving business outcomes in this phase.

Now you see the difference? An implementation plan of course contributes to the success of the customer. Without it, the whole project would be derailed, and the client may even churn at that early stage. However, an efficient and timely implementation is a given. Does that automatically mean success for the customer? No. 

  • Does my plan put the customer’s milestone first? 
  • Does it document their value realization journey? 
  • Does my plan track the first value and the time is taken to achieve it? 
  • Can my plan say how far behind my customer is in solving the intended business needs using my product? 
  • If yes, then that’s your Success Plan. And this plan feeds into your implementation plan too. 

A shared success plan makes the CSM more proactive, and more knowledgeable about the customer’s requirements reducing the onboarding time by focusing on the customer’s needs and improving the implementation process. 

So was I not a good CSM previously? I ticked all the right boxes. But what was missing at an organizational level was a client-focused success plan. More specifically, a success plan which drove mutual benefits, both for the customers and my organization.

And this brings us to the concept of Mutual Success Plans.

customer success cta 1

What is a Mutual Success Plan?

Mutual Success Plan (MSP) is a new way of buyer engagement that is focused on two key concepts – ‘Mutual Success’ and ‘Success Plan’. ‘Mutual Success’ is about establishing a shared understanding of what success means for you and your buyers. ‘Success Plan’ is the shared path that you and your buyer need to take in order to reach the mutually desired outcomes.

What’s the purpose of Mutual Success Plans?

Customers expect a digital-first, self-serviced, and connected experience with the product and their partners. Traditionally, a Mutual Action Plan was an internal-facing document, created by the vendor team and the customer simply had visibility into this document. In contrast to that, an Mutual Success Plan allows the vendor to drive a customer-centric organization by bringing in mutual accountability among stakeholders, with communications and collaborations on one shared unified view, (rather than buried deep in separate email threads, contents, chats, calls, and tools). Mutual Success Plans are a large component of a smooth and seamless customer experience, contributing to customer delight and ultimately leading to higher NRR for the company.

What pain points do Mutual Success Plans solve?

  • Fragmented experience across the customer journey, leading to poor visibility on deliverables, exacerbated by inefficient hand-offs
  • Humongous coordination - with multiple stakeholders in the vendor team, there’s a constant flux of key persons (AE, Onboarding/Implementation Specialist, CSM, AM) depending on the stage of the journey, internal business reasons, etc.
  •  Missed communications -  emails among a pile of email threads and documents

From a CS leader’s perspective specifically:

  • Inconsistent adoption of a repeatable and scalable playbook for the CS team
  • Operational inefficiencies and opacity in customer-validated data
  • Inability to hold stakeholders accountable

What are the impacts of these pain points and how do Mutual Success Plans come into the picture here?

  • A fragmented customer journey decreases the quality of CX causing churn, sometimes as soon as in Onboarding.

Mutual Success Plans impact: Mutual Success Plans act as a permanent point of contact, agnostic of the phase of the customer’s journey, and with proper documentation, accelerate knowledge transition for new stakeholders. It thus is a critical strategic tool for enhancing CX for your key accounts.

  • Client communication on multiple email threads and docs.

Mutual Success Plans impact: Since now the customer context is in one shared view, you have all the information necessary for ongoing and next steps. You can now hold each other accountable, reduce frequent back-and-forths, and streamline your collaboration.

  • Internally, you are juggling multiple communication channels on multiple fora with different stakeholders. This leads to a loss of productivity and makes the team less efficient.

Mutual Success Plans Impact: As a CSM, you are replacing siloed coordination and smoothening your project management. 

As Head of CS or CS Ops, therefore, you now have a repeatable playbook, which allows you to scale your operations. With total transparency in the customer’s journey, you can jump in at the appropriate times to accelerate deliverables, prevent avoidable escalations and ultimately improve your renewals/upsells.

Who are success plans for? Sales, CS, or Implementation? 

That’s not the right way of thinking. Mutual Success Plans are not for any of these vendor-specific roles, but for the success of the customers. Right from Vendor of Choice onwards, the Mutual Success Plans follow the customers along their journey. At BuyerAssist, all key stakeholders in the Sales, Pre-Sales, and Post-Sales phases use Mutual Success Plans. The earlier the better :) 

What if you are already using a Project Management tool for Success Planning?

There’s a difference between success planning and project planning. Mutual Success Plans are foremost a customer collaboration and engagement tool. Their ultimate aim is to drive accountability between stakeholders, and foster customer collaboration and engagement in an honest and transparent manner. You can further use Success Plans to document your customers’ pain points, their current state of affairs, and what you need to do to take them from their current, undesired state to a future, the desired outcome. This alignment on the definition of success, KPIs to achieve it, and the reinforcement of value delivery is accomplished via Success Planning.

On the contrary, a project management tool will help you go deep into specific tasks that need to be executed during any sort of implementation. 

A mutual success plan is where sellers will document the customer goals, key milestones, stakeholders, and key resources. This is also where the customer can track value realized vs value promised and key initiatives to get more value. The primary consumers of mutual success plans are leaders across both sides. 

Instead, a project management tool can help the implementation team and the customer implementation team plan on key tasks needed in order to get the customer to go-live. The primary consumers are the project implementation leads on both sides. 

The table below provides some distinguishing features of success plans vs implementation plans.


What is a Mutual Success Plan?

‘Mutual Success’ is about establishing a shared understanding of what success means for you and your buyers. ‘Success Plan’ is the shared path that you and your buyer need to take in order to reach mutually desired outcomes.

Mutual Success Plans help you streamline how your sales teams co-create, collaborate, track, and deliver continuous value for your buyers

What should a success plan include?

Mutual Success Plans are focused on two key concepts – ‘Mutual Success’ and ‘Success Plan’. They start with value discovery and go all the way through to value realization for the buyers (contract signing is just one step in this process).


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