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Many vendors in the enterprise applications space have an explicit program in place for creating customer success. Given the benefits of having successful customers, both for purposes of continued business and for reputation of service, it is puzzling that customer success as represented by ROI and specific improvements isn't the lead story for more vendors.

Customer success is the currency

Enterprise software vendors' reputations and fortunes are built on whether they can help their customers run a profitable, respected, and engaging business. While it is certainly appropriate to measure a vendor's success in terms of market share or revenue, those figures are founded on the success of its customers. Whether it is a specific initiative or a company-wide program, success is what leads to ongoing relationships and lifetime value. To this end, many, if not all, vendors in this space field customer success teams – consultants with deep technical expertise and industry knowledge who serve as development partners for customers seeking to get the most out of their investments.

The world sees the results of customer success teams' labors through case studies and similar public relations efforts; those releases in turn influence other organizations' decisions about whose applications to implement. Customer success is not just a trophy to flaunt, but the best advertising and testimonial a vendor can have. Despite this, most vendors lead off with descriptions of the technology they have at their disposal, rather than their ability to put that technology to use for their customers.

The reason for this is that apps vendors are not built as service organizations, but as vendors – they sell products or subscriptions to products. While services are a vital part of what they sell, whether the software is licensed code on physical media or apps in the subscription economy of cloud computing, they are downplayed in favor of the technology itself, and the customer's freedom to do with it what it will.

The other side of the coin

Management consultancies serve as a mirror to applications vendors in this regard; they sell services in the form of consultants' hours of labor and problem solving, but often have proprietary products they use to achieve their ends. Consultancies have a reputation (overstated but not entirely undeserved) for achieving success. If one hires one of the big consulting firms to address a problem or develop a business model for a client, the common assumption is that it will get done. Consultancies trade on their ability to produce success, and keep their technology as a secret sauce used to achieve it.

Perhaps software and applications vendors should look to consulting firms, with whom they often partner, as a model for presentation of capabilities. A 30-second or one-page advertisement is not enough to fully explain how a given tool can help a struggling business turn its fortunes around, but it is enough for a formerly struggling business to tell the tale of how a vendor helped it do so. The specific technologies will change from case to case, and competitors will have something similar, but each case study tells a unique tale of success. Perhaps it is time for marketing efforts to reflect this.


Further reading

Mapping the Mindset Shift to customer Success Management, IT0020-000288 (June 2017)

Salesforce Customer Success Platform – Through the Omnichannel Lens, IT0020-000238 (December 2016)

SWOT Assessment: Salesforce Customer Success Platform, IT0020-000187 (April 2016)

"A customer-centric CSM team is vital for long-term growth," IT0020-000298 (July 2017)


Marshall Lager, Senior Analyst, Customer Engagement

[email protected]