3 Must-Haves for Account Based Customer Success

“There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don’t know.”
– Ambrose Bierce

While account based marketing (ABM) is all the rage these days, many of those who’ve been around for a while have, rightfully, recognized that thinking in an account centric way is hardly new.

What is new is that technology has evolved to the point that organizations can now take an account based approach at a scale that was previously impossible. It’s also enabled other departments (marketing, inside sales, customer success) to run account based plays that can incorporate all the different players involved from your company and from the accounts that you’re engaging with.


Why Account Based Customer Success

Customer success is the poster child for “account based everything”. There are some great solutions out there to help manage the customer lifecycle (see Gainsight, Totango) and provide insight into usage, customer health and other key success metrics. But at the same time, customer success professionals need to recognize that if they are single-threading their customer relationships, they are exposing their companies to enormous risk. Any one person, no matter how much they love and champion your solution, can leave the company or get promoted. If you have to retain and expand your customer relationships, you need to build relationships across the entire account.

In order to approach customer success from an account-centric perspective, there are three critical pieces that need to be in place:

Know the Players

Account based customer success requires a comprehensive view of all of the people or “players” within your customer’s account and the players at your company that may engage with them. This is inherently tricky with CRM systems like Salesforce, which have separate views for leads and contacts and may not even be associated with the account.

Account based systems use lead to account matching to provide a consolidated view of the people within your customer account, regardless of how they’re classified in your CRM system. Customer success will typically know about power users and internal champions, but having the full roster of players including executive influencers and business owners is critical.


Run the Right Plays

The plays your company runs against key accounts will be wide and varied. Inside sales runs plays to open doors, sales managers run plays to drive new business and deepen executive relationships. Similarly, customer success needs to focus on plays core to their mission. Classic examples of customer success plays include:

  • Onboarding
  • Renewal
  • Usage
  • Expansion
  • Advocacy

While CS has traditionally recognized these as extremely important initiatives, the orchestration of these plays has been haphazard. Running an effective renewal play, for example, requires not only the right timing but the right sequencing of interactions across channels and people to produce successful outcomes. This means being able to pull in players and channels that you may not have thought possible before. Imagine a timely, personalized email or hand-written letter from your CEO to the key executive sponsor at your tier one customers at just the right time in the renewal process. These kinds of small but highly impactful touches are difficult to scale manually, but with an account based orchestration system in place, they can yield dramatic results.


Know the Score

If account visibility and running effective multi-channel plays are the cornerstones to effective account based customer success, the litmus test as to whether those plays are moving the needle is the ability to view account based metrics. Some of these metrics are self evident; the customer either renewed or they didn’t, they expanded product/service usage or they didn’t. In an account centric world, the devil is in the details and explicit results like these are typically only available after the fact. True account based success metrics are nuanced and can be difficult to track – but ultimately provide immense value.

What are some examples of account based metrics CS should be looking at?

  • Coverage: Do you have sufficient data, contacts, and account plans for each target account with regards to renewals, expansion and other CS plays?
  • Engagement: Are the right people at the account spending time with your company? Is that engagement going up over time? Note, this engagement is not the same as product usage.
  • Impact: Are your CS activities and outreach improving key outcomes?



Effective account based customer success requires a number of key pieces to be in place. Visibility into your customer’s players and aligning them with your team’s roster is critical. Having well defined plays to leverage those players across multiple channels can generate massive lift against core CS objectives. And being able to track account centric metrics directly impacted by those plays can be the difference between the game going to sudden-death overtime and a clear win from your team.

Does your organization practice account based customer success?

Scott Fehr

One Response to “3 Must-Haves for Account Based Customer Success”

July 14, 2016 at 2:08 pm, Rob Leavitt said:

Great post, Scott; I agree completely with the “ABCS” approach here. Big question is design and orchestration of the process across the functions required to collaborate with the process and plays. Personally, I think Marketing should take the lead, but there’s a lot of internal negotiation and process development to enable this and not many marketing organizations or leaders are yet focused, oriented, or equipped to do this. Great opportunity but also great challenge for marketing leaders going forward.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *