Customer Success is not change management

Customer Success is not change management

Change is good- but Customer Success is not change management

I have heard people say that Customer Success is about implementing “change management” (sources: Gainsight, and ProcessMAP). Although there is admittedly some overlap between Customer Success and change management principles, I think change management concepts only loosely apply to the modern SaaS sales process. Instead, Customer Success teams employing a bottoms-up sales model should primarily be focused on driving adoption and perceived value on the user level.

What is change management?

Who better to answer this question than a global management consulting firm. Bain claims that “change management programs enable companies to control the installation of new processes to improve the realization of business benefits.” Yes, implementing new processes within big organizations is so complicated that there is a whole industry that sprung up to support companies looking to transform how they do business. Products are often introduced as a way of facilitating this desired change. But does any of this actually work? According to this HBS article, not really.

Most studies still show a 60–70% failure rate for organizational change projects — a statistic that has stayed constant from the 1970’s to the present.

Why bottoms-up selling has changed things

One of the key changes over the past few years in SaaS sales has been a shift towards a bottoms-up sales model that changes the focus from selling to an entire organization (thus triggering the ensuing change management process) to selling to the end user. Because individuals within an organization are now more likely to be empowered to make buying decisions on a personal or team level, the emphasis should be on demonstrating value for the individual user. If you later grow your relationship to servicing the entire company, you can leverage the knowledge from this initial pilot for a broader rollout.

Now that we are focused on building individual user behavior, it’s worth remembering that people want to be badass and to change user behavior you have to offer them a better way to do something than the status quo. Users “hire” products to do a job and buying your product demonstrates: 1) there is a need the user has that they hope your product can address; 2) they’re a bit aspirational that they can find a solution to their problem; 3) they like your product’s point of view.

Driving meaningful change and achieving success

A user has just bought a product for their small team within a much bigger organization- what happens next? Enter your Customer Success team.

For the vast majority of customers, success or failure is determined by what happens after a product is launched. Success is not about nailing the technical integration of a product (although of course not getting properly integrated into a client’s tech stack can lead to failure), it’s about getting integrated into the client’s workflow and ingrained in everyday processes. For a Customer Success team to be able to help users be successful with your product you need to understand what their existing process is, and identify what the barriers will be to instituting a new process built around your product. Don’t focus on the major institutional problems you won’t realistically be able to address with just this one team onboard. Instead, identify the most impactful goals out of what will inevitably be a long list of things you could possibly change. You can’t expect to effectively change 10 things in a short period of time, but you can realistically change 3–4. And of course, once you’ve seen success with an individual team, your sales team should explore opportunities to expand usage across the organization.


Because a major element of a bottoms-up sales strategy is the success of individual users, the focus should not be on driving institutional change – Customer Success is not change management.