Strategic Account Management
The Engine of Customer Success
by James "Alex" Alexander

Whether you are a traditional on-premise supplier or a cloud-based subscription business,
“customer success” is where the big dogs play.

The Marvelous Opportunity
Customer success. The phrase has a nice ring to it. It rolls off the tongue smoothly, like “boundless beauty,” or “endless summer,” or “green chili cheeseburgers.” It sounds almost patriotic! Who could be against customer success?

But just what is it? What’s in it for your organization? What’s in it for you? Should you stay seated on your lounge chair, dip your toes in the water, or take the dive off the high board?

You are not alone in facing this dilemma, this challenge, this marvelous opportunity. Lots of smart people in organizations all over the planet are pondering, defining, and testing customer success in an effort to figure it out.

The potential is there for you to drive buckets full of profitable growth and totally dominate your competitors…to be the go-to supplier in your marketplace…to have prospects standing in line wanting to play ball with you! Are there challenges? You bet. Is it worth the effort? For sure. Research supports this. In every type of business, suppliers that deliver customer success reap both higher profits and deeper loyalty than organizations that don’t.
So Just What Is It?
“Customer success” is a term bantered about in boardrooms and breakrooms in many different ways. It has been perceived as a business model, a company-wide priority, an organization, a profession, or a technology. My research confirmed this disparity—the definitions given regarding customer success and customer success management were as varied as Mexican chilies at Santa Fe’s Saturday farmers’ market.
Dim Practice: Sadly, several research participants admitted (sometimes sheepishly) that there was no customer success definition at all in their organization.

Flash Point: If you don’t know where you are going, any path will do, but you might end up bruised, battered, and bleeding in a ditch. Take the time to clearly define what customer success means in your organization and communicate it again and again.
Customer success builds upon the principles of strategic account management. It is a strategy and a philosophy. It is a way of approaching how you interact with your customers and your marketplace. But an important understanding is that customer success is personal. Just as kids in a candy store might prefer different treats, each customer may value certain outcomes more highly than others at a given point in time, and hence, customer success varies from person to person. So I prefer a concrete, actionable definition.

Customer success is defined as a customer state of mind, in which a specific customer (let’s call her a key player) feels that she has achieved her desires (business outcomes and personal wins) while undergoing brilliant customer experiences. Here are definitions of the three requirements of customer success, as seen in Figure 1.

  • Business Outcomes. The results that a key player hopes will happen to her organization from purchasing and using a supplier’s offerings (e.g., increased revenue, lowered downtime, enhanced productivity, etc.).
  • Personal Wins. The results that a key player hopes will happen directly to her from purchasing and/or using a supplier’s offerings (e.g., job security, personal recognition, less job hassle).
  • Customer Experience. The customer’s perception of a supplier’s performance, including activities that do not directly touch the customer but that affect the customer’s overall view of the supplier. Brilliant customer experience occurs when the seven things that customers want, expect, and deserve are met.
Figure 1: Brilliant Customer Experiences Enable Customer Success
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The Brilliant Customer Success Performance Chain
For those of you serious about delivering customer success, I recommend using the Brilliant Customer Success Performance Chain as a guide (Figure 2). It is a robust model applicable to most all organizations for planning, building, implementing, monitoring, diagnosing, and enhancing customer success results.

I will start our discussion on the far right side of the chain seen below and work backward.
Figure 2: Brilliant Customer Success Performance Chain
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Business Results
Your reward for doing customer success right. Selfishly, your desired outcome as the supplier is business results. Yes, there can be a multitude of preferable outcomes, but for most organizations there are two vital business results that trump all others—new streams of profitable growth to fund the future of the business, plus brand dominance based upon a reputation superior to your rivals.

Customer Impact
Customer loyalty drives business results. Loads of research over the last several years show that the loyalty of your customers is a prime driver of the business results discussed above and outlined in Figure 3. There is a direct relationship. Loyal customers buy more and more, again and again, rarely quibbling over price. Emotionally, loyal customers tout your attributes far and wide and gladly provide testimonials to woo your prospects for you. Loyal customers are the crown jewels of your resources and should be guarded as a miser would a strong box. If we embrace the eminent management consultant Peter Drucker’s declaration that the purpose of a business is to get and grow customers, customer loyalty is the secret sauce of the recipe.
Figure 3: Customer Impact Drives Supplier Business Results
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Customer success drives customer loyalty. As discussed, to earn that loyalty, you must deliver customer success as each key player in the customer account defines it.

Brilliant customer experiences enable customer success. The promise of customer success requires brilliant customer experiences. Like the catalyst in a chemical reaction, a brilliant customer experience releases the full potential of a supplier-customer relationship. Customer experience is shaped at every touchpoint—every encounter or contact the customer has with your organization.

Touchpoint Management
Brilliant employee performances drive brilliant customer experiences. The more closely your people give the customer what they need, want, and expect at each step in their decision-making process, the more powerful the moment of truth, and the more likely the customer will invite you to participate in their next decision step. Figure 4 shows the progress from touchpoint management to business results.
Figure 4: Touchpoint Management Effects on Business Results
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Capable and loyal employees are required to deliver brilliant employee performances. Your frontline personnel must have the capabilities needed to interact with the customer the right way at the right time.

Figure 5 shows how performance systems provide the information and tools required to help your capable and loyal employees in their moments of truth.
Figure 5: How Performance Systems Affect Business Results
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Leadership drives the bus in creating a culture of success and in building and implementing a compelling blueprint to guide implementation, as shown in Figure 6. As we all know, if the big dogs don’t get off the porch, the pack doesn’t hunt.
Figure 6: How Leadership Can Build a Culture of Success
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Customer success is much more than the latest marketing mantra…it is a strategy, a philosophy, a way of doing business. It can make your customer more successful, your company more successful, and hopefully you be more successful. Act like the big dog you are and lead the customer success pack!

Note: This article was adapted from Alex’s book Brilliant Customer Success: Managing the Customer Experience for Profitable Growth and Brand Dominance available now from Amazon.
  1. Alexander, James A., EdD. 2016. "Customer Success: Managing the Customer Experience for Loyalty and Profit." Alexander Consulting and Service Strategies Corporation.
  2. "An Executive Primer to Customer Success Management.” April 2014. Thought Leadership Paper. Forrester.
  3. Alexander, James A., EdD. 2016. "Customer Success: Managing the Customer Experience for Loyalty and Profit." Alexander Consulting and Service Strategies Corporation.
  4. Alexander, James A., EdD. January 26, 2015. “Brilliant CX: The 7 Things Your Customers Want, Expect, and Deserve.” LinkedIn Blog.
  5. Mehta, Nick. October 18, 2015. “The 5 Kinds of Customer Success.” Gainsight, Venturebeat.
  6. Drucker, Peter F., 1974. Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. New York: Harper & Row.
James "Alex" Alexander is founder of Alexander Consulting, a management consultancy that helps product companies build brilliant service businesses. Contact him at 239-671-0740 or
Alexander Consulting
5248 Fairfield Drive
Fort Myers, FL 33919