Critical skills for customer success, account mapping

I don't care to accept many parallels between pirates and customer success but I do love a treasure map! Customers do too, they are desperate to chart a course to wild success. Customer journey maps are a familiar tool designed to help customers realise success but the map we create often misses something crucial, the starting point.


5/24/20244 min read

Destination-focused and location-blind

The "simple" objective of a customer-oriented business is to help the customer achieve their wildest ambitions with a given product or service. This "simply" involves guiding customers along a defined journey...

But too often the map we set off with is fictitious, populated by assumptions and punctuated by generic directions that pay no heed to current location. This is because it's easy to see the potential in a given relationship and become focused on that as an urgent and overriding goal. Location blindness is the pursuit of ultimate goals at the expense of more pressing immediate ones.

This problem is unwittingly exacerbated by 'just going through the motions' or allowing assumptions about stakeholders, the market or the requirement to go unchallenged. This is made more difficult by customers making their own assumptions about a product or how well their expectations have been communicated.

The effects of location blindness can also be actively triggered when CSMs relentlessly pursue an agenda under the misguided impression that energy and focus is the only thing projects need to succeed (think Jeremy Clarkson screaming "more power!") or that everything distracting, is just a distraction. As with the unwitting variety, customers can trigger the problem too; they want to realise the promised success as much as their CSM does and can kid-themselves about or downplay the realities of their current scenario.

Here are some examples of things either party might say that could indicate a case of location blindness:

  • "Waiting to resolve X shouldn't stand in the way of Y"

  • "That's not my role, you need to take that up with X. Back to Y"

  • "Let's not get side tracked with (low hanging fruit) when there's a (big shiny object) in the distance"

  • "Take it out of spec, we''ll do that (complicated but expensive) thing ourselves"

  • "I think X has used (thing requiring technical expertise) before and can probably figure it out"

  • "soon" (oh how I loathe "soon"!)

Orienting yourself

Perception may be the most underestimated factor in effectively pursuing our customer's ambitions. I don't mean this in reference to the old adage about the nature of reality (though I'm sure many professionals can, ahem, see its importance) but in making a concerted effort to truly see a customer and understand where they are coming from. I have long used a formal account mapping process to ensure that I am both credible and actively empathising with the customer organisation.

This comes in at least two models (which can cross over); understanding 'this exact customer' who is often an exception to multiple rules and understanding 'all of these customers' which is assisted by solid customer profiling / automated indicators (possibly even spreadsheets - yay!).

Account mapping

Let's start with the high-touch model and take lessons over to the scaled one since the issue we're resolving can be exacerbated there. The process of account mapping is a mind-mapping exercise designed to flush out a lot of useful unstructured data about:

  • The client company as a whole, key facts, position, proposition, their customer promise and ultimate ambition

  • Existing key stakeholders, decision markers, influencers, users and facilitators

  • Other stakeholders, interesting and needed for retention/ growth networking

  • Commercial model

  • Contract, product and services details - where is the connection between these and the commercial model, could it be stronger?

  • Competitors and prevalent market forces

  • Why they do what they do and why our product/ service helps, is this unique?

I have come to believe that the details critical to a successful customer journey (that results in retention and growth) are right there in the account metadata. It does not take long, 20-30 minutes. It does take curiosity, empathy and commercial acumen (my article on forecasting is highly relevant here). It's because of the skills and curiosity required that I have had best results from bringing the assigned CS, commercial, support, on boarding and/ or professional services staff (though one invested colleague would do) together for account mapping.

A facilitator (often the account owner) coordinates research and draws out the mind-map (call me old fashioned but I like a whiteboard for this) and while they may lead questioning, the exercise works best as a highly interactive, fast-paced process. Different people look-up different facts and bring them together to build the big picture.

There are three rules to having a successful session that effectively informs your customer journey map:

  1. One person draws / scribes

  2. Clarify interjections and contributions as fact or opinion

  3. You are done when you know WHY the journey will work

Account mapping at scale

While the process outlined here is not hugely time intensive, it isn't practical for digital-first, low-margin or very high-volumes teams to do... themselves.

Large parts of the account mapping process can be (and one might argue should be) completed pre-sale. The sales handover process has lots of opportunity for sharing the kind of information that a high-quality account map contains. After all, much of it will have been required to properly scope a deal and align an account to the ideal product, segment and CSM. Some companies don't run a formal sales handover process but if a proactive customer team exists; they should. Even where robust CRM and automation systems are in place there needs to be the opportunity to discuss, clarify-with or even challenge the sales rep on new accounts, because "Customer objective: make money", happens. A lot.

Of course, while the sales team needs to set customers off on the right path, the choice of paths is dictated by the go-to-market (GTM) strategy. Defining an effective GTM strategy essentially brings the account mapping process forward and outputs (among other things) two tools that are critical to customer journey mapping at scale, ideal customer profiles (ICP) and segmentation rules. A robust ICP and segmentation strategy should describe the customer (starting point), their use case (customer journey) and ambitions (destination) clearly.

Unless all of your customers (whether you're looking at your personal, team or company portfolio) have the same ambitions, priorities, capabilities and proclivities; segmenting based on revenue alone is a missed opportunity.

Where reduced contact is an aspect of a scaled CS strategy, it is even easier for the effects of location blindness to prevent a customer achieving success with a given product or service. Without the ability to manage or drive the journey manually, automated measurement of progress is critical. Fortunately, an effective ICP and segmentation strategy is predicated on a series of assumptions about the customer journey, and these can be developed to support automated verification. Customers being managed at scale need to be supported by behavioural metrics to verify their location and that they are progressing as their 'pre-mapped' segment and description expects them to.

If they're not, break out the whiteboard!

References and further reading: