Profitability in SaaS is more often than not a tightrope act between development, marketing, and customer success. And too often, customer success is merely an afterthought, leading to confused users and high churn.
There are many ways to juggle these activities, be it through an uptick in your paid budget, more intense communication, or new features in your product. But here at Custify, we prefer running to juggling, and by far the best tactic I’ve seen comes by way of CS and is called value realization.
A stuffy business topic for sure, value realization presents a strategy for your future-proof growth and expansion, focusing your efforts around your customers. Today, we’ll be exploring the following:
- What value realization really is and its benefits for SaaS businesses.
- The components of a value realization framework and strategy.
- How to adapt and apply the strategy to your SaaS with the help of CS.
- The multiple paths to measuring value realization for your customers.
- Reassessing and reviewing results to assess ROI and business impact.
So get your cup of coffee and notes app ready, it’s time to apply the value realization framework to your SaaS!
What Is Value Realization?
Value realization is a business concept and strategy focused on showing customers the value of a product or service. When entering a business relationship, customers naturally have value expectations about both product and service quality, as well as the level of support they require.
Value expectation typically culminates post-onboarding with an A-ha Moment when users understand the value they’re paying for. Value realization is simply one step beyond that, i.e. when customers consistently receive value that exceeds their expectations.
Deep Dive: Explaining the Value Realization Framework
A Value Realization Framework is a strategic approach to continuous business value realization – essentially a set of practices to reliably and predictably exceed customer value expectations at scale. The process typically starts during or post onboarding and then goes through the value realization procedure to eventually settle into a continuous workflow of value optimization. Once at that stage, successful customers become loyal and active brand ambassadors.
Sounds a bit convoluted, I know. But let’s break it down:
1. Value Definition
Value Definition is the stage where the seller determines what type of value addition a customer wants. CSMs typically use a mix of product analytics, surveys, onboarding questions, and customer interviews to obtain a clear picture of their delivery requirements in terms of quality, quantity, and support. By examining customers’ desired outcomes, CSMs know their end goal and what they need to do beyond it to secure continuous business value realization and the respective loyalty of their accounts.
These value outcomes should then be:
- Communicated clearly and available to all stakeholders.
- Set up as goals for CS in your customer success platform.
- Assigned appropriate KPIs and metrics with clear indicators for success.
- Transformed into measurable health scores within your CS dashboard.
- Assigned to automation triggers to notify you upon customer goal completion.
- Reassessed on a recurring schedule to ensure customer alignment.
Example of a short Onboarding Checklist for low touch accounts containing tasks related to the value definition stage (as seen in the Custify Customer Portal feature).
2. Value Delivery
Value Delivery is the point in the methodology when the seller ensures the delivery of their product or service value in accordance with the value definition for each account. Optimal value delivery is dependent on frequent check-ins and product analytics to confirm the customers’ desired outcomes at regular intervals past the point of sale.
Value delivery typically includes multiple lifecycle stages like:
Example of customer health score monitoring, a great tool for tracking value delivery and realization. As seen in Custify.
3. Value Realization
The eponymous stage of the Value Realization Framework effectively designates the A-ha moment when customers can see the value of the product or service and envision their future success as a result of that value addition. Once customers reach this point, it’s safe to say you have reached your retention goal and your churn risk effectively drops significantly.
The value realization step isn’t necessarily the same as the point of customer goal completion. Some products offer an immediate or basic type of value (such as a downloadable document) before users can achieve their goals. The idea is to begin providing value as early as possible, even if it isn’t the exact value customers are looking for.
4. Value Validation
Value Validation is the point in the framework when customers attempt to replicate and validate the value they’ve received in the previous stage. While, as a whole, it’s good to chase A-ha moments, this is the true point at which this strategy starts to show results in terms of ROI and profitability for the whole company.
When you recognize customers who’ve reached this stage, your priorities should shift to:
- Ensuring continuous value delivery while maintaining quality standards as set during value definition.
- Providing additional features to increase the value customers receive and attempt to upsell or cross-sell them.
- Delivering customer goals reliably and predictably, particularly if the original outcomes and KPIs haven’t been reached.
5. Value Optimization
Value Optimization is the stage you need to secure so the entire Realization Framework works smoothly moving forward. As the SaaS space continues to see dramatic changes over the years, businesses have to step up and periodically identify industry trends, gauge customer sentiment, and optimize their processes for future-proof value delivery.
During the value optimization stage, focus on:
- Collecting customer feedback in any way you can (we’ve seen clients achieve success with a strategic voice of the customer program, though a simple survey can also work)
- Automating any parts of the process that you can – be it repetitive tasks, account alerts, Slack messages, emails, and more. Anything that can be made more efficient should be.
- Using NPS, CSAT, CES, and other usual SaaS surveys to paint a picture of how all your customers are doing and if you need to improve.
- Improving your product and services as much as possible – while customers may realize their value with the current version, there’s always another bug just waiting to be fixed.
- Turning customers into long-term business ambassadors. Evolving past the value realization stage means customers know your product by heart and are able to spread its gospel. To promote this, you can Incentivize reviews, ask for testimonials, record customer interviews, and more.
Example customer interview from the unmistakable Stijn Smet, Lead CSM for our customers at Whale.
Benefits of Implementing the Value Realization Framework
The main benefits of implementing a Value Realization Framework in your SaaS are:
- Creating a workable SOP that you can use at scale. Basically, through this framework, you’re anticipating and working towards your customers’ value addition as a method of strategically improving your own ROI and profitability.
- Achieving consistent and measurable results, directly linked to customer outcomes. One of the biggest challenges of SaaS is determining the connection between your success and your customers’ successes. A Value Realization Framework brings clarity to your goals and helps achieve them by:
– Directly linking your success to your customers’ success.
– Matching their success with measurable objectives and KPIs.
– Connecting those outcomes with your team’s performance.
- Better organizational alignment and collaboration for customer success. If the process you engineer demonstrably works, nobody will question its effectiveness and you will level up your business into a newfound status quo of focus and alignment around your customers, with clear OKRs and KPIs.
- A constant snapshot of your clients, allowing for data-driven decision-making. By combining a well-defined value realization framework with your customer success client portals, you essentially have a fast and on-demand way of looking up actionable data points and insights.
- Improving accountability across your organization. Since customer outcomes are now tied to your team’s performance, that also means you’re able to measure and evaluate your team’s effectiveness much more efficiently than before. If you’re a customer success leader, this part can be particularly useful for fine-tuning your CS squad.
How to Adapt the Value Realization Framework to Your SaaS
We’ve found that while attempting to create a value realization framework that works for your business, several best practices stand out as being the most helpful:
- Run a gap analysis for customer service to determine critical areas of improvement.
- Focus on customer outcomes and promote business alignment on customer success.
- Use B2B SaaS personalization tactics to drive engagement and support your efforts.
- Ensure you have a working, productive relationship with your Product team.
- Trace direct connections between your customers’ goals and your business goals.
- Review materials and ensure marketing and sales are selling product truth.
- Establish a voice of the customer program within your SaaS for continuous feedback.
How Customer Success Drives Value Realization
The Value Realization Framework, while affecting every aspect of your SaaS, remains under the purview of customer success. As such, your Head of Customer Success should be the one to champion this project and ensure it’s brought to fruition.
If you’re leading your CS team, here’s what you should do to establish a functioning model for Value Realization:
- First, ensure everyone in the business knows and understands your customers’ goals and knows how to check those goals for each account.
- Then, make a roadmap for value realization and how you will apply it to your customers in a way that feels natural.
- Ensure you have the necessary analytics tools and that they’re set up for data hygiene and governance.
- Match customer outcomes with OKRs, KPIs, health scores and ensure you’re tracking all the necessary data points in a goal-conscious way.
- Assign team responsibilities for each stage of the traditional Value Realization Strategy: definition, delivery, realization, validation, and optimization.
How to Measure Value Realization
Before You Begin: Determine the Value Customers Expect by Lifecycle Stage
*Note: the value additions your customers want will always depend on your product specifics, niche, audience, and more. These are simply starting points designed to help you on the path to a working Value Realization Framework.
The more your customers grow, the more they change. It’s an expected evolution for most business relationships. As such, your value realization model should be agile and account for potential changes based on your customers’ lifecycle stage, as seen in the graphic above.
Once you know what each stage cares about in terms of value addition, you can move ahead and track those outcomes by their respective metrics:
1. Track Customer Outcomes
The simplest way to gauge the effectiveness of your Value Realization Framework is to determine whether customers are achieving their objectives within your product. To do that, as said earlier, find trackable metrics for each KPI and a way to review those metrics on demand and at scale, maybe with the help of a few expertly set triggers and an automation flow.
↪ What Are Customer Outcomes?
I’ve mentioned customer outcomes a few times, but if you’re new to CS, it might seem like a foreign concept. Customer outcomes represent your clients’ goals in relation to your product and services. When a customer enters a business relationship with a you, they have an expected value addition that they’re chasing – that value represents the customer outcome, often called a “desired customer outcome” to separate it from other beneficial outcomes for the customer.
The differences between CX outputs, CX outcomes, and Customer Outcomes. Learn how to assign CS metrics to your customer outcomes in our guide.
2. Track Time to Value
Time to value is a powerful metric indicating the time between user signup and the moment at which they complete their first goal. Time to value also has several other related metrics which can also be useful for tracking value realization:
- Time to First Value. The time it takes for users to receive any value within the product.
- Time to Exceed Value. The time it takes for you to exceed customer expectations. Essentially, Time to Exceed Value can be a perfect snapshot metric for Value Realization.
Apart from the two measurements, there’s also Immediate Time to Value, which is an instant form of customer value addition provided upon signup. We go in-depth on time to value and related metrics here.
3. Track Time to Live (TTL)
Implementation can be in itself an indicator value realization simply because, for complex tools and software, it’s generally an early-stage expected value, as seen in the table above. As such, likely one of your first priorities when implementing such a framework should be to optimize, simplify, and assist in onboarding and implementation.
4. Track Return on Investment (ROI)
A classic among classics, ROI is simply something you have to measure for Value Realization to work. In many cases, we’ve seen customers treat it as a primary indicator of success, while for other businesses, it’s more of a sideline metric that’s still very much indicative of their state of being.
5. Track NPS and CSAT
Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and net-promoter score (NPS) surveys are standard in most SaaS B2B businesses today – and that might, on occasion, make them seem less important.
Yes – the questions themselves are slightly standard, but that’s part of what makes them so powerful since everyone knows and expects them, thereby increasing your sample size and respondents and providing reliable results and insights about your customer base.
Reassessing Value Realization and Its Impact on Your Business
Occasionally, as is normal with such complex processes, you will have to stop and reassess the impact your Value Realization Framework has on your business. When you do so, consider:
- What is the support load after implementing the Value Realization Framework?
- What is the time spent on value realization tasks across your organization?
- What is the added value, ROI, NPS, and CSAT for your customers?
- What is the ROI for your business as a result of value realization?
Once you have these questions answered, all you need is to compare the results and make an informed decision on whether to continue with Value Realization or not. In most cases, there will be no reason to discontinue it. However, you should always make time to optimize and analyze.
Talk to Your Customers for a Better Understanding
Before you irrevocably change your Value Realization strategy, or even before you start it, consider talking to your top customers. These can be high-touch, high-value, or best-fit accounts that can actively inform your product development and business growth. You can use Voice of the Customer (VOC) tactics to select which accounts would be best to check in with.
Once you get in contact with a customer representative, find out whether:
- Your product saves them time
- The value realization process is useful for them
- Your product reduces their costs
- Your product grows their revenue
Once you have a general outlook, you can go more in-depth with questions relating to the categories below:
From Vision to Value: Mastering SaaS Value Realization
Implemented correctly, a SaaS Value Realization framework should reorient your entire staff towards more proactivity, customer satisfaction, and goal achievement.
What are the ways in which you’ve implemented value realization for your customers? I hope some of the ideas above spark some ideas in your next team meeting. Until then – stay tuned to the Custify blog for more expert guides!