Customer Development, Customer Success

Close the Loop, Boost Your Business: Customer Development to Customer Success and Back Again by @NikkiElizDeMere


Customer Development and Customer Success are like a stream that feeds into a river that creates an ocean. It’s all water going on one direction, and when they’re connected, they ensure a healthy, fast-growing, sustainable business. While the two terms aren’t interchangeable, they work best when intertwined. Before we get into how they flow together, let’s define both terms separately.

  • Customer Development means talking to people to find the motivations behind their actions. Gathering qualitative data from real people through interviews and surveys reveals the “Why?” behind the “What,” which you can use to validate your product and value propositions and inform every customer-facing decision. That’s my working definition, though you could also say that it’s a framework developed by Steve Blank for discovering and validating the right market for your idea and testing the best way to acquire and convert customers.
  • Customer Success, on the other hand, is more about determining when and why a customer might churn, and reaching out to them in ways that get them to stay. It’s about defining churn indicators, putting a system in place to prevent churn, and most importantly, designing those systems to support customers in achieving their desired outcomes in a way that scales.

TODAY on Will it Blend? Customer Development and Customer Success

At their cores, Dev and Success are both about achieving a thorough and meaningful understanding of your customer. And, both are dependent on qualitative research. Qualitative research is conducted through observation and inquiry instead of number-crunching. Using qualitative research, you can find answers to:

  • Who is my audience?
  • Why are they here?
  • What are they trying to accomplish?
  • When are they thinking of leaving?

So yes, not only do they blend, but you should combine them so your Customer Development data feeds into and informs your Customer Success data, and vice-versa. Here’s what that looks like:

The Intersection Between Customer Development and Customer Success

Step 1. Create well-rounded, accurate buyer personas by asking, not by guessing.

There are a lot of ways to go about building a buyer persona – some stress quantitative data, others sing the praises of qualitative data. I like both. Use quantitative data to build the demographic framework of your buyer persona (products like Cubeyou make this really easy). You can find the age, gender, income, geographic location, relationship status, interests and brand preferences, by using tools that leverage social media data.

That data is helpful, but it won’t answer questions like:

  • What motivates customers to find you?
  • What is your buyer’s desired outcome, or end goal, they hope your product/service will help them achieve?
  • What do they expect to be different once they switch to your service?
  • What is important to the buyer about how your company/product/service looks?
  • What has your buyer disliked about providers he’s used in the past?
  • How does your buyer currently solve his or her problem?

This is the gap only qualitative data can fill.

You’ll want to conduct a few persona interviews of recent customers, repeat buyers and long-time customers to find the answers to these questions, and you should also implement exit surveys just a people are leaving a conversion page to discover what stopped them from purchasing.

All of this falls under Customer Development, but are also key actions towards finding problem/solution fit, product/market fit, and finding out what success means to your prospects.

Step 2. Focus on what they want to achieve.

Once you have your well-rounded buyer persona sketched out, you’ll want to focus on what goals they want to achieve using your product. Nobody buys a hammer because they want a hammer. They buy a hammer because they want a hole in the wall.

In order to create value propositions, benefits, Calls-to-Action, and content that grabs your audience by leveraging what they desire, you have to find out what they want most. And, the only way to do that is by gathering qualitative data from interviews and surveys (not interviews OR surveys – if you only use surveys, your data may be distorted for any number of reasons, including biased question phrasing and self-selecting groups of respondents).

Remember: Success exists outside of your platform, not inside of it. Bring the outside success together with your products/services offered, and you’ve got the makings of a great customer success strategy that reduces churn and maximizes the potential for upsells and cross-sells.

Step 3. Incorporate this information into everything you do and make.

Buyer persona information from qualitative and quantitative data should inform everything the buyer sees or buys – products, content, messaging, CTAs, images, the tone of your copy, the offers and freebies you create, your methods of reaching out, where you place your online ads, and when you make contact for sales, customer success check-ins, and upsells. How you do this depends on what your data tells you, and will also depend on sequences of testing and iterating based on results.

Step 4. Make data-driven UX decisions.

The need for qualitative data doesn’t end when you’ve constructed a buyer persona. You can and should use surveys and interviews to improve the UX of your site, implement meaningful updates and create new features.

To double-check your UX and find out how people really experience and engage with your site, you’ll want to perform usability tests early-on and often. Tools like and TryMyUI let you take actual videos of people navigating your website.

You can also use a live chat program like Wordle that lets you keep transcripts, so you can see what visitors ask about most, and whether something is unclear, vague, or missing from your site.

When Customer Development and Success Align

Customer Development is all about optimizing acquisition and conversion. Customer Success then picks up the relay baton and runs with it, retaining customers, reducing churn, and leading to up-sell and cross-sell opportunities you can only tap into when you know what your customers’ goals are and whether or not they’re achieving them.

The fastest-growing new companies are those that master acquisition and retention both, which means that to grow – you need to close the Development-Success loop.

Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

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