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Are BI Vendors Missing the Boat for Customer Success?

There are moments when you realize that you discovered something important. That happened to me recently after I spoke with business intelligence vendors that have customer success programs – yet their customers remain unhappy. Of course you could make a case that the customers didn’t train their users well enough on the BI tools or that the implementation wasn’t smooth or they had bad data.

I brought up this issue in one my recent Friday #BIWisdom tweet chats, where participants include vendors, customers, analysts and consultants. Their immediate reaction was similar to the aftermath of a storm. Quiet. The usually boisterous group with quickly tweeted opinions was quiet and didn’t tweet for a few minutes. I could almost hear their minds churning through their thoughts. Their initial tweets finally came, and it was easy to see that neither customers nor vendors had much experience with customer success programs.

  • “What is the definition of what a customer success team should do?” asked a participant.
  • “Customer success is an all-in thing, more culture than a program,” someone else tweeted.
  • “It’s a way to upsell and get more business from the same customer,” commented a vendor.
  • “It’s a relationship, not a program,” tweeted an analyst.
  • “Partnership and a stake in the outcome for both parties are what’s needed for mutual success,” tweeted another participant.

My own comment was that it means customers get value and expected outcomes from the software, have a positive experience with the vendor and choose to continue being a customer.

Further evidence of the need to rethink customer success programs was on display when someone asked who the customer success team should report to. Opinions varied widely:

- “Since the team should be multi-channeled they would report to the chief marketing officer in my opinion.”
- “I find it problematic when the CSM team reports into Sales; I see it as a neutral team that needs to have the voice of the client.”
- “They need to report to the Support, Engineering or Quality function. Wisdom says don’t let the fox guard the henhouse.”
- “The customer success team should be independent.”
- “Customer support spans Sales, Marketing and Support and needs all three to be truly successful. But they should report to a central function.”

I commented that I like the idea of reporting to a quality function; however, they need to have authority to drive change.

I also asked the group why customer success efforts often fail after vendors believe their customers are safely tucked away after implementation and will remain loyal. Their opinions:

  • “It’s difficult to quantify success in BI. It’s different for each customer a vendor interacts with; one glove does not fit all.”
  • “It has to be an elastic program not held to an organized set of parameters or rules.”
  • “Some vendors create customer success programs after problems arise and as an afterthought.”
  • “One challenge is structural: salespeople and sales engineers sometimes have more incentive for new biz than for nurturing existing customers.”
  • “There’s no handholding of the client after the sale.”

And I agreed. In our Wisdom of Crowds market surveys, we find that one of the areas where most users complain about vendors is the follow-up after the sale.

Bottom line: Overall, the tweetchat discussion suggests that a good deal must change in the area of business intelligence customer success programs.

What BI vendor doesn’t want opportunities for upsells and cross-sales with a happy customer? And what customer’s business doesn’t want to be successful with its business intelligence investments and initiatives? But each business is unique and communications must include the vendor gaining an understanding of what “success” with the BI product means to each customer. If the customer is not happy, future roll-out and expansion will be dramatically hampered. Software vendors must interact with their customers in a personalized manner and build a relationship. One of the participants in the #BIWisdom tweet chat commented that his company refers to it as “customer nurturing.”

And by the way, the team needs to maintain a long-term view of the customer’s business in order to identify opportunities for upsells and renewals, let alone reduce churn. So, as a tweetchat participant pointed out, salespeople need incentives for customer nurturing, not just incentives for bringing in new business. Don’t overlook the fact that cultural change is involved in establishing and maintaining a customer success program.

That brings me to an important conclusion: Cultural change is hard. It’s better to start off with customer success as a core tenet rather than establishing a program after customer problems arise.


Howard Dresner is president, founder and chief research officer at Dresner Advisory Services, LLC, an independent advisory firm. He is one of the foremost thought leaders in Business Intelligence and Performance Management, having coined the term “Business Intelligence” in 1989. He has published two books on the subject, The Performance Management Revolution — Business Results through Insight and Action, and Profiles in Performance — Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change. He hosts a weekly tweet chat (#BIWisdom) on Twitter each Friday. Prior to Dresner Advisory Services, Howard served as chief strategy officer at Hyperion Solutions and was a research fellow at Gartner, where he led its Business Intelligence research practice for 13 years.


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