How a Customer Maturity Model Can Focus Your Team

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Big Bend National Park, Texas; photo by the author

I remember distinctly the first time I saw a sales pitch deck that framed the customer journey as progressing up a maturity model. The vendor was New Relic and their maturity model for application performance management looked something like this:

  • Level 0: You know your website is down when customers angrily Tweet at the CEO and in turn the CEO angrily calls you. An animated GIF of cash being set on fire represents lost revenue. Our time is consumed by firefighting; don’t talk to me about anything strategic.
  • Level 1: You’re notified automatically that a service interruption exists, but identifying the root cause remains a hair-pulling exercise. A lot of what we’re doing is reactive and feels harder than it should be.
  • Level 2: When something goes wrong you’re directed immediately to the root cause. Incidents happen but we’re able to resolve them quickly.
  • Level 3: You can measure and understand application performance from the user’s browser all the way to the infrastructure layer, regardless of what’s in between. We know exactly what impacts performance and can take proactive steps to avoid incidents and scale.

Having presented this, the sales rep asked a simple question: “Where would you place yourself today, and where do you need to be tomorrow?”

This is a powerful tool for prospect/seller alignment, and the answer should influence how you engage from that point forward, including whether to focus on value or differentiation. For example, you wouldn’t waste time explaining the value of application performance management to a prospect that self-identified as level 2; instead, you’d focus on articulating how you’re differentiated by offering a path to level 3.

The job of sales is to convince prospects that your company is best positioned to move them to the required maturity level, and the job of customer success is to deliver on this promise, and ultimately to move customers to ever-higher levels of maturity. Marketing sits on top, creating programs and content that support and are aligned with these maturity levels. Product extends differentiation by building for the next level of maturity.

Imagine capturing the current maturity level for every prospect and customer in your CRM. You could then:

  • Identify your most valuable market segment. For example, level 2 may have the highest ASP (more mature companies tend to be larger companies, which tend to spend more), but level 0 may have double the LTV:CAC (because it’s far less expensive to acquire).
  • Tailor messaging based on lead maturity distribution. If you know that 70% of the leads generated by a certain marketing program are level 0, you can make the messaging for that campaign even more focused to better resonate with the audience.
  • Pinpoint underserved customer segments. You may be doing great with level 0 (anything’s better than nothing!) and level 3 (enough internal expertise to make it work), but levels 1 and 2 are unhappy because the product is too hard or time consuming to use.

And so on.

When creating a new category, maturity models can help to explain why your unique capabilities aren’t valued as differentiators. Prospects may not be knowledgeable enough to understand them, or may understand them but know they’re far beyond their current needs. By creating product bundles that correspond to maturity levels and optimizing the user experience for each, you can balance vision with a product that gets the job done.

Industry associations increasingly are publishing their own maturity model, for example, CSA Research for localization and Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) for legal operations. While it’s important to take these models into account, you need to create your own in order to shape the conversation and push the envelope of what it means to be mature. Your vision — not a collective — must define this.

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Written by

Chief Customer Officer at Brightflag. I write about issues relevant to and situations faced by SaaS companies as they scale.

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