What Doctors Know About True Customer Success


It’s time for technology vendors to move beyond solving problems.

Lots of technology vendors teach their sales people to understand the customers’ problems and then provide a solution to those problems. Some vendors provide insight into problems the customers didn’t know they had. And then provide a solution.

Let’s look at what would happen if the medical profession followed the same approach. Imagine you have a raised temperature and some general pain. You go to your doctor and explain your problems – your symptoms. The doctor listens and then says, “Okay, I understand. Here’s a prescription for a drug that will lower your temperature and reduce the pain.”

It would shock you! It’s not the way you’d expect a doctor to behave. Fortunately, that’s not the way doctors behave. An unwell patient will explain their problems to the doctor. The doctor doesn’t then prescribe treatment. The doctor uses the information about the patient to develop a diagnosis. They may need to do further tests before they finalise the diagnosis.

Patient Outcomes

They then develop a specific outcome to be achieved for that patient. For example, if the problem is cancer, the outcome will be to kill a particular type of tumour in a specific part of the body. That outcome forms part of a bigger outcome of making the patient cancer-free.

The patient doesn’t just want his temperature reduced and the pain removed. The outcome he wants is to be cancer-free. So, that’s what the doctor focuses on.

Only after defining a patient outcome does the physician determine the right treatment. In the case of say oncology, it might be radiotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery or a combination. But after this treatment, they’ll provide ongoing monitoring and tests to ensure the cancer hasn’t spread. Because they know the outcome the patient wants is to be cancer-free.

This approach in medicine is world-wide. Most developed countries use a Patient Outcome Framework to ensure a focus on patient outcomes.

Figure 8: The Medical Profession Knows It Must Focus on Patient Outcomes

Technology Vendors

Now let’s come back to the world of technology. Customer problems are a lot like symptoms in the medical world. We know that addressing symptoms won’t guarantee the right outcome for a patient. So, why would we think solving customer problems will guarantee the outcome the customer needs. We now realise we must shift the focus from solving problems to delivering a clear business outcome. We can’t concentrate on solving problems without being clear about the broader outcome.

It doesn’t mean we ignore problems. We need to get a clear understanding of the problems the customer has experienced. Just like doctors who seek clarity on the symptoms. And just like doctors we need to move beyond those problems and focus on an outcome the customer needs.

What Outcome?

What outcome should technology vendors focus on? Many vendors focus on the direct benefits from the use of their products and services. They can articulate the immediate outcome and often measure return on investment. Which sounds great. But that isn’t the outcome the customer really needs. It’s like focusing only on killing the cancerous tumour in medicine. Killing the tumour is a necessary step, but not enough. The patient wants to be cancer-free. That’s their real outcome.

Technology vendors need to identify the equivalent of the cancer-free outcome for their customers. That outcome is usually an ongoing business result the top management of the customer would regard as success. We call this type of outcome a success outcome.

A Clear Example

Let’s illustrate with a marketing automation vendor. This vendor might believe they should help their customers build a strong pipeline of leads. A strong pipeline is the direct benefit of using their products and services. But the pipeline of leads is of little value if sales can’t convert them into deals. The business result the customers’ top management want is higher sales. They know they need a stronger pipeline. But they also know it’s not enough. They need leads of the right type. They need prospects ready to talk to sales. They need an efficient handover process from marketing to sales.

The equivalent of cancer-free for this customer is more sales, not more leads. The marketing automation vendor needs to do everything they can to enable the true outcome of more sales.

The marketing automation vendor might feel this is unfair. Surely, their job is to enable a stronger pipeline. But if the customers’ top management don’t see an increase in sales, they won’t care that the marketing automation vendor did a good job increasing the pipeline. Just as a cancer patient who finds they aren’t cancer-free won’t think that killing the original tumour constituted success.

The medical profession knows it must focus on the cancer-free outcome. And so should technology vendors.


A Conversation

Here’s a conversation overheard between an oncologist and the CEO of a technology vendor-

The oncologist said, “If vendors don’t focus on the outcome, how do they know what products or services to provide the customers?”

“Most vendors provide products and services to address the customers’ stated problems,” the CEO said.

“I’m trying to understand,” The oncologist said. “Vendors focus on the customers’ problems, but don’t discuss the outcomes the customers need to achieve. They don’t focus on the end outcome those products or services must enable?”

The CEO nodded.

“Customer problems sound a lot like symptoms in the medical world,” the oncologist said. “A patient will explain the problems they have. We don’t then prescribe treatment. We use the information about the patient to develop a diagnosis. In all cases, we have a specific outcome to achieve for the patient. We then tailor the treatment to achieve that outcome.

It sounds like in the technology world, vendors treat problems. That feels a lot like doctors giving medication to treat symptoms without first having a diagnosis and a clear outcome to achieve for the patient.

It sounds like a vendor that doesn’t focus on outcomes is like a doctor who just treats symptoms.

It’s lucky that technology vendors don’t get sued for malpractice.”






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The founder, Paul Henderson, spent 15 years leading the Asia Pacific region of an enterprise software company. He saw the potential that could come from delivering real and measurable business success for customers. So he initiated a customer success program based on customer outcomes. He and his colleagues developed, modified and proved the model over more than five years.He’s writing his second book: The Outcome Generation –How A New Generation of Technology Vendors Thrive Through True Customer Success. He published his first book in 2016: The Chief Capability Officer – Delivering the Capability to Execute.