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Gainsight vs ChurnZero vs Planhat: How We Chose Our Customer Success Software (+ Free Template)

Like many other B2B companies out there, we’re significantly growing our team and business. To achieve this, it’s paramount that we grow and expand our customer success operation. 

That means purchasing customer success software

We focused on finding a tool that would support us in moving our highly reactive CS team to a more proactive CS approach. And then set off on a deliberate process to choose the right CS platform for us.

Determining our criteria for a customer success platform

First, we surveyed our Customer Success Managers to identify where they were spending their time and where more automation was needed. For example, answers highlighted that we could save valuable time when:

  • Updating and checking details in Salesforce (est. 30 mins per day)
  • Updating and checking details in Zendesk (est. 1 hour per day)
  • Answering chat tools like Intercom, Slack, GChat (est. 1 hour per day)

On the subject of time spent, we learned that CSMs were spending most of it managing onboarding and troubleshooting issues. We decided we needed to give our CSMs more time to help customers by reducing their portfolio sizes. So we identified the additional CSM jobs to be done in exchange for this smaller portfolio. These included improving time to value, driving product adoption, preventing churn, and promoting advocacy and growth.

We used the above learnings and answers to these questions to create a request for proposal (RFP) in our hunt for a CS tool. 

Here’s a free version of the template we used. 

Our selection process

We made a list of the top-rated vendors for customer success software on G2 for our initial assessment.

We then spoke to peers in the customer success community who had either implemented, used, or worked with these vendors. This combination of research gave us a good understanding of the current landscape of tools.

As you can see, there are many options out there. We highly recommend creating a structured selection process to make sure you’re incorporating all considerations into your decision and picking the right tool for you. 

We conducted additional manual research for each tool and held initial discovery calls with 11 vendors, including Totango, Catalyst, ClientSuccess, Akita, Natero, Skilljar, Accelo, inSided, Planhat, Gainsight, and ChurnZero. 

From there, we created a shortlist based on:

  1. Proven ability to service SMB to enterprise customers
  2. Proven ability to provide a holistic solution (as opposed to point solution)
  3. Proven integrations with Salesforce 

The three vendors that fit all of the above requirements were Gainsight, ChurnZero, and Planhat. 

They are also all leading performers on G2 and received strong recommendations from our peers. 

Assessing our shortlist

Sometimes RFPs include feature-by-feature comparisons, which can lead to misleading results. 

So to ensure accuracy in our assessment, we ran an agnostic approach to features instead. 

We asked each platform’s rep to share how they could help us achieve specific jobs we want to start doing.

These jobs were categorized by areas of impact, including:

  1. Customer onboarding
  2. Product adoption
  3. Customer health
  4. Customer growth
  5. Churn prevention
  6. Customer advocacy and sentiment
  7. Driving efficiencies
  8. Compatibility 

We then asked each vendor to share a final stage demo that illustrated how they could improve the above impact areas. We rated each area on a scale of 1-5, giving them the ability to score a maximum of 45 points. Each rep also shared written responses, respectively, that we inserted into our RFP template.

This thoughtful process helped us map our needs and wants to how they could be achieved in each specific tool. And knowing, in detail, precisely what our pain points were allowed each vendor to better speak to them — making both of our jobs more straightforward in the process.

The evaluation 

Gainsight

Perhaps the most well-known in the space and synonymous with “customer success,” Gainsight offers four products. We were explicitly considering their Customer Success product.

In our assessment, Gainsight scored the highest in our partnership category. It was essential for us to receive full technical support and have a partnership that keeps us up-to-date on best practices while expanding our footprint in the CS world. 

We liked that Gainsight offers thorough options for training and continued learning through their “train the trainer” program, external resources, live training sessions, and application-based courses.

Their customer community provides valuable best practices and powers their Vault library, where you can download playbooks and templates quickly. Their community overall was especially of interest to us for potential collaborations. 

Other notable features include their people maps (you can build org structures) and competitive intelligence alerts to stay informed about customer news or updates, helping track risk and growth.

ChurnZero

ChurnZero has one product with many features.

In our assessment, ChurnZero scored highest in our customer health score category. They generate “churn scores,” and they are 100 percent customizable with no limitation to the number of scores you can create.

Another standout feature is how they measure meeting sentiment. Within the platform, CSMs can tag different customers based on their disposition and mark various meetings with particular sentiments. 

Their platform also illustrates why health scores change over time and demonstrates risk in annual recurring revenue (ARR). They also have a native integration with Mixpanel and have the most seamless integration with Salesforce.

Planhat

Planhat offers one core piece of software with many features. 

In our assessment, Planhat scored the highest for customer onboarding, driving efficiencies, and compatibility — specifically around automated emails. 

Planhat has workflows for an onboarding team to follow up with specific tasks, descriptions, and timelines for onboarding. You can seamlessly monitor which tasks are on track, which are behind, and can assign customers to CSMs fairly via automation. 

Planhat also helps drive customer operations efficiencies through a personalized dashboard. Here you can set up alerts and triggers based on customer health or product usage, track engagement, share relevant customer data with stakeholders, and more. 

Other standout features are their customer portals. These allow you to track progress during onboarding, return on investment (ROI), and product adoption. They also have a “bubble room” feature, enabling you to slice and dice user and product segments very quickly. 

The decision

All three customer success platforms we considered are great pieces of software and full of valuable features. It was a hard decision! 

At the end of our process, the platform that received the highest score for us was Planhat. 

While currently lesser known of the other two tools, it was evident that Planhat checked the majority of the boxes based on our wants and needs, and we’re excited to incorporate them into our day-to-day. 

As we shared earlier, there are many great CS platforms out there just waiting to make your lives — and your customers’ lives — easier. 

We invite you to borrow our process and template, and let us know how your selection process goes! 

About the Author

Gemma Cipriani-Espineira is an experienced Software Executive, skilled in building and leading global post-sales teams with a focus on driving retention, product adoption, and customer advocacy. Gemma believes that customer success is a way of doing business and is the fastest path to sustainable growth for software companies. Gemma currently leads global Customer Success and Support teams at Chili Piper. Having lived in Spain and the UK, Gemma now calls Boston, USA her home.

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