Customer Success, Sense Making, Startup Innovation

Why selling productivity is hard and what to focus on instead

David Sacks who founded Yammer (the original enterprise social network) alongside Adam Pisoni, knows what it takes to build a business or two. He nailed it in this tweet from the other day:

Having worked at Yammer and been in the productivity game for a while now, I absolutely concur. I have always maintained that focusing on something as generic as improved productivity is not going to cut it๐Ÿ”ช Not in sales, nor customer success. Neither will focus on technology and feature or functions do. I’ve written about this before:

The two alternatives to focusing on productivity and their relative merits and challenges are discussed below:

Bottom-up freemium groundswell

Sacks is the master of this tactic. Yammer was predicated on making it easy for users to try Yammer for free, invite other users to try it and then start the groundswell needed to convince IT they couldn’t shut it down.

This is hard to do well. It depends a lot on the usability and virality of the product. The first is about getting users excited to use the product to such an extent that they want to share it with others.

Especially with products that rely on social collaboration, virality is probably built in because you cannot collaborate alone.

Building massively attractive products is also not easy but is made easier depending on how new the proposition is. These days with so much competition in enterprise software, that is really difficult.

From a people change effort, building a groundswell from the bottom up is also really heard in certain cases. Like when there isn’t an initial spark from product attractiveness or demand or it goes against the grain of the current company culture.

Solving a business pain

For me this is the more worthwhile alternative, at least in enterprise software. Its also not easy to do but if you nail it, you convince the people with the purse strings ๐Ÿ’ฐ This is an eventual hurdle you need to overcome, may as well do it upfront.

Solving a business pain often means working outside of IT and that is often the first challenge. Ideally, you have business users that have come to the product through the viral groundswell ๐Ÿ˜

If the business is engaged, whether through some initial use or not, on understanding how a product can solve problems or address opportunities, the battle is two thirds done ๐Ÿ’ฅ

Deep understanding of the environment the business operates in and mapping that to the use of technology is needed.

The more you focus on leaders in each business domain, the better. Although you can can also focus on regular business users and how they use technology currently and could do to meet their needs. Showing this to business decision makers will nail it ๐Ÿ”จ

As a Service

The engine of the subscription economy

I read this article the other day: 4 Reasons Why Salesforce Could Acquire Zuora.

I’m writing this trend report: As a Service Trend.

Two of the chapters I will be covering are Subscription Economics and Technology Ecosystems.

Point 2 in the first article linked above gets to the heart of and intersection between these two chapters and this post is a way to explore the topics.

As mentioned in the article: Zuora is an enterprise software platform that helps subscription-based companies manage and bill their clients.

Its a pretty unglamorous part of the subscription economy, another reason that maybe their stock price is a little low.

But it is a very necessary part of the subscription economy, that’s why I used the analogy of the engine ๐Ÿ˜Š That is, technology platforms (or ecosystems) are the engine that drive the subscription economy.

Zuora have competitors and new ones entering all the time. WordPress (the worlds most popular content management system and blogging platform) recently announced they are going to help users monetise by offering subscription mechanisms.

Salesforce it seems, have their eye firmly on the space, adding credibility to the claim in the first article linked above. Check out this recent post on their site: How to Move to a Subscription Revenue Model.

From that article this diagram below, which they propose are the key business capabilities for supporting a subscription model. They may be business capabilities but look closely and they are all underpinned by technology functions.

From this you also grasp that moving to an As a Service business requires that the whole company shifts or refines its various functions in unison. In the article, Salesforce offer a three phase strategic roadmap for getting there which at best, is transformational.

I love that Customer Success is also represented in this framework above which I will be exploring in a separate chapter.

In conclusion, the articles and points they make and I discuss here are good indications that this trend is alive and well. Especially for SaaS businesses like Salesforce that focus on business-wide software, I think there is going to be increasing attention on this.

As a Service, Customer Success, Sense Making

The product customer success cycle

This DanelDoodle pretty much speaks for itself but just a few added notes. The feedback loop is the critical element for success (aside from the obvious one – the customer/user being at the centre of everything).

A good feedback loop is not an easy thing to build so the simplicity of the diagram belies the effort. Feedback loops should incorporate many things, the most impart being, in summary:

  1. A good reporting interface into how customers and users are using the product that both product development and customer success teams have access to and share insights from in terms of how outcomes can be improved. This should include both quantitative data as well as qualitative, e.g. survey responses.
  2. A feedback loop between customer success teams and product development teams where the former bring field insights to the latter and these influence new feature development. Conversely, new feature ideas can be shared by product development teams and discussed with customer success teams before they are developed further. A good collaboration system will help with this.
  3. A similar reporting interface as above for the customer (those responsible for end users) so they gain insights into how the product/s are being used. This should include an element that allows the customer to build their own reports and feedback loops which I have hacked solutions around (covered here and here).
Sense Making

Thought rocket: arc of change and bending reality

As the year closes on a challenging 2019 this brief retrospective on my InnerVentures is preparation for 2020. If it shines a light for anyone else then I am grateful ๐Ÿ™

I’ve been at the game of workplace change a long time now and sometimes I get despondent. I weary at the lack of change I see or the setbacks I observe.

Other times I’m geed up by the possibilities from the positive outcomes I experience.

Then I remember a quote from His Holiness the Dalai Lama that puts it all into perspective for me.

“It’s too early to tell”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama on being asked about the impact of the French Revolution

Perspective is such a valuable tool.

It allows you to neither be lulled into a false sense of satisfaction or security by the overly positive changes you see (like the frog in boiling water). Nor feel too discouraged by the negative ones.

Detachment from results is key. It’s all about the journey and sometimes the steps are more backward than forward, or they veer off course.

All of which is fine and doesn’t mean to say we should not strive.

At Microsoft where I work, our CEO Satya Nadella speaks of (and I paraphrase), the distance between what the espoused culture is and what the lived experience is. The distance is what you want to keep working at, reducing it, removing impediments. We’re not perfect. We may never be perfect. But every day we work at it. That’s the journey we are on.

I love this perspective because that is also how we should live our lives and a key principle of InnerVentures (i.e. the interplay between our working and personal lives and how they are inseparable).

Step by step, day by day, striving to be a little better. Shining a little more light. Handling setbacks with equanimity.

The right perspective leads to the right awareness and this needs to be maintained constantly. Without constant awareness of our actions and the reality they create every day, we lose sight of the goal and the journey we are on.

Perspective also helps with the perseverance needed to overcome challenges. Perseverance requires equal parts commitment to purpose and detachment from results. Commitment to purpose keeps us moving forward into the attitudes and activities that serve to fulfil it. Detachment from results keeps us from becoming frustrated and discouraged when things donโ€™t immediately work out as we had hoped.

Helpful tools on your InnerVentures

Stepping back and viewing events with an aspect of eternity makes a difficult present easier to understand and bear. It also creates an awareness of real impact that can encourage and drive us to change our future.

May your InnerVentures be filled with perspective, awareness and perseverance in 2020 ๐Ÿ‘“ ๐Ÿ”ฆ ๐Ÿ‘Š

Future of Work

Microsoft Teams Live Events and the new channels of work

I’ve just come off a week of successfully helping a customer run a Microsoft Teams Live Event for an annual event they run. The nature of the event they ran last week was to showcase innovation by the IT department to the rest of the organisation. This was the 5th such event being run in as many years.

This specific event was actually part of a broader effort. It was a test of the Microsoft Teams Live Events function ahead of further potential use. The context was an executive sponsorship program with the CIO as a lead executive from the customer.

We had started this executive program a few months previously. This included senior executive involvement from Microsoft to match the customer executive and provide mentorship based on Microsoft’s success with related activities.

The Executive Sponsorship program was itself a subset of the customers Digital Workplace program. The purpose of the Executive Sponsorship program is to connect executives with employees and to help drive the culture change needed for the new Digital Workplace program to succeed.

Supporting the innovation event by live streaming key elements of it was seen as a good test case for use of new technologies. It could also broadly be seen to be a test of the following:

In most ways I would say the customer nailed it and these broad objectives. There were some exceptions. Not because they were tried and failed but because they were omitted on this occassion.

For instance, the event was successfully live streamed but there was no discussion or interaction during the live stream. This was consciously left out only because it would have added an element of complexity which would be better handled at a later stage of proficiency. Once again, at Microsoft this is a key component of our Live Events and broader efforts at culture change (see part way down this article): How Microsoft Builds a Sense of Community Among 144,000 Employees.

We had superb feedback from many of the employees and participants. The next stage is to consider doing an all company live event with the CEO engaging with employees.

Lessons learned

1. Professional broadcasting equipment and capability. We used a Microsoft partner, Comworks, who brought their own equipment and they most definitely brought some hard core capability. The capability was both from a Microsoft Live Event point of view (the actual running of the event using the tool) as well as filming. These are both important especially the latter when you consider quality of the footage (video and audio) and wanting to use the recorded footage for other purposes as we did. You can run a Live Event with just a PC and its limited video and audio capability – it just depends on the purpose of the event.

2. The core streaming interface: Microsoft Teams Live Events. There is a lot of documentation on this so I’ll just point you to a good starting place. This page shows how Live Events can be started from multiple applications (Microsoft Teams, Yammer or Stream). For this article and indeed the test case I am writing about we focused on Microsoft Teams as the Live Events interface. In terms of core streaming technology, the underlying platform is Azure.

Important to note: include a test event before the first real live event as we did. We ran into some administrative/permission issues which were quickly resolved. And in terms of availability to users who may not have access to Microsoft Teams or any of the other tool interfaces, you can run a public event as we did to overcome that (more here).

3. Important supporting technology: Hive Streaming. The customer partnered and integrated Hive Streaming technology to scale and offer frictionless video delivery and end-user experience.

Hive Streaming offers a unified SaaS solution for Live, VoD, testing with advanced reporting and analytics such as Hive Insights and Hive VI engagement index capabilities with network offload up to 99%. Some generic screenshots from them below

4. A good agenda for the live streaming part of an event. A pretty obvious point for any event. Here I make it specifically in relation to events that are happening in a physical location and only part of that is being live streamed as we did. There is a limit to the duration of Microsoft’s Live Events to be aware of (4 hours) when there is an all day event.

But I am speaking more about what part will be of interest to viewers and how live streaming will make that come alive for them. For instance, in my event last week there was an opening ceremony with short speeches from the CIO and other executives and then immediately a dive into interviews and demo’s of the main innovations being showcased. At the end there was a wrap up session. This was live streamed and included brief interviews of the main innovators in terms of the feedback they received from visitors and executives.

5. Cost saving

By this I mean can you establish whether something like Live Events from Microsoft can save you money. This applies to the software part especially. If you are paying for O365 already, of which Live Events is a part, then you can avoid costly expenses from using third party software that non Microsoft partners may be using to help run your live events. Check out licensing requirements here if interested. This was the case in my customer example.

Hoping this was of value. I may add to this over time as I plan more such activities with customers. Hit me up with a comment if you have any queries.

Future of Work, Startup Innovation

Startup lessons for the workplace

I discovered this really awesome resource on the BBC – articles and exposes on work life: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/

In it I came across this intriguing concept of Adaptability Quotient in an article: Is โ€˜AQโ€™ more important than intelligence?

This is based on the thinking of someone who has extensive experience working with startups, investing in them really, in her role at Goldman Sachs. Here is her Ted talk on the subject.

AQ is not just the capacity to absorb new information, but the ability to work out what is relevant, to unlearn obsolete knowledge, overcome challenges, and to make a conscious effort to change. AQ involves flexibility, curiosity, courage, resilience and problem-solving skills too.

Natalie Fratto

My interest is in how lessons learned working with startup founders on what is likely to make them successful can be applied to work and career management. This is the essence of the BBC article. It’s especially relevant in the work I do with customers in Digital Transformation, with concepts like tech intensity that speeds up the need for change and adaptability which I wrote about here: Tech Intensity and the Adaptive Organisation.

So compelling is this interest that I wrote an eBook and trend report about it (more here: Startup Innovation) and write many posts like this one under the category with the same title. My premise and that of many others is that large traditional and incumbent organisations (and the employees in them) would do well to emulate startups in many ways and innovate like them.

Future of Work

Tech Intensity and the Adaptive Organisation

Tech Intensity is not my phrase or concept, it comes from the CEO of the company I work for, Microsoft – Satya Nadella first wrote about it here earlier this year: The necessity of tech intensity in todayโ€™s digital world.

I have written about it before in the context of agility and speed as it is implicit in all the technology adoption work I do, indeed in Tech Intensity: Agile in nature not just by name.

In that last post I wrote in the video there was a graphic which is similar to the one above but in this one I wanted to simplify and call out the role of IT specifically.

Essentially the graphics main statement is as follows:

The pace of technology change which is exponential will never be matched by slower moving logarithmic organisations. But everyone in the organisation, especially IT departments who’s traditional role is to manage technology adoption, need to get behind technology adoption that strives to narrow the gap to at worst, remain competitive. At best, adaptive organisations close the gap and compete better.

I’m calling the role of IT out because of the two different kinds of IT organisations and mindsets I often encounter in my work. Those that inhibit and those that enable. Here are some differences between the two:

Inhibitors

  1. See themselves as the only arbiters of technology decision making and adoption.
  2. Under the pretext of IT governance, everything is locked down.
  3. See business / user technology decision making as an existential threat to their roles.
  4. Think the technology adoption cycle still works in months and years.
  5. Act with vendors as gatekeepers to the business and users.
  6. Believe that value outcomes should be measured in IT terms.

Enablers

  1. Understand that the business and users are who ultimately should inform decision making.
  2. Have a strong governance program in place that is flexible.
  3. Understand that enabling the business and users in decision making is a valuable role.
  4. Understand tech intensity and that speed of adoption now works in weeks.
  5. Work closely with vendors to empower and educate business and users.
  6. Believe that value outcomes can only be measured in business terms.
Customer Success

Customer Success Influencers

Not much elaboration needed but a few words just to be clear about what I am saying in this doodle:

  • These three elements of product, service and strategy are the biggest (but not only) influencers on the success enterprise customers have with the use of their technology. For instance I believe the sales process and what is promised has a huge impact too but not for this list.
  • I’m indicating with the size of the circles which ones I believe have the most influence.
  • The pull and push points relate to the nature of the influence on the use and ultimate success of the technology.
  • I think most of the items listed in each area are clear enough but if you are not on the job to be done point I added a link to a good explanation. And on professional services, by these I generally mean paid for services delivered by the vendor or partners and could include things like change management, training, etc.
Customer Success

Customer Success outcomes and their causes

what leads to customer success and how can you manage that for enterprise software as a service

I’m trying to distil the essence in this doodle, often for my own sanity, to help me focus on the right activities in the work I do with customers.

Ultimately its for colleagues and customers, to help them understand and rally them behind my efforts ๐Ÿ˜

It’s fairly self explanatory I think as I wanted to keep its simple and within a framework of three – three main outcomes, three main causes for each outcome. But here is some brief elaboration.

  • Activities are sequential. You can only get to value when you have done important pre-work, i.e. introduce a new tool and focus on its use, then how it should be scaled and embedded in real work and then on changing behaviours and driving real business impact.
  • But planning and focus is nonsequential. You have to start with the end in mind and work backwards – what are you trying to achieve, what is necessary to achieve it, how to measure it, what activities will drive it, etc.
  • These activities are all that matter in customer success. Everything else is peripheral. If you can get people to focus on these things, their supporting activities and the measurement of them then you will be successful. If you lead a team of customer success managers, remove everything else that does not contribute to these activities or gets in their way.
  • By supporting activities I mean things like tools to track these activities and the impact they are having, measurement systems, playbooks to drive the correct activities, systems and governance, etc.

One caveat to emphasise: These are activities that apply largely to the enterprise Software as a Service category in which I have the most experience.

I’m by no means perfect in my views. These are based on roughly 8 years in a customer success role. But I spent approximately 2 hours on putting this together. I’m pretty sure I’ve missed something so would love to hear from you if so ๐Ÿ™ƒ