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 it🔪 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 💰 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 😁

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 💥

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 🔨

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).
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 😁

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 🙃

As a Service, Customer Success

Update on As a Service Trends

The latest and greatest posts and research on the subject and these are all being tracked with a tag here. I include Customer Success in this being a subset of the As a Service trend but I’ve added it under a separate section.

Customer Success

Customer Success, Future of Work

Beyond Technology Adoption – Business Scenarios with Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is such an incredible work productivity tool. It doesn’t just bring work from other applications into the conversation but the whole tool itself. That plus the ability it offers to structure activities into logical workflows provides perfect context for bringing business scenarios to life.

Business scenarios are an important mechanism in beyond adoption to drive business value.

Check out a brief intro and demo I’m using with customers into the use of Teams in the context of an example business scenario (marketing), focusing on getting things done and driving value.

As a Service, Customer Success

Update on As a Service Trends

Click to enlarge and view separately

I’ve not had a chance to post for a while and there has been a fair bit of activity in the space so I have quite a bit to share.

I have also run a few numbers through the data visualisation machine and come up with the infographic at left – feel free to use and share.

So herewith some of the best posts from recent weeks.

New SaaS Delivery Models Require New Customer Success Delivery Models. A solid piece on how Customer Success roles need to change in the maturing SaaS space. Sticking with the SaaS space, this article does a really good job of explaining how to manage your vendor if you use a SaaS product: How to manage SaaS Vendors in the Subscription Economy. And for some other really good posts on these themes:

New entrants to the space

These include:

This collection of announcements above 👆 shows the sheer breadth of industries effected by the As a Service trend – nothing is off limits.

Industry specific news

There were a batch of articles and new research:

Trend indicators

Here is a good summary of the trend which includes commentary on all the different industries being effected by the subscription economy: Subscription Services Draw Companies Closer To Customers. As with so many of the posts that I reference to the subscription economy, this one points to its darling Zuora, as you can see from the source of the chart. But their standing at the top of the subscription economy heap (as a company that powers the economy) may be under threat as new entrants join the fray: Stripe billing launches in Europe to power subscription companies across the continent.

There are other signs of a growing consolidation and integration in the Subscription Economy and Customer Success industries with the announcement by Medallia of their Strikedeck acquisition. Also Customer Success leader Gainsight’s announcement of the broadening of their portfolio into a “Customer Cloud”.

As a Service, Customer Success

Update on As a Service Trends

Nuggets from the last few weeks. If you have any similar announcements, reports or good articles, please share in a comment as I’m collecting them for a new eBook / trend report 😁

Customer Success, Sense Making

Thought Rocket: Anatomy of a Perfect Customer Success

I captured a few simple points in a video a few weeks back in a flash of contemplation (hence thought rocket). Other than capture and share it here I wanted to elaborate a little. First the video:

The first thing to say is that customer success is not an isolated event or activity and this video and its content should not be taken to mean that.

Customer success is a series of purposeful activities or events which over time lead to the customer achieving their intended outcomes.

That is my super simple definition specifically as context for this post.

The 5 points captured in the video are merely outcomes that can be captured at any given time and may characterise a single moment of success. There could be many others. These are my top five. These and the others happening repeatedly over time would constitute long term customer success. This would be the true customer success.

So now onto a wee bit of elaboration on each of the 5 points because this is a thought rocket after all and I don’t want to over think it.

1. Outcomes

Probably the most important thing about any short or long term success is that a business outcome is achieved. Of course the ideal is that it is positive and satisfies the customer but I would also say that it should be the result of purposeful intent. That means you achieved what you set out to achieve. Unintended outcomes can happen and you can even allow for those and they can be of greater consequence. But better would be those that were achieved as a result of purposeful cause and effect planning because this can lead to repeat-ability.

2. Stories

Being able to capture a success in a way that it inspires greater use, adoption, success and value creation is best. Not all successes can be made into a great story. Stories are what capture the imagination and drive greater momentum but the detail of that is for another post.

3. Reuse

If the success can be reapplied in the same area (team or department say) or ideally even more broadly (another team or even department or company) then so much the better. This again drives further use, adoption and success and is fundamentally a scale lever.

4. Measurable

The ability to quantify or qualify the success in some way greatly increases the value of the success. Nothing succeeds like tangible, measurable success. Especially if it fits in with predefined targets you intended to achieve and then you blow them out the water. I’m talking KPI’s baby 🎯 😁

5. Permanence and impact

If it succeeds in changing behaviour and sticks then so much the better. Most customer success efforts are oriented around driving a change in behaviour so that different outcomes are achieved. This is most often the promise of the new technology being sold, implemented and adopted. So this becomes “très importante”.

What else, what have I missed, what would be your top 5 – let me know in a comment if you dare 😜