Sense Making, Customer Success

Balance customer success at scale with high touch when new demand spikes

I’m extremely lucky to work in a space that supports remote working, where demand is booming. COVID-19 has driven demand in the opposite direction for many, effecting their very existing. For the lucky few, it can also be something of a double edged sword. Supporting your customers the right way regardless, is crucial.

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As a Service, Customer Success, Startup Innovation

Cloudy with a chance of churn and how to retain your SaaS customers

One of the first things a customer will question in a downturn, is where they can cut or reduce recurring payments or OPEX. They will look for any reason, rational or otherwise. Licensing commitments aside, if you are a SaaS business and have been doing your job well, they should find only reasons to stay. Going forward, you can also do things to keep them committed.

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Customer Success, Future of Work

Corona as a catalyst for teamwork customer success and AI

I wouldn’t be the first to jump on the Corona Virus bandwagon, if that’s what I was trying to. No, I’m simply observing the ways I see others doing so, with varying degrees of success, and for good and bad reasons. Mostly it’s a way to conflate the unintended impact it is having, or where it is catalysing efforts and could impact several areas I personally have an interest in.

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

Mike Tyson

Corona has provided the punch. The world has stood up and taken notice and its plans are being put to the test. Reactions vary from the predictable to the bizzare.

Not to make light of a serious situation but who would have been able to predict that toilet paper would have been one of the highest items on the stockpiling list. My local grocery store shelf this morning > 🧻 ⛔ I wonder how public and commercial toilet facilities are coping.

I’m sure someone, somewhere in the pandemic planning world probably foresaw this. I cannot find evidence of it but it makes good sense for predictive planning systems to anticipate precisely these kinds of things. Especially with the help of AI these days but more on that later.

Or, to come back to the Mike Tyson quote and a real story based on it, after being punched in the face, you react with an effective riposte. Small aside, Buster Douglas did precisely that after a Mike Tyson uppercut in the 8th downed him. He recovered and came back to win in the 10th. He is one of the few opponents ever to beat Tyson, let alone recover from one of his fearsome punches – watch the incredible fight here.

The makers of Corona beer have had mostly bad fortune but their reactions have been questionable at a time when sensitivity is heightened. Good account of it here: Corona hits back at ‘misinformation’ about brand damage from coronavirus.

So what has this to do with the three related topics. Lets dig in.

Teamwork

Matt Mullenweg heads up Automattic which is the company behind the development of WordPress and he is a founding developer of the platform. He has long been a proponent of remote work, he calls it distributed work.

Automattic is a fully distributed company, not a single employee works from an office. They ceased renting office space some time ago although they still focus on regular physical meetups. A key element of distributed work is how to enable remote teams to be productive – to work together as a team.

WordPress is also one of the most successful open source platforms ever built. A large element of this depends on synchronising the efforts of remote and distributed contributors that don’t formally belong to the core organisation or team.

Technology and organising systems play a large role but no amount of technology is going to help teams that don’t want to or are not naturally inclined to work together as a team. Good outcomes management is also critical which I wrote about here: Workplace collaboration has an outcomes challenge – get intentional to overcome it.

Matt writes a fantastic summary of how Corona is catalysing a trend that he foresaw a long time ago and has been working on perfecting a strategy for: Coronavirus and the Remote Work Experiment No One Asked For.

The main point is that remote teamwork is going to become a really important aspect of the future of work. We would all do well to learn from the likes of Matt and his distributed company 👏

Customer Success

Nick Mehta who heads up Gainsight, one of the leading vendors of software that customer success professional like myself use, gets it too: 5 Positive Things SaaS CEOs And Leaders Should Do To Get Through COVID-19.

Number 4 of his 5 points is: “Success for All” means customer success has NEVER been more important.

They are all good points but point 4, alongside effective remote teamwork coalescing around the customer, plus add a splash of AI (see next point), are going to be the things that sets not only leaders, but companies apart.

This also takes an understanding that there is no single owner of the customer. Success has to be a “all in” thing. We are not yet there but I relish the day software facilitates this better as Gainsight are trying to do. More importantly, that warring factions within organisations over who owns the customer and customer activities cease.

Advance notice to old school Account Managers out there and if you are of the same mind, Tweet about it:

To old school account managers: the customer is not your sales target but our collective livelihood. You do not “manage the customer” and we can all take responsibility to lead them to successful outcomes, dependent on the right moment, skill and activity.

AI

If ever there was a moment for AI to shine, this would be it.

When we need to work better as a team, how can it help us do that? At Microsoft where I work, its no secret that AI is infusing everything and especially the platforms we offer to support Teamwork: The future of meetings – using AI to improve team collaboration.

Coming back to more effective teamwork around the customer and their success with your technologies and their business. Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Customer Insights helps teams have a single view of the customer and work better together on customer activities and their needs. It is infused with AI throughout.

Last but certainly not least. In fact this could be the most important use of AI to support our efforts around combating the virus. When we need to use AI to understand, predict and respond there are probably lots of things going on but I found this great account. Its mostly in a video although I cannot embed it here. Head on over to the ABC news site to find out more: Coronavirus research: Menlo Park lab using robots, AI to find COVID-19 medication.

Customer Success, Future of Work

Workplace collaboration has an outcomes challenge – get intentional to overcome it

With the coronavirus, workplace collaboration is getting a big boost. Just check Zoom’s stock price in the last two months. Workplace collaboration is hardly new but it does have a slew of new angles, technology vendors, experts, etc. The ingredient often missing in all the hubbub (literally and in the market) are effective outcomes.

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Customer Success, Future of Work, Startup Innovation

For citizen development to work address innovation culture first

I’m seeing more and more signals driving this trend which has only been around a short while. Gartner describes citizen development thus.

Its precursor was the consumerisation of IT. One of the key aspects of this trend was that decision making on the use of software in organisations was increasingly being taken by business users, not IT.

Once the floodgates are open you can imagine a logical next step would be to open up not just the purchase of applications by the business, but development of them.

The signals I’m seeing are two-fold. One is vendors’ increasing emphasis of it. The other is customers adoption of programs in their organisation. But for all these efforts, the crucial first element of success that needs addressing is a culture of innovation.

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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