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.
The Subscription Economy: Powering the Next Era of Gaming. The big news a few weeks back that is behind this post was about Google’s new gaming service they announced the launch of (Stadia). A cornerstone of their new service was of course subscriptions and they are not alone in their strategic thinking.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😜
Adoption hacks are little tips and tricks you can use to stimulate adoption of technology. Actions that can include any number of activities, all designed to get users learning about, understanding and using features of a technology to get new value from it.
Activities can be anything from communication, learning components, social proof (showing how others are getting value) all the way to mandating something. All is fair when it comes to adoption hacks :)
I’ll start documenting what I am doing and what I learn about from others in the way of adoption hacks in posts like these.
At the moment, at Microsoft, I am focusing heavily on Microsoft Teams adoption. Teams is is seen as a platform play because it is the front end to a lot of other tools in the Office 365 technology stack as well as those outside through various integrations.
Teams is extensible and customisable so that you can reach users in their chats, channels, notifications and personal workspaces. A single app can provide one or more capabilities.
They enable users to make decisions and take action faster. They reduce context switching on important tasks. They create opportunities for collaboration around external content. They make for the perfect adoption hacking tools in other words 😁
Teams apps come from different publishers. 1st party apps are developed by Microsoft for Office 365 or Office workloads as mentioned and enable better together scenarios. 2nd party apps are those not built by Microsoft and are popular work applications enabled in a central location (the store you can access in Teams). Custom apps are built by your organisation to meet specif business needs. Just some examples below:
Bots help users get tasks done in conversations. I’m using https://zoom.ai/ a lot at the moment in Team channels and in direct conversation with the Bot and its great for things like setting reminders to follow up on actions that stem from conversations.
Tabs surface rich content within Teams. For example, O365 activity usage reports from PowerBI that can be discussed and actioned right from within Teams
Connectors allow you to post rich updates from activity in other applications into your Team feeds.
Actionable messaging adds rich interaction to your connector cards so you can act on new information you receive from ☝
Compose extensions allow you to query and share rich cards in conversations.
Conversational AI and the new dynamics of computer assisted collaboration and automation to aid adoption
One key learning we’ve had at Microsoft is that Bots, custom line of business applications that integrate business processes, and ‘ready to use’ applications integrated into Teams = stickiness and relevance that keeps users coming back every day and drive company-wide adoption.
One very specific example of this I am making use of with my customers to support end users is combining Teams and the Microsoft Bot framework to create Q&A Bots. Users can query the Bot and get answers to questions on Teams as well as other applications. In my case I am focusing on other O365 related applications but it could be used for any.
Here is documentation on some Bot service templates which can be used to get started building Bots and includes one on to build a Q&A Bot.
As I think more about this whole space and track the developments in it with posts like this, I’m trying to envisage dynamics of the perfect business in it.
That gave rise to the DanelDoodle at left. Just some fun and very quick so not sure they are absolutely right. I’ll get a better feel for this as I complete my new trend report / eBook on the subject and it may become clearer and a little more scientific.
Anyway onto latest developments which is always the purpose of these posts in the form of announcements, articles, etc.
Interbrand and Zuora Join Forces to Help Global Brands Succeed in the Subscription Economy. With Zuora a leading proponent and supplier of solutions for the Subscription Economy and Interbrand a global brand consultancy, this is a significant partnership that will help new players in the As a Service world. They’ll get the technical infrastructure needed to change their business models plus the help to shift their strategy, experiences and messages to customers.
I’ve been thinking about the topic of this post for a while so added it to the list of discussion topics in the meetup. From the link above you’ll see it amongst a bunch of Post It notes.
It was bundled alongside sales topics naturally enough and then we expanded on this and the other sales topics.
I’m really interested in this topic because at the moment I’m working on a customer marketing platform that will help me scale my activities with my customers and those of many of my colleagues in the EMEA region. I’ve just launched it so it’s early days. I’ll be sharing more on that as I learn what works and doesn’t.
But back to the meetup. I cannot remember all of the detail we discussed as I didn’t take notes. From memory and with my own thoughts on the subject I captured a doodle which I think distils both the conversation and my thoughts sufficiently. I’m hoping some attendees will chime in with their thoughts/memories here or on LinkedIn where I’ll share this 😁
The doodle should be fairly self explanatory and readable I hope. Here are a few extra notes that struck me as I put that together.
I haven’t distinguished roles in my doodle for who should be responsible for any of the activities, marketing or customer success departments.
I did feel that some of the items listed in the article above where strictly customer success activities that should not fall into marketing, i.e. its pure customer success work, not even customer marketing.
This was a big topic of discussion of course as sales was the overarching topic bucket. In particular we discussed what is often a disconnect between what is promised by marketing and/or sales and then has to be delivered by customer success.
I’ve tried to capture the interconnections in my doodle with the lines between activities.
This is also something I’ve experienced being a problem and I’m sure there is a lot about this out there which I’m not even going to look for at this stage.
Suffice it to say that the hand-off between the different activities and roles needs to be seamless for the customer experience to be optimal. This was clearly expressed in the conversation.
It’s looking at doing so on a trial basis so this will be a very interesting one to keep track of and see how things progress.
That article linked to above points to the concept of a circular economy which I was not even aware of but should be in the context of the As a Service trend that this post is about. The pasted paragraph below from the article says it all:
When Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport remodeled a terminal, it didn’t buy light bulbs; instead, the company signed a contract for “light as a service” from Signify, the company formerly known as Philips Lighting. Signify owns the physical lights, giving it the incentive to make products that last as long as possible and that can be easily repaired and recycled if anything breaks. The service is one example of a shift to a circular economy model.
iPhone as a Service
I’m currently on Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Programme which in my view is its foray into the as a Service model. I captured how they are getting a little more tactical in my last Update on As a Service trends. Other than the obvious benefits they are targeting, that tactic shows how important it is to start treating your customers that sign up to a recurring financial commitment, with white gloves, so come time to renew, they do.
Customer Success activities are maturing. I have been doing the job since at least 2012 and have seen the profession go through fundamental changes to the point where, to succeed now, you need to be innovating.
Just in the time since that post things have changed. There is a constant need to update thinking and refocus. Innovation is be the tip of the iceberg in many ways.
The iceberg is not just a turn of phrase. It plays a prominent role in my thinking. I’ve captured other elements using the analogy of an iceberg in the past: The customer success and experience iceberg. These focus on the relationship between customer success and customer experience. They also focus more on the input and output of the two activities.
The iceberg is a useful metaphor and you will see me using it constantly. Customer success as a practice and overarching philosophy should be built and grown to a point where you are mature enough that constant innovation becomes the standard. In the featured image of this post you should see how innovation forms part of the tip of these three elements: build, grow, innovate.
Innovation has always been a part of the equation for me and you should see that from the post I wrote 18 months ago and linked above – here is the section covering it. The three subsections below also still also hold true.
Outside of the maturity model which relates to activities within the organisation, the profession has reached a point of maturity that means doing customer success well is not enough to differentiate you.
And as all industries face the growing power of the customer and all companies focus on meeting customer demands better, so innovation that drives better customer experiences becomes key.
As a Service Trend Report
The As a Service part which is listed as a subsection of innovation in customer success above will actually be the focus of a new trend report. It will incorporate customer success practices and innovation in this as well as many other practices.
It will also cover innovation as a whole, insofar as practices that are successful in one industry can be adopted by other industries to innovate. Find out more about the report by hitting the button below.
Innovation is a key focus area but as part of this, other considerations need to be borne in mind, within customer success as well as the broader As a Service trend. I’ll cover them in the trend report as well.
Employee Experience. Addressing this leads to good customer experience – there is a powerful connection, see my daneldoodle below. I see the impact of the connection in the work I do and mentor on every day.
Role of Leadership. This is critical in setting the tone in terms of mindset and culture which is so necessary for success with customers and creating great experiences. I will also cover trends in the creation of the Chief Customer Officer or other senior roles like it that indicate the growing importance of and focus on the customer.
In my new eBook / trend report I will cover the As a Service trend (see point 9 here for more on that) and the role customer success plays in it. This post and others that follow will document examples of where I see companies exhibiting behaviours of this trend.
I first wrote about them in these two separate blog posts below:
I’ve been on both the receiving and offering end of efforts so can speak to both. In the Software as a Service business especially, if that is how the platform is offered, the vendor should have a team supporting how the platform is deployed, adopted and maintained. Moreover, the team should be focused on helping the customer maximise their investment in the technology by helping to achieve the business outcomes the technology was purchased for.
If they don’t, that should already be a warning sign that they are not a mature vendor. If they do and you are comparing vendor offerings, use these notes as a basis for evaluating them on this aspect of their offering. Bear in mind that these notes apply to enterprise B2B scenarios, technology platforms and customer success teams.
They should have an approach to customer success. It need not use or have become a renown and universally accepted strategic framework. If anything, it should be lightweight, iterative and intended to grow usage/adoption and value outcomes over time. It should drive growing organisational maturity in terms of platform capabilities and ever increasing value delivery.
It should focus on users and use cases and prioritising them as well as identifying key measures of success. These should be tracked periodically with the support of the customer success manager.
Broadly, the methodology should have an envisioning stage, identifying overall goals then those specific to priority uses cases for any given period. KPI’s should form part of this.
Then an execution part where users are supported in adopting the features, functions and workflows specific to the priority use cases.
Finally, an evaluation stage where progress is tracked against goals. This then feeds back in a loop to target improvements for the next phase of planning and execution.
The approach is very agile and borrows from lean startup methodology which is the way some of the worlds greatest technology products and companies are grown successfully.
Deliverables that a Customer Success Manager and the vendor are committed to
Note that some of these are ideal states or options and just because a vendor does not offer them fully, does not mean they will not do a good job for you. Each option or state will have to be weighed up in priority terms you set. You could create a weighted scoring mechanism as many customers do to aid decision making.
Usage, Adoption and Value Delivery
Success strategy development support that leads to a clear vision, plan and outcomes
People will have a clear understanding of the purpose of the tool in the organisation
Plan covers all the right use cases and workflows and it is communicated clearly
A path is created for users to be inspired, educated and efforts can be scaled
Insight Reviews (monthly)
Progress tracking against planned usage and adoption and business outcomes achieved
Success and best practice sharing from global customer base
Business Reviews (quarterly)
Use case and KPI reviews and outcomes evaluation
Recommendations on best ways forward
Platform roadmap reviews
Provide a window for the customer to product teams and vice versa for special needs to be communicated and usage insights to be shared that drive further product development
Access to the right stakeholders on both sides (senior executive engagement, special interest stakeholders, etc.)
Access to other customers on reference calls, on Customer Advisory Boards, at customer meetups, etc.
Customer Support and Services
Learning material and clear documentation that is constantly updated on a central and easily accesible repository
Professional services around adoption and change management enabling user/data driven behaviour change
Clear customer support commitments around logging issues, response times, etc.
Onboarding help and guidance including and especially in-product and also ongoing user support
Planning and tracking capabilities
A way to plan user activities (plan elements and outcomes targeted) and track and correct where necessary, ideally with automated tasks – feedback loops for administrators and users to see progress and take remedial action where necessary and/or have automated
Robust analytics and reporting tools to track usage and activity that the customer (administrator and end user) can access
A means to correlate activity with business outcomes – especially for administrators or those responsible for the platform to be able to feed back to relevant parts of the business
Is the vendor asking for your commitment
If they are not, chances are they don’t understand all of the dynamics needed to drive success. These often take the form of:
Senior exec stakeholder/s:
Its important that the technology has a mandate from the top. A stakeholder that communicates the need for users to be in the platform and why its important
Someone or a team who’s core responsibility is developing a good success strategy and execution of it (supported by CSM). The person/s will also support users and report to business executives in terms of making sure main targets are met. At least a single person should be dedicated to the task full time. In larger organisations with many users it’s a core team. They should have commitment to pursue deep knowledge (through training) with time available to support the platform and be committed to it.
Someone who is responsible for the maintenance of the platform from a technical point of view, adding users, configuration, SSO, etc.
Super users who are extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the platform and are willing to spend time outside of their normal jobs to support the core team and users with driving adoption and value creation for the company.
This last week I attended a meetup and workshop in London organised by Customer Success Network, a European based not-for-profit community for customer success managers. It had the same title as this post.
An excellent session which started off with a few minutes of talking by Dan Steinman, GM Gainsight EMEA. I then facilitated one of the breakout workshop sessions on how good data should be used in QBR’s (Quarterly or Executive Business Reviews as they are commonly known). Here are some brief notes.
Dan started off talking about we all have some “good enough” data, which should be good enough for starters. In other words, don’t get hung up with not having a perfect set of usage data or reporting setup. You can easily get started with things that don’t require usage data but can tell you a lot about your customer and how to manage them. Things like:
How long have they been a customer?
How many renewals have they done?
What is their ARR now vs originally?
Are they paid up on their bills?
# of Support cases open?
In terms of the elusive product usage data though, you HAVE to get it at some point. Some ways mentioned: Segment.io, MixPanel, Google Analytics, Aptrinsic. I’ve used MixPanel which was okay but had great experience with Looker too and in my current work I use PowerBI where we actually focus on enabling the customer to have the same views and insights as the customer success manager.
On the last point above, this is holy grail territory in my view because then you and the customer can have truly meaningful conversations since there is a plain and evident, single source of truth you can discuss strategies around.
Back to product usage data. Your product/engineering team should want it as badly as you do. Start with the bare minimum – logins, pageviews, reports run, etc. Don’t accept no for an answer.
Muck in even if it means having to learn a new tool. I remember spending an enormous amount of time learning first MixPanel and then Looker in my last role. All the product team had done was create the connections with the usage data and the reporting tool but how to make sense of it was left up to your own devices. But oh how rewarding when it works and you start making sense of the data and having the right conversations with the customer.
And its not just your product/engineering team who should want it as badly as you do. Marketing and sales teams have spent decades and millions perfecting understanding of prospects. Once they understand that customers are the new growth engine, they’ll be on board to help you create and share access to the same level of understanding on customers.
Different use cases for data
The workshop breakouts were pretty much focused on different use cases for data. I facilitated the one on QBR’s. The activity was focused on mapping as-is and to-be QBR data definitions. First we defined traditional definitions. Next we challenged these. How else could we focus on predictive or future-focused growth measures? What were they?
The output was a view of mapped current and future-focused CS measures, and why you’d use them. Here is the groups output after I took the raw material, cleaned it up, tweaked it and added a little of my own spin.
The other breakout sessions all explored different aspects/use cases of data usage like:
You work in a small start-up where customer success is just evolving. You want to able to demonstrate the role of the team to show the impact you are making internally.
Your company has been expanding rapidly, the growth of MRR is now driven by expansions and upselling, which is owned by the Customer Success team. You’ve been asked by your CEO to demonstrate CS’s impact across the business to prepare for another round of funding.
Customer Success teams are increasingly expected to become more financially driven. This exercise was intended to demonstrate their role in contributing to the growth of the company.
Drawing out a success plan which would help the most immature customer success team understand:
What value looks like and where CSM’s can get data from (even if they don’t “have any” today)
How to track customer health through the life cycle with what they have
The question in the title derives from the classic marketing thought piece by Theodore Levitt entitled Marketing Myopia. At the time it rocked not just the marketing world but the business world in general and has shaped business thinking ever since.
Published in the Harvard Business Review in July/August 1960, it is no less relevant today. I remember being excited about the concept on encountering it for the first time when doing my Masters in Marketing and I still am. It’s a foundational positioning model that I consider in some of my mentoring work. There are limitations to its applicability but it is still a sound concept.
By way of explanation, the famous piece starts with an illustration:
“The railroads did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined. That grew. The railroads are in trouble today not because the need was filled by others (cars, trucks, airplanes, even telephones), but because it was not filled by the railroads themselves.”
“They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business. The reason they defined their industry wrong was because they were railroad-oriented instead of transportation-oriented; they were product-oriented instead of customer-oriented.”
The myopia referred to is a failing of definition by being too narrow in how you view the business you are in. Levitt urged marketers and business owners to stop defining themselves by what they produced and instead reorient themselves toward customer needs. This would ultimately define the business they were in on the basis of the most important stakeholder group that mattered – the customer.
An example of mistaken definition
Again by way of explanation, I made these points to one of the founders of Percolate about two years ago, mid way through my employment there.
I had questions around the business Percolate was in and how it was being defined. I framed my thoughts and feedback in the context of Levitt’s.
At the time (thankfully this has now changed), they defined their business as being in the supply of enterprise systems of record. They compared themselves to Salesforce for sales, Workday for HR.
In Percolate’s case, they were catering to marketers with a system of record for marketers. All of their marketing messaging and branding was centred on this key definition.
I questioned this fundamentally as a short-sighted and inward looking approach to marketing that focused on the needs of the company instead of defining the company and its products in terms of the customers’ needs and wants. It would result in a failure to see and adjust to the rapid changes in the market. My reasoning was as follows:
The marketing record is the byproduct of a transaction and necessary for monitoring and tracking outcomes over time. But as a concept it’s not very inspirational to a typical user. It’s also the function of technology and by that virtue, product-oriented.
It may appeal to an executive who wants to account for expenditure and effort in his or her organisation and you should appeal to this person’s needs in selling efforts. But to be successful you also need to focus on and inspire end users.
Focus on end user input and how it is facilitated (briefing and planning necessary for creative work). Focus on output (execution of great creative marketing campaigns). Focus on how it makes them better at their job. System of Results might be a more appropriate positioning statement, especially in a SaaS world where usage is a major factor in retention and you need to go beyond the initial positioning focused around customer acquisition.
Increasing pressure is being placed on marketers to be more creative and stand out. Creative work that can, will be operationalised, automated and performed by AI. Most creativity that counts, dealing with imagination and innovation that moves other humans to action, will remain with humans.
Marketers are in the creativity business. Data skills are increasingly coming to the fore but that can be handled by machines. Products that help marketing customers manage their creative work and stand out, will stand out themselves. Doing more to spark creativity and collaborative features to aid collective creativity will stand out but it’s also what’s done on the service side and how you orient to enable organisational actualisation that matters.
Focus the Customer Success service on helping customers achieve this level of actualisation. It takes the focus away from product and features which is always tricky and prone to disappointment (the difference between what is promised by sales and what is delivered post-sales often falls short).
I would argue that all of the above positions the company proposition on uplifting and inspiring activities like enabling creativity, imagination, innovation, etc. This is the right way to position it, on the right activities, that will make humans stand out in a sea of machines. That move away from products and technology and onto human ingenuity. This will make all the difference as good positioning strategy should.
I didn’t share the above to dis Percolate. I wanted to share my original thinking and revisit it because I’ve been thinking a lot about this again recently. It keeps coming back like a bad habit. So many industries are faced with a fundamental re-evaluation of the business they are in because of rapid changes in the market. Much more so than the railroads faced back in the day.
Changes that are disrupting incumbent players and being taken advantage of by opportunistic startups that are positioning themselves in the right way.
What’s working and what isn’t?
It’s about getting creative with how you deliver products and services, leverage technology and position yourself. Getting creative with the very fabric of your business, its business model. That is what creates the Uber’s, WeWork’s and Air BnB’s of tomorrow.
And it’s not just startups. Microsoft is reinventing itself very successfully on the back of its new positioning. It’s why I am (back) here. It also goes beyond business models and touches on aspiration and effects culture which is what Microsoft has fixed led by its new CEO Satya Nadella. From an aspiration led vision to be “a PC on every desk” which was applicable then and worked well for them and the time, to “empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more”. This latter is very much focused on the type of creativity we need to engender with employees and is reflected in its (re)positioning – in my view. How we help customers get creative is what I was arguing Percolate should do and what I think Microsoft is helping do more and more.
The auto industry is not doing so well. If you leave Tesla aside you will see an industry struggling to find its place in the new world and with reinventing themselves as they must. I’m not the only one to think so: Why Car Makers Are In A Death Spiral.
Since I’m working with the industry at the moment I am noticing first hand the lack of speed and imagination in doing the work necessary to reinvent themselves
I’ve suggested solutions (see below) – time will tell if they listen and how things pan out.
I attended Pulse Europe (the 4th) on the 8-9th November, an event run by Gainsight, a Customer Success (CS) technology vendor. They run the larger, main event in the US and I had the pleasure of attending last year where I captured the State of Customer Success 2017. So this is a timely update with a local, regional flavour.
Below are some general observations, main takeaways and then I captured notes from the sessions I attended (including my spin on things).
Chatting to the GM of the European office of Gainsight, Dan Steinman, I concluded that not only were Gainsight in the CS technology business but also in education. He agreed.
By that we didn’t mean the services part of Gainsight where they do offer education in support of their technology (see Gainsight University). I mean the education of an industry, a nascent one that needs it. It’s in their interest of course, to grow the category and also the industry within which it operates, mostly Enterprise Software [as a Service].
I digress, the point is Gainsight take a leading role in informal education and for helping grow and share learning between individuals, companies, for the category and beyond. In this respect they are very successful and the event achieved that aim too.
Main take aways:
1. Tighter integration between product and CS, the move to self service and broader alignment
This was a theme driven not just by Gainsight on the back of their acquisition of Aptrinsic (more here). I’ve been seeing this more and more and driving it in my work and it is definitely a growing trend.
It encompasses two elements: (1) greater collaboration between product and CS teams on high touch interactions with and insights from customers and, (2) the built in onboarding, help and product adoption features in products that drive end user self service.
This trend is possibly the most evident but there is also the need, oft talked about, of greater alignment within customer service oriented teams and with sales and marketing teams.
2. Lack of innovation
I found at this event and on the whole that there are no real innovations being driven or presented other than in company products themselves (point above). I am writing an eBook / trend report about this and in the work I do mentoring startups and it is a main pillar I stress.
I think in an industry or category often struggling to find its way (see next point) we will have to do more to innovate and increase the impact of customer success activities. There is so much scope since the customer is at the forefront of everything and technology is changing so much and so fast. But innovation needs to come to business models, processes and people too.
3. Hype Cycle
The chart below was presented by Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight in one of his keynotes. Billed as a maturity chart, you could also easily see this as a hype cycle. I’ve been through the early curve twice in companies and seen it happen in others. I’ve also seen it happen with many technologies which the cycle most often refers to. I got an impression that as an industry we are in a trough of disillusionment.
Perhaps I’ve been in CS too long and lack the starry eyed optimism of a newbie but I’m saying this from the perspective of what I hear. I hear too much justification, disagreement on the function and its impact, arguments on who owns the customer, fights with other disciplines like customer experience, etc.
It just feels like the conversations are typically of the kind you find in the trough of disillusionment. It’s also a period characterised by lack of innovation as mentioned. That’s not a bad thing. If I’m right, I’m looking forward to the slope of enlightenment for the industry as a whole because on this, I’m a true believer 🦄 🚀
Day 1 – 8 November ’18
Keynote – CS trends
This is a list that Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight ran through:
CS drives sales. Prospects talk to customers and advocacy is key. So if you ensure customers are successful, they will act as willing reference points and that will help close deals. I totally agree with this and think it’s an undervalued KPI (from the vendor point of view).
Company-wide priority. Top down involvement, endorsement and integration into operations is critical for CS success. Having been a part of two reorganisations because this was not done right from the start, I absolutely concur. Where CS fits is still being debated though and the dust has yet to settle on that. More on this later.
Career success. CS is one of the twenty most promising jobs of 2018. Growth in Chief Customer Officer’s was talked about and the fact they are primed to be the next CEO’s with some early examples quoted.
Prescriptive. There’s a greater drive to commonality, standardisation and bench-marking. The periodic table by Gainsight below is an attempt to define this. With this lacking in many of the organisations I’ve worked in and with, it’s going to be a challenge to define for an industry but I agree it’s critically needed.
CS movement. The growing attendance at Pulse conferences and book sales was pointed to as evidence of a growing CS movement. A little self serving perhaps but I can definitely feel an uptick in tempo over the years. The jobs market is also an obvious indicator and aside from CS being a most promising job, the number of openings I’m seeing is rising almost exponentially.
CS in EU
Pockets of activity mentioned like London, Berlin, etc. For me they echo the startup centres in EU where often the bigger, better SaaS companies reside and thus CS naturally follows.
EU is learning and following fast and a couple of stand out companies were quoted as evidence of that – see next point (in brackets is what they are excelling in):
Slido (Voice of Customer); Intelliflo (ROI); ReviewPro (tech touch + human, e.g. 3 mails following sign up – if no open, human contacts); Signavio (customer health); Attraqt (exec alignment/sponsorship – internal); Response Tap (success planning); Workfront (risk management); Gainsight (stakeholder alignment – external).
CS and Product
This was presented by Travis Kaufman, VP Product Growth, Aptrinsic on the back of Gainsight’s acquisition of Aptrinsic. Ultimately its a reflection of the strategic direction Gainsight believes they need to take to grow the market and no doubt themselves. There are some compelling arguements.
Sales and Marketing have done it (quotes about Salesforce’s acquisition and integration of several marketing platforms into their offering), now CS and product need to. Hardly compelling evidence but some other drivers were mentioned which do make sense.
Driven by — Data. Drive new opportunities based on usage data. — Scale onboarding by extending the journey into the app. — Influence product roadmap based on data not opinions
Product is way to scale CS engagement for high volume, low touch accounts. I’ve written about this multiple times here and here.
Feature / user feedback built into the product and covering onboarding as well as ongoing use will expand.
Sales and marketing consolidation will be followed in the CS / product world is the firm prediction – I’m rooting for this outcome.
A talk on why CS is the new growth mantra which is based on the main C-Suite challenge around delivering profitable growth. 500 executives were surveyed for the insights amongst 10 brands: Microsoft Azure/O365, Tableau, Symantec, Adobe, Salesforce, SAP, Cisco, Workday, Dell-EMC, Marketo.
A customer’s level of trust in a brand is the single most important factor in a renewal decision (55% said so). Trust is the #1 influencer and counts no matter how long a customer has been buying a product or service.
First impressions count – deployment (installation, activation and setup) is the most important CS activity. It is 2 times more significant in determining whether a customer will renew. A bit of confusion on their part here. As pointed out in various other presentations over the two days, I would separate out CS management from deployment activities and for me its much more about how you launch to end users: Launch like a boss – bringing consumer startup practice to your enterprise technology platform.
Longer term customers value access to self service tools and the ease of renewal – 73% think its important and it can have a 20% influence on renewal decisions. I love this since it validates a lot of my thinking: Role of Self Service in Customer Success.
Must win moments for a CS team
By the author of The Three Value Conversations: How to Create, Elevate, and Capture Customer Value at Every Stage of the Long-Lead Sale. This presentation was about a messaging approach for customer renewals, price increases and upsells. It was part based on a quote referenced by Nick Mehta (see screenshot) that renewals are really resells. It also emphasised the need to tell a better story. Great example of Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point book success – he wasn’t the originator of the theory, Morton Grodzins was. But Gladwell popularised the theory through better story telling. Other points:
Selling (acquisition) stories need to be different to staying (retention) stories because the latter reinforces preference stability as opposed to disrupting change / status quo bias.
At point of renewal, there is no sense selling on new features/functions which many sales people do, but rather on reinforcement.
Some really good scientific and evidence based reasoning (neuro science, behavioural economics, social psychology and decision science) on why good storytelling works. Totally get this having done several sessions on storytelling before – key CS skill I would say.
Focused around the customer retention path post sales (why stay), but also answering questions around why the customer should pay more and evolve (expand).
ResponseTap and Micro Focus went through some of their common approaches.
No common view of desired customer outcomes between sales, deployment, onboarding, etc.
Single source of truth needed – one document
3 time lines created for a plan (short, medium, long)
Everyone agrees on common outcomes before plan is approved – sales, CS, support, etc,
Benefits/Learning: — Having a common customer journey between departments — Tracking NPS at different stages is useful and should cover various journey phases: sales, onboarding, then service/support and CSM — CS should review internally feeding progress back to the organisation — Improved cross team collaboration and decision making — Better renewal rates after implementing
This applies mostly to the support function and was presented by someone from Insided.
Most customers don’t want to contact companies for support (72%, Forrester) so important to address well from a self service point of view.
Free trials and freemium customers also need support
Automation is not the answer for everything. 7 out of 10 interactions with chat bots fail.
Including community responses in help centre search responses is good practice – Google quoted as example.
Peer to peer answers are viewed as more trustworthy. Best is for the company to focus on company and FAQ material and the community, the long tail of other queries. Coincidentally I just came across another research based post that bears this out: Why Online Communities Are The New B2B Superpower — From the post: online communities are the third most common digital engagement channel for post-purchase customer feedback or support (after email and website).
Support or help in product is best and voice queries are rising (digital assistants).
Scaling user onboarding but keeping a personal touch
Again this was presented by Travis Kaufman, VP Product Growth, Aptrinsic. I agree with this approach from a scale, tech touch point of view. The only problem I see with it is the potential over emphasis on features. This can be a distraction from the all important emphasis on business outcomes which should never be forgotten.
Most of the user experience happens within the product and so it’s a good reason to focus on this which I totally agree with.
Onboard users to aha moments – key features you want to emphasise.
Onboard to new features as they release
Re-engage users to complete critical tasks
Product teams need to know what feature adoption rates are and also what the qualitative feedback behind that use is. Work with CSM’s to leverage this and drive or accentuate further use.
Derive personas for specific use cases. Ask in qualitative surveys or deduce from the use of a feature and who you intended it for.
The quest to be LAER efficient
From the President and CEO of TSIA (Technology Services Industry Association) J.B. Wood, a great overview of the industry as a whole. Also touching on the broader opportunity with XaaS (Everything as a Service). The TSIA is an association that works with the top 400 tech companies to understand what they are doing and what impact that has.
LAER: Land Adopt Expand Renew. Where XaaS meets profitability – see operating framework in slide below.
5 key markers on the path to LAIR effectiveness which is comprised of 4 stages – see this also in slides below
Monetisation of CS falls in the effective phase. Allows for investment in better CS activities
Point made that Cost of Sales and Marketing (COSM) is too high in cloud companies because customer acquisition costs (CAC), customer expansion costs (CEC) and customer retention costs (CRC) are based on activities being driven by traditional sales and marketing teams.
If the CS org were to manage activities covering the latter two it would drive down COSM. Fair point and this lead to a lot of discussion around the CS org owning renewals, upsells and expansions – the standard discussion that always comes up and was covered in other talks/discussions. On this topic I feel like the verdict is still out even after years of discussion. See also Nick Mehta’s point on this from his keynote on Day 2.
CEO’s view of CS
A panel discussion between CEO’s of Futrli, Precursive and TaskRay facilitated by the CCO of Box, Jon Herstein. All had robust CS functions so naturally the input was mostly positive.
What can you do to make CS successful? Spend time with the team. Understand the problems customers and CS org experiences. Get quantitative/qualitative feedback on ideal CS function then build it. Get people to think like customers – spend time there.
How to avoid silo’d CS function and ensure cross company accountability? Success hacks across functions. Have hypothesis that will achieve CS outcome then try prove. Non traditional customer facing roles spending time with customers, e.g. engineers. Love the hacking idea – I’ve written about this before: Success Hacking
Where will you invest? Automation of tasks so CS can focus on value work. Love it – say no more.
Any questions from VC’s around CS? A resounding YES around what is being done and how. They want insights into CS like scope of effort, ration of CS individual to customers, on what, etc.
Day 2 – 9 November ’18
Keynote, Nick Mehta, CEO Gainsight
Rumination on the raison d’etre of the CS org and where and how in the organisation it works best based on Gainsight experience. All makes total sense and as it should be for now.
Started on the debate over CS being a role or strategy. If not solved there’s a danger we lose the initiative. It should and can be both.
The CS charter: CS (Customer Success) = CX (Customer Experience) + CO (Customer Outcomes). CS > CSM (Customer Success Manager), in other words, Customer Success encompasses CSM’s and many other areas besides.
Lessons from Gainsight: — CS and Renewals separated at Gainsight. Different skills and tasks and difficult to do both well. — CS and Account Management also separated. Expansion happens off the back of adoption, outcomes and different audience relationships that CS build. — CS and Services. Handover opportunities and knowledge for skilled teams from CS to Services to implement deep work and methodology (project management). — CS and Marketing. Building the right outcomes and thus advocates happens in CS, formal references and stories developed further by marketing. — CS and Support. Strategic, exec stakeholder and impact work is for CS. Technical skills, process and speedy results should be covered by Support. — CS and Product. They have so much common ground: adoption breadth and depth; customer feedback, etc. Too often they have different ways to measure and silo’d thinking. Again example of sales and marketing and need to combine CS and Product which Gainsight are doing. — Exec team and CS. CS provides insights to customers, execs can amplify, drive resources, decisions and problem solving, etc.
Sirius Decisions: B2B alignment and impact on business performance
Sirius Decision are a research and advisory company focused on demand generation and performance measurement. They presented findings from various bits of research.
B2B Revenue Engine expectations have been increasing, challenging organisations to drive stronger alignment across customer success, sales, marketing and product teams.
The historical view of alignment predominantly around the buyer is no longer sufficient to drive growth and profitability rates ahead of the market and the competition.
Customer engagement is one of the six critical areas of alignment that B2B revenue leaders must focus on.
Achieving and maintaining alignment within customer engagement initiatives requires a roadmap to realise the business impact it can deliver to the organisation.
Engagement scoring (for all the various customer interactions) highly sought after by CMO’s
Customer Success at Cisco
Alistair Wildman, Head of customer experience EMEA was interviewed on stage. This is what he shared after being there and in his position for 6 months.
They call it customer experience which includes CS. Covers other functions: support, service, etc. So it’s the whole post sales experience.
Hardware has been wrapped up into services subscriptions model
80% of post sales efforts happen through partners – they are key in strategy. Not like Microsoft apparently although not true. Good analogy of a pit stop, one tyre is changed by Cisco, the other three by partners.
They have account based CS which is a direct engagement model and technical CS which will work with partners on customer challenges.
Data is key. They are still in the process of building dashboards to understand usage which they think will take 2-3 years.
Lessons from Salesforce (where Alistair worked previously): Hire for skill not for count. Senior people that know how to do the job. Develop skills through customer engagement simulations with product for training.
Data science at Gainsight
I attended this session thinking I was going to get insights into the cutting edge practices adopted by Gainsight but it was more like a basic intro to data science. Here are my brief notes before I left the session.
We are heading into the age of predictability which is where we want to be – anticipating trends, heading off negative ones, leveraging positive ones.
Tasks to consider are: identify the nature of your data sources; quantify and get a score for your data outputs, understand and plot maturity stages, move up the scale.
Prescriptive analytics understands causes for outcomes and prescribes solutions upfront. Needs AB testing of playbooks. This is the kind of deep level insight I was hoping for but we merely skimmed the surface.
How do VCs see CS
Joyce Liu (Dawn Capital), Paul Morrisey (Battery Ventures) and Stephen Millard (Notion Capital) were interviewed by Igor Beckerman (CFO Gainsight).
Usage and adoption is a clear priority early on. Value comes later. Customer advocates seen as important and so too Customer Advisory Board’s (CAB).
Metrics in the boardroom. Predictability and causality key. What are targets likely to be and why are they what they are.
How much to spend on CS. Depends on whether the company has big end customer’s vs small end customer’s. Onboarding should be a big investment. Where early value is seen with correlation on outcomes, investment goes up. CS can be a cost centre in the early days but profitability is important later.
CS leaders. Some of the best were waiters in the past – they all have a love for service. For larger companies, those that can have quality conversations across a broad range (multi functional). Systems thinkers and those that can take multiple perspectives (customer, industry, vendor)
CCO to CEO. If former responsible for 90% of long term profit that stands to reason it will happen.
Decision factors for investment. Talking to customers to get their views on the company. Tools and processes in place are also a key decision factor.
Brain Cox came and spoke on astronomy and the result was 🤯 Some excellent perspective after two days of intense CS overloading.