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 itđŸ”Ș 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 đŸ’„

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 🔹

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:

In it I came across this intriguing concept of Adaptability Quotient in an article: Is ‘AQ’ 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.

Customer Success, Sense Making, Startup Innovation

What business are you in?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The Modern Organisation’s Hierarchy of Needs positions creativity and innovation as the pinnacle of organisational actualisation and all other layers as necessary but supporting elements – like a system of record.
  7. 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).
  8. 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.

My view on where Microsoft is (re)positioning itself.

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.

SaaS beyond Software – Automakers

The connected car vision is missing a few connections

Customer Success, Startup Innovation

Agile in nature not just by name

Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft where I work) recently shared his thoughts on how organisations need to embrace “tech intensity” to innovate and grow in today’s high-intensity digital economy.

He didn’t specifically call out speed but its implicit in everything he said.

I’m surrounded in the work I do at Microsoft, by IT teams that have embraced Agile. I’m sure Satya would agree that this would form a key part of tech intensity efforts.

Yet of all the things that Agile is, the one I find most often missing as the name would suggest, is the need for “rapid and flexible response to change”.

I’m on a mission to emphasise the need for speed in the work I do in Customer Success around technology adoption.

Here is the line I push:

I am not one to be be speeding things up just for the sake of it. As a DharmHacker I actually think stopping, slowing down and reflecting frequently is crucial for effective decision making. Mindful over Mind Full is the title of an eBook / trend report I wrote that pretty much sums up the imperative.

Speed and Innovation together make the difference

Mindful decision making does not contradict speedy actions once you have realised the need for change and decided on a course of action. And speedy action carried out with intensity is what distinguishes leaders in today’s digital landscape.

digital innovationIf you are changing at speed as a result of external pressure, you will be better off than those that are slower or not changing at all. But as Satya pointed out, innovation is a key part of tech intensity and if purposeful innovation efforts are executed at speed, then you will become a leader in your industry. If innovation needs to be the “why” and change the “how” then your “when” has to be yesterday.

In the video above and in the last post I just linked to, you should see how I’ve positioned speed and innovation efforts side by side as key differentiators of digital transformation success.

Why agile is not just a software development methodology for IT

As you may also have seen in the video above where I included a snippet by Paul Willmott (Senior Partner and Digital McKinsey Leader), they have a clear view on the importance of speed in digital transformation efforts.

As a leader in digital transformation strategy setting and execution, McKinsey also have views on the many other factors that need to be considered. Here are just a choice few of my favourite articles that they and others have recently published which elaborate:

Startup Innovation

Round up of latest #innerventures trends

innerventures-vennI’m tracking these updates with the #innerventuresupdate tag – you can find all of them by following the link. They all tie in with and add to the findings from my trend report which covers startup driven innovation in large corporates, corporate venturing efforts and the role of the intrapreneur. You can buy the report from iBooks or add a comment (which requires an email that no one will see) and I can provide a voucher for a FREE COPY :)


Sense Making, Startup Innovation

Lean startup methodology applied to successful enterprise technology adoption

The Lean Startup isn’t just about how to create a more successful entrepreneurial business. It’s about what we can learn from those businesses to improve virtually everything we do. I imagine Lean Startup principles applied to government programs, to healthcare, and to solving the world’s great problems. It’s ultimately an answer to the question ‘How can we learn more quickly what works, and discard what doesn’t?

What Tim O’Reilly, CEO O’Reilly Media, said above pretty much sums up what I am trying to do here: apply the methodology to a great challenge I face daily in my role in customer success – successful enterprise technology adoption. To find out more about the core methodology you can head on over to

The methodology has been highly successful in its application with startups but far more broadly now too as Tim O’Reilly suggests. I’ve been thinking about it a while and captured how I wanted to apply it very briefly and simply in a customer success management primer I put together on SlideShare. I’ve added the relevant bit as a diagram above.

It’s not unlike what the co-founder of Percolate where I currently work has suggested in this article: Noah Brier’s Three Rules For Leveraging New Technologies. There’s no specific reference to the lean startup methodology but you should see the similarities and they are based on the lean startup methodology’s heavy reliance on software engineering approaches which Noah Brier does reference.

I’ve been applying the approach loosely with the customer success planning and execution work I have been doing with customers and now felt it time to capture that in a little more detail. That is what this post is about. It’s also in the context of my most recent work which is marketing, as in Noah Brier’s post, but I believe it can be applied widely for most enterprise technology platforms. It also chimes with earlier thinking I’ve done which seemed to resonate at the time: Why leaders of digital initiatives inside organisations need to think like start-ups.

Contrasting approaches between enterprise technology then and now

This approach I am taking is in direct contrast to previous approaches to technology adoption. Enterprise technology platforms used to be highly configurable and customisable and were often planned and prepared for launch far in advance of launch dates. They would exist in this form for years afterwards until a new version was ready for re-launch. This was tied in, to a large degree, to a vendor’s approach who would plan new features and functions years in advance before releasing a new version. Now with SaaS (Software as a Service) that has all changed.

Customers no longer get to change the platform to the degree they used to and vendors have vastly reduced development cycles to ship new features more frequently, sometimes as often as weekly. However, most often these are tested with a handful of BETA customers and then shipped when ready on a quarterly basis.

With new features coming this frequently and with the lack of customisation and configurability, it doesn’t make sense to plan too far in advance. A far more iterative and experimental approach is called for.

The model in summary


This approach supports customer and end user success with the use of their enterprise technology platform. So those chiefly responsible for the platform’s success as well the users of it. It combines what has worked well with many global customers in my experience and incorporates lean startup methodology. It’s based on the view that success cannot be achieved by chance but needs a good design which is measurable, executable and iterative. 

It targets key outcomes including measures of success (KPI’s), plans the necessary activities and resources required to succeed and reviews progress periodically that allows for course correction or continuation of successful activities. I simplified the steps from the Lean Startup methodology for my purposes to three.

Note that this model is narrowly focused on planning and execution activities and does not take into consideration some critical supporting activities. Things like a champion network, an online support environment, etc. I’ve written about all of these to some degree or other under the customer-success tag so follow the link to find out more.

Where the cycle starts in relation to implementation/onboarding

Generally there is a phase of work prior to the success management cycle starting that includes getting the platform ready for launch. This would include things like configuration of the system, setting up workflows and permissions/ roles, access and security settings, provisioning of users, etc. These technology, governance, authentication, legal, support and security considerations have to be mapped out and delivered in accordance with the organisations policies, most often managed through IT. This would ideally be followed by a successful launch of the platform which I’ve written about here: Launch like a boss – bringing consumer startup practice to your enterprise technology platform

The success management cycle would ideally have been been planned ahead of launch as part of the implementation planning, e.g. the initial uses cases and workflows you launch with form part of a longer term success vision and planning cycle.

In some cases, a customer will have launched and have been using the platform for many months, even years, without a robust success methodology in place. In this case you would have to take stock of where successful (or not) platform usage is and work from there. It may require a platform relaunch. At best, there are some successful uses of the system in place already and you want to take these to the next level.


  1. Set vision, objectives and broad measures of success
    On overarching vision is a good thing. Some of the best work I’ve seen done articulating the work needed here is in this article: Strategic Communication: How to Develop Strategic Messaging and Positioning. This drives the overall program of activities and provides focus for the use cases that will deliver against the vision and objectives. Generally I would suggest planning in yearly cycles as this will be made up of 4 quarters of iterating use case delivery.
  2. Identify and plan use cases
    Enterprise technology adoption – Use cases are the currency of success – go to this post I wrote to find out more about uses cases. As mentioned above a set of uses cases should be iterated for at least three months of active use – this is probably the minimum amount of time needed to properly use and test use against set outcomes. These uses cases should broadly align with the vision and high level objectives you have set for the year.
  3. Stakeholder engagement and delivery /change program
    This is essentially the execution plan. It should at least incorporate time, task and responsibility elements that you can tick off as you go along. Many of the supporting elements that I cover in my primer referred to earlier should also be considered: a champion program, training, a governance model involving main stakeholders, etc. I’d also call out a collaborative community and online support elements in particular – covered in a post here: Scaling your customer success efforts online – a guide.


  1. Launch platform and use cases
    I’ve already linked to the post I wrote about the importance of launching well – see further up this post.
  2. Governance / monitoring
    Ongoing monitoring, especially in the early stages, should include key stakeholders and regular check-ins. You could set up a steering committee and meet monthly for instance. If the platform was critical to your business, why wouldn’t you do something like this and have the most senior of stakeholders involved.
  3. Champion check-in
    This is called out specifically because champions are crucial to success. Champions help to reduce the strain on the resources of the core project team and help drive engagement throughout the community, especially in early stages.
  4. Ensure ongoing support through dedicated channels
    The article mentioned under point three in the Envision section covers what I am referring to here.
  5. Gather data
    You should have set the key metrics you want to measure as well as how you are going to measure them in the use case definition phase. Don’t leave it as an afterthought and whether its qualitative or quantitative, gathered through survey responses or as output of system use, collect data as you go.


  1. Evaluate progress holistically against vision, objectives
    Check points could occur monthly, even weekly in the early stages, but at the very least should be quarterly. Whenever you check in though, make sure you are looking directly in front of you as well as in the distance, i.e. are the activities in the immediate past still leading you to where you want to get to in the long term. The best way to explain is through analogy. If you are walking looking at a map, if you don’t look up from time to time you might walk into a lamp post :)
  2. Evaluate against set KPIs and measures of success
    This is the practical task of studying the detail. Mapping the data against the expected outcomes.
  3. Revise plan as necessary
    Adopt the way of the minimalist, remove until it breaks. If the data doesn’t support the hypotheses you set out to validate, then check where you are going wrong. The measures, the tools or the hypotheses could all be wrong. If you cannot correct, you may need to discard.
  4. Rinse and repeat with following initiatives
    You need to repeat the cycle above at least 4 times in a year as mentioned and hopefully at the end you get to a level of use and maturity that you can then progress on from for the next year. See maturity point below.

NOTE: When starting with your first success cycle, be aware of any preceding activities like an implementation or onboarding phase with all that it set out to achieve. This can be used as a baseline for the use cases and measures in your initial success cycle.

Maturity over time and an approach to driving it

Over time, with successive quarters and years of use, you would expect an organisation to become more and more proficient in its use of a technology platform and that value outcomes will also increase over time – see diagram.

And if you expect that all users will be equal in their stages of maturity well you are likely to be disappointed which is why you might want to break maturity levels up between your users and segments of users – see next diagram.

Also, there is likely never to be an end to the overall maturity path as new features are added to the platform and new users come and go.

An approach to managing maturity levels between different users and /or segments of users is not critical to the success methodology. But if you are dealing with a great many users in a large organisation with many different geographical or vertical segments, you may want to consider it.

The diagram above is pretty self explanatory and hopefully its clear how you might be able to work with something like this. You really want to keep it as simple as possible because you don’t want to add complexity especially where the organisation or technology already is.

Which leads me neatly to a final point. This whole methodology, like the lean startup approach, is very simple and experimental. That is the beauty of it and the reason for its effectiveness. Good luck using it and if you have feedback about what works or doesn’t or any improvements, please do let me know in a comment.

Startup Innovation

When corporate/startup innovation programs fail

A great article describing the closure of Coca-Cola’s Founders startup incubator over on TechCrunch. It details some of the challenges with this approach that I thought were worth sharing here. I especially love the quoted thought below:

You need a translator to help them understand what’s going on. That’s why a lot of platforms inside big companies fail and you have to take the time.

This could apply equally to my role as a customer success manager I thought and with the launch of new platforms and the challenges with this which I wrote about here: Launch like a boss – bringing consumer startup practice to your enterprise technology platform


Startup Innovation

The state of startup / corporate collaboration 2016


Cracking report from Imaginatik and MassChallenge. Its available to download from either site if you can find the page (registration required) but I’ve added the the-state-of-startupcorporate-collaboration-2016 (pdf). Key findings below:


While most startup/corporate interactions used to begin at the negotiation table, corporations and startups increasingly recognize the benefits of earlier interactions. Corporations said that 67% now prefer working with startups at earlier stages, mainly “to explore new technologies and business models”.


At an overwhelming 82%, corporations now view interactions with startups as “somewhat important” to “very important”, and 23% indicated that these interactions were “mission critical”. Innovation efforts, it seems, are no longer just nice-to-have programs within corporations.


While 86% of large organizations view innovation as crucial to their future, most of their current attempts to work with startups to further that objective are early stage, underfunded, and scattershot—such that 25% of corporations aren’t even sure how much they’re spending.


Startups and corporations agree that “strategic fit” is by far the primary criterion for working together, but the way they interpret the term diverges significantly. Thus, a lost-in-translation problem sometimes persists, despite the best of intentions. This is exacerbated by remaining cultural issues within corporations: many are still struggling to re-organize themselves to enable productive interactions. Conversely, startups are persistent, but remain frustrated at the number of hoops to jump through.


Startups are seeing corporations in a variety of roles—no longer are they cast solely as either “competitors” or “potential acquirers”. As the startup culture matures, founders are realizing that corporations have a lot of wisdom, experience, and resources to be leveraged, and that perhaps working with, rather than against them, could be the smarter way to go. Also, in a post-Uber and Airbnb world, startups realize that the power is not only with large corporations, and that leads them to be more selective with whom they choose to work. In fact working with corporations is shaping up to be a startup’s most powerful growth hack.


I found this interesting website/activity on my travels. It’s an up to date database of Corporate Accelerators being run by company’s around the world.

Ties in nicely with findings from my trend report which you can buy from iBooks or add a comment and I can provide a voucher for a FREE COPY :)



Customer Success, Startup Innovation

Launch like a boss – bringing consumer startup practice to your enterprise technology platform

The users of a technology platform inside an organisation are a peculiar, collective beast. They are very different to the masses of end users that are customers of a consumer product or service. They are also subject to very different forces than the free, open market subject’s consumers to. However, we can draw parallels and bring in comparisons and best practices from the consumer world and startups that launch successfully there. Launching a platform to enterprise users should be seen as no less important than launching on the open market.

In many cases the numbers of users will be vastly different. Inside the organisation the numbers will be on a much smaller scale for most but the very largest of organisations. Types of users also differ. For example, in the consumer world you have customers mixing with employees such as buyers and sellers on a shopping portal or travellers and hotel operators on a booking service, etc. In some cases enterprise platforms will be intended for use with end users or consumers but the platform will still have to be addressed and launched internally first which is what I focus on. Other platforms will be purely for internal use.

Also, their will be a difference between platforms intended for general use and collaboration or communication like intranets and those for specific purposes like HR or Sales software. The former will have the larger number of users generally. The latter will have a more focused niche of users with very specific motives.

Why emphasise the launch? Because its what you do in the first 90 days that matters. So if you are responsible for technology platforms inside your organisation or help those that are, hopefully these tips will be of use.

Its what you do in the first 90 days that matter most

I work as a customer success professional and have done for some time. In that capacity I’ve always been focused on the longer term strategic outlook for a customer’s use because I’ve always had an eye on the renewal date of the software. This generally tends to be at least a year down the line from the time the platform is first used. Most often these days though, its two to three years down the line with longer term contracts being signed.

In my job I advocate meaningful and strategic long-term considerations in the form of a good success plan. I’ve written about that in this primer on SlideShare. The launch phase is covered in the primer but only as part of the longer term approach. So I’m calling it out and expanding on it in this article specifically.

In some organisations, the customer success manager (CSM) is lucky to play a role in the launch of a platform and can effect outcomes positively. In other cases, launch is managed by an implementation manager and the outcomes of a good or bad launch have to be dealt with by the CSM when he or she takes over after the initial implementation phase. If the latter and the CSM is lucky, the hand off will be on the back of a successful launch.

The fact is also that if you don’t tackle the beginning stages properly, tackling the longer term is hugely more difficult, if not impossible. There are major challenges and opportunities with tackling adoption and engagement in the early stages:

  • You only have one chance at making a good first impression. With so much competition for people’s attention, if you don’t make an impact at the beginning you may have lost before you’ve even properly started. These days in fact, not only do you have only one chance at making a first impression, it is severely limited in terms of the time it takes to make it. In many cases it’s decided in the first few seconds or minutes. This article makes the case brilliantly: First-Time Use: How To Reduce The Initial Friction Of App Usage
  • Tackling the long term with a solid base of users that have had a favourable experience in the early stages is vastly easier than otherwise. It’s difficult to claw back good will and enthusiasm when a users first experience is lacklustre. Both from an organisational support as well as product capability point of view.
  • Some may say that the enterprise is different and that these platforms, which might often be critical business systems, don’t need special attention. Besides this, a mandate to use them from the top, from senior execs, will take care of it. Mandating a platforms use is a strategy you could use in the enterprise and this might overcome some resistance and any competition in the early stages. However it is never guaranteed to work and should never be the only strategic lever.
  • Getting a mass sign-up at the outset can almost eliminate uncertainty about a platform’s prospects because it effectively builds critical scale into the platform’s network from day one. This might be more relevant to the mass scale general use platform than the niche one in the enterprise but still important in either case. Users find a platform compelling when there are people on the platform to talk to and learn from and it provides some kind of evidence of early value. Every platform starts out empty, making these worries particularly acute. Building a network or network capability into a product is not easy (good evidence here: ‘Come for the tool, stay for the network’ is wrong) which makes launch activities all the more important.

In the chart below I’ve tried to position where the launch phase would sit in the context of a longer term success plan and its key goals. Achieving the main aim of engaging users and ensuring they derive value from their use of platforms is made immeasurable easier when you launch successfully.


Steps to follow for a successful launch

Based on some excellent experiences from startups and my own with launching dozens of enterprise platforms I have distilled it down to these steps (in no order of sequence or priority):

  1. Communications or marketing. Arguably the most important element of the launch, for startups at least. For the enterprise this should be simple and educational and could include marketing mails pre, during and post the launch phase. Crucially, it should build anticipation ahead of the launch. Think like Steve Jobs – the master marketer at building anticipation for new product launches. Some great ideas that could be transferred from the consumer world can be gleaned from this colossal post by Jeff Bullas: 23 Ways to Build Colossal Pre-Launch Product Buzz. Key as he suggested is building buzz – just make sure the actual reveal is not a let down if you do. Also, make sure to capture the main reason and benefits for using the platform both from an organisational as well as end user point of view.
  2. Supportive collaboration platform and community. The former only be necessary outside of the platform if the one you are launching doesn’t have any conversational or social features included. The purpose would be to build and amplify network effects – as covered in the article shared earlier, a crucial piece of the startups arsenal. Yet the point here is not to focus on the technology but rather the community. The community is what builds stickiness for the platform and that is a positive end if done well, not necessarily the means. The community is primarily where users can leverage their connections to help each other (solving learning issues or any other issue for that matter and for the platform, or more importantly, for the business) as well as share positive outcomes. This latter point is where you can scale success from an early stage in a positive feedback loop of success with the platform and business use cases.
  3. Webinars, training and offline events. You can do many things online to help scale your success efforts (I wrote an article about that here: Scaling your customer success efforts online – a guide) but nothing succeeds like physical interaction face to face. A launch event is a really good idea if you can manage it. Good training (online or off) should be one one of the basic boxes you tick off in this area but that really is just the start. I’ve seen the case far too many times where some training has been delivered (badly for the most part and only focused on features and functions) with the expectation that this is all that is needed and from there users can be left to their own devices. Coming back to the community part, it would be right to think about how you can keep the building of a community in mind when you carry out these activities. For example, offline events are the best way to start seeding an online community and webinars are also a great way to supplement and sustain it.
  4. In app intro’s and help. A lot of support in the early stage can be automated but however you do it, this is a critical time for it. If users get stuck and cannot find a solution to progress their use, it may well end up stalling further use altogether. Setting up a help desk (temporarily or ideally for the long term) that supplements a vendor’s own platform is a good idea. From a platform point of view, users should be able to easily log issues and requests for help that get handled at speed, possibly even in real time. Ideally the platform also offers walk through’s of different features or help buttons that explain a feature. Rich media like video or perhaps gifs should also be adopted.
  5. Senior exec sponsorship. In the startup world this might be enthusiastic customers that have been on a beta version of your product or service and are happy to speak for it. In the enterprise we speak of sponsorship which is a better way of framing the importance of using a platform than mandating it. However, if the platform is business critical from the get go, the task of mandating its use is made easier. Doing either well means explaining clearly why its important to use and why its critical to the business. When senior execs participate and show their involvement by leading from the front that helps greatly too. Sponsorship is a far more participatory approach but actual participation from senior business leaders is critical for success.
  6. Champions. In the startup world this would mean bloggers and other thought leaders and potential brand advocates. Giving them special attention, sneak peeks and information upfront is key before launch. In the organisation, having a network of super users that you identify far in advance of launch day is critical. They should be predisposed to using the platform and supporting other users. Pre-train them to a very high level. These users will be the early adopters and advocates that help scale your adoption and engagement efforts and pull other users along. You should have an entire program dedicated to identifying, building, growing and rewarding this cohort of users. Incentives to be and for being a member of the program would go a long way to making it successful.

What if you fail to launch successfully?

Then, as in Brian Chesky’s case (co-founder and CEO of Airbnb), don’t fret as you still have two more chances. At least that is, if you haven’t bungled the non communication aspects. This point only really applies if you launched and no one noticed. Maybe the timing was wrong and employees were too busy with other priorities or you simply bungled the communication and the messages didn’t resonate or make a big enough impact.

If on the other hand you have made the wrong choice of platform or the platform had terrible problems, bugs and issues, well then you have a harder task. Coming back from the latter is not going to be achieved simply by relaunching :)