As the year closes on a challenging 2019 this brief retrospective on my InnerVentures is preparation for 2020. If it shines a light for anyone else then I am grateful 🙏
I’ve been at the game of workplace change a long time now and sometimes I get despondent. I weary at the lack of change I see or the setbacks I observe.
Other times I’m geed up by the possibilities from the positive outcomes I experience.
Then I remember a quote from His Holiness the Dalai Lama that puts it all into perspective for me.
Perspective is such a valuable tool.
It allows you to neither be lulled into a false sense of satisfaction or security by the overly positive changes you see (like the frog in boiling water). Nor feel too discouraged by the negative ones.
Detachment from results is key. It’s all about the journey and sometimes the steps are more backward than forward, or they veer off course.
All of which is fine and doesn’t mean to say we should not strive.
At Microsoft where I work, our CEO Satya Nadella speaks of (and I paraphrase), the distance between what the espoused culture is and what the lived experience is. The distance is what you want to keep working at, reducing it, removing impediments. We’re not perfect. We may never be perfect. But every day we work at it. That’s the journey we are on.
I love this perspective because that is also how we should live our lives and a key principle of InnerVentures (i.e. the interplay between our working and personal lives and how they are inseparable).
Step by step, day by day, striving to be a little better. Shining a little more light. Handling setbacks with equanimity.
The right perspective leads to the right awareness and this needs to be maintained constantly. Without constant awareness of our actions and the reality they create every day, we lose sight of the goal and the journey we are on.
Perspective also helps with the perseverance needed to overcome challenges. Perseverance requires equal parts commitment to purpose and detachment from results. Commitment to purpose keeps us moving forward into the attitudes and activities that serve to fulfil it. Detachment from results keeps us from becoming frustrated and discouraged when things don’t immediately work out as we had hoped.
Stepping back and viewing events with an aspect of eternity makes a difficult present easier to understand and bear. It also creates an awareness of real impact that can encourage and drive us to change our future.
The other day in a meditation session I arrived at an insight – roughly represented in the doodle.
In my best sessions when I can get to that calm place, insights arise.
Finding that place of calm, focus and insight is difficult and not always achieved in a meditation session. Sometimes just getting to calm is my best outcome. That’s because of all of the things that come into play to take you away from that place.
This situation is kind of a metaphor for life. I wanted to write a post to share my insight about why meditation is such a powerful tool. It can lead to many insights and one of the most important is about our true self.
In meditation, many things keep us from practicing well with good outcomes. Discomfort with sitting, distractions like noise, thoughts, etc.
In life, many things detract from the ability to enjoy and be productive every day. Some are cirmcumstancial and others of our own doing.
If we can but learn to see past circumstances, distractions and our own bad habits, we can arrive at the essence. The essence is where we are enjoying who we are and what we are doing. When we are in that state of being, we can be productive and lead meaningful lives.
Being aware of the barriers is the first step. Doing that consistently takes practice. Meditation is one such practice.
Getting to the truth or essence you can then start distilling that further and form insights about reality.
Allow me to elaborate on the main elements in the doodle.
These are the minutea that get in the way of a focused, productive and enjoyable life. Many are of our own making and we allow, even encorage them. Whittling away fruitless hours on social media with the contsant dings of notifications to entrench it. Endless but pointless to do lists that don’t have any meaningful outcomes – shallow work instead of deep work. Even circumstances that require our attention but we sometimes overblow just because it allows us to avoid facing a painful self.
This is the persona or identity of who we would like to be but is most often the furthest away from our true selves. It could be the vision of the person we would like to become yet so frequently becomes a mirror of what the media and modern society tell us we should be. We very often face a battle between the structural identities of our idealised selves that Freud wrote about: Id, Ego and Super-Ego. We can spend hours playing out these mental games without any discernable enjoyment or benefit as research is increasingly showing.
Many of the thoughts we have when we have the time and are not distracted by the mundane, are useless. They are often in service to the ego as mentioned but can be equally mindless as other distractions. Daydreaming for example is a pernicious type of mind wondering that research has started to show is either useless or even leads to unhappiness. Mostly it is the aimless flitting from one thought to the next characterised in Buddhism as the Monkey Mind.
In my doodle I have emotion as an offshoot of thought. I often find I have a thought and the emotion follows. If the thought is negative, the emotions that arise are negative. This flows into an ever downward spiral. I’m no psychologist and have no idea if this sequence is correct. This is just my observation. In the long term its as if continuous thought leads to a cementing of an emotion. It becomes ingrained, like a habit. At some point I feel like these habitual emotions start leading and effecting my thoughts. The key of course is to stop the cycle and mindfulness and meditation practice always does.
When I mediate and achieve that state of untrammeled calm I recognise a form of being that is pure. It’s a pretty beautiful state and feels authentic, not shrouded by any masks. It is also thoughtless and emotionless. But it doesnt mean that insights cannot arise. These insights are sensed. They don’t become articluated into thoughts until afterwards. It’s difficult to describe which is kind of the point. Our words are just a way to attach meaning to something. Most often we confuse and get things wrong by applying our cognitive biases.
In my best sessions I sense this state to be the true version of myself that is fully present and aware. A state of mindfulness that leaves me refresed and focused for the day. Over time I’ve become more attuned and closer to this state on a permanent basis. Every so often I achieve these breakthrough insights.
I’ve written a lot about ways to scale success efforts but the best is always face to face. Events like customer meetups are a perfect way to bring customers together. I’m running these in EMEA for the company I work for currently. The context is enterprise technology. This is what I’ve learned so far and I’ll update this post as I go along.
The ideal conversation at a customer meetup would be to discuss shared successes. We all know those are hardly going to be the only outcomes. Discussing failures and how to overcome challenges are also good topics.
Meetups in the context of customer success should not only be about technology. They can also be a means to building relationships with your strategic customers. They should build your customer advocacy base too. It is a rich means to nurturing customer advocates and a customer community.
Aspects outside technology can also be topics for exploration. How something like organisational culture impacts on technology adoption. How a well designed approach can aid your technology adoption efforts.
Yet you should also use customer meetups for your product team to meet customers. The purpose here would be to share insights about whats coming in the product roadmap. Customers also have the chance to provide nuanced feedback on what they want and need.
Above all, meetups should be learning environments. Settings where people can come together to share expertise and learning. They should also encourage new and different thinking. At best they bring people, tools and techniques together. They drive openness and foster creativity to help solve problems.
The ideal customer attendee is the advocate. They have an interest and passion for your product and the industry in which operates. They have deep knowledge and the willingness to share it. If they don’t have these attributes, the customer meetup is the forum to nurture them in.
From the vendor side (customer meetups are most often run by the vendor) there are ideal attendees too. Those passionate about making customers succesful are obvious choices. So bring the customer success team into the meetup. Product teams are the other obvious choice. Product managers and even hard core software engineers should attend.
If you can have senior executives attend, that is ideal too. It shows how serious you are about customers and the meetup format.
Don’t get sidetracked or become unfocused. The meetup is always about the customer and their needs. Its never about your cool product or your clever founders or your awesome people. They will shine through anyway if you make the customer shine first.
What to avoid
There is sometimes debate about inviting prospects. Some would treat the customer meetup like a demand generation event. To make it more impactful. They would have marketing more involved to drive attendance. Sales people involved to have customers convince prospects to buy. Don’t let them do it.
Strategic prospects that are well advanced in opportunity stage could attend. Screen them first. Make sure they have the right intent. Are they genuine in their passion and intent to learn or do they want to verify a decision. If the latter, there are better ways of doing that. Like a reference call.
Sales focused events are different. Attendees of these events know hard selling is a primary motive. You can market the crap out of those you attend or sponsor :)
Who owns and leads customer meetups also comes up. Customer success teams should in my view, not marketing. They are close to the customer and know their environment. The meetup can also be a forum to forge closer ties as well as drive further customer success work.
Which does not mean there is no place for marketing. They can help promote as well as scale efforts.
But if customers think the meetup is a vehicle for marketing or sales, you lose their trust. The potential to build a community of customer advocates is no longer there.
The ultimate goal of a series of customer meetups is to build a community of advocates. If that drives loyalty in your company and product as it should, that is a beautiful thing.
Guidelines for a successful meetup
Location. Make the location as accesible to the majority of your customers as possible. This means transport links as well as general accesibility. If it means taking your event to the customers location, do it, e.g. a roadshow.
Venue. This is the more important factor and you should not underestimate it. A well lit, expansive yet informal and cozy environment is ideal. You want to inspire creativity and encourage openness. It would be better if the location was away from your regular work space unless you have an amazing space. Doing it away from a regular work space helps take your mind away from business as usual. These days in any major city, there are a plethora of options. And services like Breather can help.
Numbers. If possible keep it down to a manageable number. This depends a little on the size of the venue (don’t cramp people). But it’s more about interactions. Too many people and conversations will not be cohesive in the managed part of your agenda. Fifteen is ideal, twenty is manageable.
Time and frequency. Time of day is the first consideration. The options are early morning or evening. Morning is likely to eat into work time whereas the latter into personal time. Each has merits and challenges. You can experiment between meetups. I tend to choose mornings from 08.30 – 10.30. Two hours is a good duration and does not take too much work time out of the day. Quarterly is a good frequency.
Cost. This should not cost the earth. If you are fortunate to have a large budget you can go wild but it is not needed. Location hire and refreshments will be the main costs. I have catered for the finest coffees and a mix of pastries and healthy alternatives before. This included a personal barista with her own coffee machine – the real deal. We chose to emphasise coffee (tea was a side option) because of its history in London. Workshop Coffee was the supplier. Venue (see pic for example), breakfast, coffees and teas all came in at £700.
List. You need to manage a list and track attendance over time. There are so many tool alternatives I’m not even going to go into them. Most important is that it is shareable so you can get others involved to see who is attending or has in the past. This will aid further promotion. It’s also useful if the main organiser leaves or cannot manage a certain event.
Promotion and communication. You shouldn’t go overboard. If you have a history of meetups to draw from so much the better. You can explain previous events and successes. When starting out make clear the purpose of the meetup and set the tone. Consider your ideal audience and craft your message with them in mind. They can be executives, technical or business users. You could get fancy with a email marketing tool but it’s not necessary. Key is to be brief and impactful so you get a response.
I would start 2 months ahead of the event and target 3 follow-up mails after the initial mail. Follow-ups can provide more info and remind potential attendees to sign up. You can also encourage sharing with colleagues. Use of social media depends on how broad and public you want to make the event. I favour a managed attendance approach in private (not public and free for all). Social can, if you have the permission, be a good way of sharing activities on the day. That way you promote your brand and further attendance down the line.
Managing signups. I currently use Splash. It’s a landing page tool and then some. The obvious alternatives are Meetup and Eventbrite and there are many others too. Key is to have a branded and customisable means to attract and manage RSVP’s.
Agenda and facilitation. The agenda should be as light as possible and not be too overbearing. Start with time and space for attendees to connect and converse. They would do this while filling up with refreshments and food. I’d give this at least half an hour and it provides time for late arrivals. You could then have a brief intro for ten minutes covering the agenda. The core part of the meetup could impose a structure beforehand. Or attendees could determine the agenda on the day, like an unconference. Make it an interesting mix.
Remember the customer is the hero and his or her information needs are paramount. I find customers speaking is both demanded and more effective. If you mix that part with internal speakers, emphasise customer speakers. Give them more time. Have more than one speak. You could cover this in an hour and have three speakers talk for five minutes each. You could then open the floor to Q&A for ten minutes. Extra time is buffer. Company representatives can then have time to talk.
Cover subjects the customers should know about or have an interest in. End with a close recapping the sessions main outcomes or topics concluded on. You can also try and get input for the next event. You can have a combination of MC or facilitator/s. The former should not dominate and manage intro’s, time and the agenda. The MC could also play role of facilitator or if you have break out sessions you may need a few. Facilitators are only needed if you want to drive clear outcomes. I would be judicious in my use of this approach for customer meetups. These are more relevant for workshops.
Speakers. This depends on your approach and does not need to happen at every event. Speakers could be a mix of internal or customer speakers as mentioned. The thing about speaking though is that you make it conversational. Try and avoid imposing the use of slides if you can. They can play a role and are necessary if you needs to demo products or examples. It is far better for speakers to engage in two way dialogue.
Follow-up. One email to thank attendees will generally do. I add a survey to my mail. This is useful to get feedback from the event to determine its success. You can also get input for your next event and as a way to identify topics to cover. Attendees can also suggest areas for improvement. If you do carry out a survey you could follow-up one more time with the results of the survey. Make clear what actions you will take as a result.
Connection between events. This is not for everyone. What I am referring to is a community or collaboration tool. Attendees can connect and carry on discussions between meetups. You can also discuss and agree topics before an event. This will need effort on your part – community management effort. You also need to think about the tool. It could be a public tool like LinkedIn, Facebook or G+ (which you can make private). Or it can be part of your online success portal which is what I recommend. Use this to enhance conversations and solidify your community.
I’ll keep updating this post with my learning. If I find good articles covering the same topic I’ll also add them. If you have any input please add a comment. I’ll add the best stuff to the post.