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Suite or best of breed strategies for customer success when enterprise software budgets are squeezed

It is in economic hardship that many offerings are put to the test and not least, the enterprise software offering. I’m reminded of this every day since I work supporting one of the most well-known suites out there, Microsoft 365 (disclosure). It was brought back to my attention by this post in The Information: Zoom Could Draw Suitors Even Though Customers Are Balking at Software Bundles (registration may be required). The context is Cisco being a potential suitor to Zoom.

The nub of the article as it pertains to what I want to talk about is captured in an excerpt below:

The question is whether Cisco, or another enterprise software firm, could get full value out of (acquiring) Zoom – part in brackets mine. The point of our report today is that customers of enterprise software tools are becoming increasingly resistant to buying bundles of software products. Like the millions of consumers who’ve dropped cable TV in the past decade, irritated at paying a fortune for channels they don’t watch, cost-conscious companies are now questioning why they’re paying for software tools they don’t use, according to the report by my colleague Aaron Holmes. This isn’t an issue just for Cisco—it likely affects all enterprise software companies that pitch bundles of different software services, from Salesforce to Oracle to Microsoft.

I’m not sure on what basis they conclude that “customers of enterprise software tools are becoming increasingly resistant to buying bundles of software products”. There is reference to a report but no detail. It does make sense on the logic of it – why pay for things you don’t use. Especially in challenging economic times.

Suite or best of breed is a longstanding discussion topic. Although the article has another focus, it does touch on one more aspect for suite or bundle sellers: “…software firms need to justify the value of each tool, rather than trying to use one to sell another that may be less popular. Another option is that software firms will need to sweeten the pricing on bundles”.

Which is where I’d like to focus next, to bring two important yet different perspectives.

What buyers care about

Buyers are often a collective, like a purchasing department. Or it comes down to a single or few decision makers with a budget. They are the ones who care about cost and price and all roads lead to them. They very often have no idea of the user’s perspective as they should – they are making decisions based on cost.

On the slim chance they do care about the user’s perspective, it’s often just to determine how many users are using a given tool so they can argue they should pay only for what is being used. I often get the request to help determine what current usage rates are.

Not to say there isn’t merit in usage-based pricing models and there are a lot of SaaS vendors moving in that direction.

The problem with just focusing on usage is that it is a proxy for value but says nothing about actual value being gained from the use of a tool and what that is worth to a customer.

For this you need to get the users perspective – more on that below. But if cost is the primary concern, then for sure you need to be justifying the value of each tool, whether standalone or as part of a suite. Bundling good with bad is never a good idea. More on value later.

What users care about

Users care about utility. How easy is it for them to do what they need to do. How does a tool or set of tools help them get their job done, on their own and/or with others.

What business outcomes does the software help them achieve is probably the most important metric focused on.

Sometimes needs are unarticulated or unmet and you need to help identify them and sometimes they are blindingly obvious. The more you can help users map outcomes to these needs, the better. Bringing this back to the buyer/s will make a pricing or cost-based discussion much easier.

With collaborative software the value is often collective, i.e. you get more value out of it, the more users use it, so called network effects. When collaborative software is used as a layer on top of other software, and you can collaborate successfully with others when using it, value doubles. I’ve written about collaborative apps before: Hyperconnected business and driving the next level of productivity with collaborative apps.

The single most important thing to focus on when trying to capture what users care about – stories. User stories are not the same as user personas which are typically created beforehand and used to help define how you develop products or sell them. User stories typically happen post use and capture how a product has been used and to what end. Ideally it captures successful use or why create them (other than for lessons learned) and if done well, will spur on further successful use. Brief thoughts on a related topic here Thought Rocket: Anatomy of a Perfect Customer Success.

What really matters and what you should focus on

Outcomes and the value they create in business terms and in the eyes of business users to make it super clear. I’ve given examples of what I mean in relation to a product suite here: How Microsoft Viva can drive Performance – Correlating and Tracking Business Outcomes.

And just to bring it back to the suite versus best of breed context which I’ve digressed from slightly 👇

Interoperability, which is where platforms come in, makes for more usable products in a suite.

When you consider that in organisations these days, the average number of Apps being used (depending on the research referenced) is 1-200 Apps, then anything that can be done to make these work better together, so much the better for the users and ultimately the business.

Because one tool can never do it all (especially in complex organisations with many needs) and shouldn’t, this would seem to lend itself to the suite argument. This is totally ignored in the article, but I guess that wasn’t its point.

Not that I am pushing for one or the other. But when a suite is a platform that drives interoperability and delivers multiple and much needed functions in a joined-up way, without redundant or unnecessary features, it will beat best of breed any time. And it will win because it delivers better value in every sense, not just in better business outcomes but better value for money too.

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The Business Impact of Employee Experience on Customer Experience

I am working on a new trend report covering this topic in part and this is based on the work I do (disclosure) – more on the report here: Employee Customer Experience Connection. One of the primary assumptions I’m exploring for the report is that effectively driving a positive employee experience has interrelated benefits on the customer experience too. And as we all know, the customer is king so this seeming interrelationship would seem a slam dunk and of great interest.

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence of the interrelationship, but I am not finding a huge amount of concrete evidence of this based on research. Still I am convinced and persist in my efforts. This post is in part an exploration of this and I am also trying to get others’ views so please take part in the poll at the end 🙏

This Forrester report on the The Total Economic Impact™ Of Microsoft Viva was commissioned by Microsoft. These kinds of reports are pretty standard for many technology vendors to try and justify, as the title suggests, the economic impact of using the technology. I thought this would be an excellent start since Microsoft Viva is an employee experience platform launched by Microsoft not too long ago – more on it here: Employee Experience and Engagement | Microsoft Viva.

I have pasted a relevant piece from out of the report below (the diagram and section after it in yellow). This piece covers the benefits that derive from improved business outcomes. It seems natural to have expected that of the many benefits covered in the report (see full list below), this one would contain something to do with impact on customer related outcomes, like revenue growth, increased satisfaction and loyalty, reduced churn or improved retention, etc. Not so much. Although you could assume some indirect impact, like getting to market faster means customers can buy the product sooner and therefore incremental revenue is realised sooner, it’s still not what I am after.

Most of the benefits, like the many others (which are notable), are very much focused on internal metrics. I discuss this at the end of the post.

All benefits covered in the report:

  • Faster Onboarding Process
  • Improved Productivity from Content and Expert Discovery
  • Improved Employee Retention
  • Time Savings for Operations Teams
  • Improved Business Outcomes – see detail below
  • Unquantified Benefits
  • Flexibility

Improved Business Outcomes

Evidence and data

Enriching employee experiences resulted in better business outcomes, including better product development, greater innovation, and increased revenues. The Viva suite influenced key performance indicators such as time-to-market, product market fit, and utilization rates by tying actions to outcomes. Each app additionally improved employee competency, engagement, and motivation. This benefit increased with extended deployment, higher adoption, and tighter integration with Viva Goals to focus people. Achieving these benefits required business process redesign, leadership development, and change management.

The head of program management in software shared that Viva Goals enabled the launch of a product in eight new regions in fewer than four months, which would have taken nearly two years otherwise. Not executing this launch would have left millions of dollars in deals on the table.

The IT executive for workplace IT experience in professional services said that Viva improved time-to-deliver by enabling employees to quickly surface exemplars and best practices. The IT executive also said that Viva Insights creates focus time, which “has been a game changer and gives people time to concentrate on delivering more value to the company.”

The COO in electronics said that Viva Learning helped drive employee retention through increased engagement and motivation. This avoided hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in annual lost revenue because product engineering attrition delayed new product launches.

The product owner in CPG said that Viva Topics helped with cross-team collaboration and learning. This directly increased shared knowledge and knocked down silos, which ultimately improved R&D potential.

Modelling and assumptions

For the composite organization, Forrester assumes that:
It realizes $6 million in incremental revenue annually due to faster time-to-market.
Thirty percent of faster time-to-market is directly attributable to Viva.
There is a 45% gross margin applied.

Risks

The following factors may impact other organizations’ realization of this benefit category:
The value of faster time-to-market for the organization.
The extent to which Viva is leveraged to drive innovation and development velocity.
The organization’s average gross margin.

Results

To account for these risks, Forrester adjusted this benefit downward by 20%, yielding a
three-year risk-adjusted total PV of $1.6 million

Why are employee and customer experience outcomes not better aligned?

Read some of the articles I have curated or written on about the interrelationship of these two fields, either on the landing page at the bottom, or at the beginning on the landing page itself, where I crunch some numbers about the potential value of the market combined. You will see that there is a lot being said about this.

What is a struggle is to find verifiable, quantified, research backed evidence. I’m not sure why but let me hazard a guess or 2:

  1. This is not a thing and it is not a trend, i.e. employee experience has no bearing on customer experience and outcomes related to the latter. I struggle to believe this but must accept it’s a possibility.
  2. We are not there yet and the scientists and researchers have not cottoned onto this yet so have not done work on it yet. This is more likely the case.

I’m not giving up. I believe in this. At this stage, short of the type of evidence mentioned above, I’d love to just get some validation. Please let me know what you think and answer the poll below. If nothing else, it will ensure me I’m not going mad and others agree 🤪 Also, if you have come across any evidence, please share it in a comment.

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Framing your customer success efforts for success

In your customer success efforts, especially when you are going deep with several high touch engagements, you have to think about how to spread yourself for maximum effect. It may be exacerbated when you have several customers each with several engagements. How do you choose what will benefit the customer the most with scarce resources and achieve your goals within your organisation? I have a simple framework and here it is below.

It’s pretty simple really, which is a critical component of any good sensemaking framework 🙂

Scale of impact

What potential does the engagement hold for making an impact, this is the central question.

To answer this, you must first look to the customer engagement and what it is trying to achieve.

If it’s framed in terms of the right business outcomes, you are off to a good start.

If those outcomes are quantified in the right way, you should be able to tie in your engagement activities to those outcomes.

If the scale of impact is high in terms of achieving high returns and the customer holds these returns as a major priority, you are on a good path.

Ability to influence outcomes

This is a kind of sanity test. I mean you can nail the aforementioned activity on scale of impact perfectly but if you have limited means of achieving what you’ve identified, it’s no good.

Your ability to achieve the right business outcomes could have as much to do with resources on your side as those on the customer’s side. Or your organisational intent or that of the customer, or some other blockers that may prevent you from achieving the right outcomes.

So think carefully not only about why and what you want to achieve but also how. If the latter is missing, this should be a major factor in reaching the next point.

Prioritised solutions

You could use a scoring mechanism to help in this task but that’s probably not necessary. You should be able to tell just by plotting the engagements into a visual multidimensional matrix, focused on the two activities covered by two axes – as per below.

This is not rocket science, just sensible thinking. Good luck with your customer success engagements 💪💥

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A jobs to be done primer to transform your innovation thinking

Tony Ulwick, Founder of Strategyn and leading proponent of Jobs to be Done (JTBD) theory and innovation thinker extraordinaire, ran a webinar the other day. I could not attend due to the time it was being held but I did watch the recording that was sent out to registrants. Fascinating stuff and here are my notes.

Straw poll results

He ran a straw poll to start with and the answers were interesting and also set up the rest of the talk and focus points. Results in bold at the end of each question.

  1. Is there agreement on your product team as how to best define the markets you serve? Roughly 50/50
  2. Is there agreement on your product team as how to best segment the markets you serve? Roughly two thirds no.
  3. Is there agreement on your product team as to what a customer “need” is? Roughly two thirds no.

Intro

JTBD theory in relation to innovation is mostly about having a new perspective and seeing innovation through a different lens. Especially if you need to transform and disrupt your (product, company, industry – select as needed), this is for you. It requires you to replace a solution lens with a problem lens. It contrasts seeing the world of innovation through the lens of what the company is doing (a product perspective). It advocates seeing the world of innovation through the lens of what the customer is trying to get done (a problem perspective).

The famous analogy from JTBD theory is that rather than see the world through the eyes of a drill maker (company and product), see it through that of the hole maker (customer and problem).

People buy products and services to get a job done.

  • Accomplish tasks
  • Achieve goals or objectives
  • Resolve and avoid problems
  • Make progress in their lives

Some more contrasts between JTBD and a company lens

Market definition:

JTBD LENS: A market is a group of people and the job they are trying to get done.

COMPANY LENS: Markets are defined around products, verticals, demographics, etc.

Needs definition:

JTBD LENS: Needs are the measurable outcomes that people want to achieve when getting a job done. Example, when cooking a meal, minimise the time it takes to prepare a meal.

COMPANY LENS: Needs are solutions, benefits, requirements, gains, exciters, specs, latent, etc.

Unmet needs:

DEFINED AS The important, measurable outcomes that people struggle to achieve

Segment definition:

JTBD LENS: Segments are subsets of people in a market, each with a different set of unmet needs.

COMPANY LENS: Segments are personas, use cases, people with different attitudes, demographics, etc.

Innovation Definition:

The process of devising a solution that gets a job done better / more cheaply.

In summary, you have a process (see below) that will allow you to conceptualize products you know—with certainty—will win in the marketplace BEFORE development begins.

The rest of the webinar is mostly about success Strategyn have had with customers (great examples given) and how to implement the ODI process.

I love this framework for so many reasons. I’ve written about if before as part of the research I did for my As a Service trend report in this post: As a Service trend research – customer solutions. As I said in the post about the JTBD framework: A framework for understanding customer needs, if ever there was an approach intended to help find solutions to customer problems or needs, this is it. So moving towards customer solutions, as opposed to having a product or company lens, that is crucial for all kinds of success going forward, least of all for innovation.

And also in that article and indeed the JTBD framework, is the business outcomes focus which I am also enamoured of and write about a lot.

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Employee Experience platform offering grows with new Microsoft Viva modules

I’m writing this post because I am working on a new trend report covering the subject: Employee Customer Experience Connection. So I have an interest in new developments in related fields and I also want to use these posts as a way to collate all these new developments so I can add them to the trend report as I go. I also am working with and advising customers in this space through my role at Microsoft (disclosure).

Viva Goals

So the first new concrete addition to the Microsoft Viva platform is Viva Goals, which was announced publicly a few weeks back. But this has been in the pipeline ever since and as a result of the Ally acquisition last year.

At left is the video heralding the announcement and it has a demo to show what it’s all about.

In a nutshell, Viva Goals incorporates OKR functionality into the platform. OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results.

This is an extremely important addition that makes concrete sense for a company that wants to manage business outcomes more holistically. OKR’s is a way to set and track company goals and trickle them down into smaller outcomes (key results) and throughout the organisation to those responsible for achieving them.

I have been using Ally in its existing form only as a way to test the functionality. I’m really impressed with how simple it is made and they also provide good, templated solutions to help create your own.

I think when it comes to good use of an OKR tool, the devil is in the details and it is how you word the OKR’s and how you tangibly create goals that are achievable and realistic that matters. This is as much art as science but the good thing is you can track effectiveness and get better over time.

Glint

It’s no secret that Glint, a similar Microsoft acquisition through LinkedIn, and Viva play nice together and there is much value to be gained in its eventual and complete integration.

In this video from a year ago you see how Glint can integrate especially well with Viva Insights.

Glint is more than just a survey tool but essentially it is used to manage qualitative feedback from employees. Marrying the outcomes from this to more quantitative measures like you would get from Viva Insights makes the combination super powerful.

It is going to be excellent to see how this area of the employee experience evolves as it is a key addition to the Viva platform.

What’s next

Obviously, I cannot say all that I know, suffice it to say that key business scenarios are going to play a leading role.

Imagine aligning Insights to specific functions like sales as I have already described here based on recent work I did and am still doing: Microsoft 365 customer questions – Sales Productivity.

The scenarios described in the post above are pretty clear I hope but you should understand they are cobbled together solutions at the moment. Far better will be when they are integrated fully into the Viva suite.

I’ll say no more than that for now, indeed I can’t. But watch this space 👀

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Starting out as a customer success manager – first 10 things to do

I was asked by a new colleague who is just two months into his role, what advice I could provide. Here it is in a short, sharp list of 10 things to focus on. I’ve tried to make it generic since there are some things specific to the company I work for that I could not mention here (disclosure).

Follow the numbers

Because everything is measurable and measured these days, especially in the customer success field, this is a natural starting point.

1. Find out what metrics the company use to measure customer success effectiveness and how your performance will be managed in this regard.

2. Find out what tools are used to track your impact and outcomes against these metrics and master them. These will most often be transactional and analytics or reporting based solutions focused on either revenue and/or usage or telemetry-based metrics. You will find out more about this after doing your homework from point 1.

3. In addition to the tools, find out what will help you achieve the numbers in terms of processes and supporting resources. Things like content, funding activities or programs that drive customer activity, etc.

4. Find out who will help you achieve them internally. Identify top performers and what makes them tick and why they perform well, i.e. why the company has rewarded them for being top performers based on quota attainment. This also refers to supporting or complimentary functions like sales, product engineering, etc.

5. Find out which customers will help you achieve those numbers, an internal quantitative assessment. Hopefully the company will have done an analysis of which customers have the highest propensity to renew, upsell, cross sell and have the money (budget) and intention to invest in your product and company.

Forget the numbers

Because we are too often obsessed with measurement. It can dumb you down and make you myopic (great observations in an interview with renowned management thinker and professor Henry Mintzberg).

6. Understand your customers, their business, wants and desires – do your own customer qualification work not just what was done internally under point 5. This is an external qualitative assessment.

7. Prioritise customers based on intent to use your product – nothing to do with numbers. Its a feel for how engaged they are and how well bought in they are to your product and company. For this you should also look internally, at your culture and how well it aligns with the customer’s.

8. Identify the key stakeholders. These are the decision makers, the champions or advocates (for your product and company). If you don’t find any, you will either have to decide to develop them because the numbers justify it or deprioritise this customer. Also look at how open your organisation and the customers are to open collaboration and transparency – if connection and knowledge is hoarded, this is not a good sign.

9. Identify the business outcomes they are trying to achieve; okay numbers may come into this but think about what problems they are trying to solve and needs they are trying to meet and how your organisation and product/service can support these. Think innovatively and use something like the Jobs to be Done lens.

10. Focus on value that you, your product and your company can bring in trying to meet those unmet needs or problems they are trying to solve. Again, numbers could come into it. But think more creatively and innovatively and bring time into it. What is the customer’s plan for creating value and where do you and your organisation and its product/services fit in – think in horizons – 1-3 years.

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Microsoft 365 customer questions – Sales Productivity

I work in the business of dealing with customers questions on Microsoft 365 all the time (disclosure), either directly or indirectly. This is part of a series of posts where I share them if they can be of help to others. Where I can of course and naturally, not just the questions but the answers too. All questions and answers strive to respect both sides sensitivities (parts will have been redacted and/or anonymised) and the main topic is covered in each post title.

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SenseMaking – The Customer Success Superpower

SenseMaking is not just for those in the Customer Success business. That post links to a report on skills of the future and SenseMaking is very much one of them, for all future workers. In an increasingly complex and noisy world you can see why. For Customer Success it makes even more sense.

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The employee customer experience connection – fundamentals

Here is an infographic with some supporting source material and an industry overview for context if you want it. Here too is where my interest and expertise in this space lie. This post is intended to dig a little deeper on the subject. Check out the diagram which captures a little more detail than I’ve gone into before and then the notes to elaborate – because its time to level up 💯

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Customer success operations – some answers

I was asked by Brook Perry from ’nuffsaid if I would be interested in contributing to an article she was working on with others to get feedback on a set of questions covering customer success operations. Being close to my heart I agreed. I’ll update this post with a link to the article once it publishes so you get the input from others, but here are my answers for now.

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The supremacy of business outcomes in a low code no code world

You may know of the new low code / no code approach to developing technology solutions (good primer if not). Simply put, it offers a development platform to users that requires little to no coding capabilities to build applications. There are benefits to this but also challenges which is why its important to consider the adage, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. In this post, I consider the importance of business outcomes, choosing the right platform, governance and pitching your solution.

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