I’ve been in this space formally for almost 10 years now. I say formally because I’ve been doing the work a lot longer, just under another name. I’ve been passionate about it all these years and still am but after that long, you’ve got to question things. I’ve written on the state of customer success twice before, in 2017 and 2018. This is not such a post since they were in depth pieces based on the annual Pulse events run by the category builder Gainsight. This is just a simple temperature check, for my own sanity if nothing else.Continue reading State of a category – customer success 2021
I attended a customer success meetup last Friday which produced some excellent conversation.
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.
On a quick search you’ll find a lot on this topic so it’s worth doing the exercise and I don’t want to broaden this post out too much for now. The one that popped up at the top of the list for me makes some good points: How Customer Success and Marketing Work Together to Build Brand Advocates.
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 and more is probably something worth expanding on and there is evidence of it being an issue: Why Customer Success Should Own Customer Marketing.
Interconnection, especially with Sales
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.
Anything to add?
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].
We also discussed how other industries could benefit from learning about the CS business, like car manufactures which I have written about before: The connected car vision is missing a few connections
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,
— 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.
Creating customer advocates is a measure of customer success by some.
Not enough though, in my view. I have a view because I’ve helped create a fair share of advocates. Just recently three of my customers got up on stage and spoke at a large event to other customers and prospects.
I’ve also had the CEO of the largest bank in Africa come and speak at an event I created for other customers and prospects in the financial services industry. He went on to expand his business with my then employer to the tune of a $30 million, multi year deal (TCV).
If ever there was a worthy proxy for customer success this would be it. Apart from renewal or expansion I’m not sure there can be a better indicator of customer success. And as you saw in my example above, the one often leads to the other.
How you qualify an advocate
Okay there are some prerequisites to how you qualify an advocate.
They should ideally be the person or persons that are responsible for paying for the technology.
Ideally they should be highly influential in the organisation.
Failing either of the above, vast numbers of advocates would make up for this.
What else about advocates tells you they are one?
They are willing to speak for you in public about their use of the platform.
They have great stories of that use that they can regale other customers or prospective customers with.
They are happy to write reviews or case studies and jump on calls with other customers or prospective customers.
Last but not least, they should be credible. Either as speakers or writers or they have good standing in the community or industry.
Why advocates qualify as a measure of success
Well in the first instance you’d think they were supremely satisfied or why would they be an advocate otherwise? And customer satisfaction is a measure of customer success so this would be one way of indicating it.
They are also very tangible. You can count how many times a customer speaks for you, jumps on a reference call, helps author a case study. Tracking these success events allows you to track customer success performance very easily.
How to create advocates
- Make them successful, thats the first step. Meaning how they achieve outcomes with your technology but also in how they are perceived in the organisation. Making them look good in the eyes of their peers is a surefire method.
- Nurture the relationship and make advocacy a clear expectation upfront before you put the effort in. Let them know that given everything goes well, you’d like them to be an advocate for you.
- Make others in your organisation responsible for building them, especially executives. Lavish relevant attention on them. Through product teams and executives to make sure their voice is being heard in new feature development is one good example.
- Elevate their advocacy and profile and enhance their credibility by putting them on stage, help them co-author credible content or case studies that can be widely shared or get them in front of peers, e.g. meetups.
- Arm them with the success stories and product knowledge they need to be effective advocates. Its no use if they are willing but not able to be effective advocates.
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.
You should avoid the feature / function trap of enterprise technology adoption. Make it about the strategic use of technology. Bring product teams closer to customer needs and pain points. You could cover use cases which are the currency of success. A meetup is the perfect environment in which to discover and share successful use cases.
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.