On the path to the cloud, just as in life (as the Buddha would have us understand), one must submit our most cherished assumptions to rigorous questioning. We would make better decisions if we were clearer about the foundations of our own thinking. Cloud technology is a vast subject and this post tackles just a few assumptions, in the spirit of the DharmaHacker.
I am not presuming to have all the right views by any means and this post is also not going to tackle all aspects of this vast subject. Just the right few based on some recent conversations 😁
Firstly there are three clouds to speak of and I will focus mainly on the one that is normally atop a pyramid or stack: Software as a Service. The other two are Platform as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service.
Do a search for more on this because there are many good views but I like this one from Giva because of its simplicity and my sympathy with their philosophy, notwithstanding the fact they accredit Rackspace with the original definition. For the sake of easy reference I’ve pasted it below:
“SaaS is on the top of the stack because users interact primarily with software hosted on the cloud, and not the platform or infrastructure on which it runs. PaaS allows users to create and deploy applications. IaaS is simply the infrastructure and hardware that powers the cloud.“
It also serves to make an important point I often emphasis with colleagues at the moment.
Where I work (Microsoft) there is a huge transformation underway on our journey to the cloud. There is much emphasis on our ever expanding set of cloud services that form part of Azure at Microsoft. Microsoft 365, the productivity cloud that fits into the top SaaS tier where I focus, sometimes gets short shrift because of the drive to expand usage of the underlying tiers.
I often emphasise the point made in the Rackspace definition about users.
It’s the users, stupid
Not only that, it’s the business. I don’t mean to underplay the importance of getting the foundational tiers up and running and operational for customers. This has to be properly in place.
But it is in the top tier where users are active and driving business outcomes that matter most. Whether on a pre-existing SaaS platform or on applications developed on top of the foundational tiers, you have to be focusing on what users are using, why and to what end. Everything else is secondary. Most importantly, this use in the top tier also drives use in the others.
And even when use is by a thing, as in IoT, it is still about who is using the output of all data generated in the IoT activity and to what business end is it being put that matters.
How SaaS works
A separate view I have to address is based on another conversation I had. It was in relation to digital transformation and the role parts of the business need to take in making it successful, like HR. It was also about using SaaS platforms to support the transformation and the role they played. A quote from an article was used to kickstart the conversation with someone from HR – article here, quote below: Digital Transformation is a Workforce Transformation and HR Must Assume a Leadership Role.
“For digital transformation to succeed, internal processes need to follow the customer experience, not the other way around. This often results in radical changes such as the dismantling of processes and functional roles, as well as the demand for new skills and capabilities to meet evolving customer demands.“
Based on the persons recent experience, their view was that:
“HR processes have to squeeze into the new software configuration that due to high configuration costs can’t be modified to fit the desired process. Through implementation it becomes the tail wagging dog”.
My response, verbatim:
“Firstly, in terms of the customer experience and internal processes referred to in the article, I see it as a cyclical process – captured in a doodle below.“
“Then I think with cloud software (as a service) where you don’t run the software yourself, configuration (strictly speaking, its customisation) is not possible because all customers use the same version. This is opposed to when you ran an own version of the software on premise and could customise it to your hearts content to meet desired processes. That was costly and not just due to customisation effort.“
“The value in the cloud SaaS model is that you benefit from the feedback of many customers in frequently released versions of the software, with new features that meet the needs of most customers. Innovation can be focused on by applying technology to meet the majority of evolving business needs, instead of focusing on highly specialised solutions that take a long time to build and are costly to maintain and upgrade.“
Not all clouds are viewed equally it seems. Let’s hope all generally end up with a silver lining though, whatever your view.
Two of the chapters I will be covering are Subscription Economics and Technology Ecosystems.
Point 2 in the first article linked above gets to the heart of and intersection between these two chapters and this post is a way to explore the topics.
As mentioned in the article: Zuora is an enterprise software platform that helps subscription-based companies manage and bill their clients.
Its a pretty unglamorous part of the subscription economy, another reason that maybe their stock price is a little low.
But it is a very necessary part of the subscription economy, that’s why I used the analogy of the engine 😊 That is, technology platforms (or ecosystems) are the engine that drive the subscription economy.
Zuora have competitors and new ones entering all the time. WordPress (the worlds most popular content management system and blogging platform) recently announced they are going to help users monetise by offering subscription mechanisms.
From that article this diagram below, which they propose are the key business capabilities for supporting a subscription model. They may be business capabilities but look closely and they are all underpinned by technology functions.
From this you also grasp that moving to an As a Service business requires that the whole company shifts or refines its various functions in unison. In the article, Salesforce offer a three phase strategic roadmap for getting there which at best, is transformational.
I love that Customer Success is also represented in this framework above which I will be exploring in a separate chapter.
In conclusion, the articles and points they make and I discuss here are good indications that this trend is alive and well. Especially for SaaS businesses like Salesforce that focus on business-wide software, I think there is going to be increasing attention on this.
I’m trying to distil the essence in this doodle, often for my own sanity, to help me focus on the right activities in the work I do with customers.
Ultimately its for colleagues and customers, to help them understand and rally them behind my efforts 😁
It’s fairly self explanatory I think as I wanted to keep its simple and within a framework of three – three main outcomes, three main causes for each outcome. But here is some brief elaboration.
Activities are sequential. You can only get to value when you have done important pre-work, i.e. introduce a new tool and focus on its use, then how it should be scaled and embedded in real work and then on changing behaviours and driving real business impact.
But planning and focus is nonsequential. You have to start with the end in mind and work backwards – what are you trying to achieve, what is necessary to achieve it, how to measure it, what activities will drive it, etc.
These activities are all that matter in customer success. Everything else is peripheral. If you can get people to focus on these things, their supporting activities and the measurement of them then you will be successful. If you lead a team of customer success managers, remove everything else that does not contribute to these activities or gets in their way.
By supporting activities I mean things like tools to track these activities and the impact they are having, measurement systems, playbooks to drive the correct activities, systems and governance, etc.
One caveat to emphasise: These are activities that apply largely to the enterprise Software as a Service category in which I have the most experience.
I’m by no means perfect in my views. These are based on roughly 8 years in a customer success role. But I spent approximately 2 hours on putting this together. I’m pretty sure I’ve missed something so would love to hear from you if so 🙃
I attended Pulse Europe (the 4th) on the 8-9th November, an event run by Gainsight, a Customer Success (CS) technology vendor. They run the larger, main event in the US and I had the pleasure of attending last year where I captured the State of Customer Success 2017. So this is a timely update with a local, regional flavour.
Below are some general observations, main takeaways and then I captured notes from the sessions I attended (including my spin on things).
Chatting to the GM of the European office of Gainsight, Dan Steinman, I concluded that not only were Gainsight in the CS technology business but also in education. He agreed.
By that we didn’t mean the services part of Gainsight where they do offer education in support of their technology (see Gainsight University). I mean the education of an industry, a nascent one that needs it. It’s in their interest of course, to grow the category and also the industry within which it operates, mostly Enterprise Software [as a Service].
I digress, the point is Gainsight take a leading role in informal education and for helping grow and share learning between individuals, companies, for the category and beyond. In this respect they are very successful and the event achieved that aim too.
Main take aways:
1. Tighter integration between product and CS, the move to self service and broader alignment
This was a theme driven not just by Gainsight on the back of their acquisition of Aptrinsic (more here). I’ve been seeing this more and more and driving it in my work and it is definitely a growing trend.
It encompasses two elements: (1) greater collaboration between product and CS teams on high touch interactions with and insights from customers and, (2) the built in onboarding, help and product adoption features in products that drive end user self service.
This trend is possibly the most evident but there is also the need, oft talked about, of greater alignment within customer service oriented teams and with sales and marketing teams.
2. Lack of innovation
I found at this event and on the whole that there are no real innovations being driven or presented other than in company products themselves (point above). I am writing an eBook / trend report about this and in the work I do mentoring startups and it is a main pillar I stress.
I think in an industry or category often struggling to find its way (see next point) we will have to do more to innovate and increase the impact of customer success activities. There is so much scope since the customer is at the forefront of everything and technology is changing so much and so fast. But innovation needs to come to business models, processes and people too.
3. Hype Cycle
The chart below was presented by Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight in one of his keynotes. Billed as a maturity chart, you could also easily see this as a hype cycle. I’ve been through the early curve twice in companies and seen it happen in others. I’ve also seen it happen with many technologies which the cycle most often refers to. I got an impression that as an industry we are in a trough of disillusionment.
Perhaps I’ve been in CS too long and lack the starry eyed optimism of a newbie but I’m saying this from the perspective of what I hear. I hear too much justification, disagreement on the function and its impact, arguments on who owns the customer, fights with other disciplines like customer experience, etc.
It just feels like the conversations are typically of the kind you find in the trough of disillusionment. It’s also a period characterised by lack of innovation as mentioned. That’s not a bad thing. If I’m right, I’m looking forward to the slope of enlightenment for the industry as a whole because on this, I’m a true believer 🦄 🚀
Day 1 – 8 November ’18
Keynote – CS trends
This is a list that Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight ran through:
CS drives sales. Prospects talk to customers and advocacy is key. So if you ensure customers are successful, they will act as willing reference points and that will help close deals. I totally agree with this and think it’s an undervalued KPI (from the vendor point of view).
Company-wide priority. Top down involvement, endorsement and integration into operations is critical for CS success. Having been a part of two reorganisations because this was not done right from the start, I absolutely concur. Where CS fits is still being debated though and the dust has yet to settle on that. More on this later.
Career success. CS is one of the twenty most promising jobs of 2018. Growth in Chief Customer Officer’s was talked about and the fact they are primed to be the next CEO’s with some early examples quoted.
Prescriptive. There’s a greater drive to commonality, standardisation and bench-marking. The periodic table by Gainsight below is an attempt to define this. With this lacking in many of the organisations I’ve worked in and with, it’s going to be a challenge to define for an industry but I agree it’s critically needed.
CS movement. The growing attendance at Pulse conferences and book sales was pointed to as evidence of a growing CS movement. A little self serving perhaps but I can definitely feel an uptick in tempo over the years. The jobs market is also an obvious indicator and aside from CS being a most promising job, the number of openings I’m seeing is rising almost exponentially.
CS in EU
Pockets of activity mentioned like London, Berlin, etc. For me they echo the startup centres in EU where often the bigger, better SaaS companies reside and thus CS naturally follows.
EU is learning and following fast and a couple of stand out companies were quoted as evidence of that – see next point (in brackets is what they are excelling in):
Slido (Voice of Customer); Intelliflo (ROI); ReviewPro (tech touch + human, e.g. 3 mails following sign up – if no open, human contacts); Signavio (customer health); Attraqt (exec alignment/sponsorship – internal); Response Tap (success planning); Workfront (risk management); Gainsight (stakeholder alignment – external).
CS and Product
This was presented by Travis Kaufman, VP Product Growth, Aptrinsic on the back of Gainsight’s acquisition of Aptrinsic. Ultimately its a reflection of the strategic direction Gainsight believes they need to take to grow the market and no doubt themselves. There are some compelling arguements.
Sales and Marketing have done it (quotes about Salesforce’s acquisition and integration of several marketing platforms into their offering), now CS and product need to. Hardly compelling evidence but some other drivers were mentioned which do make sense.
Driven by — Data. Drive new opportunities based on usage data. — Scale onboarding by extending the journey into the app. — Influence product roadmap based on data not opinions
Product is way to scale CS engagement for high volume, low touch accounts. I’ve written about this multiple times here and here.
Feature / user feedback built into the product and covering onboarding as well as ongoing use will expand.
Sales and marketing consolidation will be followed in the CS / product world is the firm prediction – I’m rooting for this outcome.
A talk on why CS is the new growth mantra which is based on the main C-Suite challenge around delivering profitable growth. 500 executives were surveyed for the insights amongst 10 brands: Microsoft Azure/O365, Tableau, Symantec, Adobe, Salesforce, SAP, Cisco, Workday, Dell-EMC, Marketo.
A customer’s level of trust in a brand is the single most important factor in a renewal decision (55% said so). Trust is the #1 influencer and counts no matter how long a customer has been buying a product or service.
First impressions count – deployment (installation, activation and setup) is the most important CS activity. It is 2 times more significant in determining whether a customer will renew. A bit of confusion on their part here. As pointed out in various other presentations over the two days, I would separate out CS management from deployment activities and for me its much more about how you launch to end users: Launch like a boss – bringing consumer startup practice to your enterprise technology platform.
Longer term customers value access to self service tools and the ease of renewal – 73% think its important and it can have a 20% influence on renewal decisions. I love this since it validates a lot of my thinking: Role of Self Service in Customer Success.
Must win moments for a CS team
By the author of The Three Value Conversations: How to Create, Elevate, and Capture Customer Value at Every Stage of the Long-Lead Sale. This presentation was about a messaging approach for customer renewals, price increases and upsells. It was part based on a quote referenced by Nick Mehta (see screenshot) that renewals are really resells. It also emphasised the need to tell a better story. Great example of Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point book success – he wasn’t the originator of the theory, Morton Grodzins was. But Gladwell popularised the theory through better story telling. Other points:
Selling (acquisition) stories need to be different to staying (retention) stories because the latter reinforces preference stability as opposed to disrupting change / status quo bias.
At point of renewal, there is no sense selling on new features/functions which many sales people do, but rather on reinforcement.
Some really good scientific and evidence based reasoning (neuro science, behavioural economics, social psychology and decision science) on why good storytelling works. Totally get this having done several sessions on storytelling before – key CS skill I would say.
Focused around the customer retention path post sales (why stay), but also answering questions around why the customer should pay more and evolve (expand).
ResponseTap and Micro Focus went through some of their common approaches.
No common view of desired customer outcomes between sales, deployment, onboarding, etc.
Single source of truth needed – one document
3 time lines created for a plan (short, medium, long)
Everyone agrees on common outcomes before plan is approved – sales, CS, support, etc,
Benefits/Learning: — Having a common customer journey between departments — Tracking NPS at different stages is useful and should cover various journey phases: sales, onboarding, then service/support and CSM — CS should review internally feeding progress back to the organisation — Improved cross team collaboration and decision making — Better renewal rates after implementing
This applies mostly to the support function and was presented by someone from Insided.
Most customers don’t want to contact companies for support (72%, Forrester) so important to address well from a self service point of view.
Free trials and freemium customers also need support
Automation is not the answer for everything. 7 out of 10 interactions with chat bots fail.
Including community responses in help centre search responses is good practice – Google quoted as example.
Peer to peer answers are viewed as more trustworthy. Best is for the company to focus on company and FAQ material and the community, the long tail of other queries. Coincidentally I just came across another research based post that bears this out: Why Online Communities Are The New B2B Superpower — From the post: online communities are the third most common digital engagement channel for post-purchase customer feedback or support (after email and website).
Support or help in product is best and voice queries are rising (digital assistants).
Scaling user onboarding but keeping a personal touch
Again this was presented by Travis Kaufman, VP Product Growth, Aptrinsic. I agree with this approach from a scale, tech touch point of view. The only problem I see with it is the potential over emphasis on features. This can be a distraction from the all important emphasis on business outcomes which should never be forgotten.
Most of the user experience happens within the product and so it’s a good reason to focus on this which I totally agree with.
Onboard users to aha moments – key features you want to emphasise.
Onboard to new features as they release
Re-engage users to complete critical tasks
Product teams need to know what feature adoption rates are and also what the qualitative feedback behind that use is. Work with CSM’s to leverage this and drive or accentuate further use.
Derive personas for specific use cases. Ask in qualitative surveys or deduce from the use of a feature and who you intended it for.
The quest to be LAER efficient
From the President and CEO of TSIA (Technology Services Industry Association) J.B. Wood, a great overview of the industry as a whole. Also touching on the broader opportunity with XaaS (Everything as a Service). The TSIA is an association that works with the top 400 tech companies to understand what they are doing and what impact that has.
LAER: Land Adopt Expand Renew. Where XaaS meets profitability – see operating framework in slide below.
5 key markers on the path to LAIR effectiveness which is comprised of 4 stages – see this also in slides below
Monetisation of CS falls in the effective phase. Allows for investment in better CS activities
Point made that Cost of Sales and Marketing (COSM) is too high in cloud companies because customer acquisition costs (CAC), customer expansion costs (CEC) and customer retention costs (CRC) are based on activities being driven by traditional sales and marketing teams.
If the CS org were to manage activities covering the latter two it would drive down COSM. Fair point and this lead to a lot of discussion around the CS org owning renewals, upsells and expansions – the standard discussion that always comes up and was covered in other talks/discussions. On this topic I feel like the verdict is still out even after years of discussion. See also Nick Mehta’s point on this from his keynote on Day 2.
CEO’s view of CS
A panel discussion between CEO’s of Futrli, Precursive and TaskRay facilitated by the CCO of Box, Jon Herstein. All had robust CS functions so naturally the input was mostly positive.
What can you do to make CS successful? Spend time with the team. Understand the problems customers and CS org experiences. Get quantitative/qualitative feedback on ideal CS function then build it. Get people to think like customers – spend time there.
How to avoid silo’d CS function and ensure cross company accountability? Success hacks across functions. Have hypothesis that will achieve CS outcome then try prove. Non traditional customer facing roles spending time with customers, e.g. engineers. Love the hacking idea – I’ve written about this before: Success Hacking
Where will you invest? Automation of tasks so CS can focus on value work. Love it – say no more.
Any questions from VC’s around CS? A resounding YES around what is being done and how. They want insights into CS like scope of effort, ration of CS individual to customers, on what, etc.
Day 2 – 9 November ’18
Keynote, Nick Mehta, CEO Gainsight
Rumination on the raison d’etre of the CS org and where and how in the organisation it works best based on Gainsight experience. All makes total sense and as it should be for now.
Started on the debate over CS being a role or strategy. If not solved there’s a danger we lose the initiative. It should and can be both.
The CS charter: CS (Customer Success) = CX (Customer Experience) + CO (Customer Outcomes). CS > CSM (Customer Success Manager), in other words, Customer Success encompasses CSM’s and many other areas besides.
Lessons from Gainsight: — CS and Renewals separated at Gainsight. Different skills and tasks and difficult to do both well. — CS and Account Management also separated. Expansion happens off the back of adoption, outcomes and different audience relationships that CS build. — CS and Services. Handover opportunities and knowledge for skilled teams from CS to Services to implement deep work and methodology (project management). — CS and Marketing. Building the right outcomes and thus advocates happens in CS, formal references and stories developed further by marketing. — CS and Support. Strategic, exec stakeholder and impact work is for CS. Technical skills, process and speedy results should be covered by Support. — CS and Product. They have so much common ground: adoption breadth and depth; customer feedback, etc. Too often they have different ways to measure and silo’d thinking. Again example of sales and marketing and need to combine CS and Product which Gainsight are doing. — Exec team and CS. CS provides insights to customers, execs can amplify, drive resources, decisions and problem solving, etc.
Sirius Decisions: B2B alignment and impact on business performance
Sirius Decision are a research and advisory company focused on demand generation and performance measurement. They presented findings from various bits of research.
B2B Revenue Engine expectations have been increasing, challenging organisations to drive stronger alignment across customer success, sales, marketing and product teams.
The historical view of alignment predominantly around the buyer is no longer sufficient to drive growth and profitability rates ahead of the market and the competition.
Customer engagement is one of the six critical areas of alignment that B2B revenue leaders must focus on.
Achieving and maintaining alignment within customer engagement initiatives requires a roadmap to realise the business impact it can deliver to the organisation.
Engagement scoring (for all the various customer interactions) highly sought after by CMO’s
Customer Success at Cisco
Alistair Wildman, Head of customer experience EMEA was interviewed on stage. This is what he shared after being there and in his position for 6 months.
They call it customer experience which includes CS. Covers other functions: support, service, etc. So it’s the whole post sales experience.
Hardware has been wrapped up into services subscriptions model
80% of post sales efforts happen through partners – they are key in strategy. Not like Microsoft apparently although not true. Good analogy of a pit stop, one tyre is changed by Cisco, the other three by partners.
They have account based CS which is a direct engagement model and technical CS which will work with partners on customer challenges.
Data is key. They are still in the process of building dashboards to understand usage which they think will take 2-3 years.
Lessons from Salesforce (where Alistair worked previously): Hire for skill not for count. Senior people that know how to do the job. Develop skills through customer engagement simulations with product for training.
Data science at Gainsight
I attended this session thinking I was going to get insights into the cutting edge practices adopted by Gainsight but it was more like a basic intro to data science. Here are my brief notes before I left the session.
We are heading into the age of predictability which is where we want to be – anticipating trends, heading off negative ones, leveraging positive ones.
Tasks to consider are: identify the nature of your data sources; quantify and get a score for your data outputs, understand and plot maturity stages, move up the scale.
Prescriptive analytics understands causes for outcomes and prescribes solutions upfront. Needs AB testing of playbooks. This is the kind of deep level insight I was hoping for but we merely skimmed the surface.
How do VCs see CS
Joyce Liu (Dawn Capital), Paul Morrisey (Battery Ventures) and Stephen Millard (Notion Capital) were interviewed by Igor Beckerman (CFO Gainsight).
Usage and adoption is a clear priority early on. Value comes later. Customer advocates seen as important and so too Customer Advisory Board’s (CAB).
Metrics in the boardroom. Predictability and causality key. What are targets likely to be and why are they what they are.
How much to spend on CS. Depends on whether the company has big end customer’s vs small end customer’s. Onboarding should be a big investment. Where early value is seen with correlation on outcomes, investment goes up. CS can be a cost centre in the early days but profitability is important later.
CS leaders. Some of the best were waiters in the past – they all have a love for service. For larger companies, those that can have quality conversations across a broad range (multi functional). Systems thinkers and those that can take multiple perspectives (customer, industry, vendor)
CCO to CEO. If former responsible for 90% of long term profit that stands to reason it will happen.
Decision factors for investment. Talking to customers to get their views on the company. Tools and processes in place are also a key decision factor.
Brain Cox came and spoke on astronomy and the result was 🤯 Some excellent perspective after two days of intense CS overloading.
Customer success teams were put in place in technology SaaS and subscription companies to ensure that customers are successful in their use of the technology they invested in. They have become a core part of ensuring the customer derives long-term value and ultimately stays with the vendor (in other words renews the subscription).
But has the vendor and customer become too reliant on them?
I am a customer success manager. Far be it for me to be talking myself out of a job. But actually that is the point. If I could get to it (that point) I would have done my job I think.
Especially with technology products you would think that the technology itself would play a major role in helping users use it and get value out of it. And with the advent of AI, machine learning and automation, even more so.
Enterprise technology is quite a different beast though. The complexity of organisations means that technology use and adoption is not straightforward. It’s dependent on many environmental factors. Like culture, organisational complexity and maturity, etc.
Factors that technology is not good at dealing with but humans are. These have to be factored in, so to speak, in terms of how you ensure use and value creation of a technology in an organisational context. So I don’t see human effort going away anytime soon.
Still, lets look at how technology can and should help to alleviate burdensome tasks best left to machines.
In my mind, a lot of the help technology provides is ultimately geared towards the user being able to self help or serve. And its not just about the end user but also those responsible for end user adoption – the people customer success managers typically work with. I’ll call them adoption managers for sake of clarity. They are typically the ones served by Customer Success Managers most directly but as you will see in the next section, I certainly am driven to make them as self sufficient as possible too.
By this I mean two things:
What role the technology itself provides with things like built in help and support from onboarding guides to a help manual that can be contextualised with key features as well as be generally available to users.
What role any other technology provides to support the end users and adoption managers. For example, as part of recent hackathon efforts at Microsoft where I currently work, the team and I all won first at a local UK level and then at a global level, for a solution intended to support customer success managers and adoption managers. We called the solution Journey because that is what adoption typically is. Here are a couple of slides from our pitch deck which hopefully explain:
Validation has come from winning the hackathon awards (at the global level we won in a field of over 24 000 competitors and 5 000 entries). We also received solid validation from customers we are working with on the current manual efforts mentioned and all new customers we introduce it to.
So it seems there is appetite for this gap in the market. You can watch a very short demo of what we pitched and won with and answer 3 short questions in a follow up survey here if you like – it would help with further validation.
The future of customer service is about giving customers more control and better access to operations, so they can build their own experiences in real time. To do this, in addition to investing and moving customer service to cloud-based operations, they focus in on how to work better with automation.
I am totally in agreement with this as I wrote in this post: The Future of Customer Success is Not Human. Even though the context of the study above covers customer service trends which is very different to customer success, it is still broadly applicable. The domain is the same.
I think these activities are going to continue to expand in use and value, especially to alleviate customer success manager efforts where they are overloaded and too much is expected of them and where bureaucracy has crept in.
Technology can help reduce bureaucracy
In the post where I wrote that the future of customer success is not human, I quoted a study on bureaucracy. It has customer service, in which again I would suggest customer success falls, at the top of the rankings of roles and fields where bureaucracy has crept in (list of rankings pasted again here). Being a practitioner I would concur with that and the point I made then and again now is that technology can help avoid this.
Of course a large portion of the problem stems from overzealous management ptractices which is not something technology can help with. But by and learge I see it as a valuable counterbalance.
What needs for human intervention will never go away?
Assuming that technology can take up a lot of slack and reduce bureaucracy, what does this leave the customer success manager and those responsible for adoption to do?
Well it will be to focus on those intractable problems that I mentioned earlier technology will not be able to help us with and will become increasingly needed. Thorny problems and challenges that can be overcome to improve the customer experience. Those that require and will take imagination, creativity and innovation and will focus on the challenging art of managing people.
I have two separate posts on these topics that elaborate on that if interested.
How many times in your role as a customer success manager working with customers, have you struggled with the solution you are trying to implement where it has not been sold right?
By solution I mean what is constituted in the solution selling process (products and services, solving problems or needs and/or delivering specific business outcomes).
By not being sold right I mean when a customer thinks they are buying and getting one thing and once the deal is done they discover it’s something else.
Sometimes this is a result of over promise to close a deal. Most often this is around what a product can or cannot do, a feature/function mis-sell.
The area I am concerned with and covering in this post is a result of ignorance of what it takes to make a customer successful with the use of a SaaS solution and where this leads to misunderstanding of the effort required or provided. Generally the lack of clarity arises in one or all of the following areas:
What the vendor provides as part of the service the customer pays for and what might fall outside that. With SaaS, lets be honest, the majority of the responsibility lies with the vendor to prove value and keep the subscription afloat in terms of recurring commitment. That’s why customer success teams where set up. But a customer success team is not a silver bullet. So first sales people have a responsibility to position the customer success role and effort correctly and then make sure the customer understands that it cannot all be down to the customer success manager or team.
What comes with the product in terms of onboarding and adoption support. In the best case scenario, your product has clear onboarding process and functionality built in that supports end users as they start using a new technology and as new features get added over time. A good vendor will also provide documentation and learning material to supplement this. A good sales person will point to this as part of the sell but that’s the easy part.
What the customer needs to do in terms of driving value. This is the hard part. This is where sales people often trip up. They don’t make clear to the customer that resources, effort and commitment is required on their side at all levels. Especially with complex enterprise products covering complex people oriented processes.
What is the end goal in terms of what business outcomes are being striven for. This includes the measures for success and how you are going to track against them and the need for doing so.
It makes implementing any solution really difficult when these expectations are not made clear up front. I have often had to get involved in “go back” motions which as the name suggests, requires going back to the customer to resell the solution right.
This is a monumental waste of both vendor and customers time. Not to speak of the messy job of clarifying misperceptions which is never a good thing.
As someone who needs to implement such solutions post sales, I am acutely aware of this so I’m sharing my experience and thoughts of what will hopefully avoid such situations.
Whether you are in sales or customer success and ideally this is done together and before anything is sold, make sure the customer knows these things:
Use cases are the currency of success and should be defined as part of the sales process, not afterwards. They are part of the solution sold and a key way in which value is delivered (use cases should have clear business outcome targets and KPI’s to measure success). Getting a customer success manager to do this after the deal is done is to close the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Make clear where culture change is necessary to make a technology implementation work because it requires such different work practices. Also that the customer is responsible for managing this, not the CSM. The CSM is not a resource but a guide. By definition a customer success manager cannot appreciate and know an organisations culture as well as someone who works there. Nor can they influence the change that is often necessary.
Maturity and value take time and there are no quick fixes where complex organisations and technologies are concerned. Big bang approaches at launch are often necessary and the first 90 days are critical but will seldom do the job in the long run. Iterating your way forward by constantly tracking progress and tweaking where needed is best.
Data is the way to track progress, it is the only way to measure success. First that the product is being used and then that intended outcomes are being achieved through a well defined set of KPI’s. This should be made up of a solid set of quantitative and qualitative data focused on product usage and then tied to business outcomes. Ideally this comes as part of the product and service but crucially, this needs attention and effort.
Business outcomes are the value deliverable, not a well configured product, a great process, a changed culture, etc. The latter are the means, business outcomes are the end game. Making a product available is not automatically going to achieve desired outcomes. Return from a technology investment requires clear value definition upfront (use case definition aligned to a vision and goals that are constantly measured against and changed where needed) but you need to manage these other things to get to there.
Success events are activities that will lead to usage and value creation. They are often activities that a CSM and those responsible for adoption in the organisation work on together to plan and execute. Do these and track the impact they have on usage and business outcomes constantly. This takes time and commitment and often, crucial involvement from senior executives.
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.
Just a quick doodle to capture this thought I had and a note to accompany it.
Customer Success is the business I’m in. That is, the task of ensuring the customer of my technology platform (mostly this is what it concerns) is successful in the use of the platform.
We both have an interest in being successful but often come at it from different sides. So I plotted it on a graph.
We both have an interest in all of the elements, it’s just the focus that’s slightly different.
The vendor wants to drive usage and adoption. Adoption means the users are using the tool. If they are not satisfied with it they won’t use it. If they are not using it, come renewal time the customer won’t renew.
The customer wants to be happy that the product does what he or she wants it to do and gets the results targeted. NPS stands for Net Promoter Score in case you weren’t sure. It’s a good proxy for happiness :)