Customer Success, Sense Making, Startup Innovation

Why selling productivity is hard and what to focus on instead

David Sacks who founded Yammer (the original enterprise social network) alongside Adam Pisoni, knows what it takes to build a business or two. He nailed it in this tweet from the other day:

Having worked at Yammer and been in the productivity game for a while now, I absolutely concur. I have always maintained that focusing on something as generic as improved productivity is not going to cut it🔪 Not in sales, nor customer success. Neither will focus on technology and feature or functions do. I’ve written about this before:

The two alternatives to focusing on productivity and their relative merits and challenges are discussed below:

Bottom-up freemium groundswell

Sacks is the master of this tactic. Yammer was predicated on making it easy for users to try Yammer for free, invite other users to try it and then start the groundswell needed to convince IT they couldn’t shut it down.

This is hard to do well. It depends a lot on the usability and virality of the product. The first is about getting users excited to use the product to such an extent that they want to share it with others.

Especially with products that rely on social collaboration, virality is probably built in because you cannot collaborate alone.

Building massively attractive products is also not easy but is made easier depending on how new the proposition is. These days with so much competition in enterprise software, that is really difficult.

From a people change effort, building a groundswell from the bottom up is also really heard in certain cases. Like when there isn’t an initial spark from product attractiveness or demand or it goes against the grain of the current company culture.

Solving a business pain

For me this is the more worthwhile alternative, at least in enterprise software. Its also not easy to do but if you nail it, you convince the people with the purse strings 💰 This is an eventual hurdle you need to overcome, may as well do it upfront.

Solving a business pain often means working outside of IT and that is often the first challenge. Ideally, you have business users that have come to the product through the viral groundswell 😁

If the business is engaged, whether through some initial use or not, on understanding how a product can solve problems or address opportunities, the battle is two thirds done 💥

Deep understanding of the environment the business operates in and mapping that to the use of technology is needed.

The more you focus on leaders in each business domain, the better. Although you can can also focus on regular business users and how they use technology currently and could do to meet their needs. Showing this to business decision makers will nail it 🔨

Customer Success

Role of Sales in Customer Success and 6 rules to guide you

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.

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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.

SaaS sales are already complicated and your product has to be easier to buy than to use but use and what it takes to be successful with it, need to be a clear part of the solution you sell.

6 rules to guide you

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.