This is a post in a series of four detailing how you can start a business during a recession (find them all eventually under the startup innovation tag). I think it is a commonly held view that we are about to enter into or are already in a recession. For whatever reason you are thinking about starting a business at this time, I am helping a startup on a similar path and thought I would share what I am thinking about to help them (more on my mentoring here). The focus in this series is the really early stages prior to launch and the emphasis is on how to do things on the cheap ;)
Assuming all has gone well in preparation for launch, one of the main things that you will presumably be doing at time of launch is selling your product or service. Whether it’s free, freemium, includes trials or fully paid for, at some point you will want to consider the transfer of a product or service and the beginning of a relationship with a customer or user. Well, you will need to consider the best way to sell and distribute your product/service and the best way to amplify that. You may want to consider doing it on a test basis before full blown launch but however you do it, you need to consider a few things.
There are so many factors to consider when selling something online that it would be impossible to consider them all in a short post.
It depends on whether you have a single product or multiple, product and/or service, physical and/or digital, fixed price and/or subscription, etc. And this is only the beginning.
In conclusion, you should consider a platform that is flexible. One such platform is WooCommerce although there are many others. It comes from the developers of WordPress and is free for the most part with the possibility of buying addons.
So many options to think about in this area too, but it’s crucial as it could make or break your business.
And there are similar dependencies. If you sell software or digital downloads, you will have far fewer challenges. If you sell physical products and these are complex and require installation, then so much the more challenging.
You want your site to look cool and attractive and you don’t have the time or money to pay for a designer – start with a theme.
As you can see from the screenshot above and the link in the button below, WooCoomerce comes with a theme directory you can choose from.
There are many more choices than this as well. For instance, you could consider Divi or Elementor, both produce website building platforms dedicated to WordPress and offer themes that are focused on eCommerce. These would make it super easy for a non-technical person to customise a theme without having to start from scratch.
I have been writing a lot on Microsoft Viva lately since I work with customers on it (disclosure) and since it is an employee experience platform (EXP), I am working on a new trend report that is related: Employee Customer Experience Connection. More specifically, I have been saying in relation to my work and the trend report, that sales is a sweet spot for an EXP. Some of my recent posts on this below.
Just last week I announce two other modules that had recently been launched: Employee Experience platform offering grows with new Microsoft Viva modules. These modules along with all the original four are modules that can touch all parts of the organisation – hence horizontal. They are not specific to any one department, in other words vertical. In the case of Viva Sales, the focus is squarely on the sales department and function and on supporting revenue growth.
Why sales is the sweet spot for the employee customer connection?
Sales is the front line. It is where the interaction between employees and customers is most tangible and critical and where great experiences matter. To improve the customer experience, you should start with the employee experience. It doesn’t matter if most of your sales are online now, and customers don’t need to interact much during the actual selling process. At some point, customers will interact with your company, post purchase or in the lead up to it, direct or indirect. Everyone is always selling, whether it is in their title or not and every interaction with your company is a reflection of an experience with it and influences sales. The retail industry is where employee customer interaction is keenest and most critical as I wrote about here: 3 reasons retailers are leading at the intersection of employee and customer experience.
Sales and growing revenue is number one. It is always a high priority for companies – maybe the highest, especially in tough times. So getting sales performance right is a top priority. Understanding it is a first step. Viva Insights is a great module for this specifically as I recounted in both of the articles I referenced earlier; through the work I am doing with customers. Second and ongoing is to conduct thoughtful experiments that will improve sales performance and productivity and measuring that impact of those through Viva Insights. Viva Sales will make the delivery of improved sales performance and productivity easier in Teams, through the flow of work. This point is stressed in an interview with Microsoft’s Chief Commercial Officer: Judson Althoff discusses the companies’ newest expansion, Viva Sales (cnbc.com)
Bringing CRM tools into Microsoft Teams makes sellers more collaborative with the intention of making them more productive, ultimately to drive top line growth. Microsoft where I work (disclosure) positions this as collaborative Apps that keep you in the flow of work. I’ve already written about the work I am doing with customers on this here, including other technologies: Microsoft 365 customer questions – Sales Productivity. In this post I wanted to zoom in a little with a demo video I created around some new Salesforce and Microsoft Teams integrations just out and some of what others are doing.
Salesforce and Microsoft Teams
This demo goes through the standard Salesforce and Teams integrations to date but recently the functionality has been extended for Teams Meetings and so this video covers that in a little detail.
Q!kom has extended the standard integration further, powered by Microsoft Graph API. This video explains how and shows the possibilities of extension and customisation.
Microsoft Teams integration with SAP Sales and Service Core
SAP Sales is not necessarily one of the powerhouse CRM platforms out there, but they are showing innovation by focusing on this integration with Microsoft Teams
With monthly active users in the hundreds of millions, Microsoft Teams cannot be ignored.
As a core platform where work happens, integrating your solution with Teams is a great way to enhance its use.
Dynamics 365, Context IQ, Loop and Teams
You would expect Microsoft with its own CRM platform Dynamics 365, to be driving this integration too.
In this video (time stamped to start at the right time) you see it being incorporated into Microsoft Teams but also other technologies like Outlook alongside Loop and Context IQ (new AI based technologies being developed and released at present). The video is from recent announcements at Ignite – a Microsoft conference.
The featured image in this post is based on an ironic state of affairs. Salesforce, arguably the best known CRM platform on the market, first started out life positioning itself as the “no software” company (if you’re in the SaaS business you’ll know what it means). The irony is that a recent piece of Gartner research is now indicating sellers are no longer required, the very people Salesforce’s platform is used to support.
Well not so much that sellers are not required but that buyers are relying on them less and less. Also marketing’s traditional role in building pipeline to tee up sellers for direct engagement in a “serial” or linear manner is being disrupted.
The article was heavy on statistics but not visually so. I decided to pull some out and focus on the things I found interesting.
One of the mind boggling statistics which is actually a status of pre pandemic views is encircled. You can imagine that now, post pandemic, it is even lower as personal interactions comes under pressure and more activities are conducted online.
The other mind boggling stat is the one at the bottom and how that is even higher for younger buyers who are going to increasingly bring this view to the fore.
All this points to sellers having an increasingly hard time getting in front of buyers and companies having to focus on amplifying the ways buyers now increasingly inform their decisions as the article points out.
Something else to focus on – customer success
In place of the question mark in the featured image and in addition to the excellent recommendations in the HBR article focused on getting buyers the right info, this is what I suggest B2B vendors also focus on:
Customer Successes that can be captured and shared with other prospective customers. So in other words, customer advocacy. Whatever form that takes (online stories, case studies or webinars with customers) it needs to be super authentic and succinct. Having the mechanism behind this requires a customer success and marketing operation driving these things – something similar to what I describe in this trend I am watching: Customer Success Marketing and Scale.
Customer Success itself as an organisation, profession and operation is very much geared to ensuring renewals and drive upsells and cross sells from existing customers. So my suggestion would be to focus on getting this right and a huge customer base that already exists would be properly leveraged and protected against churn. The art of doing that is for another post, or read some of my other posts in this category.
I work in the business of dealing with customers questions on Microsoft 365 all the time (disclosure), either directly or indirectly. This is part of a series of posts where I share them if they can be of help to others. Where I can of course and naturally, not just the questions but the answers too. All questions and answers strive to respect both sides sensitivities (parts will have been redacted and/or anonymised) and the main topic is covered in each post title.
I was asked by Brook Perry from ’nuffsaid if I would be interested in contributing to an article she was working on with others to get feedback on a set of questions covering customer success operations. Being close to my heart I agreed. I’ll update this post with a link to the article once it publishes so you get the input from others, but here are my answers for now.
B2B selling was already changing before COVID-19. I’ve written before about how I think customer success practices with their emphasis on product usage is changing sales to be more data and impact driven and more receptive to the user, not just the purchasing unit. This change is not unique to enterprise software sales – think about how you purchase cars these days, I did and it involved very few sales people or even physically seeing the car. VC Andreessen Horowitz looks to startups for inspiration and new research from McKinsey provides data points.
Customer Success teams in SaaS companies (mostly what I am focusing on here) probably like to think they are the spearhead for making customers successful (as the name suggests). In truth, its not that simple (is it ever).
First a little context on the two DanelDoodle’s I shared in this post. I use the Paper App (iOS) for my Doodles. They have a Paper Store where you can buy Workbooks. I purchased one on Data Doodling. Check out a video of the workbook. Basically it’s a set of instructions and practice steps for creating data doodles.
As part of the practice you create a mind map to break down a topic and then you start to define sources from that breakdown for your data doodle. So that is what you see in the two doodles. What a fun exercise it was and I plan to do more.
Now a few extra words about the subject. I chose it since I am a practicing professional in the space and wanted to explore some recent changes. As mentioned, Customer Success Managers will often take a lead in making customers successful. But since this is a relatively new role in many companies, it will often fall to other roles until CSM’s get up to speed. Even when they do, its a team game.
In the mind map I tried to plot all of the functions that typically interface with the customer and even some that don’t normally, other than in some minor way. I also tried to add some new aspects to the typical roles and how they have evolved to work with customers. I’m not saying this mind map is in any way complete or even correct – it was done as part of the exercise and was a spontaneous process, no science.
Once you create the base mind map, you look to identify relationships that can be explored in the data doodle. These are the larger circles which I believe represent the old and new relationships working to serve customers.
I used one of the template charts from the work book and plotted a change in value the relationships were creating over time. These are then further categorised into new and old. The new and old reference does not imply that some partnerships are disappearing or will be replaced by other newer ones. And the trends are also a non scientific view I have, based on my experience in the customer success role since roughly 2012.
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.