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.Continue reading Customer success operations – some answers
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.Continue reading Another shift the pandemic has accelerated – enterprise sales
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.
Things are definitely on the move and this view may not stand the test of time very long. Take Microsoft where I work (disclosure), we have just announced a major change in our Customer Success function. I cannot go into it but this public post by a long time and trusted Microsoft journalist at ZDNet gives some detail: Microsoft makes changes in its field sales, support groups as FY’21 begins.
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:Continue reading Why selling productivity is hard and what to focus on instead
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.
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:
- 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.