Build the team of today and tomorrow

 

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What do you do during the week you’re not attending your company’s user conference?

Catch up on reading?

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Exercise?

Ali

Hang with the dog?

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Yes, yes, and yes.

I wasn’t in attendance at this week’s Oracle’s Modern Marketing Experience (MME) conference in Las Vegas (long story) but I was still busy researching, writing, and having conversations with people like any other week. I also made the time to watch the live-stream of the MME keynote sessions from 3124 kilometers (or 1941 miles) away. This post will not be a summary of the event so change the channel if that’s what you expected. Instead, I want to pull out a couple of threads from those keynotes and weave them into a theme I’ve been discussing in recent posts.

Still with me? Okay, let’s see how this goes.

First, Steve Krause, Group VP of Product Management for Oracle Marketing Cloud (OMC), shared how the company is introducing artificial intelligence (AI) into the OMC platform. It’s exciting news but hardly surprising. Oracle is not alone in pursuing AI as a tool to augment its solutions and to improve the experience it delivers to customers. AI is seeing an industry explosion of investment and in growth in the sheer number of ideas for its application. In commercial business alone AI is taking on greater relevance because it is seen as an accelerant for future growth as is explained in this report  by Accenture. The flip-side of AI’s promise of more intelligent and responsive products is that it will improve internal efficiency too. Transformation in multiple dimensions that benefits customers and employees. How? By offering up exponential opportunities to innovate through the leveraging of new ideas that result from AI. It can be difficult to imagine the unknown but simply put, that’s what we have with AI in the business world. We’re seeing it in its infancy and the unknown of artificial intelligence will become known and in the process create new roles and new paths to solutions that we haven’t yet imagined. And through all that will be a requirement for the right kind of attitude (people) on the team.

That idea of having the right people on the team is something my boss, Catherine Blackmore, picked up on in her inspirational talk (I think she called it, What is your superman?) on day 3 of the conference.  She was speaking directly to marketers in the audience but her role as Global VP of Customer Success, and as one of the most prominent Customer Success thought leaders around, means she was also speaking to her own team and the Customer Success industry at large.

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“Build the team of today and tomorrow”. Build the team with people who embrace openness, innovation, partnering, and collaboration. Her talk and those characteristics she called out are interestingly supported by research for two specific generational groups.

Nielsen Norman Group researched the topic of millennials as digital natives. In the report you will see uncanny resemblance of the characteristics they list of millennials and the attributes that Catherine called out in her talk. Also, this was interesting too… “Many Millennials were in grade school or college when Google first rose to popularity, and it was a critical influence in setting the level of simplicity and directness that Millennials have come to expect from interfaces. They don’t care if (for example) your enterprise application has significantly more complex features to consider. When interfaces fail to live up to those unrealistic standards of simplicity, Millennials rarely blame themselves — unlike older users. Millennials are quick to criticize the interface, its organization, or its designers.” 

That is the indigenous (i.e. naturally occurring) behavior/attitude of a digital native.

And it calls to mind something I said in a recent interview with the online magazine, Chaos and Rocket Fuel. In the interview I said, “Here’s something to think about: if you ask a young millennial what the word “digital” means, more often than not you will be met with a blank stare. All they know is digital. So much so that they don’t even call it that.”

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While the millennial cohort has largely been absorbed into the workforce and is applying its own unconscious biases just as every generation has done before them, the next generation (Gen Z) is the one that will truly wipe things clean making business look and behave completely differently than it does today. Sorry Boomers, we’re almost through.

An article by Pew Research called, digital natives are born global citizens, elaborates on the characteristics of Generation Z. It’s the generation that follows Millennials and was born (approx) around the year 2000. They aren’t ready for the workforce just yet but soon they will be. If you really want to go deep on this topic, download the PDF from that Pew site and discover some interesting bits of information. It may disturb some preconceived notions you have of young people the world over. One stat that jumped out for me is this one:

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It jumped out not because it surprised me that young people are tight with technology. Everyone can see that. Why it jumped out is because of the faith they have that technology is so consequential to the hopefulness of their future. It’s sweet and it should cause us (older generations) to pause in contemplation. Young people are not misguided to believe that technology can be a force of good. Let’s make sure we deliver on our part of the bargain. Let’s be open, let’s embrace change, let’s innovate, and let’s do it together.

 

 

 

 

The Power of Team

INSEAD team

What do CEOs expect from their Customer Success (CS) organizations? There is fluidity around this topic but stripping it to its essence we can say they expect their CS orgs to take responsibility for these things:

  • higher retention of existing customers
  • higher revenue attainment from existing customers
  • movement towards building an organization that operates under its own P&L, with healthy margins, etc
  • customer satisfaction goals that can be demonstrably proven to result in higher retention rates

What’s missing from the list is any explicit mention of product adoption and that’s because CEOs would say that adoption is a fundamental expectation that should be covered off by the drive to retain and grow customers, and by the strategy CS deploys to increase customer satisfaction. Fair point.

How are these expectations acted upon at the CS organizational level? There have been countless blog posts and articles written about best practices for on-boarding, education, driving successful renewal programs, measuring NPS and customer effort scores, and in developing billable or fee-based services within Customer Success to drive adoption. This article though will not add to that body of work. Instead, it will address a fundamental behavior (and yet a particularly difficult one to master) of professional organizations that aspire to deliver on those CEO expectations, leadership. By leadership I mean senior management that consistently demonstrates its ability to clearly communicate, inspire, model, and coach.

So VPs of Customer Success, this article is for you.

The recent Harvard Business Review article on the mediocrity on teams lists four leadership practices that lead to performance excellence. Most pertinent for this article is leadership practice #3, Establish Peer Accountability, which I believe can help Customer Success reach the elusive goal of C-level legitimacy that it’s been striving to attain since its inception. A common refrain heard in Customer Success circles is that it’s difficult to get complete organization-wide buy-in for CS at that level. Why is that? I believe it’s because CS struggles to empirically prove it can hit its KPIs across the board, quarter after quarter and year after year.

There’s an emerging practice for people who manage a team of customer success managers and it starts by drawing on something that sales organizations have been doing for decades. Senior sales leaders have their account executives present an overview of their territory to their peers on a quarterly basis.

There are all kinds of ways to improve your Customer Success practice and getting the team together to triangulate on the business costs (comparatively) next to nothing.

The typical agenda for a quarterly sales meeting will look something like what you see immediately below. Each account executive would be required to prepare a presentation that covers all the points.

Quarterly Sales Meetings Agenda

  • Overview of territory
  • Revenue attainment to date
  • Top opportunities (or, how I’m going to make my number)
    • Hurdles
      • Product support cases in the critical path
      • Competition
      • Action items to close
  • Competitive wins/losses in last quarter

Marketing is represented in these meetings and will typically deliver a review of activities they led in the last quarter to support sales as well as provide a forecast of activities to be conducted in the upcoming quarter.

Benefits of these meetings:

  1. Transparency
  2. Opportunity for account executive to demonstrate full grasp of the business
  3. Peer review and assistance
  4. Leaders get to publicly lead

I’m not sure how prevalent it is for Customer Success organizations to have adopted these types of meetings for themselves (I rarely heard of it during my time as head of Customer Success research with TSIA) but even if there are some that do conduct them, it’s highly unlikely they would approach them as comprehensively as what I outline below. For these quarterly customer success meetings, each customer success manager (CSM) would be required to prepare a presentation that covers all the points.

Quarterly Customer Success Meetings Agenda

  • Deep dive of one account
    • their business and its challenges
    • why they bought from the vendor
    • their health (or, what’s going on?)
  • Top customer achievements this quarter
    • measurable progress towards business goals
    • explicit examples of adoption
    • innovation using the vendor’s products
  • Adoption challenges in territory
    • trends, patterns
    • plans to address
    • communication with critical parties
  • Revenue (renewals, growth)
    • Top opportunities
    • Action items to close

Benefits:

  1. Transparency
  2. Opportunity for CSM to demonstrate full grasp of the business
  3. Peer review and assistance
  4. Leaders get to publicly lead

Because I’m a believer in the elimination of barriers there should be representation from Product Management, Sales, and Marketing at these meetings. All those teams would add tremendous value to the meeting and it’s important that they learn from the CSMs and hear details, patterns, trends of the customers’ experience with the products and the company from the one organization that has the most intimacy with them, Customer Success. Those organizations could then leverage their specialized expertise to offer ideas, clarification, and education for how situations and processes could be improved.

Now let’s dive a little deeper into the detail that can potentially surface from and about the CSM during these Customer Success quarterly meetings.

  • Assess the CSM’s business sophistication
    • Are there unique challenges inherent in the customer’s business that affect their ability to fully adopt our solution?
    • Is the industry or sector in decline? How is the customer addressing that reality?
    • What pressures is it facing from new technologies and new consumer behavior that are affecting the team that Customer Success works with?
  • Assess the CSM’s ability to employ all available tools/methods 
    • What methods are you employing to increase your understanding of the customer’s challenges?
    • are you comparing or benchmarking the customer and using the resultant information to help educate them?
    • how are you utilizing social media to learn more about the customer?
  • Assess the CSM’s product knowledge and their ability to match product to business need
    • Tell us about some of the customer scenarios (use cases) you’ve observed that could help mature our product.
    • Tell us why the customer may be ready or not ready to invest further with us
  • Assess the CSM’s knowledge intimacy of the playbook and their ability to think creatively for how it might be improved
    • Talk to us about our customer success playbook. Based on your involvement with customers over the last quarter, what suggestions can you make for improving our customer success playbook?
  • Assess the CSM’s knowledge of how the work of other organizations integrate with or otherwise could be leveraged to help Customer Success deliver better service to customers
    • How can other organizations within our company help you do your job?
    • How is the CRM fulfilling its purpose as the repository of customer truth?
    • How does the content you produce, or repurpose from other organizations, and transmit to customers resonating with them? How do you gauge its efficacy?
  • Assess the CSM’s ability to monitor and coach the customer and to discern from data what actions should next be taken
    • Have your customers always followed our script for on-boarding? If not, do you know why and how did they respond when you informed them that missing or skipping steps prevents them from moving forward on the adoption path?
    • What clues do you see in the dashboard and reporting data that support opinions you have about the customers’ odds of success?
  • Assess the CSM’s ability to speak to client experience
    • As the person most knowledgeable about the customer, based on your experiences and observations what can you tell us is the common perception customers have of working with our products and our company?

Senior Customer Success leaders should view these types of meetings as their Sales counterparts see theirs. The best ones see quarterly sales meetings as opportunities to build a pipeline of leaders, as creating an environment of collaboration that drives improvement, and as a crucible for vetting sales opportunities and refining plans to bring the deals to closure.

Senior Customer Success leaders should see CS quarterly meetings as opportunities to surface future leaders, to raise the bar of expectations about what it means to know your customer and to know their business, and to articulate a strategy for driving the customer towards their desired outcomes.  Finally, senior Customer Success leaders should honestly look at these meetings as opportunities to test their own ability to lead and to drive the organization further towards achieving those expectations of the CEO I laid out at the very beginning of this article.

For all kinds of practical and psychological reasons, coaching your Customer Success organization to improve is extremely difficult on a one-to-one basis. Those types of meetings are good for maintaining a communication flow and for very targeted and specific coaching. But some research from Stanford points to the fact that people learn better and improve faster in groups and in environments where they can present to and collaborate with their peers. INSEAD elaborates on this from the angle of compensation design in what it refers to as goal-framing theory in this article.

Coaching teams of Customer Success Managers is critically important because they, like Marketers, are on the forefront of technological innovation that revolves around the customer. The data onslaught will only grow and skills such as a person’s ability to think critically and in multi-dimensions and to communicate professionally and with precision will become even more valuable in the years ahead. Take a look at the table below from MIT Sloan extracted from this article. Artificial intelligence (which is coming on faster than most people realize) will be increasingly seen in the client experience space in the near future. Customer Success needs to prepare itself for how it will leverage and exploit new machine-led ways to touch and learn from customers. New roles will be required and current teams can adapt to them if the right environment exists now of looking at the customer from many dimensions and collaborating around strategies for improving their experience and their ability to succeed. Quarterly meetings as I described above will help stimulate and nurture the kind of culture that will be ready to assimilate and exploit AI to benefit Customer Success organizations and their customer engagement models. Senior leaders can prepare their organizations by creating now a mature culture that collaborates around the customer’s business.

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I’ll close by saying I realize there are many companies with dozens of CSMs in their organizations and that would find the prospect of having each CSM present in the meeting a daunting and near-impossible task. For large organizations like that I suggest that you map out the year and split up the presentations accordingly. The important thing to remember is that the benefit of having the CSM stand in front of peers and demonstrate a firm grasp of business is powerful and will dovetail nicely with what should be your company’s secret weapon, a strong, open, and outward-looking culture. That culture though also happens to be the trickiest thing to build, nurture, and sustain.

Blockchain and my dad

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My father first taught me about the physics that underpins a chain. He was no craftsman but he could manage his way around most small projects involving hammers, saws, and screwdrivers. Because of our humble situation though, he ended up having my brother and I do all larger home repairs with him, everything except repairing the roof of the house two stories above the ground. But that was only because he didn’t want to buy a 28-foot ladder. One time he had us loop one end of a large 30-foot chain around the car trailer hitch and loop the other end around the corner post of our old dilapidated garage that he wanted pulled down and demolished. It was before demolition permits were required and before anyone had awareness of the need for safety glasses or even steel toe boots. It was that kind of time and no one blinked an eye that two boys in shorts and running shoes were given the task to climb all over a crumbling garage. But one thing my dad did for safety reasons is explain how chains work. We were about 13 and 14 years old at the time and despite the fact we knew everything there was to know about the world we still paid attention as he explained that the health of each link is critical to the overall strength of the chain. One weak link compromises the whole and so with decapitation on our minds we checked each link for the smallest evidence of weakness. Since we didn’t possess an electron microscope we had to put a bit of faith in dumb luck too. Cutting to the chase, the chain was sound, the garage collapsed when the car gently pulled the chain that pulled the post, my mother didn’t speak to my father for a day or so, the neighbors were unhappy with the dust, our two younger sisters cheered from the porch, my father saved a few bucks, and my brother and I lived another day. Lessons learned? Motion, force, energy… you know, physics. Oh, and teamwork of the links-in-a-chain kind.

Baffled as to what this has to do with business? Maybe this will help.  I was reminded of that long-ago story when I read this article from MIT Sloan about how Blockchain technology will transform how businesses are organized and managed. The message of the piece… that the strength of a chain, with verifiable and trust-worthy links, and the fact that each link is dependent on the other, is a perfect analog for how business processes can be improved. Think of the links as your current internal organizations (Marketing, Sales, Customer Success, etc.)  They can be connected to provide a more seamless and reliable process flow and experience for the customer. In short, they can be made to improve your business.

The Blockchain value proposition dovetails nicely with a message I conveyed in this recent talk at Totango’s Customer Success Summit 2017. In that talk I made a statement that businesses need to re-imagine their processes so that the customer is represented horizontally rather than be dealt with in the conventional vertical organizational fashion that exists today and has existed for a hundred years or so. Why change? Because the customer is not efficiently served via the conventional approach, and you’re losing business as a result. The experience the customer has is disjointed, being touched as they are by different people from different teams with different agendas, and the overall messaging they receive and the impression they have of your brand is often incoherent, at best.

Today’s organizations (Marketing, Sales, Customer, Success) hobble themselves with too many barriers that prevent them from collecting and sharing critical customer-relevant data, or from holding each other accountable for the delivery of some aspect of the customer’s experience, and from having visibility into whether the customer is achieving the outcomes they expected, and hoped for, when they purchased the solution in the first place. My colleague, Chloe Basterfield, touches on this from a marketing challenge perspective in this blog post.

Even before Blockchain invades the business world, smart executives can begin to build that horizontal flow with the organizations they have now. Encourage the breaking down of silos by organizing the leaders and rallying their teams and missions around the need to improve the process through which the customer is dealt with by your company. Conceptualize the flow as linked tasks that together form a rolling chain that pulls the customer smoothly through their journey with your firm.

You too can do this without safety glasses and steel toe boots.

Customer Success Plans. Really, they’re not that hard.

INSEAD crisis

In a call earlier today with my good friend, David Sakamoto, Head of Customer Success for the Americas at Cisco, a wide-ranging conversation eventually turned to customer success plans. While we are each big believers in the tool and have had great experiences utilizing it with enterprise customers, it seems to have fallen a bit out of fashion lately. We’re not seeing success plans as a topic very much on conference and meetup agendas. If I do, it is only given the surface treatment as in, all customers should have a success plan. But no detailed sharing of experiences and of empirical proof that they matter to customers. Nor do I trip across blogs that touch on them. So I did some random, unscientific inquiries with people I know to see whether their organizations utilize the tool. The results were spotty. Some do, many don’t. Some produce them but only for strategic customers. Some only for customers that demonstrate some sort of need for one (I can’t figure out that rationale), and one that does it for all their customers (but it’s a manual process and they are a small SaaS vendor with only 50 accounts). So I dug into this topic a bit more.

A year ago, TSIA, published in their annual State of Customer Success the following graph that details how CSMs in their community of enterprise companies are spending their time. Nowhere on the list is “success plans”. What you do see are “get well” plans but you can also see from the definition that those types of plans are reactive (details the steps to put out fires that threaten future revenue) versus the proactive nature of a success plan (details the path towards achieving business outcomes).

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So what gives? Why aren’t organizations producing success plans more broadly, as a best practice, for more of their customers? How do people offer proactive guidance that drives adoption, especially for larger and more complex environments? Is the answer to just do weekly phone calls, as if we’re still in the 20th century? Could it be that companies are now producing software solutions that are so solid, so easy-to-use and implement, and so intuitive that customers easily adopt them without the need for guidance? Ahem.

Let’s be honest, most CSMs don’t create success plans for their accounts for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. They aren’t required to
  2. Time constraints
  3. Not enough information about the customer
  4. The customers have not shown an interest in the past

All these excuses (sorry, reasons) are why there are so many “get well” plans in existence. So, let’s tackle each one:

  1. They aren’t required to – This tells me CS management themselves don’t understand the value of success plans and probably (I can almost guarantee) haven’t discussed them with customers.
  2. Time constraints – This I understand and appreciate but have you tried to automate the creation of the success plan?
  3. Not enough information about the customer – Huh? Don’t you have a CRM? Hasn’t the salesperson captured most of the pertinent information already?
  4. The customers have not shown an interest in the past – I bet they haven’t and it’s likely because they’ve not received enough value or have had very little follow-through from the CSM.

Let’s dive into #3.  Even the world’s worst salesperson will have this information documented:

Section A

  1. what industry the customer is in
  2. what they bought
  3. what they spent
  4. their renewal date
  5. the names of key contacts in the account
  6. the names of key vendor contacts (account manager, CSM)

Better salespeople will have this data as well:

Section B

  1. why the customer bought the product/solution; what are they trying to solve?
  2. partners they might be using and how (implementation, staff augmentation, etc)

In addition to all that, the best salespeople I’ve ever worked with will include the information below and be able to recite, without notes, an elevator pitch around it:

Section C

  1. a breakdown of interest of each key stakeholder in the account
  2. particular business challenges facing both the company and the industry that they are in and how the vendor can help them successfully face these challenges

Let’s not even consider AI software that can, and eventually will, vastly enrich the overall knowledge of the account that’s contained in the CRM. An example is AI software like this in the financial services industry that factors in demographic, geographic, and publicly available tax information to produce a full picture of expected costs and returns for a financial customer. Basically, they are hell-bent on replacing costly financial advisors. That’s the future and I suggest that more companies start getting serious about producing success plans for all their B2B customers.  I can hear screams of “WHAT?!?!? There’s no time!” In answer, I return to #2 in the reasons above. Have you tried automating the process?

It’s not that hard. Have your IT or CRM administrator create a form that looks like the kind of professional success plan you’d present to customers and that gets automatically generated when they sign a contract. Have that form populated with pertinent, customer-facing information (stored in CRM fields) that should already have been collected during the sales process, such as:

  • items 2, 4, 6 from Section A
  • items 1, 2 from Section B
  • item 2 from Section C

The program could also map out a timeline for the customer’s expected adoption of the product (based on best practices you should already have learned and documented from other similar size and type customers).

Once the form is auto-populated, have it sent to the assigned CSM for review before they send it on to the customer. Or go full-on automation, if you have the confidence, and have it sent straight to the customer. Am I forgetting anything?

Thanks for reading what I think is probably the most mechanical blog post I’ve written in 10 years. I hope it didn’t hurt too much.

 

 

 

 

The lab coated CSM

I’ll say it now.  In five years the job of a Customer Success Manager will be almost 100% focused on managing the performance of algorithms that drive the customer towards achieving their goals. We’ll see a 180 degree flip in how things are largely done now. CSMs in that near future will spend their time reviewing new findings of consumer/customer behavior and the data that show the progress customers have made towards their expected outcomes. They’ll use that information to tune the algorithms. CSMs will be more data scientists than customer relations experts. Provocative? Not really. Inevitable? Yes. Impersonal and detached from the reality of a customer’s experience? I can see that it might be perceived that way but, no. How can I be so confident? Because this type of work style is already being done everyday by a department employed by most companies but whose mission is aimed at a different target group (buyers) than the one targeted by Customer Success. Modern Marketers conduct themselves more or less this way now.

In the April 3, 2017 edition of The New Yorker magazine is an article entitled, The Algorithm Will See You Now. The piece mainly states that medical technology is advancing so rapidly and the pressure to reduce costs of the healthcare system is also increasing at a similar rate that the two together are forcing a rethink of how diagnostic medicine can, and should, be most efficiently and accurately delivered. My quick take for you from the article (written by a biological scientist)… it’s cheaper, faster, and in some cases, more accurate for machines to do the job of radiologists. There are limitations though that have to do with what are referred to as factual knowledge and experiential knowledge and while the state of the technology is quite sophisticated and there is enthusiasm for its ability to augment the diagnostic process, it isn’t yet seen to be a complete replacement of the human expert. Pick up the edition and read the article to get the complete picture. I can’t do two things here: 1)I cannot include the link because of the paywall, and 2) I cannot give the article the justice it deserves.

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A similar state exists in the Customer Success industry. Many people operate on experiential knowledge (gut) without a lot of factual knowledge. Conversely, we have vendors who focus a bit too much on factual knowledge and don’t give enough weight to experiential knowledge. That’s what I meant last week at the Toronto Customer Success Executive Breakfast (sponsored by Gainsight) when I said that the future of Customer Success will see smart people focused almost entirely on managing processes. They’ll exercise a blend of factual knowledge (from tools like Gainsight) and experiential knowledge (a highly mature gut instinct stemming from the experiences they’ve had themselves working directly with customers and also from conclusions reached by AI machine learning software) to determine the most accurate course of action that should be taken in order to improve the algorithms. Otherwise, how will it be possible for Customer Success to effectively perform, scale, and personalize its approach so the customer feels they get the right attention at the right time? This is especially true when you consider the implications of the data represented in the McKinsey chart below.

McKinsey

IoT, automation, escalating customer expectations, increasing calls for higher share value, accelerating business disruption… all these things and more are conspiring to force companies to deliver increased, personalized customer attention faster and at less cost. Scale is the only option but not just any scale. Personalized scale.

Do you have difficulty seeing this evolution of Customer Success? If so, I have one question for you. Is diagnosing customer health any more complex than diagnosing the health of the human body?

Renewal play? Not so fast.

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A few weeks ago we each had the opportunity to attend and to speak at the Customer Success Summit 2017 (Totango’s annual conference) in San Francisco, CA. This year’s event again brought together customer success leaders brimming with thought-provoking ideas – some that we didn’t necessarily agree with and some that were affirmations of what we are already doing, or anticipate seeing and doing, in customer success (CS). Like many customer success management conferences this past year, the general themes were: how to scale the CS organization, the role artificial intelligence and bots should play in services; cross-organizational implications of customer success effort; and the need to focus more intently on designing processes and activities that accurately target and nurture the customer along their journey.

These are all extremely vital and relevant customer success topics and the industry’s collective energy around generating best practices for each will likely yield big business benefits in the years ahead. We caution though about the tendency to draw attention away from a topic that is even more fundamental and yet has been insufficiently addressed. We decided to collaborate on this post because we believe the industry is in a rush to get to the finish line before it has figured out the answer to “what is the primary role of customer success?” To answer that, we need to state this. We consider the customer’s ability to adopt a  solution the key building block to success and to the customer’s likelihood to continue their investment in the product.  Persistently high churn rates and persistently low retention rates offer the most obvious proof of that and that much work needs to be done to develop best practices for adoption.  Before you can even start talking about renewals and expansion opportunities we believe goal-based adoption must become the main focus of a customer success manager. Because before you can even think of talking to a customer about a renewal you need to have the answers to the following questions:

  • who are they?
  • how would you characterize the health of the relationship between your company and the customer?
  • what challenges did they overcome to derive business benefit from your solution?
  • where are they on the solution maturity scale?
  • when did they expect the solution would address their business goals?
  • why should they be excited about reinvesting in your company and your solution?

If they haven’t adopted your solution, what do you think the odds are of you having answers to these questions?

In its most recent customer success industry baseline survey, the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) reported in this publication that only 45% of those companies have their customer success organization focused primarily on driving adoption. Another 45% reported that their CS organization is focused primarily on driving retention. The remaining 10% of companies say that they have their CS org focused on driving growth. While acknowledging there are all kinds of companies at all levels of maturity and recognizing that companies are still looking at pulling as many revenue-generating levers as they can, we find it counter-intuitive to believe there can be any long-term success in achieving and maintaining high retention levels (let alone growth) without first achieving the hard part, successful adoption of the product/solution. We feel strongly about this especially when we read a blog like this from Kissmetrics in which they explain how customer analysis can significantly reduce churn rates. They argue, (and we agree with them), that [customer] “Research matters because it offers your team the opportunity to create the ultimate customer experience. To satisfy customers, you must understand their behaviors, needs, and wants. You need to know the why and how behind all their actions.”

Does customer experience factor into their propensity to renew? Does it factor into their propensity to invest more with your firm? We feel foolish for even asking those questions because the answer is so obviously YES to both.

We all know the success of a SaaS company hinges on many factors like showing your potential investors low customer acquisition costs (CAC) while amassing a recurring revenue customer base that is continually expanding and renewing over time. How do you build and expand your company in a way that is scalable and retain customers over time? It isn’t by forcing the latest feature on your customer or simply by getting them live on your platform, without having identified any real value just so you can recognize the revenue. The path to success is identifying what problem your customer is seeking to solve and delivering on a promise to solve it in a fairly seamless and effortless way.

Don’t just take our word for it. The highly regarded VC firm, Bessemer Venture Partners, included extensive evidence substantiating our claim  in this report, but we’ll call out just two: 

“Wall Street investors and your customers hate to see a large mix of services revenue in cloud businesses. You should focus your product development, sales, and client success teams on reducing the implementation friction, time, and cost as much as possible.”

“It’s very difficult and expensive to grow subscription businesses if you have moderate customer churn– and prohibitive if your churn is high.  As detailed financial models of CLTV (Customer Lifetime Value) and Free Cash Flow demonstrate, the single biggest driver of long-term profitability for your cloud business (and thus valuation) is the renewal rate of your customers.”

Still not convinced? Think about your own buying behavior. Would you renew a contract for your home Internet Service Provider(ISP) if it never delivered a consistently reliable performance? If it failed to provide the ease-of-use and speed that was advertised and promised by the vendor? Of course not. Now think of your customers. You shouldn’t really be surprised that they decided to not renew when you should have been aware that:

  • they aren’t using the product to the extent you had expected
  • the tickets they’ve opened with your contact center indicate a pattern of usage suggesting they are at a very immature stage of adoption
  • they aren’t responding to your communications
  • they aren’t even opening your communications

So how can you get out of this rut?

There is a plethora of publicly available written content that focuses on user adoption tactics, best practices for utilizing the various customer success tools that can help with this process, how to scale while improving your ability to factor in your customer’s behavior and anticipating their needs, and how you can prioritize adoption as the most powerful process you will ever have with your customer. It’s the one that matters most to them and should therefore matter most to you.

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This blog was co-authored by:

Emilia D’Anzica is the Vice President of Customer Engagement at WalkMe. In the span of her career, Emilia has received several awards for being a top client service manager and leader while scaling global customer success teams. Emilia is a certified Scrum Master, active PMP certified Project Manager and a Trans-Global Executive MBA graduate from St. Mary’s College of California. She is based in San Francisco, CA.

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Peter Armaly is a Principal Transformation Advisor at Oracle Marketing Cloud. He is a senior-level customer success and digital marketing transformation professional with extensive experience working with wide-ranging clients of both SaaS and On-Premise engagement models. His career includes working for companies as varied as: Oracle, TSIA, BMC Software, Eloqua, CA Technologies, Rogers Telecommunications, Canadian Tire, and CP Rail. Peter is a visionary leader in the Customer Success industry and has made solid contributions of quality content (presentations, blogs, podcasts).  He is based in Toronto, Canada.

 

The peril of stasis

When considering how to infuse the customer’s experience into your business it’s important to recognize that the corporate culture is likely the biggest challenge you will face. To design and implement a process that digitally represents the end to end experience of the customer is the easy part. You begin by empathizing with the customer and mapping their journey through their engagement with your company. It’s a fun exercise and a humbling one. Everyone should do it for it focuses the mind and steels the resolve. It brings teams together and it raises their collective heart rate when the realization dawns of how far the company is falling short in ensuring the customer’s experience is as friction-less as it can be.

Addressing the inhibitors that are revealed by that journey mapping exercise is something else entirely. That’s when the corporate culture often presents formidable obstacles to significant change. I think this is because many corporations suffer from a condition known in evolutionary biology as punctuated equilibrium. Assuming that you need an assist with that one… punctuated equilibrium is a theory suggesting that once something appears in the fossil record it becomes stable and shows little evolutionary change thereafter. Doesn’t that sound like how Sales, Marketing, Service, and Support have worked side by side like well-oiled and independent machines, doing their own thing while barely casting a glance at each other for probably close to one hundred years now?

If we want to have processes that reflect the customer’s journey why don’t we design them so they cross organizational boundaries and are bound by timed steps? Why doesn’t the Marketing to Sales lead management process include a timer to ensure that Sales takes action against the Marketing qualified leads? When Sales closes a deal why do we allow the deal to be booked when they haven’t inputted all the critical details about the customer’s goals into the account record? Why doesn’t the action that formally closes the deal in the CRM also kick off an onboarding step, which too is timed so that Customer Success is held accountable for taking action? Finally, why aren’t all these steps linked together so that no one gets paid for success until the customer receives value?

Maybe the answer to all these questions is because corporations suffer from punctuated equilibrium.