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4 Steps To Develop a Proactive, Confident CS Team

Confident Customer Success Managers

When we ask clients what they most want to have as an outcome from Customer Success (CS) training, they often indicate that they wish their Customer Success Managers (CSMs) will become more confident when working with customers.

They want customer success staff to be more proactive, deliver a great experience, and make sure the client achieves their goals.

What is interesting is that when we ask them about what their staff is like now, they are often far from this mark.

They tend to be reactive.

They tend to be “pleasers” – that is, they want to deliver everything a client asks and not push back.

They tend to be experts in the product, but not in how to help the customer get their internal staff to use the product in a way that delivers success.

And they often tend to be intimidated or uncomfortable when working with senior leaders on the customer side. Oh, and many of them to tend to be early in their careers without tons of professional experience (or life experience).

So, if this is your situation, where do you need to focus? How do you start to develop your team? Here are some essential items that will help you develop your team.

Confident Team Member

1. Develop their ability to build trusting relationships

There is a broad spectrum of proficiency when it comes to knowing how to quickly establish solid, trusting relationships that enable people to collaborate effectively. This is especially true when it comes to external staff (e.g., CSMs, consultants, etc.) trying to work with new clients.

Spending time teaching CSMs the skills, processes, and techniques on how to develop these relationships will significantly enhance their ability and confidence when working with clients.

2. Develop the ability to focus on mutual business success

CSMs need to learn how to help clients identify the business outcomes they hope to achieve through the widespread, consistent, effective use of your technology.

CSMs need to help the client shift from the features and functions of your product, to instead focus on the business outcomes they receive from the use of it.

We have found that when we teach CSMs how to discuss client and vendor outcomes in the context of mutual success, they gain the skills and confidence to “push back” effectively and professionally when the clients may ask for things that are outside the scope of what your CS team can provide.

3. Build their subject matter expertise in software adoption techniques

For CSMs to guide customers with confidence and authority, they need to have advanced knowledge about the actions that customers need to take to drive effective software adoption that will deliver the business outcomes that customers need.

If CSMs don’t know the activities that will make customers successful (and which ones to avoid that prevent success), then they will never be truly confident in leading customers.

By giving CSMs advances skills in this area, you increase both their ability to drive customer success, and their confidence to lead customer discussions on this topic.

4. Provide ongoing coaching and support to CSMs

While providing training is a great way to jumpstart CSMs knowledge and confidence, training alone is not enough.

We have found that what CSMs need is ongoing coaching and support after the initial training to help them apply what they have learned and continue to advance their skills and confidence. Based on the results we have seen from working with clients on a post-training basis, we have added this ongoing coaching and support to our training programs.

Recommendation

We have trained numerous customer success staff members in techniques around developing relationships, discussing success, managing client expectations, and methods for accelerating and sustaining effective, long-term user adoption of software.

We are constantly impressed with how quickly CSMs can grow and develop with focused training and support in these areas. If you are looking to advance your CS capabilities, we suggest you focus on these areas.

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User Adoption & The 20-Year Renewal

Who wouldn’t like to secure 20 years’ worth of renewals with each of their customers?

Well, it is possible.

If you sell on a subscription basis, this should be your goal from the very beginning.

But how do you get there?

Ask yourself, “How would I need to approach and manage a new client relationship from the very start?

Achieving the 20-year renewal requires a shift in thinking and action. It requires that you change:

You need to create an environment in which a client is delighted to renew year, over year.

Selling for Logos (and Churn)

When we talk with SaaS vendors, we routinely hear some version of a story about how “sales are focused on getting new logos” and will “do anything to land a new customer.”

Typically, the conversations focus on the features and functionality of the software, how easy it is to use, and how fast they can have the system live. The sales rep closes the deal, gets the commission, and turns things over to the implementation and delivery team to make the customer successful.

And then it doesn’t happen.

The Waiting Game

The Waiting Game

Sure, the system gets turned on, and some people get trained on it.

Then, the customer waits for it use it.

They sit and wait for all the anticipated business benefits to come rolling in.

And they wait.

And they wait some more.

And no (or only limited) benefits appear.

Soon after that, the customer complaints arrive, followed by the inevitable, disastrous Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs), a clear sign of the churn that is yet to come. And then that happens too.

Selling and Delivering for the 20-Year Renewal

So, what went wrong?

You won the deal, right?

The problem is that if this is your approach, chances are you may have won the deal but already lost the renewal.

Selling for the 20-year renewal requires you to shift your sales discussion. You need to move from focusing on the features, functionality, and potential benefits of your system to instead focus on how your Customer Success capabilities will ensure customers are successful in adopting the system.

From that flows the clear business value from the use of your software, and based on that, customers will be thrilled to continue renewing for the next 20 years.

Here are three ways to do this:

Set Business Goals

1. Set the Goal of a 20-Year Relationship from the Very Start.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but your initial sales conversations need to move beyond focusing on the immediate, pressing business problem. Instead, address how you will solve the new challenges that will emerge once the current need is met.

Get the customer to think past the immediate need. Help them look at what happens next.

Focus the discussion on the long-term, sustained business value that the customer will need to realize to renew for the next 20 years.

Map the Critical Path to Value Creation and 20 Years of Renewals

2. Map the Critical Path to Value Creation and 20 Years of Renewals.

Most technology project plans focus on the path to go-live and a little bit beyond. When you map out the critical path to ROI and renewals, you quickly see that accelerated and sustained, effective user adoption is what leads to renewals.

So, what actions and deliverables are needed over the long-term to make sure you get the user adoption required to deliver 20 years’ worth of renewable value to your customer?

Not sure?

Chances are, your customers don’t know either. You need to help them figure it out.

When you walk your prospect through a 20-year renewal timeframe, what will become clear is that after the system is live, what becomes most important is having a sustained effort to maximize adoption.

Help your customers discover that over 20 years, there will be changes to their internal structure, staff composition, products/services, operating environment, and overall organizational performance. All of these changes will impact user adoption and ROI.

The key to a 20-year renewal is helping them develop the capability to accelerate and sustain effective internal user adoption over the course of 20 years of ongoing organizational change and uncertainty.

Provide User Adoption Capabilities to Your Customer

3. Provide and Sustain User Adoption & Value Realization Capabilities for Your Customer

Most of your customers will not have a clue about how to put in place a program that drives and sustains adoption for 20 years. You may not, either. But you, and they, need to figure it out.

Helping your customers map out and proactively manage all the organizational complexities affecting user adoption and value realization they will encounter over time is not a core capability of most software vendors ? even those with a great Customer Success team.

Yet, this capability is precisely what your customers require to achieve 20 years of value from your system.

To address this need, you either need to build this capability in-house, partner with software adoption and organizational change companies to provide this expertise, or discover some way for your customers to solve this problem on their own.

Ultimately, unless your customers can sufficiently sustain adoption and ongoing value realization, the 20-year renewal will remain elusive.

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The Top 2 Questions Customer Success Managers Should Ask in Every Meeting

Many Customer Success Managers (CSMs) struggle with lacking the confidence, or the experience, to have the most productive conversations with their clients. They tend to get nervous or uncomfortable with asking clients about business issues and discussing what it will take for the client to renew. For some reason, many CSMs just don’t come out and have a direct conversation and ask the client what’s important. Here are two simple questions that CSMs should ask in every meeting to delight clients and be able to deliver the kind of value and service that will get clients to renew year after year.

START EACH MEETING WITH THIS QUESTION

The first question happens at the very start of each meeting. When kicking off the meeting, share your meeting goal and your proposed agenda. Then, before getting into any content, ask your client, “What will make this meeting a success for you?” Or, put another way, ask, “What will make you walk away at the end of this meeting and say this was a great use of your time?”

DELIVER CLIENT VALUE IN EVERY MEETING

By starting the meeting this way, you show that you have prepared for the meeting in a way that is intended to respect the client’s time and add value to them. Stopping to ask the client what success looks likes to them reinforces that you are focused on providing value to them in every interaction, which is your ultimate goal.

Also, by explicitly asking your client what success is for this interaction, you have the opportunity to adjust on the fly to make sure the meeting is valuable to them ? no more missing the mark with clients!

USE FEEDBACK TO PIVOT AND DELIGHT YOUR CLIENT

If you’re surprised by what they say, you should ask clarifying questions to find out why this is the correct success definition for this meeting, for them.

By understanding what’s important to your client and what success is for them, you can adjust your approach and your agenda in a way that brings more value to them during their interaction with you. What could be better than that?

CLOSE EACH MEETING WITH THIS CRITICAL QUESTION

Assuming that you have set the expectation with clients that you want them to get so much value that they renew and expand their relationship for 20 years or more (you are doing that, right?). The second question will affirm your commitment to this lofty, yet achievable goal.

The second question you should ask at the end of every meeting is, “If you had to renew today, would you? “You can clarify this with some variation such as: “Have you received enough value from our relationship thus far that you would want to keep working with us and renew today?”

While you might feel uncomfortable asking this at first, if you do it as a matter of regular practice, it will quickly feel normal to you AND your client. Also, it is a very explicit reminder to your client that you ? and they ? need to focus on the business value they are getting, not just the features and functions of your software or service.

USE CLIENT FEEDBACK TO ACCELERATE SUCCESS

If the client answers “Yes, they would renew today”, that’s wonderful and keep it up. You can even ask them, “What was most valuable for you in this meeting? What would you like to see more of in the future?” After the meeting, reflect on what is working and how you can build on what you have done to keep delighting the client in the future. What worked well with this client that you should do with other clients?

If the client answers “No” (which will happen in some meetings ? especially at critical points in a project), you now have the opportunity to ask clarifying questions, to drill-down for more details and learn more about where the value leaks are for your customer. You can come back next time to share what you did with their negative feedback and work with your client to improve going forward. Feedback, while it may hurt in the short-term, is a gift that allows you to delight customers over the long-term.

TRACK THE VALUE YOU ADD & CUSTOMER HEALTH

The next thing you should do is to go through and track the answer (“Yes” or “No”) given in every single meeting. You can even combine this information with other customer usage and health data, to come up with a more comprehensive customer health score that includes accurate data about your customers’ intent to renew.

Start to look at trends in client responses. If you get more than 3 “No’s” in a row, this is an early indication that you have a problem and need to take action to address it. If you have five or more “No’s” in a row, it’s time to escalate things internally so that your executives can take action to save the account before it is too late!

Additional Resources

Want to learn more about how you can deliver amazing customer success services that delight clients and accelerate value creation? Check out Success Chain and get started today!

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When Will You Lose Your First SaaS Sale Because Your Customer Success Services Are Not Market Competitive?

Old School SaaS Sales: Focus on the Product

My how quickly things have changed. It seems like only yesterday, SaaS vendors were worried that getting the Customer Success (CS) teams involved in the sales process would only slow things down and prevent a sale from closing.

Today, it is increasingly the case that SaaS vendor need to showcase its customer success services to win a deal!

The New SaaS Sale: Focus on Customer Value

Organizations invest in software because they are trying to solve real-world business problems. Savvy software buyers have come to realize that what matters more than what the software does (features and functions) is what their people do with the software to create business value.

Buyers care less about all the bells and whistles within the application; they are more concerned with getting answers to two questions:

1. Can we get our people to use it in a way that will solve our business problems and create business value?

2. What customer success resources and services will the vendor provide to help me get the results I need?

Customers Need Help to Realize Value

There is a growing recognition in most buyer’s organizations that while they can often get a system live, they struggle to get their people to use it in a way that creates value.

This recognition is driving software buyers to rely on their vendor’s customer success services for help.

This has software buyers asking lots of questions during the sales process about the scope, approach, effectiveness, and maturity of prospective vendor’s customer success program.

Buyers realize that not all customer success services are created equal.

Buyers now select the vendor that has the best overall combination of products and services. They are going with the vendor that has the greatest likelihood of delivering the business outcomes they need, not the vendor with the most features, best user interface, or lowest price.

The challenge for most SaaS vendors is that historically they have been very product-focused. They prefer to make their revenue from licenses, not services.

SaaS Vendors Need to Deliver High-Impact Customer Success Programs

Many SaaS vendors have been slow to invest in customer success, or they have underinvested in it. Vendors primarily thought of their customer success services as a churn prevention program, and not a competitive sales differentiator.

But things are changing and changing fast.

Buyers are voting with their wallets and going with the vendor that represents the best overall value and the lowest total investment risk. It is no longer sufficient to have a great product if you don’t also have the customer success services buyers need to feel confident in their ability to achieve the business outcomes they need from purchasing your product.

Which brings us back to the question, when will you lose your first sale because your customer success services are not marketing competitive?

It will probably happen sooner than you think.

Additional Resources

Most software projects fail to deliver the expected business outcomes because of the approach the buyer takes to getting the system live and driving adoption. Most buyer’s organizations don’t have the expertise, tools, and capacity to deliver their success.

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Free eCourse: Why Software Projects Fail…and How to Ensure Success

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If you are looking to help software buyers create their own internal software success programs, we can help. Contact us to find out what we can do for you.

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3 Steps to Build Better Customer Success Relationships: “The Go-Slow to Go-Fast Approach”

Many well-intentioned CS professionals are so focused on the details of their product or service and are in a rush to get the customer to cover lots of information that they skip the critical relationship-building tasks that form the foundation for a strategic, trusting relationship. As a result, clients are cautious and hesitant to engage with them and introduce them to other parts of the organization. The net result is that things take much longer and are less effective than they should be.

To address this critical issue, we teach our clients the “Go Slow to Go Fast Approach” for building effective relationships.

The essence of this approach is that you need to take the time to build a trusting relationship with a client before you are ready to start working on content. When you do this, you prevent many of the delays and missteps that always slow down the process later.

The trust you build upfront – the relationship capital – will allow you and your client to move faster and further later in the process.

One of the most common problems we hear from Customer Success (CS) leaders is that their team members don’t have the right kind of relationships with their customers. They tell us:

  • We want our CS teams to work with customers on more strategic / business issues
  • Our customers view our CS team as junior, support resources
  • We can’t get the right person at our customers’ organizations to speak with us. Our only contacts are in procurement or IT.
  • Our customers won’t even get on the phone with us or engage with us
  • When we then work with their teams, and we ask them precisely what they do when engaging with customers (especially new customers), it is no wonder.

While some CS staff members instinctively know how to grow a new relationship, most customer success professionals have never learned how to build trusted, strategic relationships with their customers.

Step 1: Build a Trusting Relationship

During your initial few client interactions, you need to spend time learning about the client members with whom you will work. You need to understand who they are, their strengths and weaknesses, their view of their organization, and what constitutes success for them and their organization. It is especially important to focus on the executive sponsor(s) and your primary contact.

You also need to share with them about your background, expertise, and weaknesses. You need to demonstrate how you can help them achieve a level of success they can’t achieve on their own. Be honest and upfront with what you do well, and where you will rely on others to get the expertise they need.

Your goal is to start to learn about each other and figure out how you can work well together. Building these relationships take time and will continue over several interactions and meetings. This is not a single discussion topic on the agenda.

3 Steps to Better Customer Success Go Slow To Go Fast
3 Steps to Better Customer Success: Go Slow To Go Fast

Step 2: Agree on the Process

A crucial step in building trust is to define the process by which you will collaborate with the client team and executives. Spend time right up front asking when the executive wants to be involved in decisions, where they want to be kept updated, or where they want you or your team to handle issues for them. Directly review expectations and get agreements about roles and responsibilities for you, the client executive, and the client team. Also, discuss how these will change over time and in different project phases.

Ask how to communicate with them (phone, email, meeting, etc.) and how frequently they want to be informed. Some clients are busy and don’t want you clogging their inbox with unnecessary details. Others want to be involved in every step of the way. Find out your clients’ preferences.

Another key issue here is to discuss and agree on how to handle any conflicts, issues, or risks that will inevitably come up over the project. Make sure you have a clear escalation path and plan with your clients.

Step 3: Content Discussions

Only after you have done the upfront work of building relationships, trust, and agreeing on how to collaborate, are you ready to get into the detailed, content discussion. This is when you can start talking about your project plan, deliverables, activities, etc.

Also, make sure you have the right people in the room for these discussions. Many CS staff members make the mistake of asking the detailed content discussions to the first person they encounter, often the client executive. A better approach is to explain the nature of the exact questions that need to be covered and ask them who is the best person in their organization to address them.

Recommendation

Try the Go Slow to Go Fast Approach with your next new client and reflect on how it changes the relationship. Note where you avoid delays, conflict, and problems because you have built relationships and are transparent on roles and responsibilities. Do you have issues with current clients where you might have skipped some of the steps here? That is OK; you can go back to them now and work on building trust and agreeing on collaboration processes now. It can only help.

Additional Resources

Want to learn more about how you can improve customer relationships and success? Check out success program and learn how to deliver proactive, confident, and effective customer success services!

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How to Accelerate And Sustain High Software User Adoption

You need a user adoption strategy

We have found that the best way for organizations to “boost” and then “sustain” high software user adoption is to develop and implement a comprehensive user adoption strategy. Most software failures occur when organizations take a Go-Live centric approach (on-time & on-budget delivery of technology) without taking the necessary actions to drive and sustain user adoption over the life of the system.

It is essential to recognize that user adoption is all about changing user behaviors; it is not about technology.

The skills and methods you use to change behavior are very different from those required to build and deliver effective systems. This means that the people who lead and manage your system implementation may not be (and probably are not) the right people to lead the user adoption program.

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Critical elements for your user adoption strategy

Here are some (though not all) critical elements of a software user adoption program:

  • ASSIGN OWNERSHIP FOR SOFTWARE ADOPTION – Give a senior executive overall accountability, authority, and required resources to drive and sustain user adoption. Make this a meaningful portion of the executive’s performance & bonus criteria to ensure they are appropriately motivated to put in the time and resources required to make the software project a success.
  • DEFINE SUCCESS – Define success in terms of user adoption, business value creation, and Return on Investment (ROI). Determine specific success measures (quantitative and qualitative) and align all employees? performance management plans (and rewards) to these goals.
  • CONDUCT A USER ADOPTION ANALYSIS – Conduct a comprehensive analysis of your organization to identify all of the key factors that encourage or inhibit software adoption. This includes looking at policies, processes, reward systems, communication activities, job descriptions, leadership, and existing user attitudes and behaviors. Use this information to shape your overall user adoption strategy.
  • SHIFT FROM “USER RESISTANCE” TO “REMOVE BARRIERS” – Make clear distinctions between instances of user resistance vs. organizational barriers that prevent adoption. Many people fall in the trap of “blaming the users” for not adopting the software when often there are organizational barriers – that fall outside of the users’ control – that prevent users from utilizing the system.
  • FACILITATE ADOPTION – Take specific actions before, during, and after go-live to facilitate full and effective user adoption. Communications and training are necessary, but not even close to sufficient, for driving effective user adoption. (This is an example where you may need a different skill set to drive adoption. If you are not sure what else you need to do to facilitate adoption, this may mean that you do not have the right skills or right methodology for driving user adoption. You may want to consult an outside user adoption expert for help.)
  • MEASURE RESULTS & EVOLVE YOUR ADOPTION PLAN – Measure user adoption at regularly scheduled intervals, update user adoption goals, identify specific adoption activities to be completed, and adjust your software adoption program as necessary to ensure your system is meeting current and future ROI goals.
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Customer Success Metrics that Increase Executive Support

You need to have clear executive support if your customer success program is going to survive. What metrics and measures do you need to prove the short-term and long-term value of their customer success investment?

I have had many discussions with customer success (CS) leaders about the challenges they face setting up a growing customer success team in an organization that has never had a customer success program.

Executive support for customer success is essential

There are numerous examples where SaaS vendors invested in hiring a customer success leader to build a customer success practice, and then soon after that, they cut the entire customer success program.

Most organizations use the wrong metrics to measure customer success in the short-term

Some fascinating insights emerged.

One of the most interesting insights to emerge was the idea that building an effective CS program and being able to gather metrics that prove its impact and value on the organization’s bottom line, requires a long-term commitment.

Metrics To Use While Maturing Your Customer Success Team

It takes time to:

1) Establish a customer success team

2) Train the customer success team

3) Build an effective, cross-functional methodology that delivers impactful customer success services to customers

4) Get customers to change how they are using your product/software/system to get more measurable business value from it

5) Gather the metrics to show the impact based on the work of the customer success team.

Along the way

You will inevitably make mistakes and learn as you move from establishing a customer success team to maturing it into a high-impact organization.

You will need to help internal stakeholders (e.g., executives, sales, marketing, product development teams, etc.) understand the importance of customer success and how they need to collaborate differently so that your entire organization has a positive long-term impact on your customers’ value. This is essential to increase your organization’s bottom line.

Manage Executive Expectations

Executive Meeting

Many organizations reported that their CEO and other executives expected rapid results.

They looked to see fast improvements based on traditional customer success metrics (e.g., CSAT, NPS, MRR).

The reality is that it takes much longer to see results.

Many CS leaders stated it typically takes 18 – 24 months to get reliable measures and a solid baseline for these metrics.

Expectations vs. reality

Here is the challenge: Many company executives are tightly focused on quarterly measures, such as sales, profit, growth, etc.

Executives expect to see short-term numbers that prove their investment in customer success is delivering the outcomes the business needs.

So, what do you do when you have a program that requires a long lead time to deliver the results you need?

How do you get your executives to “keep the faith” and continue to support the development of your customer success program?

Differentiate metrics to manage expectations

Metrics and charts

One thing you can and should do very early on is to identify and develop separate management metrics for both the short and long terms to measure the performance of the CS team in the short-term vs. the long-term.

Long-term “Performance Metrics”

Many customer success leaders are familiar with the various long-term metrics they can use to prove the impact of the CS initiative.

Executives frequently rely on metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) to measure the performance of the customer success program. Customer success automation tools make this data readily available, further reinforcing executive expectations for quick results.

You need to be aggressive in setting the expectation that just because these metrics are readily available (often in real-time), does not mean that the executives should see improvements here in the same time frame.

It’s vital that leaders agree on a time frame for establishing a baseline metric values.

Leaders then need to agree on how much lead-time is required to build, test, and mature your customer success capabilities before these long-term metrics reliably show trends and changes you can use to manage the business.

These long-term metrics can be thought of as “performance metrics”. They give you insight into how your operations are running so that you can evaluate what is working and what is not. They provide evidence on which you can make important decisions for improvement.

Your short-term challenge

A more significant challenge is proving the value of customer success in the short-term.

You need a way to measure and prove short-term progress before your efforts deliver the expected long-term performance improvements.

You need a way to demonstrate to executives that you are on the right track. You need to maintain their confidence that you are building the customer success infrastructure that will deliver the long-term business results they seek.

Short-term “Trajectory Metrics”

One approach is to work with the CEO and other leaders to map out all of the actions and milestones you need to achieve to build the customer success infrastructure necessary to deliver the long-term business outcomes they desire.

You can define milestones or metrics for completing key actions such as:

  • Hiring a customer success team lead
  • Meeting with customers to identify the services your customer success team needs to deliver
  • Hiring and training your customer success team
  • Developing your customer success processes and playbooks
  • Implementing customer success automation tools
  • Establishing internal practices to have CS collaborate effectively with sales, marketing, and product management

Focus executives on the short-term, trajectory metrics

Get the CEO and other leaders to agree on priorities and realistic time frames for completing these actions. Make sure these accurately reflect any resource limitations and competing work priorities that will limit your time to do the required work.

Get the CEO and other leaders to agree to use these short-term, trajectory metrics, and NOT the long-term performance metrics, while you build your customer success infrastructure.

Remind the executives that the “trajectory metrics” are appropriate because they give the best measure of confidence that you are performing against the path they agreed to build the customer success capabilities required to deliver the long-term business results.

Maintain Executive Confidence & Support

By agreeing and focusing on these trajectory metrics, you give the executive team the confidence they need that their investment in a customer success program that will eventually deliver the business results they need.

When you are in the process of building a CS program, it doesn’t make sense to use long-term performance metrics when you are not yet delivering the full services that will have an impact on the outcome of these performance metrics.

What you need in this early stage is a way to measure your progress and maintain executive-level support for your CS initiatives.

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The New SaaS Sales: Treat Perspective Software Buyers Like Investors, Not Customers

If you are a software vendor, consider this: What would it look like if you approached each sale like you were trying to raise investment capital instead of just selling a piece of software?

Knowing that most software buyers (ah, funders, in this case) have a wide variety of investment options available to them, does your organization represent the best overall software investment opportunity out there? Can your prospects find better, safer opportunities that will give them a higher overall return on their software investment dollars with lower risks?

Stop thinking of the people who buy your software as customers and start treating them like investors. They don’t just want software. What they really want is the best return on their software investments!

The old rules don’t apply!

Back in the days before SaaS, organizations implementing software treated their software acquisitions as a simple purchasing transaction. They were very focused on the costs of the software product. They focused just on the initial purchasing transaction, with little thought to the future.

When the SaaS business model first came on the scene, buyers continued to treat software acquisitions as primarily a purchasing exercise. They remained very focused on the overall costs, just now with the added benefit of shifting their cash outflows over several years. Over time they realized they could adjust their purchase quantities to reduce cashflow if they didn’t see the value in their purchase or if their needs have changed.

The new reality is that software buyers are making software investments, not purchases.

This awakening that buyers can focus on outcomes and value, and then adjust where they put their future software purchasing cash accordingly, is a massive shift in both mentality and fiscal practices.

With this shift, organizations are treating software buying decisions less like a simple procurement exercise and instead treating it more like an investment exercise. They are less focused on just the cost, and instead, they are more concentrated on the expected return and level of risk associated with the software investment.

Software buyers realize they are better off investing in a software vendor (notice I didn’t say application) that will deliver the most overall business value to them, even if the actual app doesn’t have all the bells and whistles found in competing systems.

New SaaS Sales

After years of over-investing in software, wasting lots of cash on software and integration costs, suffering low user adoption and having their projects considered IT failures that didn’t deliver the expected business value, savvy software buyers realize they need to change how they make software investment decisions. They know they need to do more than evaluate the technical fit of the application.

Instead, they need to assess the overall vendor solution — the software, implementation team, technical support, and customer success services – to determine which one is the overall best investment. In effect, what they are doing is evaluating the ability and probability that the software vendor as a whole will make them successful and solve their business problems. Only after conducting this holistic analysis and comparing it to a similar analysis of other potential vendors will organizations decide with which company to spend their software investment dollars.

SaaS vendors need to quickly wake-up to the implications.

Historically, most software vendors have been incredibly product-focused. To software vendors, their products are sexy. To software engineers, building a cool piece of functionality is fun and exciting. And to many software executives, services are necessary, but not fun, scalable or profitable.

In many software companies, there is a bias to investing in building new features and functions in the application instead of investing in services, support, and customer success. For many vendors, the thinking is that the quality and price of the product is what will make or break a sale. While this may have once been true, it is no longer the case.

With buyers shifting their focus to evaluating the overall vendor solution and capabilities, a continued bias towards product will be the road to failure. Software vendors need to recognize the shift in buyer preferences and adjust how they set priorities, allocate internal resources, and position and sell their products accordingly. They need to realize that just having a great product, without the support and customer success resources customers demand (and competitors provide), will not make them market competitive going forward.

Software vendors need to stop treating prospective customers like they are making a simple purchasing decision and instead treat them like investors who are evaluating the complete software investment opportunity. Software vendors that similarly approach each sale to raising capital, that is, focusing on the business outcomes, minimizing risks, and explaining how you maximize the return on software investment, will be hugely more successful than those that continue to focus their sales efforts just on product features and price.

Most software projects fail to deliver the expected business outcomes because of the approach the buyer takes to getting the system live and driving adoption. Most buyer’s organizations don’t have the expertise, tools, and capacity to deliver their success

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What About The Customer?

This guest blog was written by Jason Noble, a UK-based expert in Customer Success. Jason is also a co-host of, “The Jasons Take On…” a monthly webinar and podcast program covering a wide range of customer success topics.

Being Customer-Centric

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to being (more) customer-centric is defining what we mean by that – and it can and does mean different things to different organizations. The reason being customer-centric is important is not only the obvious – that your customers stay loyal when they have good experiences and the product and sales are delivering on our promises, but also as our customers keep evolving and changing, so too are the ways that we operationalize that and support those customers.

A great way to think about customer-centricity that really resonates with me is – “A business is customer-centric when it delivers on-going growing value to and for their customers.” If you are customer-centric, it means you are observing that evolution that’s happening to your customer base, and you’re able to be very agile and nimble in responding to that as a business. I really like this way of thinking as it’s not just for the short term and the now; it’s about the what (the value) and the who (it allows for customers to include customers as we know them, our employees and team members and our shareholders and investors).

It’s not easy

Being customer-centric is easy to say but hard to do. It doesn’t come organically, and I’ve never seen an organization say they’re not customer-centric or that they don’t want to be even more so. It, of course, needs organization-wide buy-in and sponsorship, from sales, to finance, to operations, to support, to customer success, to delivery – it’s not one function’s or one team’s (or even one person’s) responsibility; it’s everyone’s.

Why now?

To quote Dan Steinman from Gainsight – “We are now in the age of the customer” – and we’ve gone through the transition from technology to mobile to social and now to the customer. We’re moving more and more to being outcome-driven and not just product and technology-driven, and we’re shifting from the idea of ownership for products and services to usership and subscriptions. We see this more and more in both the business and consumer worlds.

We hear a lot about the idea of stickiness of services and using it as a measure of engagement and customers staying with us longer. I don’t personally like this term as it implies that they have to stay and don’t necessarily want to stay – which is very different. As a physicist at heart, I prefer the idea of an attractive force – like gravity – and our customers wanting to stay with us. I think it’s a far more powerful way of thinking.

We live at a time of unprecedented customer expectations both for business customers and our end consumers, and being customer-centric is critical, but why the recent focus now?

Think about your ultimate consumers – they are you and me, and our expectations have changed. Forrester’s research stated, “This new world requires leaders to think and act differently,” and George Colony, Forrester CEO, predicts that if a company is not customer-centric, they’ll simply be out of business between 5-10 years.

Being customer-centric shouldn’t just be a concept, and we need to approach it as part of our company vision and mission.

There is a gap

We’ve been trying to be more customer-centric for a long, long while, but only 14% of business leaders think they actually are, and only 11% think our customers would say we are. The Harvard Business Review in 2017 stated that “The most common, and perhaps the greatest, barrier to customer-centricity is the lack of a customer-centric organizational culture. At most companies, the culture remains product-focused or sales-driven, or customer-centricity is considered a priority only for certain functions such as marketing.” This is true in many instances still, but we are now beginning to see a shift and cultures change.

Think about customer outcomes

Understanding your customer and aligning their business interests with a customer-centric, prescriptive approach to realizing value from you is the fastest and most efficient way to growing product adoption. We need to shift our thinking from why we are selling to why our customers are buying from us and what the outcomes are that they are looking for. What do our customers want, and how do they want it? Change your talk track and understand your customers betters.

BA’s strap-line fits very well with this way of thinking – “To fly, to serve.”

Customer leadership

We know the theory, and we know we need to be more customer-centric. The biggest challenge for many organizations is how to do it, at both the strategic organizational level and at the more tactical operational level.

I’ve worked with, and for many organizations going through their own journeys to be more customer-centric, at both large, well-established global organizations and more niche startup organizations and have been privileged to be in positions with them where I’ve been part of those customer-focused changes and have seen some amazing results. One of the more strategic changes that is crucial for success is getting your customer leadership at the right level. It’s great to see more organizations across different industries and sectors investing in Chief Customer Officer or similar exec level roles now, and the number has grown significantly over the last few years (and continues to grow). Having the right leadership gives you the voice of the customer at the leadership table, having someone focused on driving customer growth and value and bringing the customer conversations to the exec and board level.

I really like this concise definition of a Chief Customer Officer: “An executive who provides the comprehensive and authoritative view of the customer and creates corporate and customer strategy at the highest levels of the company to maximize customer acquisition, retention, and profitability.”

The customer leadership role “Chief Customer Officer or other “ gives you:

  • Visibility – to understand and see what is happening to your customers
  • Clarity – of what happens when a prospect becomes a customer
  • Balance – the 3rd organizational pillar (with sales and operations)
  • Focus – allowing sales to focus on new business
  • Feedback – into what is happening outside of the business
  • Signaling – the external messaging that we are customer-centric

Practical steps to being more customer-centric

At a more practical level, “things you could do more immediately” here are a number of key ideas to drive customer centricity in your organization:

  1. Create a mission statement that impacts and includes
  2. Be a customer for a day – good old role play (and across all teams)400
  3. Visit your customers ? all execs and, even better, all teams
  4. Create a customer community – customers talking to each other
  5. Create a voice of customer program – and close the feedback loop
  6. Bring your customer feedback into every meeting across the business
  7. Democratize customer insights – make them visible to everyone
  8. Have customer-focused goals and objectives for all teams
  9. Hire for customer orientation and customer empathy

I really, really like Amazon’s mission statement:

Earth’s most customer-centric company

When amazon.com launched in 1995, it was with the mission “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.” This goal continues today, but Amazon’s customers are worldwide now and have grown to include millions of Consumers, Sellers, Content Creators, and Developers & Enterprises. Each of these groups has different needs, and we always work to meet those needs, innovating new solutions to make things easier, faster, better, and more cost-effective.

Points 6 and 7 above can be very powerful when done well, and I’ve seen the idea of a customer feedback wall used very well and to great effect – where you include and share the very good, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Do these ideas resonate with you? What things have you done in your organizations to drive the journey to be more customer-centric? And what has the impact been on your customers?

“Customer Centricity is a journey and not a destination.”

Jason Noble

Jason is an established leader in Customer Success and SaaS, with over 20 years of global experience working across customer success, service delivery, account management, customer support, and professional services. He has held leadership roles with major global brands (including Sony and Reed Elsevier) and also worked with more niche technology startups and organizations, successfully building and leading global customer success programs and operations. He is a commercial customer success leader working at the Director and board level – to innovate and align technology functions and services – as the voice of the customer at the leadership table.

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/jasonnoble1/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/jnoble100

Blog – http://www.jasonnoble.co.uk

Come join us for our fast-paced, insightful, unplugged conversations with two leading “Jasons” in Customer Success. Jason Noble, a UK based visionary Customer Success executive and leader, and Jason Whitehead, a US-based Customer Success and Software Adoption leader, discuss a variety of topics and issues of importance in the field of Customer Success. Each month we explore a new and important topic related to Customer Success, so be sure to join each episode in the series!

Go to The Jasons Take On where you can register to join an upcoming episode live, watch the replays on YouTube or listen to the replay via podcast.

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5 Must Do Steps for People-Centric Customer Success

When customer success (CS) first came into the mainstream, many vendors focused firmly on their product. They were very focused on specific features and functions. They spent a lot of time and effort explaining the product and its roadmap to customers.

From technology focus to a customer outcomes focus

Slowly, we are seeing a shift where CS teams are focusing on understanding the customers’ business objectives and desired outcomes. The current thinking is that by focusing on business outcomes, you can better demonstrate the value that the customer is achieving from the vendor’s product. This value discussion then will lead to increased upsells and renewals. This is an important and impactful shift. But it alone is not enough.

The critical area that has long been overlooked by CS teams (and their customers) is identifying and proactively addressing the required people-behavior shift that is needed to achieve success. Once desired business outcomes have been defined, CS teams and their customers need to put people at the center of their focus and efforts. They need to concentrate on helping users – people – change their behavior so that they are adopting technology in a way that will deliver the required business outcomes.

The people – behavior challenge

The biggest challenge on the critical path to customer success is not the technology itself. It is getting people to change the way they do their job on a daily basis, to embrace the system, and use it as designed and intended. It is figuring out how to make sure that current staff quickly shift their work behaviors and adopt the new system. And then it is about making sure that new hires rapidly adopt the new desired work behaviors so that they use the system in a way that creates value. And finally, the challenge becomes how to evolve and sustain effective user behaviors as both the technology product and the customers’ organizations develop. Without this ongoing focus on ensuring users deliver desired behaviors, the customers’ success will steadily fall over time.

Implications for Customer Success

What this means for customer success teams is that they need to ensure they have the expertise, experience, tools, and methodologies to help their customers address user behavior change and ensure software adoption over the long-term. All of the KPIs, automation, onboarding conversations, and QBRs will deliver little results over the long-term if your CS team cannot help customers solve their underlying business challenge – that is, driving effective user adoption that will yield the required business results.

CS leaders looking to develop people-centric customer success should do the following:

1. Map out the critical path that a customer must take from the time of first contact (pre-sales) up to the point of achieving their desired business outcomes. What specific behavior changes are required across the user populations to deliver this result? What do your CS services due to address these critical needs?

2. Ask yourself this question: If the system was already live, people had already been trained on the technology, and we still are not effective adoption, what else could we do to change users’ behavior? If you exclude changes to technology and additional system training and focus on peoples’ behavior, could you still drive success?

3. Increase the capacity to drive behavior change. Most CS leaders will find that their organization lacks the expertise, tools, and methods to identify the various factors that affect behavior and then proactively address these to drive desired behaviors across the user groups. If you lack these skills and processes in your CS team, how will you be able to help customers address this core need?

4. Once you have the right expertise on your team, look outside of what is typically done on IT projects to figure out where different actions, tools, and methods are needed to help users change their behavior and adopt the technology. Identify where you need to change how you engage with customers to get them to take the steps that will deliver desired behavior, and in turn, business outcomes.

5. Figure out how to scale your efforts. You will quickly realize that many of your customers probably lack the expertise, experience, and ability to drive software adoption within their organization. The biggest force-multiplier you will find is that by increasing your customers’ ability to drive adoption within their organization, they will remove a large amount of burden from your CS team. You will probably need to educate your customers on effective software adoption practices and methods. And you will need to figure out how to provide this type of education to your customers in a fast, scalable way.

The Success Chain team has worked with a large number of CS teams and the buyers of software to help them increase their ability to drive and sustain effective software adoption proactively. Our proven educational programs help buyers of software develop the skills they need to increase the effective use of software within their organizations. We also have corresponding programs for vendors that teach CS teams how to help lead their customers in developing successful software adoption programs. Please contact us if you would like to learn more and see how our scalable programs can work for you and your customers.