Profile in Customer Success Leadership: Shannon Hyson

What is your title and role and how long have you been working in the CS space or similar role?

Shannon Hyson

My name is Shannon Hyson, and I’m the Global Head of Customer Success at a large B2B company in London, England, and I’ve been in the CS space for ten years – even before it was called Customer Success!!

My Customer Success career started when I took a role as Client Services Manager for a media company, and I became immediately aware of the gap between selling the initial solution and waiting for the customer to get in touch if something went wrong. We were missing the critical proactive piece of helping our customers succeed from the start! So I pitched the idea of Customer Success to the company, and they went for it. The journey hasn’t always been smooth, but it’s certainly been exciting!?

“Exploring what an alternative way of doing something might look like and being part of the next step is very exciting.”

What do you like most about being a CS leader?

I love influencing and pushing the Customer Success conversation. There are so many really exciting ways of approaching customer opportunities, and I love being able to challenge thought processes and ways of doing things across our organization and those of our customers to drive better business results. Looking for different ways of delivering customer and company success is very fulfilling.

What does CS success look like for you, your team, your clients, and your organization?

Success is about understanding why a customer would make an investment in your product and then working out what needs to happen to get them to a space where they can say, “Yes, that was a good investment.” To do that, you need to really understand what they are trying to achieve and form a partnership with the different business divisions that will be involved in the success of the product or the evaluation of it. The next crucial part is making sure that by delivering the agreed customer outcomes, you are in turn, making your own organization successful. Hopefully, they go hand in hand, but it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on!

“The right question is more powerful than the right answer.”

What key factors, skills, attributes, and/or characteristics have been particularly helpful to you in enabling your success as a leader in CS?

I really feel that the key attribute for anyone to be successful in Customer Success is curiosity. The right question is so much more powerful than the right answer! It’s a real skill to just listen to a customer and follow up, not with information to soothe, but a question to probe even further.

You can’t apply a solution, whether it be a product or service, if you don’t have a really clear picture of who your customer is and how their business is structured. And that leads to communication! All that listening and questioning needs to lead to a compelling reason to act so the ability to translate your understanding of your customer into a clear plan and outcomes.

“Who is responsible for the renewal?”

Reflecting on this past year, what were some of the business challenges you have experienced in the CS space or are still experiencing, and why do you think that is?

There is still a disconnect between Customer Success and Sales and who “owns” the customer. Who owns the renewal? It’s particularly tricky when creating a CS team in an existing sales environment where traditional views on sales roles are enforced because you can end up with a process that involves the customer being handed across people and roles. It’s not based on the customers’ needs but rather how we are structured internally, and that can be incredibly hard to overcome. Reward also comes into play, and there is always a conversation about who deserves the commission when a customer buys or renews – customer success feels like it’s done all the work, but Sales has negotiated the contract.

What are key areas you focus on to help your clients experience value from software and renew year after year?

It can be tricky – because we are not selling a software solution, the value doesn’t come from what they do online with the product but rather what they do after they use our product and apply the content they have read. We can’t just run a report to demonstrate positive outcome metrics, so we need to ensure that we are constantly in conversation with readers and stakeholders to learn about the value they are gaining from the FT. We then match the usage metrics to the outcomes to show a relationship between behaviors and the business outcomes the customer is trying to achieve.

“Globalization is a big challenge.”

What do you believe is the biggest challenge most organizations face when driving organizational change and getting people to adopt technology? How have you been able to help them??

Globalization is a big challenge. With customers and teams all over the world, we need to be really sensitive to the cultural and technological differences across different teams and adjust our approach. Too often, we use exactly the same communication style and approach regardless of the comfort levels of our internal or external audience, which can lead to several versions of the same message being embedded into processes and systems. We need to apply some customer success discovery to our own way of working!

Were there any surprises this past year (good or not so good) or any lessons learned from your CS efforts this past year?

We have known for a long-time that we had some accounts that were harder to manage than others, so we have stripped out a few accounts that weren’t commercially viable. The surprise in doing this was that it was far easier to get consensus on the change than I had at first expected!

By structuring the team and the accounts that they manage differently, we’ll have the capacity to move the needle on accounts that we haven’t been able to do so before. We did loads of research before making the decision to change our approach, which meant we could include that insight and the expected benefits in a way that made the teams more comfortable with what we were doing and why.

Where do you think the CS industry is headed in the next year or three years? How will it change? What do you see as new challenges in the future??

CS will only grow. I think that getting people to know their customer bases and how they are using the software will become even more important. Customers don’t want me to tell them the value they are getting or not getting. And they don’t want to be told they’re getting value when they’re not. What they want is for me to help them get value out of it. I also think there will be a bit of a mashup with sales and CS going forward in that they won’t be separate functions. We may have sales staff who start in CS rather than start in sales since it is essentially the same thing.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in pursuing a CS career and/or becoming a CS leader?

My advice for someone interested in pursuing a career in CS is to go for it. It is so rewarding and exciting because there is so much you can do with it. You get to speak with such interesting people and have conversations that really matter.

Also, have courage. Don’t be afraid of picking up the phone and calling someone to say, “I just really want to understand what you are doing with it.” Don’t undersell yourself and think that customers won’t see the value from the conversation. And don’t be afraid to ask the question or step on someone else’s toes. The meek will NOT inherit the customer success word.


Successful women leaders are paving the way for customer success

Customer Success (CS) is an exciting field and while still a very young and rapidly evolving discipline, some initial trends are starting to emerge. One of the most exciting and compelling trends is that many strong and talented women business leaders are boldly breaking new ground in the CS space.

These Customer Success women leaders are doing an amazing job of quickly inventing new ways of working along with creating entire CS teams and departments within their organizations. At Success Chain we have been honored to work with great women CS leaders who possess the skill, vision, adaptability and business acumen that is shaping the field and future leaders. We want to celebrate their incredible accomplishments and share their terrific advice for overcoming a variety of tough challenges in the Customer Success space.

We hope you will join us each month as we interview and showcase a successful CS leader with our top 10 questions aimed at exploring her unique insights and experiences. I

This month we are excited to showcase Jessica Donnelly, who is a Director of Customer Success at a global corporation based in the Washington DC area.

Jessica Donnelly1. What is your title and role and how long have you been working in the Customer Success (CS) space or similar role?

My name is Jessica Donnelly and I’m the Director of CS at a global corporation based in the Washington DC area. I’ve been in this role since June 2016. Prior to this role, I was in the consulting world for 16 years primarily focused on business process improvement, project management, customer relationship management, business development and risk management.

2. What do you like most about being a CS leader?

What I like best about being a Customer Success leader is that there is so much potential to drive lasting, significant change throughout an organization. The CS role has quite an impact on presenting and sustaining value for our customers.

3. What does CS success look like for you, your team, your clients and your organization?

For me, in my role as Director of Customer Success, success looks like the ability to obtain 100% buy-in and advocacy from the executive leadership team. For my CS team, success is the feeling of being valued by their peers and seeing our customers achieve their goals. For our clients, success is realizing the full value of their investment in our products. For our organization, success is functioning in a customer-centric approach that drives the overall strategy, product, and tool investments as well as collaborating cross-functionally to execute our end-to-end processes starting with sales through sustainability.?

My consulting skills have also been incredibly helpful”

4. What key factors, skills, attributes and/or characteristics have been particularly helpful to you in enabling your success as a leader in CS?

The ability to apply organizational change management principles while communicating internally within the organization and externally with customers has been extremely important. Also, thinking strategically, being proactive and adaptable, and having the softer skills such as being empathetic to our customers. Having business acumen such as familiarity with return on investment, what value really means and how to provide support to achieve business outcomes. My consulting skills have also been incredibly helpful such as listening and observing, being confident to think on my feet with customers, and providing recommendations with tangible results that can be tracked and monitored.

5. Reflecting back on 2017, what were some of the business challenges you experienced in the CS space or are still experiencing and why do you think that is?

One of the toughest business challenges has been the inability to change beliefs about the Customer Success role. For example, we have engrained processes and ways of doing things that are hard to change such as too many customer touch points, which creates an inconsistent customer experience. It’s hard to reeducate and change beliefs when CS is not a tangible output. The right tools and data are needed to help people gain insights and see the value in CS. But the reality is, change is hard. It’s a journey, not a sprint. Changing beliefs about the CS role really needs to start at the top of the organization with CS champions who can help internal stakeholders understand what CS is and isn’t.

6. What are the key areas you focus on to help your clients experience value from software and renew year after year?

Our CS role is business and people focused, not technology focused. To help our clients experience value from our software we have five key focus areas.

1. Our Customer Success team tries hard to get introduced to the client early on and work with them long before Go Live to drive adoption.?

2. We focus on identifying what success looks like for our customers and set realistic goals based on the best practices we share with them.

3. We focus on how they are preparing their users for what’s coming. We help our customers with awareness campaigns and ask pointed questions to help identify potential barriers to adoption such as, do you have authority to make the changes needed?” What is the level of attention and priority of the project?, and What level of preparation and communication with users has been done to facilitate overall readiness for what you’ve purchased?

4. After Go live, we focus on overall adoption, metrics and achievement of goals. We also make a point to capture customer feedback and share it with our internal teams so we can make changes as needed based on feedback from the user community.

5. We work with our clients to develop a roadmap for sustainability. Our adoption check-ins wind down once our clients feel empowered to own adoption and reach out to us for support as needed.

We try to highlight how important it is that the sponsors are active and empowered to drive change.”

7. What do you believe is the biggest challenge most organizations face when driving organizational change and getting people to adopt technology? How have you been able to help them?

One of the biggest challenges we face is the lack of strong sponsorship and business stakeholder commitment. We try to highlight how important it is that the sponsors are active and empowered to drive change. We ask questions to help them assess and realize that they may not have the right person in the role such as someone who is more focused on technology and Go Live than business outcomes and people. Unfortunately, sometimes we just have to work with the person they identify and be the champion our customers need.

“we need enterprise alignment on the role of Customer Success and it needs to be clear”

8. Were there any surprises this past year (good or not so good) or any lessons learned from your CS efforts this past year?

One of the lessons learned this past year is we need enterprise alignment on the role of CS and it needs to be clear how it impacts each department and individual job responsibilities to avoid confusion and stepping on each other’s toes. It’s a journey and we need to bring everyone along for the ride. We can’t make good decisions in siloes. Full transparency is a must. We’ve also learned that it’s extremely important to assess our CS maturity level and have an action plan in place with parameters to strive for rather than try to tackle it all at once.

Since we can’t do everything all at once, we focused on the overall customer experience and implemented process improvements that directly impact our customers and their perspectives. As a result, we were able provide value for our customers while we socialized within our organization the value CS brings for our customers and our organization.

9. Where do you think the CS industry is headed in the next year or 3 years? How will it change? What do you see as new challenges in the future?

I believe Customer Success is going to take ownership of all customer revenue renewal expansions and upsells. It won’t be sales. There will be more chief customer officer roles running the overall customer journey more holistically. CS should not be buried in operations or sales because CS needs to ensure that the organization is consistently delivering a holistic approach. CS leaders need to have a seat at the table and have their voices heard. As organizations start embracing this role, the demand for qualified CS Managers will significantly increase. The role will be indispensable. It will no longer be an option. Organizations will need to rethink their whole customer experience strategy and evaluate what changes need to be made such as how to leverage data depending on the maturity level of the organization and how to use that data in the best way for customers.

10. What advice would you give someone who is interested in pursuing a CS career and/or becoming a CS leader?

My advice for someone interested in pursuing a career in CS is go for it. I believe the next generation of great leaders could ultimately emerge from CS because there are so many leadership skills that you use while performing this role. For example, you have to inspire audacious goals and keep people inspired. Great leaders inspire, they don’t make you do it. We can’t control what our customers do, but we can guide them.

And if we do it right, the results can be outstanding.


The 4+1 Keys to Successful Software Adoption Planning & Execution

For SaaS vendors and SaaS customers…

People are confronted by questions all the time, some as simple as “what came first, the chicken or the egg,” and others are not so simple like, “who owns software adoption?”

All sarcasm aside, these two questions are related as they both apply to the world of customer success and software adoption; what comes first?

In order to drive business value, an organization needs to adopt its new software quickly and use it as designed and intended. Not a lot of argument there. But, what comes before the adoption is critical to adoption happening at all, hence the chicken and the egg question.

Machines don’t adopt software; people do. In order for that to happen, an organization needs an actual written plan that maps objectives, timelines, and goals. It needs to map the changes in behaviors people need to make to adopt the new software and do so efficiently in the time frames desired.

Let’s look at what we at Tri Tuns call “The 4+1 Keys to successful software adoption,” where we point out those critical concepts needed for successful software adoption outcomes and customer success:

Key # 1: Software adoption is all about your people, not IT systems

Let’s take Key #1 as fundamental. For years most firms saddled IT with what was “adoption” but was really “build it, and they will come.” It was a passive and largely inefficient approach to get people to change behaviors and switch how they did their day to day jobs. Most times, it was really not successful.

“Machines don’t adopt software; people do.” IT does not own adoption because it can’t. IT is awesome at getting systems live and keeping them that way, and making sure that things work as intended. It’s more than a full-time job and does not involve identifying and solving human bottlenecks or gaps in an organization that wishes to resist and stay on the old software.

Software adoption is a people issue, it’s that simple, and it’s all about getting people to identify and embrace new behaviors that will increase business value via their new software. So give IT a break; their job is hard enough.

Key #2: Software adoption needs a clear & transparent plan before, during, and after Go-Live

If your organization is planning to launch a new major software purchase, then everyone owes it to themselves, particularly the key stakeholders, to begin the software adoption planning process early.

Very early.

Very early, as in during the software selection process optimally, but most definitely well before go-live. All 4+1 Keys are actively and effectively addressed in the planning processes. No two software implementations are the same. No two adoption plans are the same, and that’s why the 4+1 Keys are so important to the overall process.

Adoption planning is more than application training and communications. Since a software change is expected to increase efficiency and create tangible business value, an adoption plan needs to identify opportunities and obstacles to success. These can exist at many levels, and the work needs to be done to identify and catalog how each opportunity and obstacle should be addressed, and by whom, and in what time frame.

The adoption plan needs to be very transparent so that the entire organization affected by the new software is fully briefed and on board with what the plan is and how it will affect them. They can participate because they know what is expected of them and in what time frames.

Key #3: software adoption needs to be clearly owned by someone inside of your organization

This should go without saying, yet on many projects having a designated adoption owner is often missed. In the land of software adoption, however, it is a critical must-have for success. It is also super critical for the SaaS CSM’s to know specifically who actually owns adoption on the customer side. Both sides have to have skin in the game.

As we talked about briefly in Key #1, IT does not own adoption. Adoption is about people and business value. For an adoption plan and project to be successful, there needs to be a clear business owner whose mission is the successful building and execution of the adoption plan and delivery of increased business value to their company. If there is to be accountability, there needs to be a clear owner. Without this key, unlocking business value quickly is going to be harder and slower.

The owner needs to do the hard work of determining what an adoption plan for their organization needs to look like and defines what success will ultimately look like for their project. Once an adoption owner is assigned, the real adoption planning can begin, aided by Key # 4 and Key #5.

For SaaS CSM’s, this is an opportunity to help drive successful adoption with their customer.

Key # 4: software adoption requires visible senior leadership support

Leadership support looks different depending on factors such as the size, scale, complexity, and number of people involved in the software implementation. What is critical is that your leadership demonstrates through words, actions, and resource allocation, their dedication to accelerating, measuring, and sustaining effective adoption of the software.

Your new software was purchased and approved by some individual or group of individuals on the belief that having it would generate business value. Ensuring that the organization will effectively support the implementation and adoption program for your new software is essential to achieving desired business outcomes. Support needs to begin higher up rather than lower down.

It is often easier for the executive level to illustrate how your new software will bring new value to your organization globally. However, it is Key # 5 that will ultimately cement the success of your software adoption efforts.

Key #5: The employees’ direct supervisor is instrumental in software adoption success

This may seem elementary to some readers, but it is often overlooked in its importance. The users’ direct supervisor is crucial to seeing day to day that the needle is moving with their people, and the system is getting used in a way that delivers increased business value.

The immediate supervisor is the pointy end of the spear. Their ability to observe and influence at the micro-level will have a direct effect on how fast their team adopts the new system. Including the “direct supervisor effect” needs to be baked into each adoption plan to take advantage of and leverage this person in their unique position to positively influence adoption metrics and outcomes.

Failing to do so leaves a highly effective lever for accelerating success unused. Bring direct supervisors into the planning fold early on. This will ensure they have visibility and an ownership stake in the definition of success and metrics by which they will be measured is a smart step that everyone should take.


The 4+1 Keys to successful software adoption are the framework that most every organization and SaaS vendor can incorporate to dramatically increase their likelihood of success in launching a new software investment. Software adoption is about people and behaviors, and while there is no one size fits all solution, the 4+1 Keys have been developed from over 20 years of direct successful experience with organizations and SaaS vendors large and small.

Real success for both SaaS vendors and SaaS customers begins with software adoption.


How to Develop a Cohesive Customer Success Management Strategy

Many SaaS vendors recognize the need for a Customer Success Management Strategy, but they struggle with knowing where to begin creating this capability. They often start with what they are comfortable with and by doing what they already know how to do. But this won’t solve their problem. It is time for something new.

The explosive growth of cloud-based subscription software is dramatically shifting the relationship between software vendors and customers. While the exact impact of these changes is still unfolding, one thing that is clear is that we need to develop new approaches for how systems are implemented, adopted, and managed. And we need to evolve the skills, expertise, methods, and tools needed to drive customer success, as well.

In my previous article, I discussed how SaaS vendors need to map out their customers’ critical path to success and then develop the capabilities that will move customers along this journey. In this first post in a two-part series, I will share the first two steps necessary for actually doing it.

STEP 1: Find out how to solve customers? user adoption and ROI problems

Let’s be clear – the whole reason you are devoting time and resources to building a CSM team in the first place is that your customers are unable to achieve success using your software on their own. If they were, they wouldn’t need help, and you wouldn’t need a CSM team.

The absolute first place to start is to identify what constitutes success for your customer and then figure out what they need to do to achieve it. All of your actions moving forward need to be maniacally focused on your Customer Success Management Strategy and making sure customers take the actions necessary to achieve this goal.

Many customers and SaaS vendors get into big trouble before they even start. They think user adoption and ROI issues are about software functionality or the on-time deployment of the system. They are not. For most customers, success or failure is determined by what happens after the system is live. Success is not a technical issue. Success is a user adoption and business results issue. This is where many of your customers are struggling. Consequently, this is where your CSM program needs to focus.

It is critical that you get your initial needs analysis for your customers correct. If you get this wrong, you will squander precious time, money, and resources trying to build a CSM capability that has no chance of solving your customer’s underlying problem – getting their staff to use the system.

When doing your initial needs analysis, consider the following:

  • Analysis Skills & Perspective: The issues you identify in your needs analysis and the corresponding solutions will depend entirely on the lens of the people you have doing the analysis. Keep in mind the problem you need to address is an organizational change and a performance issue. It is not a technical, sales, or customer service issue. Make sure that you have people with expertise and a proven track record of driving and sustaining user adoption and organizational change doing the analysis.
  • User Behavior: You need to identify all of the drivers and barriers that affect user adoption within your customer’s organization. You need to understand why the customer’s staff is not using your system and why your customer is not achieving their goals. Once you identify the root-cause problems, then you can begin to help customers take action. This is not easy to do.
  • Methodology: Investigate the methodology your customers use to introduce your system and then the methods they use to manage ongoing user adoption. You will likely find that many of the user adoption and ROI problems are management issues and not user-resistance.

Only once you understand exactly where things are breaking down should you attempt to move forward by deciding how to fix it.

STEP 2: Develop your Customer Success Management Strategy

Your Customer Success Management Strategy will depend on the nature of your customers’ issues, the value the customer brings to your organization, and the costs associated with delivering CSM services. You may need to segment and prioritize your customers and then make decisions about where to target your CSM efforts for maximum results.
Now we are getting into an area that requires some new thinking. In order for your CSM function to be successful, you need to figure out:

  • How your customers can actually solve their problems
  • What resources you are prepared to provide to help

That requires you making decisions in two key areas:

Self-Service or Professional Service

Where on the self-service vs. professional service spectrum do you place each customer segment? Do you expect customers to solve their user adoption and ROI challenges on their own, or will you help them?

  • For lower-value customers, you might help put together basic toolkits to help them build their internal user adoption / ROI programs. This approach tends to be low in cost but also low in effectiveness.
  • For more valuable customers, you might offer a full professional service that helps them drive and maximize user adoption and ROI over the life of the system. Yes, this should also be a revenue-generating service, just like any training or technical service you provide.

Build, Buy, or Partner

For those customers that require a professional service, you need to decide how you will provide it. Below are three key questions to ask to help you determine your approach:

  • Do you want to develop internal user adoption and ROI expertise within your company? If so, build it.
  • Do you want to just bring in expertise on an as-needed basis? If so, buy it (by subcontracting out this work).
  • Do you want to stay focused on the technical expertise in your company while also ensuring customers have the service they need to sustain ROI over the long-term? If so, partner with firms with expertise in developing effective user adoption programs.

By the way, if you are worried that customers won’t pay for a professional service to help them get full business value from your system, don’t be.

I have worked with many clients that fully recognize the need for help in this area.

In fact, one of my customers, a large organization with a presence in all 50 states, recognized that user adoption and what happens after the system goes live is actually the most critical determining factor of their success. They realized that user adoption is 80% of their needs, and technology is only 20% of their challenge.

Next Steps

Once you have your Customer Success Management Strategy in place, you can then turn your attention to developing your methodology and tools and making the internal organizational changes necessary to launch and start introducing your new CSM capabilities to your customers. I go over each of those steps in detail in the second part of this series.

*This blog post was written by Jason Whitehead, CEO of Tri Tuns and originally published publication on Openview Labs blog.


5 Steps to Build High-Impact Customer Success Playbooks

It is time to rethink some major assumptions and turn conventional wisdom on its head when it comes to how buyers and sellers of software approach user adoption.

For many years, user adoption was, at best, an after-thought once a system was live. At worst, it was ignored completely. IT departments and executive sponsors were left scratching their heads wondering why the magical benefits they believed the software would deliver never appeared.

Conventional wisdom had led them to believe that if they selected a great product with the right features, trained people on the functionality, communicated “What’s In It For Me?”, then everything would be fine. Then the “If you build it, they will come” approach repeatedly failed to deliver the software ROI that buyers expected. Customers reduced licenses or churned completely, leading to a big “ah-ha” moment for the software vendors. SaaS vendors realized they need to proactively support their customers in adopting their software, achieving their business goals, and consequently renewing. Thus, the field of Customer Success (CS) was born.

Adoption: The Critical Path Problem You Need to Solve

At its core, the root-cause problem that most CS teams need to solve is that customers are not effectively accelerating, maximizing, and sustaining full adoption of software within their organizations. If the customers’ users cannot or will not incorporate the use of a given software into their daily work routines, they will not get the value they need. Quite simply:

No Adoption = No Value = No Renewals

CS teams can spend all the time in the world talking about features, road-maps, strategy, and quarterly business reviews (QBRs), but without adoption, this is all moot.

The Challenge: Conventional Wisdom Doesn’t Apply to Adoption!

If you are still following conventional wisdom and focusing on training and traditional change management, your renewals will suffer. User adoption is not a technology issue. ?It is not a marketing or sales issue. It is not a training issue (though training plays a role). User adoption is a complex organization and people issue. It is a performance issue, dependent on both organizational and individual performance. The old approaches don’t work.

Effective user adoption is about getting people – lots of people – to change their behavior to reliably use your software to do their jobs. It is about coaching them to develop new work habits and to keep them going day, after day, after day. It is about removing the organizational barriers (which often fall outside the users’ control) that prevent them from using your system. And it is about aligning and focusing on how different groups use your software to make sure the customer organization is achieving the desired business goals.

The Future: Actionable User Adoption Playbooks

Let me ask you, what have you done to learn about the components and complexities of user adoption? What sources did you consider? How did you determine the actions you would take to drive user adoption? And what made you think these would be effective?

Once you understand that user adoption is a new type of challenge and the old rules don’t apply, you have freed yourself to work with your customer for answers to these questions. Here are five suggestions to get you started:

1. Educate on User Adoption Fundamentals

The chances are high that your customers do not have expertise in user adoption challenges and methods. Educate your customers (and CS staff) on effective user adoption methods so they can spend their time on proven strategies.

2. Provide Your Customers an Adoption Best Practice Playbook

Make it easy for your customers to proactively drive adoption within their organization. Provide them with the simple, actionable toolkits they need to drive adoption within their organization.

3. Develop a CS Adoption Coaching Capacity and Playbook

Your CS team needs to guide your customers through the adoption process. Provide your CS team with the training, skills, tools, and plays they need to coach your customers in adopting your software.

4. Start during the Initial Sales Process

Introduce user adoption plans and actions very early in the sales cycle. Help your customer understand that without fast, effective adoption, they will never get the ROI they want. Use your CS services as a competitive sales differentiator to demonstrate how your organization will reduce their risk and improve their ROI.

5. Continue Over Time

Don’t stop at go-live! Focus on sustaining full, effective adoption among your customers’ users over the life of your system. As soon as users stop adopting and getting value, your customer will churn.

Flip The Model

Developing effective, scalable, and profitable Customer Success services requires user adoption expertise and new ways of approaching interactions with your customers. ?Beware of approaches with an over-reliance on marketing, messaging, and training. Our organization, Success Chain, has had great success in flipping the model for delivering user adoption and customer success services. By fundamentally rethinking how we approach and deliver our services, we have accelerated how we engage with customers to deliver even faster results. As you go forward building your adoption playbooks, I challenge you to identify where you can throw conventional wisdom out the window and develop a new, more effective approach that delivers faster results for you and your customers.


Customer Success Managers Must Be Experts in User Adoption

Karen Russell’s insightful article, “6 Mistakes That Can Sabotage The Success Of Your Customer,” sums up a lot of the problems we often see with our Saas or Enterprise clients as they transition from making software dreams a reality. As more companies realize that concerted efforts on customer success will yield better adoption and better business outcomes, these mistakes can interfere with realizing the full business value of a system.

Whether you are the client or the vendor, the goal is not introducing a slick new technology but putting the systems and processes in place to make that technology effective.

On the list, #4 is “Being the Expert,” and it is perhaps the hardest to overcome because most customer success managers are not trained to be coaches, though that is exactly what is needed. The role of a coach is to “give them the skills, techniques, routines, and exercises to make them 1st on the podium.” But before you can be the expert, you need to become the expert. This is where a lot of customer success managers struggle. They are fluent in their technology, and the functionality that it offers but providing the right tools and exercises to get the customer or a team to adopt the technology can be daunting. This part of the role requires more than just account management or customer service. Developing and implementing those tools can be time consuming and ineffective. Not every customer success manager is also an organizational development expert or has a degree in change management. And for those who are, the demands of their “day job” crowd out the skillful methodology behind a truly effective adoption program.

In order for customer success managers to bring value to their clients, they need guidance in the why, what, and how of driving adoption and what barriers they will likely overcome on the way. Since software adoption is not a technology issue, they need to not only know what might be slowing down adoption but why the customer is facing challenges and, even more importantly, how to address those challenges. Here are three ways that your people can become the experts you need them to be:

  1. Myth Busting: There are a lot of misunderstandings about the true challenges behind software adoption. Understanding the latest trends and methodology behind solving those issues will keep your team on track addressing the deeper issues behind your customer’s adoption issues, rather than scratching the surface.
  2. Action Plan: Once your team can identify the issues behind software adoption, they need a plan to address them. Developing goals with the customer is key to gaining an understanding of their goals and how best they can receive the full value of your system.
  3. Communications: Your team needs to work with the customer to bring adoption beyond the software project team. This is where becoming the expert turns the technology project into a value-driven enterprise across your customer’s business.

This doesn’t mean you have to re-educate your customer success team. There are customer success automation tools and training that can give your customer success managers insights and techniques for overcoming adoption barriers.

Organizations like ours are devoted to bringing your customer success team up to speed on the methodology behind software adoption, how to deploy tools and techniques to drive adoption, and how to measure success with an out of the box solution that you don’t have to create. Once your Customer Success Managers become the experts, they will have the ability to deliver not only service but also value to your customers.


Cloud Vendors Beware! You Now Own a Share of Your Customers’ Risk

We love talking with cloud software sales professionals. They are always excited about the big deal they are chasing and how they are going to win a new account. Even (or particularly when) they face a lot of competition, their faces light up when they are talking about landing the new customer. Their energy is contagious.

And if you want to wipe the smile off their face and bring them back down to earth, all you have to do is ask them about their customer renewals.

In recent years, software sales professionals give an almost universal reaction when asked about their customer satisfaction and retention: They get quiet, and the blood drains from their faces. We consistently hear things like, “We are great at winning the initial sale, but lose a lot of customers at renewal time” or “I spend so much time trying to resolve customer problems that I can’t focus as much as I should on winning new business.”

Does this sound familiar?

Shifting user adoption risk from the customer to the vendor

An unintended consequence of cloud software is the transfer of IT adoption risk from the customer to the vendor.

The subscription software model, with low up-front costs and fast deployments, is very appealing to new customers. However, software vendors are just starting to realize the hard truth that if customers are not using the software – and getting clear and measurable business value -from doing so, they will not renew their subscriptions.

Prior to cloud-based subscription software, organizations had large up-front expenses to buy (not rent) software. The vendor received their profits up-front, and the customer bore the full risk and burden of user adoption. The customer had large sunk costs, and they were often unwilling to incur another sunk cost to replace a system that was underused.

Not anymore.

Cloud-based subscription software – with pay-as-you-go pricing – has reduced barriers to entry when it comes to acquiring new software. After all, renting inherently carries less risk than owning. But much to the chagrin of cloud software providers, it has also lowered the barriers to exit when it comes to leaving vendors.

Cloud vendors are just starting to feel the pain. And it’s going to get worse.

Cloud vendor profits require long-term customer renewals

The cloud-based, subscription standard has changed revenue models forever. With the model’s low up-front payments from the customer, cloud vendor profits now hinge on both customer volume and retention. Maximizing the number of paid licenses has always been vital to success, but now the key to sustainably increasing profits is retaining the customers over the long-term. It’s all about a customer’s lifetime value, not just what they paid this quarter.

Unfortunately, many cloud vendors focus primarily on new client acquisition, all the while losing revenue out the back door when customers leave. This is unsustainable. After all, it costs more to acquire a new customer than to retain a current one.

Customer renewal is heavily dependent on customer usage

It’s simple: Customers don’t renew cloud subscriptions that are not used. Have you (or one of your friends) ever bought a gym membership at the start of the year with great hopes for going on a regular basis? How long did it take until the regular workouts gave way to other things? How long did it take until you (or your friend) realized that you were not getting any value from your membership fees and you just dropped your membership?

The same thing happens with cloud software. If customers aren’t using the system, they are not renewing it.

Software companies focus on building and implementing software, not ensuring IT user adoption

In short, software companies are not equipped to drive IT adoption.

Compounding the challenge for cloud software providers is that IT adoption is a people and organizational problem, not a technology problem. The core capabilities and expertise of most software vendors lie in their technical expertise. Quite simply, they know how to make great software.

What they don’t know how to do is help people and organizations manage change. The skills, methods, knowledge, and abilities you need to help people adopt and sustain new ways of working are vastly different from those needed to design, develop, and enhance great software.

Limiting IT User Adoption Risk for Cloud Vendors

Simultaneously, cloud vendors are starting to realize that while they now bear the brunt of the IT adoption risk once borne by their customers, they are not equipped to manage that risk.

It’s now showing up in the bottom line: Standard point-and-click training isn’t sufficient for addressing customers’ IT adoption needs – or the cloud vendor’s risk. After all, training focuses on the software, not the “fleshware,” or the change the new technology brings to the customer’s organization.

To fill this critical service gap – and the hole it’s drilling into profits — increasingly, software vendors are partnering with third parties to fill the critical service gap and deliver the capabilities customers need to manage organizational change and sustain IT user adoption. Success Chain is one of those organizations that can help. We focus on the people and organizational issues, so you can do what you do best – develop software.


4 Myths About Customer Success (and How to Bust Them)

If You Build It, You May End Up Wasting a lot of Time and Money!

After a decade of experience in developing and implementing customer success and user adoption strategies for clients, we have seen several pervasive myths that prevent companies from getting value from their IT investments. Because they believe these things, people may skimp on planning and strategy for adoption or “sell” people on what they will get for using the system as individuals, as opposed to putting time and effort into a customer success strategy and plan.

The following are 4 myths that get our clients into trouble:

  1.  “If you build it, they will come.” History has proven this is rarely true.  Instead, organizations need to develop a focused effort to drive and sustain effective use of the system.
  2. “They will use it because they have no choice.” People always have a choice. Even where a process cannot be completed without using the system, there are always degrees of freedom regarding how, when, where, and with what level of accuracy systems are used. These critical issues can make or break the success of a system implementation.  Instead, flip this assumption on its head. What would you need to do differently if you assumed people always had a choice about whether or not to use the system? How would it change your adoption plan and approach?”
  3. The timeline for change management ends at go-live.” Instead, customer success managers need to focus on both accelerating initial system use, and then more importantly, sustaining high-levels of effective use year over year. Their approach to sustaining adoption over the long term needs to recognize that their organization will constantly evolve, and they need to periodically adjust their adoption effort to meet new and emerging needs. Managers need to ask themselves, “What is the long term plan for sustainable adoption? How will we bring on new hires? What is the plan for upgrades to the system, and how will they be adopted?”
  4. “It all comes down to user resistance.” Often people assume that the success or failure of adoption efforts comes down to the discretion of the end-users. We have found that in many instances, even when people want to use the system, there are organizational barriers that prevent it.  An effective adoption methodology needs to identify the organizational barriers that prevent adoption and then needs to authorize or empower someone to take action to remove these barriers.

One reason these myths survive is that, based on our experience working with both software vendors and software buyers, there is a very large deficit in the skills and expertise needed for organizations to effectively drive adoption.  When an organization is considering purchasing (or renewing) an IT system, they should not only consider the system functionality but also examine the customer success services the vendor provides them for driving adoption.

SaaS vendors, in turn, are realizing that if their customers are not adopting the system, then the customer is not renewing or dramatically cutting back the number of licenses they renew.  The vendors are scrambling to figure out how it is they can help their customers increase adoption and achieve measurable business results from the use of their system.  And while many software vendors are great at providing excellent software, they have yet to really develop expertise, tools, and methods for effectively helping their clients rapidly adopt the software.

You should expect maximum value from all your IT investments, but you also need to prepare for it. With Success Chain, we lead you through a step by step process to prepare. Driving adoption of your software is as easy as following a tried and true, fail-proof recipe – just follow the steps to get the answers you need, when you need them, at your own pace, and in your own space.


Six Reasons Why Every SaaS Vendor Needs a Customer Success Management Strategy

Just the other day, while talking to a SaaS cloud software vendor, we started talking about customer satisfaction and retention. They shared with me their examples of what is becoming a story that I hear all too often from SaaS vendors – that is, they have a great product and get lots of initial sales, but they lose a ton of customers at renewal. And, it’s really hurting their bottom line.

The more I talk to SaaS cloud vendors, the more I notice a growing awareness among them that the subscription business model has unexpectedly (and, arguably, unintentionally) shifted what it takes for the vendor to be successful. Cloud vendors now realize that if the customer is not successful – that is, getting measurable business value from their SaaS purchase – they will not renew.

Unfortunately, many vendors are not prepared to deal with this new reality.
SaaS vendors now realize that they cannot afford to just sell software, rely on the user interface (UI) design and overall user experience (UX), and hope the customer uses it. Retaining customers – and preserving revenues – means needing a comprehensive, actionable strategy to drive and sustain customer success.

Here are six reasons why this is true.

1. SaaS software transfers IT adoption risk from the customer to the vendor

In the old days of traditional, on-premise software, customers made big up-front software purchases. The software vendor made their profits based on license sales, regardless of usage. With subscription software, customers will only pay for (rent) licenses that are actually being used. Lower usage (IT adoption) = lower license revenues.

2. SaaS profits require long-term customer renewals and retention

The low cost, pay-as-you-go pricing means that customers need less up-front cash to purchase the software. However, the lower up-front fees mean that vendors need to retain customers longer to get the same amount of revenue. Suddenly, customer retention is critical to vendor profitability.

3. If customers are not successfully adopting your software, they are not renewing

OK, this is a no-brainer. Savvy customers – and even the not-so-savvy customers – will not keep paying for things they are not using. If customers are not adopting your software, they will not keep paying for it. Now, this doesn’t mean they will drop all licenses (though many will). It may just mean that they dramatically cut the number of paid licenses to eliminate those that are not being effectively used.

4. No matter how intuitive, fluid, or beautiful the system, it’s still a change for the users

Software vendors love to talk about how “usable” their product is, and many (most?) claim almost prescient intuition on the part of the UI. So suggesting that people might not actually use the software is virtual heresy. But really, it’s not about the software. It’s about the fact that the software is a change in users’ daily work lives. Some will love it; some will hate it. But left on their own, not all will use it to its fullest, business-value-creating extent.

5. Customers will not buy more until they use what you have already sold them

Software vendors love to add new features to their products. It’s how they keep the product fresh and competitive. It is also how they can charge you more per user.  The problem is customers won’t pay additional fees for new features if they are not using what they have already been sold. So, if you are a software vendor, before you go paying developers to create lots of new features for your software, you better make sure that people are using what they already have. And this should start with your existing customers.

6. Customers don’t know how to maximize and sustain successful IT adoption

This is, by far, my favorite. For years, customers and vendors alike assumed that if they deployed a system and trained people to use it, that everyone would. The reality is that very few systems are fully adopted. In fact, one report shows that up to 24% of the value of an IT system is lost due to poor IT adoption. Many IT implementation efforts focus on getting the system live but do nothing to ensure it is effectively used and delivering measurable business value to the customer organization. The methods used to develop and deploy a system are very different from those used to help organizations manage change and maximize IT adoption. Unfortunately, many organizations do not know how to effectively manage and sustain IT adoption programs.

SaaS vendors need to invest in Customer Success Management Strategy

SaaS vendors are quickly learning that having a great product alone is not enough. They now need to have a strategy in place to help customers quickly adopt it and make sure it is delivering business value. We are already starting to see SaaS vendors create new positions – such as Customer Success Managers ? to help clients get the most from their software. This is just the first step. In the future, customers will demand – and vendors will need to provide comprehensive customer success management programs.

Want to learn more? Success Chain helps SaaS vendors to develop and implement customer success programs. Contact us today to see how we can help.


7 Things Cloud Vendors Need to Do to Retain Customers

The rise of cloud computing has made it easier for cloud software vendors to acquire new customers. It has also made it harder to keep them.

We consistently hear from cloud vendors that they have no problem winning the sale, but if their customers have not been consistently using the software – and getting clear, measurable value from it – they don’t renew their contracts.

Cloud software providers are looking for new ways to retain customers

When I talk with cloud software executives, at some point, they always ask me for advice on how they can improve customer retention and maximize profitability. I often find that there are a lot of structural and procedural issues within the software vendor’s organization (not the client organization) that prevent this from happening.

7 things cloud IT software vendors can do to increase IT adoption & customer retention

The key here to customer retention is to make sure the clients’ users are fully adopting the system and getting the most value from it. Here are seven steps you can take to help make this happen.

1.Include renewals in sales incentive compensation plans

Several cloud software vendors tell us that their sales reps are incentivized based on the amount of the initial sale only. Consider the leveraging power of aligning incentive plans so that your sales representatives develop and maintain long-term relationships with clients.

2.Pay commissions on payments received (cashflow), not initial sale amounts

Some cloud software vendors tell us that commissions are determined by the amount listed in the initial contract documents, and the salespeople are paid when the customer signs up. However, many vendors also find that over time – especially when they get closer to the renewal date – the sales reps will give away refunds, free services, or other concessions in an attempt to retain unsatisfied customers. All of this comes at a cost for the software vendor, but without any penalty to the sales rep.

Instead, software vendors can stagger commission payments to match cash received from customers. This added flexibility allows you to make adjustments based on any late-term concessions or giveaways to the client.

3.Set targets for an increase in customer licenses and additional services sold, not just initial sale

Many customers adopt a “try before you buy” approach to cloud software purchases. They will often start with an initial purchase for a small number of users and/or limited system functionality. They will then increase their spend only if they are getting value from the system.

Cloud vendors looking to improve profitability can include account expansion and retention goals in their compensation plans.

4.Weight commissions based on customer satisfaction

Customer satisfaction is another element that influences (and may predict) customer retention. Instituting a program of regular measurement of customer satisfaction and tying compensation for sales reps, or even all employees, based on customer ratings, will further incentivize staff to focus on developing positive, long-term customer relationships.

5.Incentivize commissions based on customer profitability, not gross sale

In attempts to boost customer satisfaction and retention, some sales reps may go overboard in client entertainment, giveaways, or other such things that come at a cost. To help make sure sales reps are focused on overall profitability – while giving them the freedom they need to cultivate positive customer relationships – commissions and bonuses should be based on the overall profitability of the client relationship.

6.Obtain customer renewal criteria before the initial sale

Going into any sale, you know you need to retain customers past the initial contract period. They know they want to minimize the cost and hassle it takes to switch vendors, yet they also need to make sure they are getting a positive ROI on their IT investments.

Before you even sign the initial contract, get your customers to define in writing their renewal criteria. By getting the customer to agree on upfront on how and when they will decide if they are going to renew, you can align all of your efforts to helping the customer achieve the desired business results. This will save you time and money later while also giving you improved insight when forecasting anticipated customer renewal amounts.

7.Partner with IT adoption experts to make it happen

IT adoption is a people and organizational issue, not a technology issue. Most cloud vendors do not have the expertise or service capabilities they need to help the customer maximize and sustain user adoption. Instead, they can partner with an organizational change and IT adoption company that has specific services and expertise in this area. Doing so is one of the fastest and easiest ways to preserve revenue and retain customers.