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!
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.
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.
This free eCourse explains many of the methodological and structural problems organizations face when dealing with software.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
If you are like many customer success managers, you are probably extremely focused on the question:
“Will our customers be successful with OUR software?”
You and your team probably ask yourselves what you, as
a customer success professional, need to do to ensure the customer is
successful using your product.
But there is a more critical, more fundamental question
you need to ask first.
You need to ask, “Can our customer be successful with ANY software?”
focus is critical
By asking if the customer can be successful with any
software, you are identifying if the customer has within its internal
organization the knowledge, skills, experience, and capacity required to get
maximum business value from its software investments.
You are identifying if the primary problem you need to
solve first is related to your customers’ organizational capacity to adopt and
benefit from any technology or if the major challenge is specific
to your system.
What may come as a big surprise to you, is that most buyers of software don’t know how to get their organizations to drive change, get their staff to adopt software effectively, and ensure they get the full business outcomes they expect.
When we train the buyers of software on user adoption techniques and practices, they are amazed at how many things they are doing wrong that prevent their success in getting value from software. The vast majority of these issues are people, organizational, and process issues. They are NOT specific to a given piece of software.
It doesn’t matter if it is a cloud system, on-premise, or a custom-built application. The crisis of effective user adoption is ubiquitous.
Here is the solution
Here are some questions you need to ask your customers
to identify if the biggest blockers of customer success are tied to your
specific product or are related to the customer’s internal ability to absorb any
technology within their organizations:
What do you do internally to drive adoption and
realize business benefits when implementing any new system? Do you have a
defined user adoption program and methodology?
How do you ensure systems are quickly adopted
and that you sustain effective adoption 3, 5, and 10 years down the road?
Across your software portfolio, what percent of
applications are delivering the full business benefits and outcomes you
expected? How many of the systems would you consider a mind-blowing business
“success”? What makes them so incredible?
What prevents you from getting more value from
your existing IT investments?
What will you do to ensure that your investment
in our system is a success and delivers all of the business benefits you expect
Where do you need our help to ensure that your
investment in our system is a success and delivers all of the business benefits
you expect to achieve?
What to expect…
What you will most likely hear from your customers is
that they have a plethora of systems that are NOT successful.
The vast majority of their systems are likely underused
or underperforming. There is probably a lot of value leakage in their existing
IT investment portfolio.
Many of your prospects and customers likely provide a limited version of “change management” (typically focused around the go-live date). These are probably the customers that report very few systems delivering full business value.
It will be the rare gem of a customer that has a structured, ongoing program to sustain effective system use (and business outcomes realization) over a 5 – 10 year period. These forward-thinking companies are likely the ones that report high success rates across their software portfolio.
red flag for your customer success approach
When asking these questions, you will quickly see that
many of your customers are unlikely to achieve great success getting value from
any system, not just your system.
When you encounter this, you need to ask yourself if
there is something magically different about your software. What
is the magic that will lead customers to achieve success with your software
when they have proven time and time again, they struggle to adopt and get value
from any system?
Otherwise, your system will quickly become just another
underwhelming investment in your customer’s software portfolio.
the first problem first
Before you waste a ton of time, resources, and effort
narrowly focusing on the success of your product, you will likely need to help
your customers recognize that they need to address this fundamental capability
gap within their organization first.
They will need to spend time learning the principles and practices of software adoption. Then they must adjust their internal efforts to get more value from any of their software investments. Only then will they even have the potential to get full value from their investment in your system.
customer will be amazed at how you helped them
Realizing this, you need to focus your customer success approach on building your customer’s capacity to adopt any system effectively. They will then apply this skill to adopt your system.
And then everyone wins.
There is also an added benefit for you from this
approach. By enriching your customer’s capacity to adopt any
system, you will tremendously differentiate your company and your customer
success program from all of your competitors.
Your customer will view you as the coveted
Your customer will give you rare references and
Your customers will renew and expand their accounts.
And you will amaze and delight your coworkers,
managers, executives, and investors.
Success Chain provides a variety of Customer Success and Software Adoption training and consulting services to help buyers of software get full value from their IT investments.
Contact us to learn how we can help you or your customers increase their potential for software success and develop their internal software adoption programs and capacity that delivers success.
For years, long before the invention of SaaS, software vendors could make tons of sales by selling customers on the idea that software would solve all (well, most) of their problems. If you bought their system, all the great features and functions baked into their product would deliver exceptional results. Vendors had polished demos that looked great and made buyers salivate. And, in many cases, the software products did do some wonderful things.
Then along came the SaaS business model. The
combination of cool functionality, a sleek demo (in a clean demo environment
with pristine data), fast implementations, and cheap monthly pricing made sales
take off. It was so easy to get started quickly and to switch from your current
vendor. Everything was great and rosy. And then came renewal time and churn.
Suddenly, SaaS buyers realized they were no longer
stuck with software that didn’t live up to the hype and the promise. Buyers
regained some power and quickly learned that if they didn’t get the results
they expected from their SaaS purchase, they could just as quickly and easily
move on to another vendor and try their luck there. And the vendor hopping
So, if companies are regularly switching software vendors, it begs the question, “is the software the problem, or is it the ability of buyers to get value in their organization that is the problem?“
What all of this vendor hopping has taught us is that
most organizations are very good at getting a system live. Still, they struggle
with knowing how to get their people to use it internally in a way that
delivers the expected business value and outcomes. The reality is, introducing
new systems and processes into an organization adds a massive amount of change
and uncertainty to the organization. And most organizations don’t know how to
navigate this change and drive success.
In many cases, the buyer’s ability to drive
adoption and success within their organization that is the issue, not the
software. This is the core issue that SaaS vendors need to solve to reduce
churn and expand accounts.
At Success Chain, we have worked with many software suppliers and software buyers to help them figure out what they can do to help drive better software adoption, organizational change, and behavior change so that organizations realize the full value of their IT investments. When we work with these groups and train their teams, they are amazed at how many things they are doing wrong that prevent their success. And when they learn how to drive software adoption, they are surprised at all the small, easy changes (and some big ones too) they can take to improve software adoption and business results dramatically!
This realization has significant implications for SaaS
vendors. Since the area where software buyers are truly struggling is with
change management and adoption, this is where vendors need to provide help.
Vendors need to shift their efforts away from narrowly focusing on their
specific product and services; instead, they need to educate their customers on
appropriate change management and software adoption tactics and techniques that
buyers can apply within their organization. Helping buyers maximize user
adoption and achieve business outcomes is absolutely on the critical path to
renewals, yet SaaS vendors often ignore this critical area.
If you are a software vendor, consider this:
How much easier would it be for you to reduce
churn and expand your accounts if your customers were better able to accelerate
and sustain the adoption of your software in their organization?
How much time and effort would it save your
customer success, training, and support teams if your customers could do more
How much easier would it be for your CS teams to
have discussions with your customers about business outcomes and the adoption
plans and activities they need to achieve these outcomes if your customer was
already educated about the techniques they need to apply within their
organization to achieve desired business outcomes?
Where else could you focus your valuable time,
effort, and resources to improve your product or grow your company?
The challenge is that change management and user
adoption is not typically a core competency of SaaS vendors. Vendors are often
experts on their product and have little or no expertise (or interest) in
providing software adoption services or resources. And they don’t have the
ability to deliver the tools and customer education needed to solve this
problem in a fast, easy, and scalable way.
Recognizing the tremendous need and challenge here, Tri Tuns has developed a creative solution to this problem. We have taken our proven software adoption training and updated it to be delivered in a fast, easy, scalable way. Our success program, gives software buyers the knowledge, tactics, and techniques they need to drive effective adoption within their organization. And since it is delivered via an online learning portal, it is available 24 x 7, wherever the buyer is located.
Imagine the possibilities of including access to online software adoption training as part of your new customer onboarding process? How great would it be if one of the first steps when you onboard a new customer is for them to get educated about how to drive their success? And since it is all online, this step can even be automated!
Want to learn more? Contact us today to learn how we partner with you to include our online software adoption training in your customer onboarding program.
I recently watched this great video from Sustainable Human that tells the story about how reintroducing just 14 wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 had a profound impact on that natural ecosystem.
The video states that “We all know that wolves kill various species of animals, but what perhaps we’re slightly less aware that they give life to many others.” The ripple effects of introducing major changes, in this case, bringing wolves back to an environment where they have been missing for 70 years, had many positive, unintended impacts.
The video shows how introducing the wolves “radically changed” the behavior of the deer that had grazed away the vegetation across large areas of land. When the wolves came, the deer started avoiding specific areas of the park. In turn, the vegetation grew back, and other animals came to inhabit the park. Rivers also changed. The impact across the entire ecosystem was amazing, and the catalyst was traced back to just introducing 14 wolves back into the environment.
Similar things can happen in organizations when you introduce Customer Success teams (if you are a SaaS supplier) or internal software adoption efforts (if you are purchasing software). Creating groups likes these can, and should, shift the behavior across your organizational ecosystem. Creating a team, even a small team (remember, there were only 14 wolves), that is sufficiently strong enough and empowered to shift the way business is done can create new patterns of behavior across your entire organization. This can lead to new levels of success, beyond which you might never have thought possible.
But success is not guaranteed.? Wolves are a strong, powerful animal with the ability to shift the behavior of others. Your customer success team needs a strong leader with authority to make changes. The entire executive team needs to be open to questioning the way things currently work across the organization. And you need to look at all areas of your organizational ecosystem to see what else is shifting, or needs to shift, in order for the organization as a whole to thrive.
The most amazing thing happened after the recent World Cup game. The Japanese spectators all cleaned up after themselves in the stadium. Many of them had even brought their own trash bags to make sure that they could leave the place spotless. When have you ever heard of such a thing happening at the sports events you have attended?
So, what do Japanese sport spectators have to do with software adoption customer success? The answer is they both depend on the behavior and showing respect for others. Let me explain. The BBC article about the Japanese spectators discusses how this is a cultural phenomenon. Japanese children are taught from an early age to be respectful and to pick up after themselves. This behavior is reinforced as they grow and continues even in adulthood.
The key to software adoption and customer success is creating a culture in your organization that rewards desired user behavior. It requires you to build a culture where everyone is focused on how they do their jobs and how they use the software to ensure that everyone across the organization can use the system as designed and intended.
Most organizations get into trouble with software adoption and customer success when they narrowly focus just on system functionality. They tend to ignore modeling, driving, and reinforcing the desired work behaviors. They ignore focusing on driving user behavior where everyone is conscious and intentional about using the software as it is intended.
The BBC article goes on to say:
“With constant reminders throughout childhood, these behaviors become habits for much of the population.”
The lesson here for software adoption customer success is that you need to constantly reinforce the behavior that you want with reminders. This critical effort is oftentimes overlooked in many organizations. Who’s job is it to model this behavior? Who’s job is it to give the reminders? Who’s job is it to actually identify the desired user adoption customer success behaviors?
Another interesting point is that this behavior is a source of pride for the Japanese spectators.
“In addition to their heightened consciousness of the need to be clean and to recycle, cleaning up at events like the World Cup is a way Japanese fans demonstrate pride in their way of life and share it with the rest of us” – explains Prof North.
How can you create a culture in your organization where it is a source of pride that everyone is using the technology well? How do you create a corporate culture that rewards desired behaviors? How do you create a corporate culture where people are encouraged to make sure that they not only do their job well but that they are doing their job, and using technology systems in a way that enables others to use the data and system to excel at their jobs as well?
We can all take a lesson from these Japanese spectators about how to improve software adoption and customer success. To be more successful, focus your efforts on creating a culture and environment that rewards desired user behavior. What steps do you take to create a culture that reinforces desired norms for effectively adopting systems and technology?
Create the culture of system users taking pride in creating high-quality data the is shared throughout the organization. Think of these Japanese spectators and engage your users around these behaviors and principles. Model the behavior that you want. Be aware and take note when you see people using systems and doing their job as intended. Publicize it across your organization when you see examples of excellence in using the software effectively. If you do, you will have much greater success from your software investments!
Most organizations are
surprised by how difficult it is to get people to adopt new technology.
worst mistake people make
The biggest mistake many organizations make is
believing that people will have no choice but to adopt a new IT system because
it will be mandatory.
Do people assume this in your organization?
can’t mandate system use
Mandating system use is a common approach that is
guaranteed to block the potential value and success of an IT system. The
assumption is that if the boss tells them they must do it, then people will do
Unless you identify and proactively manage change
before, during, and after go-live, you will not see the levels of user adoption
and business outcomes you want.
The IT system on which you spent valuable time and
money will end up:
Used in the wrong way
Have bad data entered
No data entered
hidden barriers to success
Most organizations fail to identify real and perceived organizational obstacles to adopting and using new technology because leaders:
Believe user adoption will “just happen” organically and they don’t need to devote time and resources to drive and sustain adoption
Don’t know how to identify potential organizational barriers to adoption
Think they know all the barriers without realizing they probably don’t
Do not motivate and rewarded people for focusing their efforts on anything beyond quickly getting the system live on time and within budget
the right approach to success
Most software projects fail to deliver the expected
business outcomes because of the method the buyer takes to getting the system
live and driving user adoption.
Many organizations lack the expertise, tools, and capacity to deliver their internal success. You need to move past traditional change management approaches and instead put in place a comprehensive effort focused on long-term, sustained user adoption.
You need to:
Remove adoption barriers that prevent
stakeholders from using IT systems as designed and intended
Achieve a dramatic increase in adoption rates
for IT systems
Experience significantly faster value creation
and benefits realization from IT systems
Gain a return on your IT system objectives and
Be the role model and hero in your organization
for having the knowledge and skills to drive short-term and long-term success
with IT systems
When you have the right approach to user adoption, you
will find that it is not that hard to deliver success. If you are not getting
the results you need, it is time to develop new skills and approaches to
solving the problem. You will be amazed at the results.
If you are looking to help software buyers create their own internal software success programs, Success Chain can help. Contact us to find out what we can do for you.
It is widely known that most software investments fail to deliver the expected business results and Return on Investment (ROI). Here are often-skipped, specific actions that CEOs, CIOs, and CFOs can take to get more value from their software investment.
Why this long history of failure? Either executives are not aware of the problem (unlikely), or they don’t know what to do to solve it (highly likely).
The problem is the approach
When I speak with leaders across a variety of organizations and industries about how they approach software success, the typical answer is “training.“
While relying on training consistently fails to deliver success, organizations keep turning to it as the go-to move, each time expecting a different result. Somewhere out there, Einstein is rolling over in his grave, thinking everyone is insane!
Its time to stop the crazy-train and start looking for new approaches that will deliver results.
Over a career spanning more than twenty years focused on helping organizations improve user adoption and getting more value from their IT systems, I have learned many tactics that make a massive impact on success.
You need to plan how you will achieve long-term software success
There is no way any organization can justify putting money into a software investment without having a clear, realistic plan for how they will get their value back out of it.
History has shown us that just doing a little system training ? at the time of go-live ? will not deliver the results you want. It is time for something new.
What changes can you expect over the next 10+ years?
Employees will join and leave your organization
Updates and changes to the software
Strategic priorities will change,
The competitive environment will change
New government regulations impact how you operate
You might be involved in an acquisition or merger
And many more
All of this constant change has a direct impact on the user adoption and value you get from your software. Merely relying on a little training, delivered at the point of go-live, is never going to give you the long-term software success you seek.
To get the ROI you want from your software, you need to have dedicated, skilled resources working to manage all of this complexity. You need to take action to sustain the effective adoption of your systems and ensure you achieve your desired business results.
While you won?t know all the specifics of what will change, you can and should forecast out what skills, resources, and funding you need to ensure the software delivers the results you need, over ten years. You need to require these resource estimates as part of your initial business case and carefully look at them as part of your funding approval decisions.
When I speak to executives about the original business case and forecasted returns they used to justify their software purchase, I always ask them what the assumed level of user adoption was. Inevitably they start to quickly look downtrodden when they realized they overlooked something straightforward, yet very important in their calculations. It is almost universal that most IT business cases assume 100% user adoption, from day one when they calculate the expected ROI. The assumption is that once the system goes live, they will immediately start realizing all of the cost efficiencies and increased productivity from day 1. And we all know this is not the case.
Use weighted user adoption to adjust your business case / ROI forecasts.
When developing your business case, you should explicitly state the level of adoption you expect for each year over the next 10+ years. How will drops in the rate of effective adoption reduce the benefits you realize each year?
Use this information to adjust the forecasted ROI from your system.
For example, if you know that the system you are introducing is going to be a significant change for the organization, you can discount the expected returns in the first year (or two) substantially. People need extra time to adjust to substantial changes in how they perform their daily job. During this initial adjustment period, adoption is typically low, and productivity usually dips.
Continuing out into the future, you should look at the return you get based on different levels of effective user adoption.
If you only get 70% effective use, does your project still make sense?
What about 50%effective user adoption?
Does the project still make sense at 30% user adoption?
Let history be your teacher
Are you not sure what is a realistic estimate for a sufficient level of adoption?
You can start by looking over current and historical user adoption rates and corresponding ROI of other existing applications in your organization.
What level of adoption do these applications have?
What percentage of the forecasted business benefits have they delivered?
Justify your adoption resource needs
Once you realize how significant an impact on the level of adoption has on your bottom-line results, it becomes easier to justify the resources required each year to drive and sustain adoption.
Many organizations have a project sponsor that is accountable for getting the initial funding and then getting the system live. However, very rarely is the owner accountable for ensuring the system is used effectively and achieves the measurable business outcomes and ROI used to justify the investment.
Assign a senior executive to be accountable for long-term adoption and success
One simple, high-impact tactic to deliver software success is to ensure a senior executive has an explicit, significant, vested interest in taking action and allocating resources to ensure the software is used to achieve bottom-line results.
You need to make sure there are real impacts for the executive for missing, meeting, or exceeding outcome targets.
To achieve meaningful results, you often need to tie compensation, promotion eligibility, etc., to the executive?s performance plan.
Oh, and if this executive leaves the organization or changes role, you need to assign this responsibility to their successor formally.
You need an ongoing user adoption and success team
Driving long-term user adoption and ensuring that business goals are achieved requires tremendous work and effort.
You need an internal team in place to make it happen.
Many organizations now setup internal Software Success Teams. (Some organizations call them User Adoption Teams, User Adoption Program Management Office (UAPMO), or Adoption Center of Excellence). Regardless of the name, you need a team that will plan, accelerate, and then sustains the level of user adoption that is necessary to achieve your business goals. This team needs to maintain effective user adoption, year over year, over the life of the system. This is no easy task!
Start managing software success long before the software is live!
There is a lot of planning and preparation that needs to happen to put in place an effective user adoption and success program. You need to:
Define what constitutes success in both the short and long-term
Build the success team and operating processes
Analyze the organizational barriers and drives of success
You need to begin preparing your organization to navigate change before the software goes live
You need to accelerate software adoption and get employees to embrace new ways of working at the time of go-live
You need to sustain full, effective user adoption over the long-term
All of this work takes time and skilled resources. The size and complexity of your software project will directly impact the amount of work required to drive success. The more complex and disruptive the software, the more time and resources that are needed to help you manage success.
We worked with one client that brought us in to help set up their adoption program several months before they even selected their software vendor!
New skills and approaches required
We work with a lot of internal technology teams, and most of them don?t have any experience in organizational change management or user adoption concepts and techniques.
While IT staff do not need to be experts in adoption, they do need to understand the general practices and the various touchpoints and dependencies that a valid user adoption methodology has with the technology team.
Similarly, very few people on the business side understand user adoption concepts and activities. Staff on the business side need to understand these concepts since they will need to be involved in many of the actions required to deliver success.
Train IT and business staff on user adoption practices
To ensure the best results, be sure that at the start of projects that all project members (including both IT and business team staff) are trained on the adoption activities that need to happen and why. Ensuring both IT and business staff share a common understanding of user adoption activities enables them to collaborate during the development and rollout process effectively.
You will also need to periodically refresh everyone?s understanding and remind them where they are in the process.
User adoption portfolio approach
To maximize your results, you will want to have a Software Success Program across all of your applications.
After you have experimented on building software success programs for a few of your applications, and have learned what works and what doesn?t work in your organization, then it is time to scale and mature your efforts. Eventually, you want to get to the point that you have an ongoing software success program across your entire IT portfolio.
There will be different levels of attention required for various applications. These will vary based on:
Level of investment. A
When rolling out new systems, there will be changes to the level of usage and value received from other existing applications.
New systems may divert attention from the use of current systems.
Functionality deployed in the new system may replace functionality in existing systems, thus lowering the use and value received from the existing systems.
Having a software success portfolio approach enables you to measure, monitor, and manage the costs, resources, and ultimate business value received from each application. You can now focus your resources and achieve the best overall results.
Taking these actions will significantly increase your overall effectiveness, maximize the value you get from your IT investments, and improve your bottom line.
The challenge is that this is new for many organizations, and they don?t know where to start. And there are many challenges along the way.
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.
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, 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.