User Adoption & The 20-Year Renewal

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

Well, it is possible.

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

But how do you get there?

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

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

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

Selling for Logos (and Churn)

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

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

And then it doesn’t happen.

The Waiting Game

The Waiting Game

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

Then, the customer waits for it use it.

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

And they wait.

And they wait some more.

And no (or only limited) benefits appear.

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

Selling and Delivering for the 20-Year Renewal

So, what went wrong?

You won the deal, right?

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

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

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

Here are three ways to do this:

Set Business Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not sure?

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

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

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

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

Provide User Adoption Capabilities to Your Customer

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

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

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

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

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

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


What a 2-Year-Old Can Teach You About User Adoption

We can learn a lot from young kids if we just pay attention.? Here is an example that can help you increase the adoption of your software and performance of your team.


See if you can relate to this one.? This morning we were rushing around trying to get everyone ready and out the door to start another week.? My wife had been playing with the kids (or so she thought) so that I was free to get everything together and out the door. It was great fun to witness the exchange that happened next.

Two-year-old: “Mom, play with me.”

Mom: “OK” and picks up a stuffed animal to start playing.

Two-year-old: “No! Don’t touch it.”

Mom: “Well, it is hard to play with you if you won’t let me touch any of your toys.”

Two-year-old: “Mom, play with me.”

Mom: Slightly frustrated, rolls eyes.

Dad: “What do you want her to do? How should she play with you?”

Two-year-old: “Make a pile with the pillows.”

Mom: “OK, here you go.” Makes a pile of pillows and smiles.

Two-year-old: Smiles and laughs.

Applying the ARC method

In a previous blog article, we cover the Action – Reflection – Change (ARC) method for increasing your software adoption learning curve. Let’s use this approach to analyze this exchange.


Lesson 1: Don’t assume people know what you want.

In this example, the two year old was very clear that he wanted mom to play. However, it was not clear to mom exactly what that meant.? She tried to honor his initial request and started to play in a way that made sense to her at the time. However, it was clearly not what the two-year old wanted.

How often, when implementing software, do you ask people to “use the system” or “put it in the system”? I bet quite a bit. Yet, how often do you explain exactly what that means? Probably not too often. The lesson here is that “use the system” can mean a lot of things to different people in different contexts.

Lesson 2: Ask for the behavior you want.

When I asked our son how he wanted his mother to play, he had a very clear, specific answer. He wanted her to make a pile. Once given this clear guidance, she happily made a pillow pile, and everyone laughed and had fun.

When you are rolling out a new system, how often do you identify and request the specific behaviors that you want people to demonstrate? Do you make it explicit that you want them to do things like, “Enter all of your existing contacts, phone, email, address, and job title into the system by 1:00 pm on this Friday”? Or do you simply say, “Use the system” or “Enter your contacts.”


One of the most powerful shifts you can make is from just deploying a system and expecting people to use it to define very clear, specific measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) behaviors that you expect managers and users to demonstrate.? If you want people to use a specific piece of system functionality, or enter key pieces of data by a certain date, then ask for that specific behavior.

  • If you are an executive or manager, don’t do the equivalent of saying, “play with me” – you will only be frustrated and disappointed in the results.
  • If you are a staff member expected to use the system, ask your manager or executive to clarify the behavior they want you to demonstrate.? Ask your manager, “what specific things do you want me to do in the system, and by when, so that you get the results you want?”

Need help?

Do you want fast results in your company? Contact Success Chain today to learn how we can help you quickly and easily accelerate the adoption of your systems.


The critical ARC of Your Software Learning Curve

While working on a client Software Adoption Rescue project, the client executive shared that they had always known their users would need to navigate up a steep learning curve before they fully adopted the software. Yet, despite this expectation and their best efforts to provide the communications, training, and user support they thought necessary, the users still appeared to be stuck and were not embracing the technology.

Has this ever happened to you? Have people in your organization failed to navigate the learning curve? Did your users miss the curve and get stuck in a ditch?

What can you do to flatten the software adoption learning curve?

One very simple, actionable technique to flatten the learning curve and accelerate effective user adoption of your software is the ARC method.

A = Action

R = Reflection

C = Change

Most people don’t realize that learning happens during reflection, not the action. When learning a new system, users, managers, and executives need to take intentional action to stop and identify the specific actions they took, inside or outside the system. Then reflect on whether or not the actions were effective at achieving their specific goals, and then identify what changes or course corrections are needed in the future (I.e., what different actions are needed).

Using ARC with end-users, managers, and executives

This ARC method can be used with direct end-users of the system to identify which system functionality they are using (“action”) and if they are using it effectively and achieving the desired results (“reflection”). You can then identify other functionality they could use instead or alternatives for how or when they use the system (“change”) going forward.

The ARC method can also be used by managers and executives to identify the actions they are using to drive and sustain effective adoption within their teams. Managers and executives take action to establish the policies, processes, and reward systems that directly impact end-user adoption of the system. What specific Actions are managers taking to accelerate software adoption within their team? What actions are they taking when members of their staff are not using the software as designed and intended?

Managers need to Reflect to see if these actions are effective at driving adoption or if they are enabling and rewarding staff for not adopting the system. Managers can then identify what actions they need to change in order to drive different software adoption behaviors among their teams.

Simple ARC steps for individuals, teams, and large organizations

For Individuals

Individuals can easily apply the ARC method to adjust their own learning and behavior. One very simple technique is to write short journal entries using this method. You can set aside as little as 10 -15 minutes to write the answers to 3 simple questions:

“Describe a particular task, activity, or event and identify the specific action(s) you took to address it.” Pick a specific action, task, event, or incident that occurred that day or week and narrowly focus on it. It could be narrow in scope, like “I tried to use the system to prepare for an important client meeting” or “I had to have a difficult conversation with one of my direct reports because they were not following the new process or using the system.” Write down as many specifics you can think about regarding what you did. You can use short sentences or even just bullets. This is just for you. The goal is to try to isolate the specific actions from any intentions, interpretations, or emotions tied to the event.

“What was the impact or results of these actions?” Identify if the actions you took achieved your goals or if the challenge or problem still remains. For example, did you call the help desk to get support on using the tool? Did you find that you could generate the report you needed in the system, but you didn’t know how to interpret the data to make a better decision? Did you ask your managers or coworker for help analyzing the results? If you are a manager, did you have a clear and direct conversation about employee work performance in a way that would help your staff member improve going forward? What specific “ah ha’s” have you had as a result of separating the actions and reflecting on the impacts of these actions?

“What will you do going forward?” Now that you have reflected on the actions, what things need to change going forward? What do you need to stop doing that wasn’t effective at achieving your goals? What things were more effective than you expected that you need to make sure you do more often in the future? When will you next stop and reflect on the effectiveness of these changes?

You can keep your journal private or share parts of it with other members of your team to get their suggestions or help them flatten their own learning curve.

For teams & large organizations

When working with large teams, it is often helpful to bring in a 3rd party to facilitate learning reviews with a small or large group. The 3rd party can be a member of your organization that is in a different department or an external consultant. The 3rd party essentially needs to facilitate the team in working through the ARC method to accelerate team learning and identify specific changes and actions the team will take going forward. For best results, use SMART actions (Specific, Measurable, Relevant, Achievable, Time-Bound) and require group commitment to achieving them by the defined dates.

Accelerating adoption & embracing best practices doesn’t happen organically

Most organizations do not set aside specific time and resources to make sure that users and organizations navigate the learning curve as quickly as possible. The ARC method is a very simple technique that does not require a lot of time and effort but is extremely powerful for helping teams change their ways of working. It is also very powerful for helping to identify specific behaviors and best practices that may emerge from select individuals or teams that could deliver tremendous benefits if they were adopted across the organization. Committing to ARC learning sessions at predefined intervals can accelerate adoption and deliver clear, fast benefits to the organization.

Don’t wait!? Schedule your ARC session today!

Don’t just read this article and say, “interesting” or “good idea.” Go, right now, before you click on the next article, and schedule a time for you or your team to conduct an ARC learning session. Block off 30 minutes on your calendar for tomorrow to sit in a quiet place and write a journal. Schedule a meeting with your team for next week to sit down and identify one specific task or activity that you want them to improve by the end of the month. Keep it tight and focused – don’t allow the conversation to expand. If necessary, get someone outside your team to come and do quick facilitation to keep everyone on track. Document the results and follow-up within two weeks of the meeting to review the results. You will be glad you did!

Need help?

Do you want help conducting your ARC review session or want more ideas of how you can improve software adoption? Contact Success Chain today to learn more.


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.


Using Customer Success Management (CSM) To Remove Barriers to IT User Adoption

When I speak with the leaders of Customer Success Management and IT User Adoption programs, they often ask about how they can make their program more effective for increasing customer renewals. This leads to a discussion about the focus, methods, and tools they use to deliver their CSM service.

More often than not, it becomes clear that the CSM tools and methods they use are part of the problem.

The goal of CSM is to help customers adopt your system

At its core, the purpose of Customer Success Management is to help your customers fully adopt and maximize the value they receive from your software or service.

Many times, the root-cause issue that needs to be addressed is that people are simply not adopting the system. This is almost never a technical issue. If your team of customer success managers can maximize and sustain effective user adoption, the value to the customer (and renewals to you) will follow.

First, identify all barriers preventing user adoption

Many people assume user adoption is a 100% discretionary effort on the part of the end-user. This leads them to focus all of their efforts on trying to help the end-user know how to use the system and see how it will make their lives easier. While this may make sense, it’s not a realistic expectation.

The reality is quite different. User adoption is not entirely a choice made by the end-user. There are many non-discretionary factors that can make users unable to adopt the system – even when they want to use it!

In our experience at Tri Tuns, almost every IT project has some organizational or system-related issue that actually prevents people from using the system. These issues fell outside the users’ span of control and required action on the part of management to resolve. Yet often, management was unaware of these issues or how they prevented system usage.

In order to be effective, your CSM methodology needs to help customers identify barriers to IT adoption. But how will you do it?

  • Do you know how to identify potential IT adoption barriers?
  • Does your current CSM methodology actively uncover all barriers that affect IT adoption?
  • If not, how will you change your approach?

Then, remove the barriers to IT user adoption

Once you have identified barriers to IT user adoption, how will you make sure your customer takes action to remove them? Sadly, driving and sustaining effective IT adoption is not a core capability of many client organizations. Even if you are able to help your customers identify barriers to adoption, it does not mean that they will know how to resolve them. You may need to help.

Change your customer success management approach

Like most initiatives, your CSM capabilities and approach will need to mature over time. Initially, your CSM team can be successful just by helping customers get minor increases in adoption and ROI. However, to maximize customer renewals and, if possible, expand accounts, you will need to adjust your approach to help customers fully resolve their IT adoption issues. To do so, you will need to expand your knowledge regarding the root causes of IT adoption and the most effective methods to influence it.