User Adoption Insights From Tri Tuns

How to Develop a Cohesive Customer Success Management Strategy


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

Many SaaS vendors recognize the need for a CSM function, 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 HOT TO SOLVE CUSTOMERS' USER ADOPTION & 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 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.

Figure 1 - Customer Success is Determined by What Happens After Go-Live

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 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 CSM STRATEGY

Your CSM 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:

a) how your customers can actually solve their problems

b) 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, is currently engaged in a major, multi-year enterprise implementation. They recognized that user adoption and what happens after the system goes live is actually the most critical determining factor of their success, so they are directing 80% of their budget and resources to the user adoption program and only 20% to the technology.


NEXT STEPS

Once you have your CSM 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 will go over each of those steps in detail in the second part of this series.

Please share your thoughts and experiences on the Customer Success Practitioners group on LinkedIn.



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Putting the Customer back in ‘Customer Success Management’ (CSM)


Customer Success Management - Start with customer's perspectiveI spent some time over the weekend reading various blog articles and LinkedIn discussions about Customer Success Management. I also watched various online video presentations from CSM conferences and corporate websites. At first I was struck by all of the great issues and questions that illuminated the amount of work and complexity involved in creating an effective CSM organization.

And as I continued to watch I noticed another theme emerge. Nearly all of the discussions and videos were focused on how to make sure the vendor, was successful.

But wait, isn’t CSM supposed to be about helping the customer be successful?

Many CSM experts talk about what the vendor wants out of CSM

For the most part, many of the emerging CSM experts are talking about how to maximize customer renewals. They talk about topics like, “Should CSMs have a renewal quota?” and “How should CSMs interact with the sales team?” These are all important and valid discussion that you need to have when building your CSM team.

But they are also very internally focused questions. They are all about what the vendor needs to do to so that the vendor benefits.

You can’t stop the discussion here. Actually, you shouldn’t even start the discussion here.

…with very little talk of what will actually make the customer successful

Think back to the reasons you even first started thinking about setting up a customer success management team. It was because your customers were not being successful with your product, which, in turn, led them not to renew.

Before you will have any hope of ever solving the renewal problem, you need to solve the customer success problem. This requires that you understand both:

1. The reasons why your customers are not using your product

2. What actions you – and the customer – need to do to change this

Once you do this, then you can turn to the internal questions about to structure and manage your CSM organization.


Do you have a Customer Success Management program? If not, why not? If so, how has it affected your customer churn? 

Please share your thoughts and experiences on the Customer Success Practitioners group on LinkedIn.



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Customer Success Management (CSM) and the Critical Path to Customer Renewals


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


Poor user adoption and the lack of perceived value by customers is the greatest challenge faced by SaaS vendors. Quite simply, a customer that is not using your software and not realizing measurable business value from their IT investment will not be your customer for long.

SaaS vendors, recognizing that customer retention is critical for growth and profitability, are investing heavily in Customer Success Management (CSM) programs. These CSM programs are charged with the ambiguous goal of “making customers successful” so that customers renew their contracts and (hopefully) buy more. The challenge is most SaaS vendors don’t know what they need to do to drive customer success or where to even begin building an effective CSMcapability.

In truth, Customer Success Management has as much or more to do with the people, processes, and organizational development of your customer as it does with the actual system you are selling. In this two-part series I hope to take a broader, more strategic look at customer success and shed some light on how you can focus your efforts to deliver the results you and your customers require.

Success is from the customers’ perspective

There is a lot of conversation in the CSM community about where to start building a CSM team. The tendency is to spend a lot of time talking about who should lead the CSM team, whether the CSM team should have renewal goals or not, and whether it should be part of the sales or service departments. The discussion also often centers around how to measure the performance of the CSM team and how to compensate CSM staff. In short, most of the conversation seems to be more about how to make the CSM team successful than how to make customers successful.

Setting out to build a CSM team based primarily on an internal focus and internal parameters is as pointless as trying to Feng Shui the deck of the Titanic. Sure, you can do it, but it probably won’t solve your problem. A far better starting point is seeking to understand how and when your customers determine if they are successful.

Customer renewals based on experienceInitial purchase decisions are based on hope. Renewal decisions are based on experience

When your customer makes their initial purchase decision, they are buying your software based on their hopes and expectations that in the near future they will realize tangible business benefits from its use. All of the evidence they consider – marketing information, product demos, references from previous customers, reviews on social media – all contribute to their expectations for the future.

This is very different from how customers make renewal decisions. The decision to renew is based on customers’ actual experience working directly with your product in their organization. If the customers’ experience is positive and the value they have received from using your software matched their expectations, customers renew quickly and easily. If it doesn’t, well, you know what happens.

Map the critical path to customer success: first for your customer, then for your company

Map the critical success path for your customersWhen do your customers succeed or fail? How and when do they know they are successful? What does it take for them to achieve success?

One of the first things I do when working clients that are implementing SaaS solutions is help the client executives map out the critical path from the time they decide to invest in technology all the way to the point at which they will declare their program a success. This exercise typically reveals that the client had initially defined success as “deploying on-time and on-budget”.

But when I ask them what constitutes success 5 to 10 years after go-live, the answer shifts quite substantially. Now the answer is typically some version of, “our employees have fully adopted the system and we are getting measurable business value from using the system.”

This shift in what constitutes success reveals two critical path items where customers struggle and where your CSM program needs to focus:

1) The need to focus on driving effective, consistent user adoption.

2) The need to help your customer realize (and measure) clear business value from their investment in your system.

Customers have transferred a portion of their user adoption risk to SaaS vendors

One of the biggest problems organizations face is getting their staff to adopt technology and incorporate its use into their daily work activities. A system that sits unused is not delivering any value to the customer’s organization. This user adoption risk — the potential that staff will not adopt systems and business processes as they are designed — is perhaps the greatest threat to customer success.

Since customers will not renew a system that is sitting idle, and since you (the software vendor) need customer renewals in order to grow, you now share a portion of your customers’ user adoption risk. In many ways, customers’ user adoption risk translates into your renewal risk.

Develop a CSM capability that moves customers along the critical path to success

When you go to build your CSM team, you need to have a clear view of your customers’ entire critical path to success. Map out what it would take for your customers to drive and sustain full user adoption of your system over the next 10 years. What you will find is that there are a large number of technology, people, process, culture, and organizational dynamics that all impact customers’ adoption of your system.

Once you understand the critical path to success, you need to figure out where customers are getting stuck and why they struggle to move forward. You will find that a large number of these issues have nothing directly to do with your system. Yet you need to figure out how to get customers to resolve these issues.

You may think it is not your responsibility to help your customers resolve their internal user adoption issues, and in many ways you are right. But remember, while that may not be your responsibility, it is most definitely your problem.


In the next article in this series I will offer insights into how you can build a CSM team that helps customers minimize user adoption risk and maximize customer success.


Do you have a Customer Success Management program? If not, why not? If so, how has it affected your customer churn? 

Please share your thoughts and experiences on the Customer Success Practitioners group on LinkedIn.



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Appreciate your employees? Get creative in showing you care


Let me know if this one sounds familiar. When at happy hour, do you or your friends typically spend time talking about the latest dumb thing that happened at work, how clueless the boss is, or how demoralized people are with their jobs? Not exactly a “happy” hour, is it?

Thank you for employees I have several friends who work for organizations that have great missions that are very meaningful to my friends. They work hard and regularly put in extra effort because they believe in the mission and they take pride in their work. And yet, they don’t feel that their contribution is acknowledged, valued or appreciated.

Employees want to know that they are valued

It is not enough just to value the work of your teammates and employees. You need to let them know that they make a valuable contribution. You need to align your words and actions so that they internalize the feeling of being appreciated.

Words are great, but actions are better

Many leaders – from the CEO down to front-line supervisors – actually appreciate the contribution of their team. They may even say the words. But they don’t often show it. You need to demonstrate that you value the contribution of others.

Small gestures make a big difference

Demonstrating that you appreciate your employees does not require major time, efforts or expense. Sure, there is a time and place for big awards, cash gifts and bonuses. The problem is that these big ticket appreciation gestures are expense and happen quite infrequently. People appreciate them at the time, but then this feeling of appreciation quickly fades and needs to be renewed.

If you want to keep people motivated, you need to let them know that you are paying attention to the little things they do that make a big difference to the organization.

For example, do your people stay a little bit late to finish something up or stop what they are doing to help a co-worker with a problem they can’t fix on their own? Do they put in just that little bit of extra effort in a meeting or on a deliverable just because they care? Oh, and don’t forget the person who helps protect you from yourself by saying “no” when you are going off-course or taking on too much.

Get creative in showing you care

Show you appreciate your employeesAcknowledging all of these small contributions is a great way to show that you are paying attention and that you value your co-workers, teammates, and direct reports. But what should you do?

Get creative! For most people, the act of acknowledge their contribution is more important than what they may actually receive.  If you have just a couple dollars or a few hundred, you do a lot to demonstrate you care.

Technology can make all of this quick and easy. For example, using the free app Treater, you can instantly send friends a cup of coffee, free drinks, or a night out. And since you can do it right from your smart phone, you can do it while sitting at the airport, while waiting for your next meeting to start, or when waiting at the bar for your friends to arrive. It takes so little effort for you, but makes a big difference to your employee.

Want to go the extra mile? If you can find something that fits with their personal interests it not only shows that you appreciate their contribution, it also shows that you have taken the time to get to know them as a person. Does the person always comment that their kids make a mess? Why not go to Living Social and send them a free house cleaner? Are they a Civil War history buff? Why not get them a carriage ride on the Gettysburg Battlefield?

The point is, taking a few minutes to thank people on a regular basis and show them you care is quick, painless, and goes a long way to helping make them happy and productive. Oh, and it feels pretty good to put a smile on someone else’s face. Try it, you won’t be disappointed!

Things to think about

  • What are all the ways you make small acts of appreciation for the little things your employees do every day?

  • How could you use small gestures to acknowledge the little things that people do to help adopt to changes (new systems or processes) in your organization?
  • How can you get other leaders in your organization to routinely acknowledge the little contributions of their team members?