“You Suck”? – How Customer Success transformed our organisation for the better.

In May 2018 we implemented a Customer Success Program (CSP) into our organisation. We did this for a few key reasons;

  • We had some key trusted advisors telling us how it had helped transform their businesses.
  • We had a growing sense that we were disconnected from our customers and
  • An opportunity emerged to employ a key resource that we believed would be highly suitable to leading the program.

It felt to us that the time was right however we were still a little nervous about proceeding. We understood that it would require investment of significant financial, human and other resources without any guarantee of a return. In short it required us to have faith.

Fortunately for me I am a man of faith when it comes to trusting people and process. Bill George summed it up succinctly in one of my favourite books “Authentic Leadership, Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value” when he said “the purpose of any company boils down to one thing; serving its customers”.

So what is a customer success program?

Well it is an organisational culture shift that transitions the organisation to a customer-led state. It involves customer centric attitudes, processes, policies and systems that are developed and maintained to maximise the value that the organisations customers get from their products and services.

It can include program components such as executive outreach, strategic account reviews, user conferences and structured feedback mechanisms. In our case, the program, has a goal of delivering “Mutually Beneficial Customer Relationships” and the centrepiece to our program is the timed / structured contact plans. We effectively mandate intelligent, highly-structured contact for all customers every three months. In the case of our strategic accounts this is preferably done face-to-face.

Looking back on our first year of Customer Success I am able to clearly identify distinct phases of the journey. The diagram below shows the movement through each stage.

The first stop on our journey was Stabilise Relationship, and for some of the customers this ran concurrently with Stabilise Solution. We did not anticipate needing this step as we assumed since our customers weren’t calling to log support tickets that they were happy. Well the first round of meetings sure woke us up to the fact that they were not all happy. One customer even went as far as starting meeting one with a very succinct statement – “You Suck”.

That was hard feedback to hear and we had to really analyse our situation to understand what was happening. We take our customer feedback very seriously and in each instance of negative feedback we set about understanding where that customer was at and why. Without exception we rolled our sleeves up and set about changing the way our customer saw us.

In some instances the negativity was able to be resolved simply and on the spot. For one of our customers it was a simple as changing a viewer setting. For others it was more of a training issue and for some it required technical changes to be made. I am happy to say though that we quickly got them all on track and were able to then move onto expanding the solution.

The Expand Solution phase is exciting because it allowed us to elevate the value the customers took from our solution. We are able to return the implemented solution to maximum value. In a lot of cases this involved adding some new workflow routes to accommodate for changes in the organisations operation or structure. These changes were simple for us to do and added a lot of value quickly. In most cases our customers had a managed service and the changes were able to be done as part of that service. i.e. no net new cost to them.

As a side note, I wrote a blog last year on the merits of managed services for both customers and suppliers. If you are interested you can read that here.

The next phase came along after we had maximised the value of the customers current solution. This phase was the Expand Platform phase and it essentially allows us to help the customer to deliver innovation using the tools they have already invested in for the initial solutions. This might be adding a Human Resources solution to a customer that current does AP processing or adding Contract Management to a customer that currently has their Manufacturing Process automated on the platform. This phase allows you to give the customer a fantastic new outcome at an incremental cost. The ROI on these projects can be staggering as the customer already has the majority of the platform to deliver the outcome. Often it is just a bit of Professional Services that is needed to deliver the value.

The final phase we have seen so far on our journey is that of Cross-Sell. This is essentially the process of acting as a trusted advisor, helping our customers solve new problems that we have expertise in. For example, this might be us selling a Robotic Process Automation platform to a customer who currently uses us for Capture. It is yet another way we can help our customer maximise the value delivered by having a relationship with us.

Will there be additional phases in the future? I think there could well be. I am sure as our levels of trust within our customer base continues to grow, we will then be referred into the networks of our customers, essentially allowing us to sell our products and services to new name customers. I can also envisage an outcome where we bring multiple of our clients together to achieve collective project outcomes. This is just two more ways I think we could help our customers get value from the relationship.

What are the Benefits?

So far in this blog I have identified the many way we are now able to deliver value to our clients. Whilst this is an amazing outcome, we are a for-profit company and the program also has to benefit us. After all our program goal is “Mutually Beneficial Customer Relationships”.  Here is a list of the benefits you should realise after implementing a Customer Success Program;

  1.  Retention – The customer success program will maximise your customer retentions by reducing most risks that would lead to a customer departure. Of course there are risks that cannot be controlled by you or your organisation (i.e. Your customer goes into liquidation) but this is the best way we know of to ensure you have long standing customer relationships.
  2. Increased Revenue – The program will deliver new revenues in the form of change orders to current solutions, solution upgrades to handle increased volume, orders for brand new solutions and / or orders for new products and services.
  3. Increased Margin – Companies that deliver value to their customers find themselves under less competition at contract renewal time. You will also be delivering ROI based outcomes as opposed to cost plus product sales. These factors combined will ensure you maintain healthy margins.
  4. Stronger Business Development – In our experience potential new customers are looking for service differentiators. Showing a potential customer the program that you will be placing around them to help them maximise value will set you apart from your competitors. It is still early days for Customer Experience and it is unlikely your competitors will have a quality Customer Success Program to market.
  5. Recruit the best talent – We have found that potential new recruits are more attracted to us when they understand how we care for our customers. This makes sense when you think about it, after all do you want to work for a company that does not look after its customers well?

So hopefully this blog has given you the courage to investigate Customer Success. It has enabled us to transform our organisation for the better and it can do the same for yours.

The power of ‘No’….

I spend a lot of time working with professional sales people and am constantly surprised at the general resistance to using the word ‘No’ during a sales process. I find this particularly vexing because, in my experience, the word ‘No’ is probably the most powerful word you can use to achieve a great sales outcome.

From my perspective there are several occasions where using ‘No’ is powerful, here are two of them;

As a Trusted Adviser you need to say ‘No’ when it needs to be said – As a Trusted Advisor you bring a set of capabilities to your prospect that they do not have themselves. [or else why are you there?] Knowing that, it makes no sense to agree to a prospects requests that may be ill-considered just because you don’t want to upset the sale or because you don’t know the actual answer. A Trusted Advisor says ‘Yes’ when it is good for the prospect and ‘No’ when it is not good. Doing otherwise is not acting as a Trusted Advisor.

This positioning will generally reflect positively on you, clearly demonstrating that you have their best interests in mind. It will strengthen your positioning as a Trusted Advisor and makes the deal more likely to conclude successfully.

‘No’ will generally trigger the completion of a negotiation – Think about basic market haggling. It is not until one of the parties say ‘No’ that you have your first marker for either the upper or lower limit in the negotiation. The placement of that marker forces the other party to decide whether they are in or out. Most good negotiators I have dealt with will not finish negotiating until they get a ‘No’ as getting it is the only way they can be sure they have not left money on the table.

Now the downside here is that you say ‘No’ too early and skittle the deal or you say it too late and end up with an unprofitable deal. You still need to time the use of ‘No’ to ensure you get the right outcome.  That is your job as a professional executive or salesperson.

Now, I am not saying we should go around saying ‘No, No, No’ to everyone. In fact, most times I say ‘No’ it is couched a lot more sensitively and with a view to keeping the dialogue moving forward. Examples of ‘No’s’ that I would tend to use are;

1. In this case I can’t go that low however ….
2. I’d prefer to agree to …. because …
3. Thanks for that however I think it would work better for both of us if….
4. What if we thought of it differently? How does this sound …..

A good ‘No’ will always offer some explanation and leave room open for further discussion.

So next time you are moving through a sales process consider how ‘No’ can help get a better outcome for you, your organisation and for your potential new customer.

Becoming the Trusted Advisor

As the world continues to change as does the role of the salesperson. In many ways the transformation of the sales team (and its members) is the most important transformation in any organisation for as we all know “nothing happens until someone sells something”.  In this blog we will be exploring the traits of the Trusted Advisor and why, now more than ever,  they are necessary traits for any professional salesperson.

So what is a Trusted Advisor?  Well the name really does present the answer.  It is a person who is not only trusted by others but is sought out by others for their advice.  The following diagram depicts the Trusted Advisor role in terms of the relationship between personal intent and functional capability (subject matter expertise).

Now we know where a Trusted Advisor sits in the Sales landscape we need to explore the traits that elevate a salesperson to this space.  There is plenty of literature on this topic but if I had to distil all that I have learned about the traits of a Trusted Advisor here is the list I would present;

1. A Trusted Advisor has intent for the long term. To do this the Trusted Advisor will seek an understanding of the prospect / customers strategic objectives as well as their tactical objectives.

2. A Trusted Advisor is a problem solver and is not afraid to lead with ideas.  Trusted Advisors are malleable in their understandings and are just as happy to learn as to teach.

3. Trusted Advisors have an accountable and accessible nature.  They are happy to own their missteps (and those of their team) and work transparently to correct them.  They understand that when conditions are at their worst, they need to be at their best.  They are easy to contact and always return messages.

4. Trusted Advisors bring the required resources to the table to solve problems.  The Trusted Advisor understands that they are not experts at everything and have a strong network of accessible colleagues and technical resources they can call on to help solve their prospect / customers problems.

5. A Trusted Advisor see’s their role as a continuing role with their prospect / customer.  They don’t relax once they have delivered an outcome, they simply move on to the next opportunity.

So why is being a Trusted Advisor so important now?

Well historically a salesperson would be coached to take a ‘Trusted Advisor’ position only for high value solution sales.  This is still the case for these high value solution sales and is as important as it ever has been.  Contrast that with salesperson selling box products.  These salespeople were coached to focus on features and benefits and were not necessary burdened with taking this higher order role with their prospects / customers.  This was a commercial necessity as the box product sales generally had a very low margin level and the cost of sale was very important.  The Trusted Advisor approach to selling is a higher cost approach.  In the past the box product salesperson had one job and that was to make sure the prospect / customer clearly understood their products features and benefits including their “Key Value Proposition”.  Their role was to continue to communicate these messages so when the decision point was reached by the prospect / customer they would ultimately choose their box over all other boxes in the marketplace.

Fast forward to the modern day and we now find ourselves in a world where many buyers are able to educate themselves online.  They can effectively learn about your products features and benefits (including the “Key Value Proposition”) without you. They can research other buyer’s journeys and experiences with your products globally from multiple online networks.  The buyer has effectively made the traditional box product salespersons role redundant.  So what is your role now?

If you are a box product salesperson and you continue to engage the prospect / customer the way you always have you run the risk of losing credibility.  They do not need you to tell them what they already know and if you see that as your job you are missing a huge opportunity.  They are craving a deeper relationship.  This is your opportunity to become the Trusted Advisor.  What is important now is understanding what they are trying to achieve and helping them achieve it with your products and services.

If you are a high value solutions salesperson then you need to continue to act as the Trusted Advisor and exhibit the traits associated with the role.  Hopefully this blog has re-affirmed your commitment to this methodology and motivated you to elevate your sales performance to the next level.

Engaged Humans

I have been watching the rise in research around Employee Engagement with fascination. The initial research was about the employee that is engaged versus the employee that is disengaged. 

The Engaged Employee is enthusiastic and gives liberally of their time, efforts and ideas. They are invested in the company vision and mission and feel fulfilled doing their work. 

Unfortunately research points to less than one third of employees being engaged at work. That is troubling but at least it is understood and there are many ways of improving this situation that are easy to understand and implement (I will cover in a future blog).

The next steps in our collective understanding of engagement then led to Engaged Managers and then Engaged Followers. I have described both of those below lending a fair portion of the Gallup organisation content.

Engaged Managers

A managers engagement or otherwise directly impacts (up to 70% impact) employee engagement. An employee’s Manager Experience is proving to be absolutely vital to organisational success. Here are some recent Gallup research findings;

Millennials say that “quality of manager” is a top factor they consider when looking for a new job.

When managers play an active role in onboarding, employees are 2.5 times more likely to strongly agree their onboarding was exceptional.

Managers account for an astounding 70% of the variance in their team’s engagement.

Only two in 10 employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.

Fifty-two percent of exiting employees say that their manager could have done something to prevent them from leaving their job. Nevertheless, only 51% of employees who left their job had a conversation about their engagement, development or future during the three months leading up to their departure.

The mind boggles at the social and financial cost of the disengaged manager.

So what happens when you have an Engaged Manager with an Engaged Employee? You get Engaged Followership.

Engaged Followership

Engaged followers are employees that share responsibility for their engagement with their leadership.

These engaged employees are 10 times more likely to take creative risks than disengaged employees.

If that is not enough of a reason to try and create engaged followers then prepare for worse news.

Based on Gallup’s most recent bestseller, It’s the Manager, “a competitor needs to pay an employee over 20% more to get them to switch jobs if that employee is engaged. If an employee is disengaged, they will leave for almost any increase in salary.” Also of concern is that the disengaged employee will keep their head down and feign engagement before they leave. This gives you the minimum notice and no ability to properly plan for the transition.

All of these insights got me thinking about the best employee / employer relationships I have had in my experience. In reflecting on the best ones, I could not help but draw a parallel with our best customer relationships. That led me to think about the differences between Engaged Customers and Disengaged Customers.

Engaged Customers

For people close to me it is nearly impossible that you have not heard me espousing the benefits of having a mature Customer Success Program. We are into the second year of ours and we can clearly see that by altering our approach to focus on our value to our customers, we are creating a significant increase in customer engagement. We found out very quickly that the more engaged a customer is the better the outcomes we both get. 

So what is an Engaged Customer? An Engaged Customer is willing to expend effort helping us as they understand the more they help us the better the results we can give them. They often see us as a valuable extension of their organisation. They start to care for our team members as we do theirs. We have also had multiple instances of the customers helping us create new products and services. They are also very keen to assist in our success by acting as a referee and recommending us to their peer group. Having Engaged Customers is one of the greatest experiences I have had in my business life.  

So it seems “Engagement” at all these levels creates enormous value. It is exciting that the value is financial and social. Engaged humans genuinely enjoy their time in and out of work significantly more than a disengaged human. I can’t help but think that if we can improve human engagement at work we may be able to stem the rising levels of anxiety and depression in our society.

So I guess the key question is how do we collectively lift the engagement of humans?