Avoiding death by stovepipe

It’s often not long into the life of a SaaS business when marketing, sales and customer success spend time blaming each other for missed revenue and retention goals:  time that would be much better spent attracting, winning, retaining and growing customers.

It is a problem I faced as CEO of Clicktools, a SaaS company I founded in 2000.  The problem was one of my own making – I had failed to knock heads together and get the whole company  working together to maximise lifetime customer value and net revenue retention.  The solution involved getting marketing, sales and customer success to agree three things:

  • Targeting the issues, organisations, roles and trigger events that will enable the organisation to address the most valuable customers at the most appropriate time – captured in an Ideal Customer Profile
  • An end-to-end buyer/customer engagement journey that starts long before the sales cycle, extends throughout the life of the customer, advances the customers buying decision and delivers customers’ goals
  • Metrics and performance related pay that focuses on key outcomes over narrow activities.

This comprehensive paper describes each of the three elements in greater detail, provides an approach to implementation and the improvements we gained at Clicktools.

CSM’s as project managers

Effective CSM’s take an active role in managing their customers’ projects.  In this guest article, Dave Duke of High Alpha explores the many projects CSM’s manage.  Do you build these skills in your CSM’s; if so, how?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

PS Managing customer projects involves managing customers’ challenges and egos.  Perhaps the topic for another article!




Building your consulting business

On three separate occasions, I have left paid employment and set up my own consulting business. As a result, I have been asked on many occasions how do you go about that task. Here’s what has worked for me. Many of the things discussed can be covered in much more detail but the purpose of this paper is to get you started.

1. Figure out your elevator pitch

The real key is to figure out what benefit you deliver for whom by doing what. I have shamelessly stolen and adapted the five question approach to identifying your life purpose by Adam Leipzeg in his excellent TED talk.

Q1: Who are you?
Q2: What do you love to do?
Q3: Who do you it for?
Q4: What do they want or need?
Q5: How do they change as a result of what you give them?

If you answer these five questions in the context of your emerging business you have a great elevator pitch: just add a bit of flesh to each question.

Who are you?

Marketers would call this branding but keeping it simple, it’s just a short description of you and your experience. Don’t overly concern yourself with company names and logos – that can change. Do however secure your domain name if you want to build a website (see shop window below). Hone your personal profile so that it truthfully tells a great, short story about what you have achieved. If you haven’t got anything on that list you should think about another way to earn your money.

What you love to do?

Life’s too short to do things that suck – so don’t. Figure out what you really enjoy doing and look to build your business around that. This is also good business sense as there is often a relationship between what you like doing and what you are good at.

Who do you do it for?

List out the characteristics of your target customers. What sort of individuals or companies are they? What roles can you help most? Don’t just look at the basic stuff like age, industry sector and job title but think long and hard about the behaviours and attitudes of the people you want to spend time with. It’s also useful to think about the sort of people you don’t want to work with? Just as life is too short to do something that sucks; it is too short to waste your time with jerks. You don’t have tell them they’re jerks – just tell them you’re busy or they don’t fit your target customer profile.

What do they need or want?

This is the basis of the list of services you are going to offer. You need research the group you have identified in question three to find the questions they ask, the challenges they face and the aspirations they seek. Don’t skip this step: only by really understanding life from their perspective can you figure out how you can help.


How do they change as a result of what you give them?

The final and most important question. If you are going to be a successful consultant, success is measured in terms of what your customer does better as a result of you working with them. If you can’t articulate this succinctly in a way that resonates with your target customer, think again.

2. Create your product catalogue

You have already sketched out the basics of this in question four of the elevator pitch. Now you can add a bit more colour: think challenge, deliverables and benefits. You do not need massive detail here but without this, you risk getting stuck in the client:consultant chasm. Client says “What do you do?” and the consultant replies “Well it depends on what your problems are?”

Setting out a short description of what you offer, or better still, examples of projects you have done tell the customer how you can help. You can use projects you have done as part of a previous job as a starting point. The list, which should be less than five items, frames your potential contribution. You may not deliver exactly what is on your product list but it is a great way to kick start a conversation about what a project might look like.

3. Set your price

This is one of the most challenging aspects of becoming an independent consultant and there is no simple answer.

There are three basic models for pricing. Time based is just as it says; payment by the hour day or week. The simple rule here is to discount only where you have a fixed, long term commitment. Project based pricing is useful where you are confident about the work to be done to complete specific tasks. Clients like this as it gives them a fixed price but it places the risk on you. If you use this approach be sure to add in contingency; remember if something can go wrong, it probably will. Results based pricing is where you are paid for pre-agreed results. This is the most challenging and probably one to stay away from until you have a number of assignments under your belt as there are many factors to consider and issues that can make it problematic.

What to charge is dependant on a number of factors, notably:

• The going rate for the sort of service you offer. You need to ask around and find out what that is. Talk to people you know who may have bought such services.

• Your experience and reputation in your chosen field.• The value of the work to your client.

The biggest mistake most people make is to underestimate their value. I have done this in the past. If you have done your research and sold yourself well, be confident in your price. Remember, what you charge says a lot about the value of what you do. If you don’t value it, your customer is unlikely to.

4. Build your shop window

You need to let people you are open for business. There are two approaches.

The first is to create a website. You can use an off-the-shelf provider that doesn’t need any technical skills to get you started. There are two basic types. The first is a simple blog site: all it contains is blog posts and your contact details. The second is a more traditional website that has multiple sections, including a blog. These sections typically contain your elevator pitch, product/ project pages, blog and a contact page. Whichever approach you use, be sure to include the option to allow people to subscribe to your blog. That way all your new content will automatically sent to them.

The second is to use a platform like LinkedIn for B2B or Facebook for B2C. You can create a company page and publish your content, advertise your services to targeted groups, build learning programs and of course, stay in touch with what’s happening with your target market. There are probably groups that you can join to help you understand and reach like minded people. If not, create one. Analytics are provided to help you understand what content is working best. With no technical skills required, it is the easiest way to set up an online presence.

5. Get your content plan together

Whatever you use for your shop window, you need something to put in it. Ideas and opinions are the best way to reach your target audience and blogs or the video equivalent, vlogs are the vehicle.

A successful content plan is:

  • Relevant to your audience. Sounds obvious but putting yourself in your target customer’s mind is important.
  • Opinionated. Don’t be afraid of going against accepted wisdom. Don’t make wild claims but if you disagree with something and can make a reasoned argument, go for it. Don’t be obnoxious but certainly don’t be bland!
  • Sustained over time. Build a list of 20 topics and commit to deliver at least one piece per week. Use viewing figures and any comments to help shape your next batch of content. You are better producing 10 really good pieces than one blockbuster. Remember, your customer’s time is short is a scarce resource.

    6. Network

    Sitting there waiting for the phone to ring will leave you doing just that – sitting there. You have to get out and talk to people – join the conversation. There is a plethora of discussion forums – you just need to find the ones where your prospects hang out. LinkedIn, Facebook are the leaders in their fields but Meetup is increasingly helpful, combining online and face-to-face opportunities. Can’t find a group dedicated to your specialism? Start one. Whatever groups you join, be an active participant. Don’t comment just for the sake of it but equally don’t miss an opportunity to say your piece. Plan time to do this otherwise you will overlook it.

    7. Manage your time

    Here, I take my guidance from the founder of independent consulting – management guru Peter Drucker. I was fortunate to meet him and he talked about how he managed his time, advice I have followed and am pleased to pass on his three tenets:

  • Break your week into three chunks: 3 days fee earning; 1 day admin (book-keeping etc) and 1 day keeping up to date and networking. This does not have applied strictly to every week but don’t let the ratio slip too much.
  • Always take holidays
  • Each year, set aside two weeks (not holiday time) to do in-depth research and thinking. He said

    too many consultants peddle old solutions to new problems.

    And finally

    I do not claim that this is a comprehensive guide – it is not. I do however think that these baby steps will set you off on the right path. Remember, like learning to walk, it is the first steps that are the most difficult; you are just not confident you can let go. Just remember, if I can do it, so can you! Go for it!

How Linky Brains Work

Linky Brains is a new topic that has taken off on LinkedIn – #linkybrains kick-started by Doug Scott.  I think I am a linkybrain and this is a contribution to the discussion.  Is it relevant to customer success?  Yes, new ideas are needed everywhere.

I am not a doctor or a brain scientist but I have long been fascinated with the brain and what it means for how I live and work.  So, in true linky-style, here are a few disconnected ramblings on what I have learned and believe.  I don’t claim them to be 100% accurate but they are grounded in what people cleverer than I have discovered.

(Side note: Pages auto-corrected linky-style to kinky-style! Is there a hidden message there?)

Linky-brains are intuitive.  I have always believed that intuition is about spotting patterns earlier than others.  We fill in the gaps between the dots of information we receive.  When a linky gets this right, we are insightful or, even better, creative.  Of course, we don’t always get it right.  We make spurious connections but that’s ok; its about the process not just the outcome.  Linky’s aren’t afraid of failing – it’s just another hypothesis tested on the road to success.

This pattern spotting thing is key to me.  In my work, I often talk about single customer view and use the analogy of the kid’s ‘dot-to-dot’ puzzles.  The more dots you have, the richer the picture you can build and the more accurate the insights you can gain.  

Many people focus their reading and study.  I love to read about things unassociated with work and often find myself seeing links with work.  The insights into business and leadership are fascinating.  For example, the similarity between how values shape companies and the structure of a Mandelbrot set drove the choice of the cover of my book.  Self managing systems in nature led me to develop an organisation development workshop which asked questions like “Which fish in the shoal decides to change direction?” and “Which termite is the architect of the mound?”  Think about it.

I once saw a presentation from Mind Mapping inventor Tony Buzan where he showed a short video of a neurone reaching out and connecting with another.  An idea in the making captured on film – albeit in a petri dish.  I think Linkys have hyper-active neurones that enjoy reaching out.  I often get frustrated when I have an idea – many of them are truly great and then the next moment it’s gone.  Try as I might, I can’t get the same neurones to make the same connection again.  Very frustrating!  I think these hyper-active neurones, coupled with my broad interests are where many of my ideas come from.  By the way, it seems nature is a very good source of random connections.  I recall some research done in Germany about work-related ideas.  The greatest source of ideas at work was when bored in meetings!  That however was dwarfed by work-related ideas that came whilst walking in nature.  If that’s not Linky, I don’t know what is.  I suspect Linky’s are very good at being productive doing nothing.  

I am a great fan of an assessment called the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument, which measures your thinking preferences.  Remember of course there is a relationship between preference and competence: we tend to be good at things we like, or vice-versa.  Anyway, HBDI, which is based on the structure of the brain measures your preferences in four domains:

  • A: Logical, analytical, numerate
  • B: Plans, processes, certainty
  • C: Emotional, relationships, intuitive (people)
  • D: Originality, intuitive (ideas) risk-taking

The interesting thing that Ned Herrmann points out is that success needs whole brain thinking.  Those old enough to remember the core team of the original Star trek will recognise a whole brain team:

  • A: Spock
  • B: Scotty
  • C: Bones
  • D: Captain Kirk

I am off the scale D.  I have always been an ideas person and whilst I can execute, it’s not where my strength lies because it’s not what I enjoy. That’s why I always look for a doer of detail to work with – what people call a competer-finisher.  The problem is that we think so differently, we often fall out.  

I suspect there are Linky versions of other personal assessments.  I am ENTJ in Myers Briggs.  

There are many other areas that I think are worthy of exploring: the hive mind, Linkys relationship with dopamine, the value of procrastination to name just a few.  Unfortunately, I need to do some work!  Such is life.

Is there a role for CS software in CS2.0?

The first of the five tenets I wrote into the CS 2.0 Charter is “Product is the primary vehicle for delivering customer success.  The need for a large CS team could indicate a failure to properly enrich the product.”  I think customers deserve and, increasingly expect, software that guides them towards and delivers their required outcomes out-of-the-box.  Coupled with an increasing desire for self-service: that means no support team, no CS team, at least not as we currently build them.  Putting CSMs in place as we currently understand that role is, in my mind, a failure to create an effective product.  The CS 2.0 approach means that understanding the customer’s way of working, agreeing goals and developing and monitoring a plan of action to achieve those goals is an inherent part of the product.

Few SaaS companies are currently built around this way of working.  Instead of building success into the product, they build a team.  To support these new teams, customer success applications have developed and entered the market.  There are some great products; Gainsight, Strikedeck, Totango, Woopra, to name just a few.  Whilst they all have different strengths, they all start with the same premise. Customer success is a people-centric activity: it needs people and they need information and guidance. In addition, managers need reports and analytics to understand and manage!  The premise of CS2.0 is to replace the people centric model with a product centric model  This raises a big question: “What role, if any, does CS software play when product, not people is the primary vehicle for delivering customer success?”

Let’s start by looking at the major tasks CSMs currently do.

  • Build understanding of their customers and their goals.
  • Establish a shared plan to deliver customer goals.
  • Guide new customers in configuring the application.
  • Train users in the features and how they help the customer achieve their goals.
  • Guide and cajole customers in making process changes needed to achieve their goals.
  • Track usage and encourage wide and deeper adoption.
  • Generate up/cross sell and advocacy.
  • Review and renew the relationship

My vision of CS2.0 is that much of this should and can be embedded in the product.  I do not assume that this shift will happen overnight but I am convinced it will happen.  Let’s start with some initial thoughts on what capabilities are needed.

  • App tracking to a level beyond what is currently available.
  • Tools to enable discovery and problem solving that guide automatic configuration of the application.
  • Context rich, in-app messaging, including video, to guide and cajole the customer into action.
  • Next best actions: micro-workflows based on rich data rather than pre-determined journeys.
  • In-app up/cross sell and renewal purchases.
  • Off-line messaging to reach key customer contacts that are not users.
  • Review the relationship and determine next steps

Of these capabilities, CS 2.0 envisages that only the last two take place outside the product and involve person to person intervention as a default approach.  So what does this mean for CS software?  Here’s my take.

  • As the process of delivering customer success becomes product based, fewer people will be needed to deliver customer success.  That means fewer seats, disrupting the pricing model of many current providers.
  • App monitoring will become core to CS software, giving products like Churn Zero, UserIQ, Pendo and Splunk a more significant seat at the table.  In fact, making this capability native will become a must have.  Expect deep partnerships or acquisitions.
  • Significantly greater levels of data capture and manipulation will make machine learning essential to identify the patterns of activity that drive success for customers.
  • Next best action systems that guide the customer to success based on their specific, current context will replace pre-determined processes as currently envisaged in a customer journey or CS playbook.
  • A signifiant percentage of the ‘one to many’ interventions driven by CS software will be delivered via the product not email or other channels.  Deep, two-way, real-time integration between product and CS software is a must have.
  • Point and click integration with data transformation will be needed to link up the many data sources needed to build deep understanding of the customer.
  • More CS guidance will be delivered through automated chat bots that work with the customer on discovery and delivering their next best actions.
  • All of this makes a rich, single customer view ever more important.  New database technologies like graph that are focused on relationships will be more widely adopted.
  • The danger to existing suppliers comes from two fronts.  New players that build for CS 2.0 from the ground up and existing CRM providers, notably Salesforce.  They have used the tag line ‘The customer success platform’ but, other than call centre/ticketing have never really made a meaningful CS specific product play; despite having all the elements.

In the short term CS software will continue to be focused on supporting the delivery of customer success through people.  That requirement will not stop.  People will continue to be part of the delivery of customer success; just fewer of them focused on a much smaller but higher value part of the relationship.  In the longer term, the drive to product-led CS will place greater emphasis on CS software as the orchestrator of automation through the product.  CS software providers that do not follow this path will become increasingly irrelevant.