Tuesday, January 27, 2015

7 Lessons learned as Head of Customer Success in a Startup

Introducing Customer Success (CS) into a (SaaS) startup is challenging.  The software is still evolving (and not to stable), Customers want new features (yesterday), employees have 3 different jobs, field staff is limited (to non-existent), and the ones that are onboard are spread around the country away from the core development team.  Lots of fun, but challenging.  

Based on my experience in this environment, I have listed the top 7 lessons learned with the hope that it will help others.  Some of these points may be skewed by the nature of the startups where I have worked: companies that deliver a complex product/service (e.g., a data analytics platform) to Fortune 500 customers (demanding),  requiring significant integration with other technical products, all of which are also experiencing significant change and rapid evolution.  

Here are the 7 points in roughly the importance as I see it: 

 1. As head of Customer Success,  you must ensure you and the other senior leaders agree on what Customer Success is and how it will be rolled out in the company.  No matter how it is rolled out, The CEO must be on board and must make it very clear to all that this is a key initiative in the company since much of the revenue and growth of this SaaS company depends on it... because it does. 
2. Sales and Customer Success must know how they are working together with the customer.  Definition should be based on the functions that are performed with the customer such as quarterly reviews, Escalation contact, etc. (Note: the Sales person may not be the top dog in the account after the sale is complete.) 
3. All customer facing teams (e.g., CS, sales, Support) must balance the needs and wants of the customer with the skills and availability of the supporting teams (e.g., engineering, prof. services, etc.)  We can’t say yes to everything the customer asks for.  (This is probably more about the nature of a startup vs. Customer Success.)
4. You as the Senior CS executive must spend time with the internal teams to ensure alignment and buyin.  Ideally face to face, or if not, significant time on the phone. And, to be respected and accepted, you may need to be more technical than you had expected.  
5. In startups there are a lot of feature requests that come from customers.  There must be a way to track these requests, ensure the development team is applying the proper weight to these requests,  and regular communication with the customer on the status of their requests. 
6. Executive Metrics must be appropriate for the maturity of the product and the company, e.g., Early stage companies will typically need to focus on Adoption and Retention, where as a more stable product or companies that offer multiple offerings will focus more on Expansion. 
7. Keep the customer processes as simple as possible - they can be scaled up in complexity when the situation warrants it.   Get a process out there early, get feedback from the customers and adjust as quickly as possible. Improvement will help the customer stick with you as a vendor and keep them happy(er). 

Do you have other lessons to share as one of the first CS people in the company? 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Who "owns" the customer relationship?

I had an interesting conversation this week with an Account Executive (Sales) at a SaaS company.   We were talking about how, in many companies, the Account Executive "owns" the customer relationship. However, in his current company the post-sale team owns the relationship and it makes his job more challenging with existing customers.  So, the question is, who should "own" the customer relationship in a SaaS company? The answer to this question dictates how the internal processes are executed. Everyone brings different skillsets to the table, and all are needed at different times in the customer's "life" with your company.   Does one particular organization (e.g., Customer Success) need to own the customer relationship or is a different model appropriate in a SaaS company?

First, I am really talking about SaaS companies that have high-touch services that require ongoing involvement of the vendor with the customer. If your company has many customers and the relationship post-sale is low-touch, this probably doesn't apply nearly as much.  In this case the "face" of the company is the indirect interactions such as your email pushes and texts.  It also includes all the interactions where the customer contacts you for things such as customer support, re-orders, etc.   To the extent you can personalize that, the better. So, for example, I interact with a person when I have an issue and I have a phone call or a chat session with the company and I talk with "Joe" or "Mary" from customer support.

In a high-touch SaaS company it is different.  From the customer's point of view, multiple vendor people/functions interact with them and the customer should never have to think about who they are dealing with - Customer Success Manager, Sales Exec, Customer Support.  Each should be handling the need of the customer flawlessly. That should be the goal of a SaaS company, so the question is not what does the customer need;  the question what does the SaaS company need to be most successful.  If the Sales Exec doesn't hear about a potential need in the customer's organization, will an incremental sale be made, or will it be passed up? If the Sales team owns the relationship, will the customer go to them first when they should be going to a Customer Success Manager?

I have some thoughts on this that I will post as a follow up.  What are your thoughts on this? How should the customer relationship be managed in a high-touch, SaaS company? What should the responsibilities be?  What technology can be used as part of the solution?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Shouldn't Startups like "new"? Lessons learned

I have now had 2 different roles where I was responsible for building a new capability in a startup technology company.  Both ended much quicker than I had hoped, so there should be some lessons learned, right?

My first role was to create a professional services capability in a video streaming company.  Customer facing, expected to bring additional revenue, not a core competency of the company. My second, building Customer Success for a very early stage data analytics company.  Again customer facing. My responsibility was to put customer success process in place and deliver more satisfied customers, and again not a core competency of the company.  Both require non-technical skills for the most part - at least that was my belief.

What are the lessons I learned?
1. It is hard to create a new capability in a startup. There is typically a very narrow focus in an startup  (by necessity) and so adding new capabilities adds overhead and is distracting.  Ownership of the initiative from the top is essential because of this.
2. A new, customer-facing capability is as much about what the customer needs as it is about what the company resources can (and can't) do.  A balance is required so you don't promise more to the customer than your company is capable of delivering.
3. You need to be technical.  Even if you don't think you need it, you need it.  I believe this is primarily true in a startup vs. a more established company that has adequate technical resources.   Sales is the only organization in a startup that can claim they aren't technical and get away with it.
4. Over communicate what you are thinking and doing.   And really think about how that communication should happen - many senior execs want to talk, not read email. And no matter how you decide to communication generally, have the difficult conversations in person.
5. Don't expect your senior management knows what you are doing.  In a startup it seems there is generally less communication between people because everyone is overburdened with things to do and there is less process to keep people close.  If you are not directly reporting to the CEO, they probably don't have a clue about what you are doing unless you have consistent contact with them.  Make that a priority.

Friday, June 20, 2014

5 things a junior Chief of Staff can do to have an impact

Leader (comics)
Leader (comics) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Sometimes, in a Chief of Staff role,  you question how to be that go-to person and really make an impact.   And if you aren't involved enough with your leader and your team, they won't think about you... which means you become less involved.  A vicious circle.  Here are some things I have done as a Chief of Staff  to add value to the team and stay involved. 

Read articles/listen to talks/ attend online seminars on the relevant topics of the group.  Then take action on what you learned.  The internet has so many great reference sites:  TED Talks, Wikipedia, special interest websites, Points of view, etc.  Search for relevant topics and get smart on them. This does 2 things: 1) it helps you get more knowledgeable in the topics relevant to your team's responsibility and 2) it may help your team members have fresh (external) views.  Many times experts in a company don't look outside for fresh perspectives.   Also do this for your leader and what interests her/him: read articles about leadership, management styles, etc – these can help him directly and are good ways to give him feedback on what he can work on to be more effective. 

Suggest you go to key meetings that keep you in the know.  Assuming you have access to your team's calendar, you can see the meetings that your team is attending.  Don’t be shy about asking whether it makes sense for you to attend some of these meetings and let them know the reason you believe it is important that you be there.   Worst case they say no but will appreciate your initiative.

 Spend time with team members. Make sure you spend time with team members and ask if they can use help with something.  Even better, if you see something that is not getting done, volunteer to do it.  It may not be completely in your wheelhouse, but you will learn by doing.

Talk regularly with people outside your immediate team.  Talking with people outside your team will give you new perspectives and insights into your team.  Improvements, things being done well, missed opportunities, etc... and you can take these back to the team in the form of suggestions, actions and recommendations. 

Above all, think like a leader.  If you were in your leader's shoes, what would you do?  If you were in a team members role, what would you do differently?  How can you help team members succeed with your leader?  Ask yourself what you should be doing now if you were the leader, and do it (or if it feels too risky, talk with your leader about it).  You may also find one of the team members is a good mentor to you - build that mentoring relationship to work better with your leader and your team.    

Practicing these 5 things will keep you involved and valued member of the team. 


Monday, July 22, 2013

My Take: Chapter 6 of Maxwell's 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth - The Law of Environment

Zen (Photo credit: Josefe aka Hipnosapo)
The summary of this chapter is really that it is impossible to grow without changing. However, it is possible change without growing.   Therefore, the focus is growth.  And to grow, we need the right environment.  Six steps are recommended for growth. 
  1. Assess your current environment. There are a number of ways to do this, so figure out what works for you and do it. You may ask a set of questions like, "What ideas speak to me?", What music lifts me?", and "what dreams inspire me?".  If you are not getting what you need in your current environment then make some changes - this is not easy.
  2. Change yourself and your environment. Change both for maximum growth and more successful growth. Define your growth environment.  List the key points of your environment, and mark each one with true or false for your current environment.  If you answer false to more than five of these statements,  your current environment may be hampering your growth.  My key environment points list is a variation of the authors:
    • Others are ahead of me.
    • I am challenged at the right times.
    • My focus if forward.
    • The atmosphere is affirming.
    • I am often out of my comfort zone.
    • I wake up excited.
    • Failure is not my enemy.
    • Others are growing.
    • Growth is modeled and expected. 
  3. Change who you spend time with. The most signficant factor in a person's environment is the people.  If you change nothing else in your life for the better, change that and you have increased your chances of success.  This is not an easy thing to do, but face the facts and clean house if needed, and things will change. 
  4. Challenge yourself in your new environment. Make your goals public, pick a growth opportunity each week, etc.  A post by Bruce Kasanoff about how to help structure your week is a great start at this, and I have added to his one page, weekly activity list by putting my quarterly goals in the same document. This enables me to review my quarterly goals each week and then plan my week with my goals in mind, knowing what I have achieved previously.  By the way, I have posted my quarterly goals up on bathroom mirror as well so I see them every day. This is a huge step - much bigger than you realize until you do it. 
  5. Focus on the moment. The only moment we have control over is the "now".  "Today is when everything that is going to happen from now on begins".  Do what you can do in each "now". 
  6. Move forward despite criticism. "Growth always comes from taking action, and taking action almost always brings criticism." Reach for what you want, make your own decisions, and then stick with them no matter what people say.  
Finally, leaders can take responsibility for creating an environment that helps people achieve what they are striving for.  Take the features of your environment and create that environment for the people you lead.  It will be one of the most important investments you will ever make.  If you have children, create it for them.  This is my goal as a leader and a father. 

Thoughts? Comments? 

Please repost this if you think it is worth it!  


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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Social media - more personal power than ever before

Psy (Photo credit: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer)
Diesel has a new ad campaign called #dieselreboot.  You can find it at dieselreboot.  Very creative and some would say "weird", but that is what diesel apparently wants to be.  What is really compelling about this campaign and what I want to focus on is the message that social media gives power to the individual.  This, I believe, is a new "power" that will change our world.  The essence of this change is that this is the first time in the history of the world that an individual can so quickly become "recognized" because they are giving something that people want. 

Having the ability to individually become recognized globally (whatever your definition of global is) is truly brand new for the human race. Think about the evolution of "recognition".  Before newspapers, people were recognized in their community, primarily face to face interactions that enabled us to tell our story and be "recognized".  Then newspapers came along and as the newspaper became well known and shared around the world, people were recognized... if the paper felt the information about you was "news worthy" (good or bad).  However, the newspaper people were in control of our recognition.  Then news (from newspapers) migrated to the internet via websites and the recognition happened faster and more globally, but it was still controlled by the newspaper.  Then people became more active on the internet, creating websites and then blogs, tweets, and facebook posts.  This was the turning point... when people published what they wanted to publish.  The last component required to complete this transformation was that there were enough people "listening" that the individual could have a following and be recognized.  Today, if we have the drive and the ability to give people what they want, we can become recognized, quickly and globally, and simply because enough people are listening and recognizing the value.

Some good examples of this new phenomenon range from the popularity of Psy, a Korean singer that had a number 1 hit single sung in Korean (more or less :-)) to my cousin Adele who has a following of about 75 people on Facebook and she posts almost every day about her life and travels.   Diane Nyad, the swimmer that is attempting to swim from Cuban to Key West, is another good example.  She has taken on the challenge to push herself as well as encourage others to do the same. None of these people would have the impact they have today without social media helping them get their message out, and people listening and responding.  It is truly a new (and mostly wonderful) world if you ask me.

This ability has a whole new set of challenges for us as a society, and I have not yet spent time thinking through these challenges.  I do believe this new world makes us more responsible as individuals because we can no longer blame a newspaper or a company for what we "hear" and make popular.  We listen to and promote who and what we want, so we have the power and responsibility to promote "responsibly".  Sounds like a new tag line, doesn't it? "Promote responsibly". In my opinion we should adopt this mantra because we don't have a choice - social media is here and it will change our life whether we participate actively or not.

Your thoughts?


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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Barnes & Noble at The Shops at Tanforan mall i...
Barnes & Noble at The Shops at Tanforan mall in San Bruno, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Barnes and Noble appear to be working hard on defining their future.  It seems to me they need to refocus on their retail power and become great at using technology in the store.  How about  letting people browse books, read books, talk about books in the store (the physical environment) and they provide the best network and downloading capability ever so a person can get the book in the most desirable form when they are ready to buy?  After all, it boils down to selling books, right?

What is your answer if you were Riggio?


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