(this is a repost of a post written by me for the MENG Blend.)

Customer success is a very hot topic (rightfully so).  With the rise of the subscription economy, companies are more obligated than ever to make sure their customers are happy with their products and services.  Companies from salesforce.com to Dollar Shave Club are adding “customer success’ departments (or the like), appointing chief customer officers and finally paying attention to what happens after the initial sale.

But what constitutes “customer success?”  Regardless of your business, it’s a hard question to answer.  For a company such as salesforce.com, one customer might be successful if they use the software to track and report on sales reps, but another might be successful if they can establish and enforce a sales process.  For a company such as Dollar Shave Club, a customer might be successful if they get a close shave from the razor blades, while a different customer might be very happy as long as the blades are delivered on time.

Not My Definition of Customer Success

Here’s a personal story of how a large subscription economy company failed to understand customer success:

A few weeks ago, I was watching television one evening.  The picture became pixilated and then disappeared, leaving me staring at a blank screen (Have you guessed that I’m going to pick on my favorite target:  my cable television provider?). After ruling out all the other equipment in my home, I determined the CableCARD device that my cable company provides was malfunctioning (A CableCARD allows a third-party device to decode the encrypted signal sent by the cable company, meaning you don’t need extra boxes in your house…sometimes.).

When I called the cable company’s “customer success” line, they walked through it with me again and agreed with my conclusion:  the problem was with the CableCARD.  They said they would send a technician to install a new one in three days.

Three days (!) seemed a long time to wait just to be able to watch television again.  When I challenged this, I was told:

This is not a priority issue.  We are successfully delivering a signal to your home, and a malfunctioning CableCARD is not important enough for us to send someone tonight or tomorrow.

I reiterated that I felt they were leaving me without their service for three days, and that this is a failure to deliver the service promised.  They reiterated:

We are successfully delivering signal to your home, so we are successfully providing service.”

Our definitions of “success” did not match.  Theirs was “signal on the cable wire,” while mine was “seeing a picture on my television” (I’ll spare you the rest of the argument; it didn’t go well from my perspective.).  Maybe there are other customers who use their signal differently and who consider “signal on the wire” to be success, regardless of whether their TV is watchable.  Not I.

As I reflected on this discussion, I thought about all the other companies that fail to make sure I am using their service successfully, and only focus on the limited set of issues they choose to define as success.

recent study showed that 53% of Americans would choose to switch cable providers if they had the choice (cable television service is a monopoly in many parts of the country).  If the monopoly is broken, it does not bode well for these providers.  Not only does it mean customers will be looking to leave and take their recurring revenue elsewhere, but it opens the market for disruptive competitors who may be more than happy to meet the needs that the current providers are not meeting.

The important question for your business is this:

Do you know how your customers define “success”?

If you don’t know that, you can’t help your customers be successful. And their definition is the only one that matters (cable companies, be damned).

An Approach to Customer Success

One company that is making a good effort at answering this question is Contactually (a social CRM product I use in my own work).  Susan Watkins, their newly appointed head of customer success, tells me that when a customer shows up, Contactually contacts the customer and offers to help them get started, including personal tutorials on how to do the things the customer hopes to do with the product.

In that process, they discover how the customer intends to use Contactually—and how the customer defines success.  When renewal time comes, they can then contact the customer and, instead of just asking for a renewal, ask how they are doing against that definition of success and how Contactually can help them be more successful.

Their data is not in yet, but I’ve seen this approach reduce churn by 5% to 10% in other companies.

In the subscription economy, if you don’t help make your customers successful—by their definition—you won’t be in business for long.

Post a comment and tell us how you figure out how your customers define success.

 

(this is a repost of a post written by me for Nimble.)

Collaboration is all the rage in the business world these days — you can’t go more than a few minutes in any business conversation, journal, site, blog or anywhere else without the word coming up. And there’s no doubt that improved collaboration (often enabled by technology) has led to leaps and bounds in productivity.

But are you — like me — starting to feel like we’re overdoing it? I know there are times when I just want to say, “Leave me alone and let me get some work done!”

I’m just old enough to remember the days when everyone in the company had an office. I mean a room with a door that could fully close. While very few office doors were closed much of the time (there was a lot of debate about open-door policies and the like), you could close the door when you needed to concentrate. Or have an important phone call. Or — in the case of certain nameless colleagues — take a nap. In fact, in my very first job after college, I had just such an office.

Then the age of the cubicle arrived. In the 1980s, companies such as Intel were admired for their devotion to the cubicle culture — meaning the collaboration that came with the broad adoption of cubicles. At Intel everyone, even the CEO, had a cubicle.

There was conversation. We talked with each another far more than when I had an office. It became useful, productive, even fun. Prairie-dogging became a game.

Then we discovered the dark side. We couldn’t have the challenging conversations with customers, partners or even our bosses without everyone knowing about it. There were no more moments of concentration; there was collaboration, but there was also constant interruption. Recent studies have shown that constant interruption and multi-tasking are far less productive than concentration and single-tasking.

But are we ready to go back to closed-door offices? For most companies, no. Many companies are going even further and eliminating cubicles in favor of open-plan offices — just a collection of desks in a room (think the secretarial pool from any random 1950s movie).

Tele-Smart consultant Josiane Feigon recently published an article about an un-named client who gave inside salespeople closed-door offices. From her article, it’s easy to tell she did not agree with this move. She seems to feel that having salespeople in closed-door offices defeated the collaboration that she thinks is at the core of their job, and, as is common in other companies, they should have kept the salespeople in cubicles or an open-plan office.

I, however, agree with this client wholeheartedly. In fact, I think they might not have gone far enough. Here’s why:

Inside sales — at least the core piece of the job, which is making calls to prospects — is not collaborative at all. The employee’s (inside sales rep’s) focus is entirely outside the company, and that employee needs the ability to focus their attention outside (at the prospect) rather than dealing with the inside distractions of noise interruptions and over-hearing other outbound calls.

My friend and inside-sales expert Anneke Seley, CEO of RealityWorks Group, points out that there is a critical component of the inside sales rep’s job that is collaborative: training and preparation. These parts of the job benefit from working with managers and colleagues, collaborating on strategy and working to improve skills.

So these parts of the job should be done in an environment that promotes collaboration and interactions (intentional and accidental), and this can be done in a group setting such as a conference room or open area.

But the outbound calling should not be done in “public.” The highest productivity from that part of the job is achieved when the environment isolates the inside sales rep.

In our zeal to achieve ever-increasing collaboration, maybe we’ve forgotten why we want collaboration in the first place: to increase productivity and effectiveness.

Looking at collaboration through the lens of where the focus of the work is pointed (internal, external, solo, team, etc.) can suggest a new way to evaluate whether a collaborative work environment is going to help or harm our productivity. And then maybe we can find ways to collaborate when it helps and leave each other alone when it doesn’t.

And yes, I said “collaboration” (or “collaborative”) 16 times in this post. We might just be overdoing it.

(this is a repost of a post written by me for the MENG Blend.)

If your company or brand is trying to have a presence in every social media outlet possible, you might have social media FOMO (fear of missing out). But fear not, there is a cure, and unlike consumer FOMO, you don’t need to stop marketing completely.

“Don’t I have to be on every social media outlet? How will I find my prospects and customers?”

If you’re asking this question, you probably already have FOMO. You can escape FOMO with one simple question:

“Is this the media in which my prospects prefer to establish relationships?”

EAT24, in what is now a well-publicized move (much to their benefit), recently broke up with Facebook. If you haven’t done so already, you should read their tongue-in-cheek-but-entirely-serious rationale, as well as FaceBook’s response.

What they really are saying is they don’t believe social media (specifically FaceBook, but this applies to any social media) is about blasting out ads to their fan base. Rather, it is about establishing relationships and raving fans. They conclude, given that FaceBook allows them very limited organic reach, they cannot succeed in engaging their fans and building relationships (even those based on sushi porn) in this particular media.

Will this cost them exposure? Yes. And while I have no inside knowledge of their media strategy, it’s easy to conclude there are other media which are more effective for their prospects.

They could buy more exposure on FaceBook, but it’s also obvious that the amount and depth of engagement is simply not worth it — there are better places to spend that marketing budget.

Applying the test above, it becomes clear their customers and prospects don’t really prefer to build relationships on FaceBook, so it’s not worth spending the time and money.

In another recent high-profile move, OKCupid strongly urged its customers not to use the Firefox web browser on their site, due to the homophobia of Brendan Eich, the now-former head of Mozilla, the organization that publishes Firefox. Given Firefox’s 10.5% market share (source: netmarketshare.com April 2, 2014), this could be a risky move.

Firefox isn’t a social medium, but it is an important means of accessing OKCupid’s services (and every other service online). OKCupid is making two statements with this action: 1) their customers and prospects care about equality and will act on that belief, and 2) it’s easy to engage with them using another browser (Chrome, Safari, etc.).

Apply in the test above, OKCupid clearly believes that once the information about Eich’s homophobia is known, Firefox is not where its prospect and customers will prefer to engage, so it does not feel the need to be easily available in every browser.

Back to your brand: How much time and effort are you investing in making sure you are available everywhere — on every browser, every social media outlet and everywhere else? Are these time and budget investments well-spent? Do they have the expected or needed ROI?

You know who your customers are. You know which prospects you are trying to target. Make sure you’re spending your time and money doing what they need you to do to build those relationships.

So before making an investment in a new media outlet, ask yourself: Is this the medium in which my prospects prefer to establish relationships?

It’s a surefire cure for your FOMO.

(this is a repost of a post written by me for the MENG Blend.)

We hear about transparency every day. We are told that, in a world where everything is exposed in media (mostly social media), it’s far better to be transparent than to try to hide blemishes, problems and defects in the hope that they’ll go away or, at least, not be discovered until we fix them. Marketing blogs and publications are filled with disaster stories about companies that have chosen not to be transparent, and success stories of companies that have chosen transparency.

But just like in our personal lives, we have to choose the right level of transparency, and we have to choose the topics on which we will be transparent.

Here’s a great example:

In November, I wrote about Buffer, a tech start-up that put transparency on top of their values list. Not only do they talk about nearly everything internally (including personal goals, such as education and weight-loss), but they publish many of their results, such as their customer success metrics, externally for the world to see.

Since then, they have become even more transparent, releasing more and more information publicly. Two of the ways they have done this have produced very different outcomes. Let’s take a closer look.

A Transparency Tempest in a Teapot

In December, Buffer decided to make public all the salaries of all their employees, including the formulas they use to determine these salaries.

This produced a small tempest in social media: Some praised their transparency, and others chided them for releasing personal information about their employees, or for creating potential envy and dissatisfaction in their ranks.

The question I asked was this: How does this disclosure benefit the customer (or any other constituent)? The answer is simple: It doesn’t. Granted, it does no harm, but it adds no benefit either.

This is a case of transparency for transparency’s sake. Some have made the argument that disclosing this information is consistent with Buffer’s culture, so it enhances their reputation and brand. I disagree. Disclosure is a choice, and we can always find something they are not telling us (they can’t possibly think of everything!), and this choice does not add value to the most important audience of all: their customers.

A Slippery Slope

Buffer’s chief happiness officer, Carolyn Kopprasch, also publishes a monthly report on their customer success efforts. One element of this report shows how quickly Buffer responds to customer inquiries, tech-support requests and the like (they state that 85% of requests are answered in less than six hours, though they’re not quite there yet).

This does add some value to their customers (including me) in that it shows what I can expect in terms of response to my requests, as well as how well they are doing with all the issues brought to them.

To be clear, I think this disclosure is useful and valuable. But it also creates a potentially slippery slope.

Not long ago, I sent in a tech-support request and waited four days for a response. This is not typical of Buffer support nor of my experience. It left me asking about the distribution of response times. Specifically, Buffer publishes the percentage of responses in one and six hours, but how often does it take a day? Two day? Four days? Was my response in the bottom 10%? 1%? 0.001%?

Which then led to the logical next question: Since we know not all requests are of equal importance or urgency, and Buffer’s resources are limited, how do they make the triage decisions as to which requests get one-hour response times and which get four-day response times?

You can keep going, asking more and more logical questions until their entire operational plan is public.

Let’s say that Buffer chose to disclose the entire response-time distribution and the triage criteria. Where would that lead?

In our interview, Carolyn noted that most customer service and support organizations train customers to get angry. Customers learn that getting angry leads either to faster resolution or to a supervisor who has the power to resolve an issue. This is a version of gaming the system.

Buffer’s disclosure of the triage criteria most likely would cause its customers to game the system. If I knew the criteria, I would certainly try to adjust my request to get a higher position in the queue and get a faster response.

Clearly this doesn’t help Buffer or its customers; it only adds to animosity and frustration.

Let’s say they only disclosed the distribution of response times. That would create frustration on the part of customers who were in the bottom 10%, or worse, the bottom 1%. My assuming my request fell at the bottom is not nearly as bad for my relationship with Buffer as having them tell me exactly how unimportant they deemed me. We are all better off if I don’t know.

This is, then, a choice Buffer has made about how much information to disclose and where to stop disclosure. I think they have made a good choice, in that what they disclose helps customers understand their efforts better without taking away from the relationship and adding to frustration.

Is this two-faced? Yes. But not in a detrimental way.

Buffer values transparency on one hand and says it will keep increasing transparency. But it also makes choices about just how much disclosure meets their transparency value. Being transparent is an aspiration. We have yet to find out how far Buffer will go.

We expect transparency from companies. But we also expect there are boundaries, just like there are in our personal lives.

How do You Decide?

You make decisions every day on what to disclose to whom. Do we tell our customers this fact? Do we tell the world that policy?

How should you decide?

I propose there is one simple standard, embodied in these two questions: Does the disclosure add value? And if so, to whom? If it adds value for your customer, disclose.

Tell us how you’ve made your difficult disclosure decisions in the comments.

(this is a repost of a post written by me for Nimble.)

Evolution: Demographics, Personas and the Relationship Graph

The “Social Graph” is all the rage in the social world. Ever since Facebook launched Graph Search in 2013 and the launch of OpenSocial in 2010, we’ve been talking about interesting and useful ways to use this new form of search and the data it can provide. We’re not there yet, but with the growing popularity of graph databases, the ideas behind the Social Graph are about to become very useful to sales and marketing teams.

I worked with a client last year to develop a series of marketing campaigns based on events their customers experienced. They had learned that companies bought their type of marketing automation systems soon after certain events occurred. In their case, companies tended to buy soon after receiving B-round funding. The campaigns we developed were triggered by news that some company had received B-round funding.

This was far more effective for them than the traditional demographic- or persona-based marketing, and it tells us a lot about how to look at prospects beyond fitting them into a particular description.

It also leaves out a very important part of any sales or marketing effort: relationship building. While the company was able to offer the right solution at the right time, the hard work of building a trusted relationship never happened.

So how did we get to the point where relationship-building got left out? Let’s look at the evolution for the answer:

Demographics:

Rewind half a century(!) to Don Draper’s office, circa 1965. He’s just landed a luxury car account and is recommending a targeted direct mail (state of the art!) campaign. He needs to know where to send his brilliant mail pieces, and the best tool at his disposal is demographics. So he goes to the U.S. Census Bureau and pulls personal income data by ZIP code. He sends that mail piece to everyone in every ZIP code with an average personal income above a defined threshold.

Let’s say I am lucky enough to live in that ZIP code. Am I in the market for a new luxury car? Would I consider buying one if it met certain preferences? The answer is more likely “no” than “yes.” While the effectiveness of direct mail relied on a very low percentage of success, it also wasted the vast majority of the invested resources. No marketer or salesperson really knew if I was ready to buy a new car until I showed up at a dealer.

Personas:

Fast forward 30 years to the same agency with yet another new luxury car account. Now they have lots of data at their disposal. They can create a picture of the type of person who might buy the car. It might look like this: A well-educated home-owner who travels for pleasure two or more times per year and shops at other luxury stores. Combine that with income and credit data, and you have a much-improved chance of reaching the type of person who would buy this car.

Again, let’s say I’m that person, and I receive the advertising message by mail and maybe by email or online. But I just bought a competitor’s model last year, and it’s going to be a few years until I’m ready to buy another new car.

The point of this is we can know quite a lot about out prospective buyer but still miss the two most important things:

  1. Is the prospect ready to buy?
  2. Have we established a trusting relationship that will result in the prospect buying from us?

Solution: The Relationship Graph

The timing-based marketing programs I mentioned above are a good first step toward answering the first question. As you get to know your prospects, you can get to know their buying triggers. This allows you to focus your sales and marketing efforts on those prospects who are truly ready to buy (not necessarily the same ones who said they were on your registration form).

But what about building a relationship? Just pursuing everyone who matches your target persona will not work.

We are very good at some parts of relationship-building. We know how to find common connections on social networks such as LinkedIn and how to scour social media streams to find more information about a company or individual.

Let’s go back to the Social Graph. In my personal life, I can look at Facebook and ask  interesting and useful questions. Let’s say I were looking for someone to join me at the movies this weekend. I can go to Facebook and ask, “Which of my friends lives near me and likes newly released movies?” Questions like that can help me connect with people with whom I have established relationships (or even with those I don’t) who might be willing to engage in the way I seek engagement.

What if we did this for our customers? What if I, in my consulting practice, could ask questions such as, “At what companies do I have connections who enjoy reading white papers about customer relationship management?” Then, when I write a white paper, I’d reach out to those people. And maybe I’d ask for their feedback. And maybe, if they like it, I’d ask them to tell their friends.

What if I could go further and ask, “Which connections enjoy reading CRM white papers and have recently expressed concern about their churn rates?” That’s someone I can help, and I’d want to reach out to them.

Unfortunately, much of this capability is not yet built. But the technology exists. The data exists. And, probably most importantly, your relationships exist.

And you can put the information in your organization together in a way that mirrors the Social Graph and starts to answer this kind of question. I mean the kind of question that will help you better understand your prospect and help you to add value to their business.

This is, I believe, the next step in sales and marketing evolution.

Tell me what you think it would take to put those together and start asking questions that lead to you adding value for your prospects.

(this is a repost of a post written by me for the MENG Blend.)

When your customers contact your customer service team, are they already angry?

Last month, I interviewed Carolyn Kopprasch, chief happiness officer at Buffer. She said:

“We live in a culture that has trained customers to start on the offensive just to get good service…Often, you don’t get to talk to a manager or someone with authority to solve your problem unless you say a curse word.”

This is, sadly, the case for many organizations.  Consider companies with which you do business in your personal or business life.  If something goes wrong and you need help, what happens?  How do you find that help?  And how do you feel by the time you call or send them an email?  I’m going to venture a guess that by the time you make that contact, you’ve tried a number of things—to no avail—and are pretty angry.

In fact, a recent report (“Duck and Cover:  More Customers Are Experiencing Rage”) on customer rage shows “customer satisfaction over a company’s ability to solve a complaint is no higher today than it was in the 1970s” and “customer dissatisfaction over complaint resolution has increased eight points in the past two years.”

This culture of anger is the result of a widely practiced approach to helping customers that is designed to lower costs for the company.  This approach is also thought to improve the speed of resolution, but it often just creates bad experiences.

The practice is one of self-help or community driven help (the latter being very common in the technology business).  Companies will try to figure out what most customers need help with and then post those issues on their websites in some form of FAQ.  The assumption is that most people will go there, find the answer, and solve their problem.  The advantage for the company is there is zero marginal cost to help each customer.

The second step of this practice is a community driven approach. The company will form some sort of online forum and allow customers to post questions and answer each other’s questions.  The underlying assumption is that someone else has had the problem before and can help solve it.

This is not a zero cost approach, as many companies also have customer service team members watching the forums, adding comments and solutions and, sometimes, looking for common problems or requests that can point to product improvements.  But it is a very low-cost approach to helping customers.  And it puts a big onus on customers to seek and provide their own support.

The next step is to contact someone at the company on a customer service team.  While a few companies don’t provide any direct contact capability, most do, either by telephone or email.

But by the time the customer reaches that point, they have probably tried to solve it through the other two methods, maybe had some unpleasant exchanges with forum members or employees, and have probably been forced to search the FAQs repeatedly to try to solve the problem on their own.

In other words, they’re angry.

Four things you can do to avoid this:

1.   Stop making it us vs. them.

When your customer contacts you and is frustrated, angry or worse, it’s your customer service team’s job to take the company’s side. However, your rep should take away the need to take sides at all. The conversation should never be about what the customer wants vs. what the company will do.

The only conversation your customer service team should have with your customer is about the result they need to achieve and how they can help the customer get there. If every interaction is not designed around that idea, your customers will see your customer service team and your company as “against” them, and they will get even angrier.

2.   Know why your customers are getting angry.

Don’t just ask. Measure. Don’t be biased by the loudest and angriest customers (perpetuating your contribution to the anger culture), but look at all your customer interactions and know why escalations happen.

Once you identify points of frustration, you can act to intervene. Depending on the issue, you can post simple solutions on your help pages or accelerate personal contact when a particular issue is raised. The better you get at directing more of your customers to their desired outcome, the happier your customers will be.

3.  Learn your customers’ interaction preferences.

Some of us like to talk through our issues with someone. Others like to do research and solve it themselves.

Do you know what your customers prefer? Are you providing it? Or are you making assumptions that result in more escalations than needed?

Talk to your colleagues in marketing, and steal one idea. Ask who is good at developing what marketing people call “personas,” and create the ones you need. Figure out how to identify what type of problem solver each customer is and what you need to deliver to have them walk away happy.

4.  Be honest.

If your customer has a problem, you have a problem. It doesn’t matter if it might be their fault. If you don’t eliminate your rep’s need to take sides and help your customer get the outcome they need, it’s going to be your problem, one way or another.

When you have a problem, admit it (“yes, I can see how the instructions are not that clear about that”). Show understanding. If it’s not your fault, help your customer get past it. If it is, be direct and just fix it.

When your customer service reps get to the point of quoting warranty limits, user agreements and company policy, you have lost — not just the conversation, but the customer — and you can kiss repeat business goodbye.

Are you already doing some of these?  Are they working?  Tell us what you think!

If you’re like most recurring-revenue companies, you’re not just looking for skills when you hire customer success people, you’re looking for cultural fit and that intangible-but-oh-so-important natural customer-happiness focus. If that’s the case, the person you’d want to hire is Carolyn Kopprasch (@carokopp). Sorry, she’s not available.

Carolyn is chief happiness officer at Buffer (full disclosure: I am a user of their service), a social media posting service that schedules or meters your posts (for me, it keeps me from inundating my followers). I quoted her in my previous post on customer success culture as a great example of how to get customer success right.

I had the pleasure recently of interviewing Carolyn to find out why she is so good at customer success and how she hires and trains Buffer’s people to make sure they are, as well.

If you are leading or part of a customer success team, or you want to be, there’s a lot you can learn from her.

Making empathy a part of the culture

“One aspect of Buffer’s mission is to set the bar for customer service,” Carolyn says. She adds that the definition of customer success is evolving as the company grows — and as the Happiness team doubles in size from three to six people.

I’ve had a number of interactions with Buffer, most with Carolyn herself. Her direct honesty and ability to make me feel cared for impressed me. Why is she so good at this? She points to two things:

First, she was a user of Buffer before joining the company. Having “been in [customers’] shoes and experienced their frustrations” gives her the ability not only to understand the situation, but also to know what will help this particular user get what they need.

Second, she cites empathy as critical to great customer service. “We have to be able to understand not just what the customer means, but their frustration, obstacles and needs.”

To even be considered for a job at Buffer, you have to be an established customer and be familiar with the product. When hiring, Buffer is looking for “someone who has used [Buffer], run into the little frustrations, been confused by this or that, who generally has experience using technology for a purpose and knows how joyous it can be when it’s successful and how frustrating it can be when it’s not.”

Carolyn says this ensures there is some basis for empathy in everyone they hire. This is true not only in the Happiness team, but throughout the company. The people on her team feel “privileged to be doing what we are doing and to have customers who give us the opportunity to do what we are doing.”

Buffer also puts prospective hires through what sounds like a practical exam. Candidates are given a series of actual requests from customers and asked to respond. How they approach the response is a key factor in the hiring decision.

But the culture of empathy extends beyond the walls of the company. “If you are not practicing [these values] in your everyday life, then it’s really challenging to put away your habits and just start it when you show up for work. So we do it in every area of our lives,” she says.

[Note: If this sounds like you, Carolyn is hiring. Just remember they only hire Buffer users.]

Creating a new kind of customer success culture

Buffer handles customer success differently from most organizations. “We don’t assign cases,” Carolyn explains. The team is still small enough that everyone can see all the open cases, and everyone is tasked with taking whatever action they can to help. With a team that now spans the globe, cases are often resolved overnight while the U.S.-based team is sleeping.

This makes communication important. “We have weekly meetings and an ongoing exchange of ideas” to keep that going, she says. The email threads among the Happiness team at Buffer include everything from making sure a response actually meets a customer’s need to discussing the most understandable tone and words to use in email.

Buffer does not try to scale its customer support with technology. They have made the decision not to try to push customers toward helping themselves, but rather to focus on hiring more people to respond to and support their growing customer base. They will add online help (“some people just like to figure things out for themselves” Carolyn says), but they will continue to make email support the primary way customers get the help they need.

Buffer also publishes — yes, publicly — a monthly happiness report on their blog and on Facebook. Here’s the October report (note the summary graphic at the bottom of the post). They let the entire world know just how well (or not) they are doing. It’s a manifestation of their transparency value, and it lets all their customers know they are a part of Buffer’s ongoing improvement.

Measuring customer success can be challenging. Unlike many companies, Buffer does not count the number of replies or exchanges it takes to close an issue. “We disregard replies per conversation. Most customer success teams look at this as speed to resolution, but we know that happy customers reply back and forth a few times,” Carolyn says.

Carolyn has two measures of success for her team: “First we work on the hypothesis that a faster answer leads to a happier customer. So, we track how fast we respond to the first email and get the solution started. Second, we track self-declared happiness. Every email to a customer has emoticon ratings (provided by Hively). We track how many customers are happy with our solutions. Or not.

“Customers can also add comments to their rating, which only go to the support individual who responded, not for review or to management.” This, she explains, allows the “Happiness Heroes” to learn what they have done well and what they have not.

The best possible response to being hacked

Buffer was hacked recently. Their response was impressive, fast and very revealing, and customers responded with astonishing support. I asked Carolyn how they put together an effective customer communication plan so quickly.

“There was no plan. There was no one person defining the voice. It was a natural reflex for us to tell everyone,” Carolyn says. “That was the extent of the plan. We could not have imagined it going any differently.”

Buffer posted several times per day on their blog and social media on their progress and about the resolution. Instead of one “please change your password” email, customers knew every detail of the issue and resolution, and exactly what to do about it. Look at the overwhelmingly positive and supportive response. It’s the kind of response of which most companies dream.

Changing customers’ expectations

Carolyn sees Buffer’s approach of quick and direct responses as starting to overcome a culture in which customers expect to be angry and frustrated before they even get the help they need.

“We live in a culture that has trained customers to start on the offensive just to get good service, and it’s really easy for the customer service rep to react to that,” Carolyn says. “Often, you don’t get to talk to a manager or someone with authority to solve your problem unless you say a curse word.”

Carolyn and her team are working to get better and better at providing help that takes away the customer’s frustration and, she hopes, changes the starting expectation of her customers.

It’s working

Buffer’s and Carolyn’s ideas on how to create a customer focus in the business are groundbreaking. Even for those of us who are working to disrupt the customer relationship models that have done so much damage to the tech industry over the years are moved by companies such as Buffer to rethink our assumptions. Buffer is an example of what can be done when you throw out your experience and start with a customer-focused set of assumptions.

Buffer is a young, growing company, but it’s experiencing very low churn rates (5-6% at last count). Only 2% of customers are paying for the service, but they see conversion rates increasing month-to-month (note that the Happiness team is not compensated for conversion).

I say it’s working.

What do you think?

(this is a repost of a post written by me for the MENG Blend.)

Here are  examples  of two very different customer service cultures.  Which would you prefer?

Let’s say you have to bring your car in for repair.  The mechanic diagnoses the problem. Would you choose:

A)  The shop where the mechanic tells you:  “This is a simple issue.  We fix these all the time.  It’s not going to be any problem at all.  Your car will be good as new in a few hours.  Just go about your business, and I’ll call you when it’s ready.”

or

B)  The shop where the mechanic tells you, “Your car’s coolant system has three leaks in different hoses.  The hoses are easy to access, and I have replacements in stock.  It will take me two or three hours to replace the hoses and test them to be sure they are working.  I’ll call you as soon as I’m done.”

If you’re like me, not only do you prefer option (B), but if you run into the mechanic in option (A), you’re likely not to come back (and maybe not even leave your car in the first place).

The reason is we don’t like to be dismissed, and we don’t like condescension.  The mechanic in option (A) was condescending and a bit insulting. She assumed we not only have no idea how our car works but that we don’t care to know and will trust her implicitly. The mechanic in option (B) showed respect for our knowledge, ownership of the car, and likely, our time.

Is your company’s customer service  insulting your customers without even knowing it?

I’ll give you another example of good and bad customer service.  Recently, I contacted technical support for two different software products.  Both are websites that run SaaS products.  Both issues were simple ones that required little explanation and should have been easy to identify as issues (I can’t say how hard they would be to fix).

Company 1 responded like this:

We really appreciate you bringing us this kind of issue affecting our software’s performance.  Rest assured our developers are fully aware of the changes and the glitches that occurred after the software update.  They have made these adjustments their top priority to ensure our software is as stable as possible.

Thank you for your patience and understanding during this time.

Company 2 responded like this:

Thanks so much for writing in!  This is a great question, not too odd at all! :)  I’m afraid there isn’t a great solution for this at the moment.  Sorry about that. :(  We haven’t figured out a great way for it to know to re-look for the image and description if nothing shows up at first.  Great idea though, and we definitely see the value of it.

Sorry I don’t have a better answer for you on that one.  Is there anything else I can do to help or any questions I can answer?

I’m guessing you know which one I thought was well-done and which I thought was disingenuous

Company 1’s response is more troubling than just a dismissive response.  It points to a customer service culture that assumes customers want reassurance and kind words above all else.  It suggests that the company’s customer service protocol has guidelines or even templates that advance the idea that customers are to be dealt with and dismissed as quickly as possible.

This was reinforced after my follow-up question asking if they knew about the specific issue and might be working on it.  I was told there are many issues on which the developers are working and that I could be certain they would be informed of this one.  Further reinforcing the dismissive approach, five days later the company announced an update that resolved the specific issue.  I have to assume someone there knew that this update was coming yet failed to communicate that to me.

Company 2’s response points to a customer service culture of openness and honesty.  Telling me that there is “no great solution” admits the software has shortcomings and just can’t do everything all the time.  This is true of all products of all kinds.  Being direct about the limitations and aspirations of your product shows both honesty and confidence in your ability to deliver value to your customer.

My cultural assumptions were reinforced on follow-up exchanges, where I offered an idea for a solution, and an interesting discussion on how to best get the specific value I needed from the product ensued.

Evaluating customer service

Far too many companies evaluate the performance of technical support or customer service success on how quickly issues can be resolved and how friendly the language of the company’s representative is.  Both of these measures lead the customer service teams to shorten their responses, use more reassuring and friendly (not honest and direct) language, and to be dismissive of customer issues in the hope they will accept answers such as those above from Company 1 and go away.

But customers are evolving the other way.  Customers demand more details and honestly from companies, as well as more and more transparency.

In order to meet the needs of this evolving customer, companies must also change their customer service culture and the metrics that support it.  For example, rather than measuring duration of interactions, you might measure how many interactions it takes for the customer to consider the issue resolved.  You might also want to measure how much progress each interaction made toward resolving the issue (if it makes no progress, you are wasting time and angering your customer).  Your metrics should always focus on what the customer perceives as progress and what your customer perceives as a resolution.

Is your company’s customer service  culture dismissing and alienating your customers?

Try acting like a customer with a problem for a day, and go find out.  Then tell us your story in the comments.

(this is a repost of a post written by me for Nimble.)

I sat in a conference session about building IT systems to ensure HIPAA compliance (which is all about medical insurance, in case you’re not familiar with HIPAA) and kept hearing pundits offer advice about how to prevent users of these systems from doing things that are unauthorized and outside the rules. It gave me flashbacks to conversations with my own insurance company and all the nightmarish moments having representatives tell me, “Our systems won’t allow me to do that.” (I’m betting you’ve been there.)

I realized that, each time the issue was resolved on these calls, the representative and I found some way to work within the limitations of the system to create a resolution that worked for me and seemed to work for them.

What we found was a path. The interesting thing to note about this path is it was the best option that offered — this is important — the least resistance.

I use this principle every day in my work. I try to find the way to achieve my goal with the least resistance. This doesn’t mean the easiest way or any sort of cheat; it means the way that allows me to do the best I can while avoiding unnecessary obstacles. I try to find the path of least resistance.

No matter what type of business you are in, at some point in your sales process, your prospect will complain (usually subtly, sometimes loudly) that some particular requirement to complete the purchase transaction is undesirable, difficult or even impossible to meet.

You just found a wall. Your prospect just hit that wall and might stop there instead of continuing to complete the purchase. You’ve heard this called “friction in the sales process” or any number of other challenging terms. You also have heard endless advice telling you to remove these obstacles. So let me offer you three simple steps for making it not just easy, but desirable, for your prospect to buy.

First, walk the path with your prospect.

Most salespeople will tell their prospect what the next step is. They will ask the prospect to complete some action, get some approval, call a meeting and so forth.

This is similar to providing a map and telling your prospect to get to the end of the path. It can work quite well. But it’s not the best approach.

Stop thinking of yourself and your salespeople as a map, and start thinking of you and them as a guide. Walk the path with your prospect. Take the same steps. Help them over the obstacles. Warn them of dangerous turns. Reach out a supporting hand when it’s needed.

This achieves two prerequisites for removing obstacles. First, it changes your perspective to align with your prospects. Second, it lets you take step two.

Second, relentlessly remove obstacles.

As you walk the buying path with your prospect, you will suddenly see — very clearly — every single obstacle, difficulty and blocking wall along the way

Make it your job to remove those. Not just for right now and for this prospect, but to remove the institutional barriers that keep those obstacles there for every future prospect.

And be relentless. Don’t let the small ones stay. They will grow and make your life — and your prospects’ lives — more difficult in the future.

Third, identify and clarify how this walk you are taking with your prospect creates value for your prospect.

In an earlier post, I discussed how to define measurements of value and how to determine the value you create for your prospects.

It is on this walk together that these measurements are created and defined.

Make sure you are talking about value and expectations. Make sure your prospect understands why it is so valuable to them to take each step and each turn along the path.

And when you reach the end and complete the purchase, you and your prospect will have a strong mutual understanding of why you are there and how your future relationship will progress.

It’s not always easy to take these three steps. There are plenty of obstacles, internal and external, to changing how you approach your work and your prospects.

But if you do, you will not only have created a path to purchase that is freer of obstacles, but you will have created an inviting and welcoming path your prospects will want to travel with you again and again. Buying from you will be their path of least resistance.

Which makes your job — and theirs — so much easier.

Photo Credit: Vainsang via Compfight cc

(this is a repost of a post written by me for Totango.)

This happens to you more often than you’d like to admit. Your sales team lands a new customer with great potential. You work hard at the on-boarding process and hit all of the milestones. Roll-out is on schedule. Over the year(s) of their contract term, you resolve every issue quickly. Then two months before renewal, you get the call: They’ve decided not to renew.

Wait. What?!?!

This probably came as a surprise to you. You probably have a list of reasons these customers give for not renewing. Some of the items on that list are understandable, from product shortcomings to changes in the customer’s business (such as acquisition). Others you know are just excuses, such as pricing, or that one support issue that was only 90% resolved.

Now tell me, honestly: Was there something you could have — or should have — known that would have let you save this customer?

There are three things you should be examining closely every day to get a deeper understanding of — and a deeper relationship with — each and every customer:

1. Ask good questions

In an earlier post, I discussed the idea of measuring customer success from the customer’s point of view and choosing the right measurements. You have to help your customer use your product, but you also have to help your customer get the value they need from your product.

Your market is crowded. You are competing not only against companies that provide similar products, but with all the other investment priorities of your customer, and your customer is deciding whether whatever work you support is worth funding at all.

One of your first tasks when you assume responsibility for a customer is to understand how your customer will measure their success because of your product. If they are not clear, help them define that measure. (Again, suggestions are here).

One company with which I’ve worked offers tools to bring social information into the selling process. If you ask generically how they make customers successful, they might say they increase revenue. Well, yes. But so many factors affect revenue and the effect of their product may be small compared with others, so it’s a meaningless measurement. They could also quote their marketing material and say they provide a deeper understanding of each prospect. Again, yes, but can you measure that? And is it a benefit or just a thing the product does?

While the product provides many benefits, one that is particularly interesting is it shortens the sales cycle (decreasing time to revenue). So they ask every new customer how long their average sales cycle is. Then they look at the users of their product and ask them three months, six months and nine months later how long their sales cycle is. The length drops every time.

The customer is now convincing themselves that the product has significant benefit. And you know exactly how much and why they should renew (and how to sell the renewal).

Pick your measurements. Ask good questions. Make sure your customer realizes value. And they are less likely to leave.

2. Social engagement

I don’t think I need to convince you business is social. Your customers are in the social channels, discussing their business challenges and issues, as well as the products and services they like and don’t like.

The best possible case is when your customer loves your product so much that they recommend it to their friends and colleagues. You can see this from high NetPromoter scores or by looking at your brand advocates with services such as Zuberance.

The worst case is when they don’t talk about you at all. Remember the adage, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” If your customers are indifferent, they are not getting value from your product, and they are less likely to renew.

So, listen and engage. Follow your customers on whatever social networks on which they are active. Connect to their professional networks. See what they are up to. Talk with them. Focus on issues and items of interest to them.

LinkedIn offers advice to recruiters about retaining candidates. They suggest adding new employees to your network, then watching their new connections. If you see them connect to a bunch of people at your competitor all at once, there’s a pretty good chance they’re interviewing.

Do the same. If a new competitor comes up, and suddenly your customer connects to lots of their people, it might be time to strengthen your connection.

3. Look at the data

You have data. Lots of it. Don’t be afraid to use it. But don’t get caught up in the “big data” hype. Here’s how to make it useful:

You already track every single action your customer takes in your product. You know every interaction, and you probably know the results of those interactions. All of this may not be well organized, but a close approximation will work pretty well for this purpose. And your data analysts can help you make sense of it all.

The key to analyzing large amounts of data is asking the right questions. You should be asking one or both of these:

1)    What specific actions predict either renewal or non-renewal?

2)    What are the relevant (predictive) differences between customers who renew and customers who don’t?

If you know the answer to one of those questions (they are just two sides of the same coin), you will have a much better idea much earlier whether any given customer is on the path to renewal.

It’s important that you not just look at this data when it’s time to ask for the renewal. You must look every month (ideally) or periodically throughout the contract term. Don’t wait until they’re ready to say No to talk them into Yes. Get them on the road to Yes much earlier.

This can feel like a lot to do with each and every customer, and you might be thinking you can only do all of this with your largest customers.

I warn you: That is a mistake. The biggest danger for non-renewal — and for large revenue losses — lies in the middle of your customer base, with those customers who matter, but still fall outside your high-attention area (e.g. your enterprise group).

There are lots of technologies available today that allow you to watch large data sets, interpret social streams and collect customer data. Even I, as an independent consultant with no staff at all, engage and monitor social streams for clients, prospects and new business opportunities. Is easier — and cheaper — than ever to scale these efforts.

Now what?

1)    Pick a question or two to ask your customers every month.

2)    Choose a set of customers with whom to engage on social networks.

3)    Ask your data analysts one of the two questions above.

Most importantly, start counting your surprise non-renewals and the number of customers at risk of non-renewal. And (this is how I deliver value to my clients) watch the numbers drop.

Tell us what you choose and how you do in the comments.

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(this is a repost of a post written by me for the MENG Blend.)

I had lunch with a friend recently who ran customer success for a SaaS  company.  Customer success in the SaaS business is typically responsible for handling customer support and service to build renewals when they come due while avoiding churn (customers who do not renew).

As we discussed the issues surrounding delivering a great customer experience and handling renewal sales, he commented that his biggest surprise was how much churn hurt his business.  He noted that every percentage point increase in churn had a multiplier effect on the top line for the business.

I had lunch with a friend recently who ran customer success for a SaaS  company.  Customer success in the SaaS business is typically responsible for handling customer support and service to build renewals when they come due while avoiding churn (customers who do not renew).

I’d be repeating myself if I included a rant on how keeping customers coming back is the only way to realize the return you expect on your investment in customer acquisition.  So instead, let’s talk about investing and how you can apply some very simple investment concepts to your marketing ROI.

Let’s talk bonds to demonstrate churn.

I know:  bonds are much less exciting than stocks when it comes to investing, but if you’ve listened to any of the decent advice out there, you probably have a reasonable percentage of your portfolio invested in bonds.

Here’s the thing about bonds:  they provide you with an income stream.  You expect the issuer to pay the coupon on the bond (the debt payment) at the scheduled interval. The market places a value on the bond that is largely based on the dollar amount of those coupon payments, the time over which they will be paid, and the current market interest rates.  If all goes well, you invest a lump sum and get paid back with interest over time.

Sometimes, all does not go well.  I hope it’s rare for your portfolio, but defaults happen. Companies (sometimes even governments) fail to make the coupon payments.  When this happens, you lose your money.  Yes, it’s part of the risk of investing, but it also means your money is gone.  Not exactly the outcome you wanted.

Connecting bonds, marketing, and churn.

Marketers have been talking about a concept called “customer lifetime value” for the past few years.  Whether you are in a business that depends on subscribers or repeat customers, you can look at your customer the same way you look at a bond:  you pay some amount up front (your acquisition cost), and you get a revenue stream that comes in at predictable intervals over time.  As with the coupon payments on a bond, you can use the risk of the market and net present value formulas to determine the value of a customer’s revenue.

But sometimes customers don’t come back or don’t renew.  The difference is that this happens at a much higher rate than bond defaults.  For some SaaS software companies, churn (the rate of non-renewals) can be as high as 30% annually.

Let me show you what this does to your portfolio or your top line in marketing terms.

For the sake of simplicity and illustration, let’s assume you have 1,000 customers today, and those customers are paying you $100 per month for your service.  Let’s also say you are a fast growing company, hitting growth rates of 50% annually.  Here’s what churn (or customers not coming back) does to your business over three years.

How Churn Hurts Total MRR

How Churn Hurts Total MRR

On the chart above, the green line shows monthly recurring revenue (MRR) growth over three years, assuming there is no churn.  The yellow line shows the same growth rate, but assumes 10% churn.  The red line shows the same growth rate, but assumes 30% churn.

If you lose 30% of your customers every year for three years, your revenue is lowered by 56%.

If your portfolio underperformed by 56%, I’m guessing you’d be looking for a new investment adviser.  Likewise, if your revenue is 56% below where it should be, I’m wondering if your CFO isn’t thinking about a new CMO.

I’ve been fortunate to work with many companies who understand the financial leverage keeping customers holds for your company.  And I’ve helped a few gain insight into this leverage.

Which leads me to ask:

- Are you investing appropriately in keeping those customers?
- Does your company know how many customers it’s losing?

Tell us how you’re getting it right (or wish you were) in the comments.

I was honored to be interviewed by Linda Popky of Leverage2Market Associates and one of the leaders in marketing innovation in the technology business. We discussed a range of topics, including:

  • Why recurring revenue and renewals are so important to so many companies
  • Why many companies (particularly in the technology business) don’t invest enough in recurring revenue
  • How marketing and selling to renewing and repeat customers is different from new business
  • What companies can do right now to increase recurring revenue and renewals, and reduce churn

You can find the podcast here (just under 30 minutes). I hope you find it useful – please let me know in the comments.

Photo Credit: Colleen AF Venable via Compfight cc

(this is a repost of apost written by me for the MENG Blend.)

In an earlier post, I discussed how to get measuring customer success right. It sparked quite a few questions about how to choose the measurement and how to ensure it causes you to be aligned with your customer’s business success. Here are some thoughts about how to get it just right.

The Goldilocks Customer Success Metric

In my earlier post, I compared two public safety companies that had very different measurements of how their customers became successful because of their products.

One was RedFlex, whose most often cited metric was the number of red light tickets issued because of their cameras (though, I don’t think they want to be measured this way). This metric misses the mark, because it does not measure an outcome that is of value to the people who have to make a decision on the purchase of the camera system. The goal is public safety, not more tickets.

In contrast, ShotSpotter (SST) measured a variety of outcomes, including number of arrests resulting from gunshots detected and number of convictions made easier because of their data. The goal—public safety—is the same, but the metrics are directly relevant to the outcome.

Let’s analyze these:

Neither company chose what I’ll call the “papa bear” metric, which is something such as increased public safety. This metric is far too broad, far too hard to measure, and while both companies do something that affects public safety, neither can claim to have increased it directly.

The number of tickets metric, which I’ll call the “mama bear” metric, is too narrow. It measures the direct result of the system, but it does not take into account any of the results the activity produces.

The number of arrests metric is the Goldilocks metric (or one of them). It’s not the direct result of the system (you could measure number of gunshots identified), and it does not claim to be a panacea for all police issues. It does measure an outcome most of us can link directly to which is increased public safety (criminals get arrested), and one the immediate buyer (police department) and the ultimate buyer (political leadership) can relate to and definitely care about.

One alternative to the number of tickets metric might be to look at the total number of accidents at intersections with red light cameras. For most of us, fewer accidents mean safer streets.

So How Do You Choose Your Customer Success Metric?

Let’s assume for the moment you are selling to a business.

Papa Bear

Increase revenue or reduce costs. I hope whatever it is you are selling to the business does one or both of these, or I suspect your prospective customer will never buy. That said, with very few exceptions, your product or service probably does not directly do either one, and the outcomes of your product are not “more revenue.” They should do things that lead to one of these two.

These are the wrong metrics.

Mama Bear

More twitter followers (sorry, social media folks, this isn’t a business outcome). This is certainly a metric, but for most businesses, it doesn’t produce something effective, nor does it (in any meaningful way) affect costs or revenue. It’s too narrow, and too immediate. Other examples are things such as, “keeps all your customer activity in one place” or “ensures everyone knows the correct procedures.”

Those might be things your product does, but they are not why your customer buys.

The Goldilocks Metric (encore)

If you were selling a product to a marketing department, the outcome might be “produces more leads in the pipeline” or “shortens the time to conversion to a sale.” Both of those are things your product might do where you can measure the effect your product has on either number of leads or time to conversion, and the metric has a credible effect on the business (in these examples, more revenue).

In another recent post, I discussed Christensen’s idea of “hiring” a product to “do a job.” Your customer has a job they need done (e.g., they need more leads). That’s something they hire a product to do. And it’s something you can measure before and after they buy your product, so you and they can tell how effective your product is for them.

Another way to consider this is that every team, every group, and every department in a company has business objectives they can measure. Your product needs to help their measurement of at least one of those business objectives moving in the right direction.

The Goldilocks metric has to be specific and countable. ShotSpotter counts the number of prosecutions and convictions that use their data. You can count number of leads, length of sales cycle, reduction in overhead, etc.

So finding the right metric is really simple: It is a business objective, and it is countable.

Get that right, and you’ll have no trouble getting your customers to show you just how successful you are for them. Which is just right.

Tell us how you are measuring your customers’ success in the comments.

Photo Credit: Bill David Brooks via Compfight cc

The other day, the local news featured a story about the increasing number of San Francisco Bay Area cities and towns removing their red-light cameras. For most cities, the original goal of these cameras was to improve public safety by reducing accidents. While there are now fewer cars running red lights, it turns out accidents have actually increased, mostly due to drivers coming to sudden stops (to avoid a ticket) and getting rear-ended.

It also turns out the company that provides these cameras to most of the cities in this news report (RedFlex) takes, as part of its payment, a percentage of the revenue from the tickets issued using pictures from these cameras.

What does this have to do with customer success measurement? For RedFlex — and for you — everything.

How to get it wrong:

I can’t say what RedFlex knew about their customers’ (the cities, and presumably, their police departments) objectives when they sold the system. But I can tell how RedFlex defines the success of their customer: more tickets issued equals more success.

How do I know this? Because (according to the news report) they get paid on the revenue from tickets, and therefore have an incentive to make products that maximize ticket revenue.

But that’s not the main goal of the their customer. The police department’s goal is to improve public safety by reducing traffic accidents. RedFlex appears to have no incentive to do this.

RedFlex is using the wrong measurement: They don’t seem to understand how their customer defines success, or they don’t align to that definition. As a result, they are now losing customers.

How to get it right:

ShotSpotter (disclaimer: ShotSpotter is my client) sells a gunshot detection and location system. Like RedFlex, they sell this to cities, in particular to police departments.

When ShotSpotter sells a system to a new customer or renews a contract with a current customer, they ask questions such as: “How many more gunshots have you identified using our system?” or “How often were you able to get to a crime scene faster and make an arrest because of our system?” or even “How many times were you able to prosecute a perpetrator because of evidence from our system?”

These questions and the measurements that result from them align perfectly with the definition of success their customers have for themselves: Police want to respond to crimes quickly and catch perpetrators, and the district attorney wants to prosecute those perpetrators effectively and get them off the streets.

When it comes time for ShotSpotter’s customers to renew their contract (their main product is sold similarly to SaaS or cloud services), the customer and ShotSpotter both know exactly how successful they were using the system, and the customer can make a renewal decision based on exactly the right criteria. And ShotSpotter has a strong incentive to make a product that helps their customers meet those criteria.

What you should do right now:

Your customers may not be police departments. But every single organization, including your customers, has a reasonably well-understood definition of their own success. They know what they are trying to achieve, and they are looking to you to help them get there. It’s now your job to know what success means to them and be quite certain you can align your work to their goals.

Ask yourself: How do you measure the success of your customers, specifically as it relates to the use of your product or service? Do you know how your customers use your products to make themselves more successful?

That’s the easy part.

The hard part is looking at your own organization, not just at customer success, but at everyone who plays a role in how successful your customers become as a result of your products. That includes sales, marketing and product development, just to start. I’d bet it includes everyone in your organization.

Now you have to ask: “What incentives do we give our people to advance the success of our customers?” and then ask the most important question: “Are those incentives producing the right results for you and your customers?”

If the answer to that last question does not EXACTLY align to how your customers define success for themselves, then you are not using the right measurements or incentives.

And if your measurements and incentives are not quite right, you are left with two choices:

  1. Change them, or
  2. Watch your customers disappear

Do you have a good story about how you measure customer success? Or do you know companies that can’t quite seem to get it right? Share your story in the comments below!

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(this is a repost of a post written by me for the MENG Blend.)

A few weeks ago, at the Sales 2.0 conference, I noticed a trend: Salespeople are generating their own leads. In fact, I heard pundit after pundit offer justifications for salespeople to be more proactive and take lead generation into their own hands, including statistics showing that as few as 30% of the leads sent to sales by marketing are worthy of pursuit.

Isn’t it marketing’s job to deliver qualified (or at least pursuit-worthy) leads to sales? So has marketing failed?

Well, no, not exactly. There are two significant (you might call them disruptive) trends happening at the same time in lead generation: the indivdualization of technology and social selling.

Marketing is less-well-equipped than sales to take advantage of these. Sales, especially the individual salesperson, is far better equipped to experiment with new methods, processes and technologies than any marketing department can be, if only because of the scale. And marketing has significant responsibilities beyond lead generation, including leading and developing the company’s relationship with its prospects, customers and all other stakeholders, and stewarding the company’s brand.

But in order to be successful, marketing will have to watch these trends — and how salespeople take advantage of them — and figure out how to make them part of everyday marketing in order to stay relevant.

Trend One: The Individualization of Technology

Technology has migrated from huge systems only practical for large institutions to apps any individual can use anywhere, anytime. In the same way, systems which large corporations use to manage their resources are now available for individuals, including cloud-based (SaaS) services, such as CRM and marketing automation.

Companies such as Nimble and Contactually provide cloud-based services that are designed for (and priced for) individual salespeople to do the essential parts of what a more cumbersome CRM system once did. They manage everything from contacts to social relationships to follow-ups to engagement opportunities.

What is important about this is these services can be used by an individual salesperson to find opportunities and generate leads entirely on his or her own, even while working within a larger corporate CRM system.

In fact, my friend Matt Heinz offered a wealth of tips and tricks (he calls them “sales hacks”) for individual salespeople to use a range of tools to create a robust lead flow — all independent of any marketing department (yes, this works very well for sole proprietors, too!)

Trend Two: Social Selling

Social selling means salespeople can use their social networks and the activity they generate to find prospects and identify buying signals. For example, if I were selling marketing automation software, and a 2nd-degree LinkedIn connection just took a new job as CMO (a possible buying signal) for a company in my market, I would want to contact that person. I might find that out through the activity generated in my own social network, then find out more about that person through their own social and other activity. I would then have a connection that can introduce me and would also know how to approach my newly discovered prospect.

Notice I am not looking in my CRM system for a lead that has not been touched in a while, nor am I looking for an introduction from my management. Salespeople (presumably) have their own networks they can use to find the connections they want and need.

Services such as TwitHawk and Newsle offer this kind of social signal search service, and Nimble and Contactually integrate it into the activity stream.

When you put all this together, you have a powerful new source of very well-qualified leads for the salesperson to pursue.

So Where is Marketing?

Marketing departments have done a very good job of adapting to the world of on-line and social media, and they have found ways to successfully get the word out. Marketing departments have also become very good at doing this on a large scale, just as they became very good at large-scale communication in traditional media.

But even the most targeted integrated email and social media campaigns reach thousands — sometimes tens or hundreds of thousands — of people in the hope that a small percentage will be sufficiently interested to become leads and prospects.

Salespeople are looking at this from the other direction. They are ignoring the scale of reaching mass markets and large target audiences, and instead, using the power of atomized technology and social media combined to find the proverbial needle-in-the-haystack — who they are pretty sure is an interested prospect.

Can Marketing Adapt?

Should marketing change its approach and focus on finding individuals? No. Well, maybe.

Marketing must look after its whole scope of responsibilities and ensure there are strong relationships with customers, prospects and other stakeholders. Marketing must also continue to use its ability to scale communications to ensure large audiences are reached.

In fact, without doing this first, the salesperson may never have the chance to find that one interested prospect

But marketers must also become proficient in a world that has become individualized. This individualization has happened not only in how sales leads are found, but also in how relationships and brand preferences are developed. Marketers must be able to take all the activities where they focus on the mass market and find ways to translate or evolve them into individual relationships.

It’s easy for individual salespeople to experiment with new methods and technologies, and they are finding some of them very useful. Marketers must find ways to experiment with new methods, processes and technologies to find the ones that work in this changing world.

The challenge marketers face is learning how to scale this individualization to reach the mass audience so the company can scale its individual relationships.

And marketing can deliver more relevant leads.

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