Playbooks and Processes

A Tale of Two EBRs

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By Andreas Knoefel

One of the well-known touch points in a customer journey is the Executive Business Review or EBR. Yet what it entails and how to conduct one are not so well known. In two of my recent engagements I experienced very different EBRs:

ABC Corp

ABC Corp has a marquee customer in a key vertical. A strong C-level sponsor had fallen in love with the technology and initiated a “3-Year Paid upfront” deal. Now it was time to go before the CFO to extend the contract.

This customer was not on the best customer journey. Several key capabilities in support of the executive sponsor’s goals were still shelf-ware, and instead of a reduced headcount the team had grown to support overlapping solutions.

The EBR audience consisted of three managers, each two levels down from the sponsor, one of them relatively new to the job, some end users, and the Account Executive, Sales Engineer, and CSM.

The agenda included a demo to bring the new guy up to speed, and a discussion of the tactical issues of each team, all of whom had at least 50% of their tasks at the red stage. The end goal was to equip one of the managers to ask his director (who was not invited) to ask the CFO for new budget.

XYZ Corp

EBRs at this company are conducted quite differently. First off, their EBR is a 30-minute, periodic meeting between executives to review the achievement of business goals, with the CSM as the MC. In this case it was with a key reference account; one who speaks at trade shows, webinars, and with new prospects about XYZ.

Periodic meetings with task owners in between EBRs capture progress updates and adjust tactical plans. A communication plan defines periodic touch points at all levels, as well as an escalation path if needed. The joint customer and company team develops and presents the status and proposals.

Their EBR agenda included a recap of progress against the goals set at the prior EBR. It also included a discussion to validate the future of the customer’s business and any strategic changes. As a part of the future discussion, there was time set aside to collaborate on how XYZ could help the customer move forward. Finally, the wrap up included setting goals for the next EBR and agreeing on action items.

Perspective

If you look back at the first example, the renewal is driven by luck, not process. Despite the meeting title of Executive Business Review, no executives were present. How do you expand, when an internal stakeholder presents the case to the execs with the cost, but without a business case? Furthermore, at any given point the content was only relevant for 1/3 of the attendees, while the rest were bored and distracted. The boredom ratio increased during the demo, where most of the customer team saw the old and familiar again.

The second example is much closer to the ideal state. While half an hour may be short, it is significantly easier to get on an exec’s calendar. With a tight collaboration between key stakeholders, the joint team could easily extend the time and present new capabilities or review a business case for a new initiative.

The Ideal EBR

The companies with the highest NRR rates conduct EBR’s differently, as the 2018 Customer Success Performance Index™ benchmark revealed. Here are the key differentiators:

Start On Day -1

A great EBR starts even before the contract is signed, when the solution value is defined by the customer at part of the sales cycle. Ideally, a CSM is looped in at this point, because hearing the customer’s expected ROI in their words becomes the cornerstone of successful renewal and expansion.

Build-Up to the EBR

The EBR is not the time to discuss problems and brainstorm on solutions, it is the time to present jointly on results, future plans, and recommendations for executive approval. The time in-between should focused on achieving the business value through the lens of the goals set with the customer.

  • Meet frequently with each team to resolve issues and update progress toward the goals set in the last EBR.

  • Provide written periodic updates for key executives.

  • Develop and review the presentation with all task owners in order to avoid squabbling about issues and recommendations in front of an executive.

  • Confirm attendance by the sponsor and their counterpart at your company.  

Build Up to the Renewal

Regardless of the contract term this activity should also start from Day -1.

  • Plan and execute a joint customer journey to achieve the business value the executives are looking for. Adjust the goals along the way as needed in each EBR based on changes in the customer’s business and your progress

  • Track the realization of business value through customer-defined metrics, and compare it against the plan in your customer’s journey.

By planning ahead for your Executive Business Reviews, and focusing on the executive and results they care about, you can regularly demonstrate value and secure the renewals and expansions that maximize NRR.

The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers a Leadership Training Program for current and prospective CS leaders. For more details on this program and our other training and consulting engagements, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Andreas Knoefel - Andreas is the inventor of the Customer Success Performance Index™ and a passionate customer success leader. He applies his practical and holistic approach to startups and giants alike, combining his Ph.D. from KIT and MBA from Santa Clara with his international experience leading customers to success. Andreas finds work-life balance through modernist cooking, outdoors photography and teaching high-octane cycling classes.

Are You Ready to Invest in a Customer Success Tool: Part 2

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Today we’re joined by Maheen Memon, the Director of Customer Success at Nulogy. She’s sharing the second of a 2-part series on how to prepare for a customer success platform. Enjoy!

By Maheen Memon

Welcome to the second part of my series on whether or not you are ready to invest in a customer success tool. You can read my first blog here where the focus was on internal preparedness. This blog will be addressing the importance of validating external preparedness and then exploring how the right technology foundations are critical to a successful end product.

External Preparedness

Do you have Executive Buy-in?

It might be clear to you and your team that a CS tool is needed, but how committed is your executive team to seeing this vision through? Have you taken the time to ensure your executive team has bought into the fact that your CS organization needs a system to manage your day-to-day activities? The ability to track day-to-day activities such as engagement touch-points, support tickets, and usage stats provides key metrics that drive strategic planning. When building your case to have a CS tool, it is helpful to focus on how the tool will support the scaling of your operations and help drive data driven discussions regarding your customer base.  You will be moving away from ad-hoc customer happiness conversations that so many CSM teams get trapped into, toward discussions that are based on data and performance metrics and provide meaningful insights about customer health.

Do you have Budget Approval?

So you have executive buy-in, great! Next up is converting executive support into explicit funding and commitment. Have you secured budget approval for your CS tool? Was this budget forecasted in your annual planning? Make sure you have a line item on your budget going forward for maintenance that corresponds with your projected team growth. The cost for a CS tool can vary depending on which provider you choose. As a gauge for what level of spending is acceptable, look to adjacent departments (e.g. Sales, Support, Product) and find out how much they are spending on systems and tooling. Since CS is responsible for a large portion of existing revenue, you should be in line with what other departments are allocating on tooling as well. Don't forget to factor in implementation costs for year one.

Have you secured Implementation Resources?

Ok, you’ve secured the budget, now it’s time to make sure you’ve engaged the correct support departments. If you’re in a larger organization, watch out for policies and guidelines that require you follow a specific process. See if your company has an IT department or a Project Management office. You will need integration support from your IT team at a minimum, and likely project management support as you proceed with the implementation. These items are often an afterthought and could delay your CS tool implementation from weeks to months if proper planning is not done up front. Work with your engineering team to get alignment on resourcing for your tool roll-out. Bringing implementation partners to the table early on makes sure you aren’t surprised with last-minute costs and builds up your deployment coalition.

Technology Foundations

What data do you need to feed to your CS Tool?

Customer Success is heavily dependent on information from multiple sources so standing up a solution without examining integrations would be a big mistake. Here are some key systems you should look to integrate with to maximize your CS Tool:

  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Tool

    • Ideal integration: Bi-directional

    • Description: These systems drive sales departments and provide a single data source for all your customer information including your key contractual details, current engagements and customer contact information.

  • Support Ticketing Tool (help desk, incident management)

    • Ideal integration: Inbound only 

    • Description: Your help desk/support team swear by this system as it provides a dashboard to manage customer issues and problems alongside contractual SLAs; understanding the current state of support and trending is key to driving customer health metrics and understanding their state of mind.

  • E-mail (cloud, exchange, or basic email)

    • Ideal integration: Bi-directional

    • Description: E-mail is still the de-facto mode of communication with SaaS customers. Having integration will allow your team to collaborate on engagement cycles and consolidate touch-points in a central location.

What about other systems?

There are also a variety of other systems that you need to consider integrating with your new CS tool. Do not forget about your marketing automation systems, analytics tools, billing systems and community management platforms. You want to make sure you look into whether it’s easy to integrate select data, but don’t delay your project just to integrate “nice to have” data sets. Certain CS tools have some of these capabilities already built in (for example marketing automation) so there might not be a need to integrate. Ideally aim for real-time integration as batch processes are error-prone and can lead to confusing reporting cycles for users.

What about security, privacy and quality protocols?

If you aren’t aware of the importance of cybersecurity these days, then you really need to start keeping up with the news. All that is needed is one exploited security hole or an unchecked backup and you could end up throwing away all of the efforts of your difficult implementation. Your customers have expectations that you protect their privacy and information and for larger clients it’s likely that you are contractually obligated to as well. First, check to see if your company has an information security policy or a security team you can liaise with to help shore these gaps. Next, be aware of the regulations in your industry and see if there are certifications (SSAE16, ITIL/ITSM, ISO 9001, PCI) that your vendor should maintain to ensure these protections. Too many acronyms? Try finding legal help to ensure you aren’t stepping into a nightmare.

So there you have it, if you have internally validated your approach, sought appropriate external support, and verified the solution is built on healthy technology foundations, you are off to the races and ready to invest in a CS tool.  You are now taking the first digital step in making your Customer Success team more scalable to service your customers in a more prescriptive manner while having all the key data and insights at your fingertips. Good luck!

Are you ready for a new CS tool but need help mapping out the conversion process for your company? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that can help you do the planning that you'll need to be ready for your new CS platform. For more information, please visit TheSuccessleague.io

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Maheen Memon - Maheen joined Nulogy in July 2013 as a Technical Account Manager and has helped the team evolve into a true Customer Success focused organization over the past 4 years. She has been integral to the evolution of Customer Success at Nulogy and instrumental in working with various Nulogy teams to improve our customers' overall journey and experience. Maheen has over 7 years in supply chain, operations, and project management experience from her previous roles at UPS, Hudson's Bay Company, and Walmart Canada. She has a Bachelor of Engineering in Systems Engineering from the University of Guelph and an MBA from the Ivey Business School at Western University.  Outside of work, Maheen is an active member of Toronto’s Tech community, enjoys running and walking her dog, Bernie.

Are You Ready to Invest in a Customer Success Tool: Part 1

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Today we’re joined by Maheen Memon, the Director of Customer Success at Nulogy. She’s sharing the first of a 2-part series on how to prepare for a customer success platform. Enjoy!

By Maheen Memon

You are probably here because you are thinking about investing in a customer success tool.  Over the past 5 years, there has been an explosion of Customer Success tool options in the market and selecting the right one is harder than ever before. Before you take the plunge and invest into a CS tool, take the time to ask these 5 key questions to find out if your Customer Success team is ready to take the plunge.

Do you have the time?

First off, do you have the time to implement a tool right now? Setting up a CS tool will take a lot of your time, as well as the time of your IT team and any other integrated departments.  Even an exceptional implementation will range from a few weeks to a couple of months, but they often drag on longer; this is especially the case without clear requirements. Does it seem like this is a good time in your organization to proceed with an implementation? Do you have a couple of hours of every week to dedicate to rolling out a tool? At a minimum, be sure to pick a time of the year that is less busy for your customers if you are planning on rolling out a CS tool.

Are your processes well defined?

Next you should check and make sure that your processes and playbooks are in good shape to be automated. Have you taken the time to explicitly document these operational flows in your CS team? Are there no significant gaps that need to be ironed out? If not, this will not only significantly impact your implementation timeline, but may jeopardize your ability to finish altogether. Investing in the time upfront to set these processes and playbooks is critical as formalizing these processes as you implement will be costly and likely causes headaches for your team during rollout.

Who will manage the project?

Got time and processes set, but what about a project manager? Do you have someone on your team to champion the CS tool implementation? Will it be you? Does this person have experience in change and project management? Are they ready to take on on-going maintenance activities? It is important to have a qualified champion on your team to lead the way with the implementation. This person will greatly improve the chance of adoption within your team and ensure that its value is communicated with all stakeholders. Look for someone on your team that also has a passion for continuous improvement. Implementing a useful CS tool is a journey, not a destination and you need this person to be engaged for the long haul.

Is your team ready?

Now what about your team members - are they ready to take on a new digital way of operating their day-to-day activities? With a new tool, there is a level of accountability, transparency, and customer experience that will be standardized across your team. This will result in a much higher expectation of real-time data hygiene that many people aren’t comfortable with. Is your team ready for the mindset shift of using a tool? Tools have the potential to make their day-to-day activities much easier but only if the team invests into it wholly and equally. If you have the time, getting your team to share their requirements for a CS tool will help in the overall buy-in process.

Are you prepared to demonstrate value?

Last question; are you ready to start reporting on Customer Success activities on a regular basis? Now that you have your team entering in all of this valuable data daily you have a responsibility to demonstrate the use of this data by bringing insights back to the users. Providing meaningful reports and feedback are some of the best ways to encourage professional use of the system and drive accurate and meaningful entry of information into the system. You should be prepared to transition from an ad-hoc form of management to one that leverages data to articulate a story to shape the direction of your team's growth.

If you have already thought of most of these items, don’t get too comfortable; you have only completed the internal preparedness part of starting to invest in a CS tool. Stay tuned for my next blog in which we will focus on the other areas you need to consider: (1) External Preparedness and (2) Technology Foundations as a part of your journey to finding a tool that fits your organization. We will be focusing on how to get proper buy-in externally and which key tech stacks you need before you even consider investing a CS tool.

Are you a CS Leader or CSM who wants to augment your professional tool kit? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers online training and workshops. Both our CS Leadership Training and CSM Training series start this week! For more information on these classes and our workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Maheen Memon - Maheen joined Nulogy in July 2013 as a Technical Account Manager and has helped the team evolve into a true Customer Success focused organization over the past 4 years. She has been integral to the evolution of Customer Success at Nulogy and instrumental in working with various Nulogy teams to improve our customers' overall journey and experience. Maheen has over 7 years in supply chain, operations, and project management experience from her previous roles at UPS, Hudson's Bay Company, and Walmart Canada. She has a Bachelor of Engineering in Systems Engineering from the University of Guelph and an MBA from the Ivey Business School at Western University.  Outside of work, Maheen is an active member of Toronto’s Tech community, enjoys running and walking her dog, Bernie.

One-to-Many Customer Success - The Webinar!

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I'm excited to be joining Amity next week to deliver a free webinar on One-to-Many customer success. Are you building or refining an automation-driven customer success program? Want ideas on how to provide an amazing customer experience using tools and technology? This is the webinar for you!

October 11, 2017 at 10am Pacific / 1pm Eastern

Interested in more information on this topic? Here are a couple of recent blog posts you should check out:

Hope to see you at next week's webinar!

Kristen Hayer, The Success League

One-to-Many Customer Success

By Kristen Hayer

Most articles about customer success – which metrics to measure, how to engage customers, how many CSMs to hire – are based on a high-touch customer experience. So what do you do if your business model doesn’t support the costs of a high-touch model? Or what if a high-touch approach isn’t consistent with your brand or product?

A one-to-many approach to customer success is a generally accepted alternative to the high-touch model. You may have heard it called tech-touch or automated customer success. Essentially this approach means that the bulk of your customer success efforts are based on technology and automation, rather than human interactions. How do you create engaging, amazing customer experiences with a one-to-many approach? Here’s my take:

Map the Optimal Customer Journey

A good place to start with any customer success model is a customer journey map. You’re looking for customer touch points that can help to improve onboarding, create engagement, and uncover opportunities. With a one-to-many approach, you’re looking for places where you can create automated messages that anticipate customer needs.

First, Test with a Human

It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the best way to build a tech-touch model is with a person. If you aren’t sure how customers will respond to a specific touch point, plug in a rep and test calls at that touch point. Make sure you’re measuring the content and results of these calls. Once you know exactly what customers need at that point in their lifecycle, you can automate.

Choose the Right Tools

At a minimum you’ll need a CRM system or customer database, an email marketing platform, and a tool that looks for customer behavior or engagement triggers. As you go further with your program, you may want to add other tools like a customer success platform or in-app messaging system. Keep in mind that the more tools you add, the more work it takes to administer your program. 

Then, Keep Testing

Once you’ve automated all of your touch points, don’t drop the ball on testing. Split testing can help you refine the subject lines and content of your emails, and drive stronger engagement. If you’re getting support tickets or calls on a topic you haven’t included in any of your touch points, introduce a new message and see if it reduces the number of tickets. You should always be testing content, delivery and timing.

Two notes; first, it’s OK to start small. If you’re building a program from scratch, adding a few automated interactions at key points in the customer lifecycle can result in big improvements. Tackle the areas where you know customers need help, and grow the program from there. Second, keep an eye out for micro-segments. These are small groups of customers within your larger base where a human touch could be just the thing to save the customer or move an opportunity forward. It may be worth the investment in a CSM who supplements your automated program with calls to these micro-segments.

A one-to-many approach to customer success doesn’t need to feel robotic to your customers. If you take the time to understand the needs of your clients at each touch point, you’ll be able to build a program that anticipates their needs and creates an engaging customer experience.

Need help building your one-to-many customer success plan? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that works with leaders to build high-performance customer success programs, from high-touch to tech-touch. We can help you think through the best approach for your organization. For more information please visit our website: TheSuccessLeague.io