CS Management

2 Quarterly Business Review Myths that Customer Success Needs to Abandon

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By Chad Horenfeldt

As you're checking your calendar to start the day, you see there is a two hour block for "QBR Prep" at 10:00 am. The room suddenly feels a lot warmer and beads of sweat appear on your forehead. You think to yourself "did someone mess with the thermostat?" You then remember that this the normal feeling you get when preparing a QBR. It's such a massive pain to put together. You have to pull data from 10 different places and then put all of the pieces together so it will make sense. You’re also praying that the attendees will actually show up. Beyond your scheduled QBR prep, you have an overflowing inbox of customer emails and a bunch of other flashing messages in Slack. You don't want to let any of your customers down but you have no idea how you are going to pull this all off.

That feeling of trepidation and despair when tackling a QBR is a common occurrence. While the practice of customer success has evolved, some of the strategies haven't changed that much for many organizations. QBRs definitely fit into that bucket. I see the purpose of a Quarterly Business Review as a way for CSMs to demonstrate and sell the value of your product to the customer. While many companies present these results on a quarterly cadence, I don’t believe that the timing is relevant. It should be based on the needs of your customers.

Unfortunately, many QBRs are still handled like they were in prehistoric days of customer success. They mimic the 1:1 account management relationship that CSMs had with their customers. Times have changed. I'll cover two common myths of QBRs and what you can do to modify your QBR strategy.  This should not only help you with your QBR prep but it should impact your overall approach to Customer Success.

Myth #1: QBRs need to be meetings

There is a misconception that ties a QBR to an actual customer meeting. That is completely outdated and an unrealistic expectation. Do you think you think your customers really want to meet with you or have the availability? A recent survey sheds some light on this.

According to OKTA’s latest Businesses @ Work survey the average company deployed 131 apps for their users last year. 131 apps! In addition, since 2015, the average number of apps per company has grown by 43%. The more apps that your customers are using, the lower the chance you have to schedule an actual customer QBR meeting. You have to face this reality and prepare for it.

Customer Success ≠ Account Management

Customer Success needs to break away from the traditional 1:1 high touch, account management mindset. We should be thinking about how we deliver a QBR in the same way that Amazon thinks about how it delivers your packages. The focus is always on the customer and improving the overall experience to meet the demands of the customer and the reality that exists.

The other problem is that CSMs don’t have time for these meetings either. Beyond your most strategic customers, it’s unrealistic to expect a CSM to have a QBR with all of their customers due to the growing CSM per customer ratios. To set these impossible goals can only demoralize CSMs and cause unnecessary burnout. We need to move beyond the traditional account management approach.

One size doesn’t fit all

Meeting with your most strategic customers to review the QBR makes total sense. These customers are the core of your business. What doesn’t make sense is treating all customers in the same way. You should differentiate the customer journey based on your segmentation strategy. For the smaller customers this means going beyond just reducing the cadence of QBR to say every 6 months from the normal quarterly format. You should focus on how you can deliver the right type of information in the right way based on the outcome that you are trying to achieve.

One of the best approaches I’ve seen here is to partner with your Operations/Data teams to automate the creation of your QBRs using a business intelligence platform or an Excel template. You need to take the QBR creation out of the hands of CSMs and simplify the process. CSMs will still need to do some slight customizations of the QBR messaging in some cases but  the majority of the work should be automated.

There also needs to be further innovation in the delivery of the QBR. As an example, I’ve seen QBRs delivered via email with the summary points clearly stated in the email and a Calendly link that invites the customer’s stakeholders to setup a meeting with the CSM if they want to further discuss the results. All of the email engagement data is tracked so if there is no email clicks or opens, a task is created for the CSM to follow up directly.  CSMs could even personalize a QBR by creating a standard video to go along with the email. This whole area of QBR delivery is ripe for even more innovation.

Myth #2 Substance is more important than style for QBRs

I admit it. I’ve delivered QBRs where I just barfed up a lot of content all over the customer and hoped that something stuck. It sounds disgusting doesn’t it? I gave myself a big pat on the back for just finishing all of those slides.  

Years later I realize that my approach was completely unacceptable. I was more concerned with creating the powerpoint then orchestrating the content to actually make sense. The style, design and the layout of the content can be just as important as the content.

Showing value isn’t enough. You have to sell it

Think of your QBR like a window display at your favorite store. It’s not enough to have a QBR that demonstrates the value of your product. You need to sell that value. The actual QBR document should be self-explanatory and you should expect it that it will be passed around within the customer’s organization. For this to occur, the value points in your QBR need to be optimized so that they jump off the page. It should be clear to anyone that picks up the document what progress has been made, what value has been provided, and where the opportunities lay.

As an example, the Updater QBR includes awards for the top properties that our customers manage. To our surprise, one of our customers took a screenshot of our QBR and posted it on LinkedIn along with an endorsement of our product.

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This customer was so proud of what they achieved that they wanted to share it with their social network. While we didn’t expect our customer to share this with the public, my team did spend many painstaking hours determining what would resonate most with our customers and they architected a template that would make the content stand out. They kept asking: “What would our customers perceive as value? How do we want our customers to feel after the QBR?” Their efforts paid off. We now can make other subtle design changes such as including a small banner in the QBR that would encourage our customers to share this on their LinkedIn or Instagram feeds.

Customer Success Operations isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.

To improve the style of your QBR and to simplify the QBR creation process, you need to invest in customer success operations. As an example, at a former company we had our data team automatically export our QBR data to a professionally designed excel template. The charts were uniformly created with vivid colors and up to date industry benchmark data. The CSMs had to simply review the data, add in some customer specific information and create a PDF of the spreadsheet. While we had formal meetings with our strategic customers, we sent the spreadsheet via email to our smaller customers and measured their engagement. We had essentially created an assembly line for QBRs due to the operational rigor we instituted.

The challenge is that companies aren’t investing enough in CS operations. The recent Coastal Cloud Customer Success Industry Report specifies that only 12% of those they surveyed had a Customer Success Operations role. Customer Success must look for leverage. Tasking your already swamped CSMs to create professionally designed QBRs at scale is nearly an impossible ask once you get to a certain size. CSMs will always be a critical component in QBR prep but there needs to be a strong operational arm that can leverage the technology that exists.   

Pulling together a QBR can be overwhelming but you can reduce the anxiety associated with it. By changing the way that you deliver the QBR, leveraging CS operations, and making changes to how it’s created, you can drastically decrease the time needed to prepare for and deliver the QBR. You can now concentrate on the the message you want to deliver and provide the experience that is most appropriate based on the customer lifecycle that you created. You can focus on the outcome of the QBR and not on your powerpoint skills. You can focus on engaging your customers and selling the value of your product and not on your fierce powerpoint and excel abilities.

You have the confidence that your QBR will be so well received that your customer will probably share the document with others in their organization. Maybe they will demand an early renewal? Ok, let’s not get too carried away.

There are so many ways that we can improve the entire QBR process and we’ve barely scratched the surface. What are you going to do to improve your next QBR?

Need help streamlining your QBR process? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers a complete CSM Training Program which will provide you with practical tools to strengthen your professional skills. For more information on this program and our other classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Chad Horenfeldt - Chad is a Customer Success executive with 15+ years experience building and developing high performing Customer Success teams. Currently, he is the Vice President of Client Success at Updater. Prior to Updater, Chad has held CS leadership positions at Bluecore, Influitive, and Oracle (Eloqua). Chad has been named to Mindtouch's top 25 Customer Success Influencer list in 2017 and 2018. He writes regularly on the topic of Customer Success on his blog The Enlightened Customer.

The Art of Sitting on Your Hands

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By Lauren Costella

Last month, I wrote an article about my job as a Vice President for Customer Success, which is really, sitting on my hands. I need to do a lot less talking and a lot more listening. And while that may sound perfectly poetic, the challenge is very real. With regard to being hands on or off, it’s not always easy to know when too much is too much or whether you’re not doing enough as a leader. And walking this line is a constant struggle.

Personally, I don’t want to micromanage a team. I don’t find that interesting and quite frankly, it’s not something I’m good at doing. At the same time, when I hear about or see something not working, I want to jump in and fix it. And my passion around finding a fix is only heightened when there are customers or our business at risk. So the question is: how does one balance “sitting on your hands” but also take into consideration that a lack of action could lead to chaos?

I’ve pondered this a bit, and I realize there’s a very distinct “art” to walking this fine line, and I thought you may appreciate a few “artistic” tips as you navigate the line between sitting on your hands and jumping in to help.

The Art of Reframing an Issue

There are various ways to look at an issue or problem. Depending on the lens of how you present or approach an issue, the folks on the receiving side can either jump to the wrong conclusion or can become completely de-motivated to want to solve it. In some cases, they might not even want to recognize there’s even an issue. Reframing matters a lot when you’re walking that fine line of stepping back and jumping in.

I experienced a lack of reframing, literally, just the other day. My leadership team and I were all talking about technical training gaps with our CSMs. We agreed that there was an issue around CSMs needing to be more technical with our product. As we discussed the issue, my leaders said it had been a known problem for months, and then I said aloud, “Well, why haven’t we done anything then?” Immediately, the dynamic changed; the room had an air of defensiveness. Participants broke out in debate arguing points about the fact that we had done a lot of work around training, and then we proceeded to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing what things we had done.

When I take a step back, that one, simple, musing aloud question had more impact than the entire conversation. Of course, I knew we had done a lot around improving CSM training. We had so much more in place than when I had first joined, and I am tremendously proud of what we’ve achieved! What I was really trying to dissect was “efficacy” of training. In other words, I know we are doing a lot of stuff, but it seems like this “stuff” isn’t having the intended impact. Should we refine our focus to be on efficacy instead of simply building more things? But this is not what came out, and what’s worse, was my “frame” around “nothing being done” was the exact opposite of the tone I wanted to set.

Imagine that I recognized the great work that had been done around training first and recognized the time and energy we invested. Imagine if I had said this is not just an issue for our team, but for the rest of the organization and solving for this would be a huge company impact? And furthermore, imagine, I had reframed the discussion to get agreement around efficacy, and then our discussed focused on solving for success? I went in with the problem already defined and the conclusion around what is or isn’t happening, but that was just it, I needed to get the team to buy into what was really going on, and just one simple question set us down the exact wrong path. Consider reframing the discussion around joint buy-in first, and focus on being solution oriented and positive. Then solving for it doesn’t need to come from you, it can come from the team who’s charged with leading it.

The Art of Lowering your Voice

My voice is a bullhorn. No, not literally, though I can think of a few people who may have a differing view on that given my passion, excitement and rather loud voice, when I talk about anything Customer Success. But the context to which I’m referring is that as a leader everything I say and do is amplified 100X. Case and point was the example of reframing I shared above. Whatever I say, even if it’s just thinking out loud, can completely disrupt a team, how they own and solve issues and their view on whether you’re being too hands on. Why? As a leader, everyone takes your word with more weight, as a command, as an order. Even if that’s not the intention, most people view it that way, and it can be hard to separate a command vs. a simple musing.

I used to think that the more passionate I am in front of the team, the more they would pick up my passion and urgency and see it as important. What I’ve come to find is that I produce the exact opposite effect. Everyone is scrambling to the “command” versus really being bought in that it’s critically important!

I am trying to build a team where we can all talk to each other and challenge each other. That my team can push back peer-to-peer, and we can all hold each other accountable. However, it takes time to build the kind of vulnerability based trust for that kind of dialogue and beyond that, it’s just really hard to delineate for anyone who has a boss, what is command versus what is top of mind.

So as a leader, it’s important to keep my bullhorn self in check. It’s important for me to ask more questions. This goes back to reframing. If you’re not sure if your team is viewing a particular issue or initiative in the same way, check in with them! Maybe the story you have in your head is different from theirs. Maybe there’s an underlying issue that can’t be uncovered because your “bullhorn” voice is overpowering. You can’t know until you lower your voice, listen, and ask questions.

The Art of not Accepting the “Monkey”

One thing that I have done, but I’ve also seen my team leaders do is taking on their direct reports’ “monkeys” or problems. Monkeys are a funny way for me to visualize taking on problems. I can take on one or two, but if I have my own, plus some from my reports, and more from my colleagues, then monkeys will literally be overrunning my office and wreaking havoc everywhere.

Too often, as leaders, we find ourselves trying to take on problems and manage the actions of others. The intentions behind doing this are the purest you can find. We want to help. And in many ways, it would seem like that’s the right answer to the problem. For example, maybe I am more experienced in doing X,Y, Z or have done that before, so theoretically I could do it and maybe am the most qualified.

Well, not so fast. There are a few issues with that reasoning. 1) You don’t have the bandwidth, but that’s probably pretty obvious. 2) There’s an underlying assumption that you would know better than the person who has more context that you do, and that’s probably not the case. 3) Given the person with the problem has more context, it’s probably in their best interest to critically think about the issue and come up with a plan that may involve you, but not for you to take on the entire problem.

It’s your job to hand those monkeys back. Make your team, your colleagues or anyone else handing you monkeys keep those monkeys. They need to keep the monkey and figure out the plan and use your talents in a structured way (with boundaries set by you) to solve the issue. In this way, they are learning, growing, maintaining ownership, and typically, they figure it out better than you could have.

Navigating stepping in and stepping back is never black and white. It’s this grey area that makes it difficult. So, if you find yourself, like me, trying to successfully navigate the Art of Sitting on Your Hands, I hope you find these “artistic” tips helpful in your journey.

The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that works with leaders to drive positive team behavior and incredible results. Check out our leadership programs for more information on how you can build your customer success management skills. TheSuccessLeague.io

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Lauren Costella - Lauren is a change agent, communicator, leader and passionate champion for Customer Success in business, since a great customer experience drives retention, growth and brand advocacy. Her expertise centers on building early signs for risk and growth, defining cross-department success plays, team enablement, operations and process, and selecting and implementing CS software. When she’s not working as the VP of Customer Success for Medrio, you can find her serving as an advisor and blogger for the Success League, an active board member for the Customer Success Network, and blogging generally about her CS experiences on the CS Playlist. Lauren has her MA and BA from Stanford University. She was a former USA National swim team member and enjoys staying active with running and surfing in the Bay Area.

Driving Change in Customer Success

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By Kristen Hayer

Facing up to a big challenge in customer success, like extreme churn or the need to restructure, can be tough. However, getting your team to adopt the plan you create to address the challenge is usually much tougher. Humans generally dislike change, and change management is one of the primary functions of a leader, especially in early and growth-stage organizations.

One of the best articles I’ve read on change management is called Leading Change by John Kotter. It is part of HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Change Management, which I would highly recommend if your company or team is going through a period of substantial change. In it, Kotter talks about the 8 steps to take in order to produce significant, lasting change. Here are the steps with my take, looking through the lens of customer success.

Establish Urgency

It often seems that everything in customer success is urgent, so it can be a problem to make the need for a big change really stand out. Pulling your team out of their normal environment and focusing on just the one issue can help to make it clear that this is a larger than a normal challenge. In addition, this isn’t the time to protect your team from reality. They need to understand the business drivers behind the change, as well as how this problem is holding them back from success.

Create Powerful Leadership Groups

There are two groups you can leverage to create a leadership team that will guide your group through change. First, look to your managers. These folks have the power to change processes and demand change. If they aren’t part of the change leadership group, you run the risk of them undermining your efforts. The second, and often more important, group is your team influencers. CS people talk. Getting a grass roots change effort going will require that team influencers participate in the planning.

Create a Vision

You know the problem, and now you need to plan the solution. One mistake I see a lot of CS leaders make, is to create a solution that is too granular right from the start. Big challenges require vision, and that should be higher level. Think about why you have the problem, why it matters, and the big picture efforts that will be required to fix it. This will keep the vision simple enough that it will resonate with the team. It also leaves the solution open to a little bit of interpretation, so that your smart CS professionals can contribute.

Communicate the Vision

In customer success, we get in the habit of being communicated to (at least internally), instead of communicating to others. This is the time to put on your marketing and sales hat, and pitch your vision. Make no mistake, this is an exercise in persuasion. You need everyone on your success team to understand and get behind your vision and plan. Your leadership group is key to this effort: Influencers can use their grass roots connections to promote change, while your managers can demonstrate change through their actions.

Empower the Team

After communication, it’s time for action. You and your management team need to take steps to make it easy for your customer success group to change. First, take a look at any blockers like overly complicated processes, tools that don’t work anymore, or rocky internal relationships, and fix them. This might take some time, so do what you can right away, and keep working to remove these blockers over time. Also, encourage the team to try new ideas and processes, and don’t punish failure. This is a time to learn from mistakes and iterate.

Create Short-Term Wins

We all know that short-term wins are motivating. If you lose 5 pounds on the first 2 weeks of a new eating plan, you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Keep this in mind when you’re developing your change plan. Look for low-hanging fruit: goals that can be easily achieved, or small adjustments that produce big customer satisfaction. These wins will be motivating to the team, so be sure to celebrate and socialize them around the company. This will provide tangible proof of success that reinforces your vision.

Build on Wins

Once you have initial success, it enables you to do two things. First, you can use your team’s momentum to encourage them to take on more challenging projects. As their confidence builds, so can the difficulty of the issues they are tackling. Second, you can publicize customer success wins across the company, which gives you the credibility to command more resources like additional headcount and budget. That, in turn, allows you to increase the pace of your change initiatives.

Institutionalize Change

As I mentioned at the beginning, people don’t like to change. One way to keep your new vision going is to ensure that all of your new hires are brought on board with a clear understanding of what is expected, and are trained in the new approach. Successful new employees can drive change across the team by showing that the vision really works. On the flip side, you may need to retire or transfer some team members who just can’t get behind your approach, so that they don’t drag the rest of the team down.

If you want to dig deeper into any of these topics, read the Kotter article. While his examples revolve around large-scale, corporate strategy change, there are some good takeaways for teams as well. Tackling major issues with a little structure to back you up will help you to feel comfortable taking on one of leadership’s toughest challenges – driving lasting change.

Is your company due for some big changes but you're not sure where to start? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers customer success evaluations that are a great way to see what is working well and what needs improvement. For more information on our consulting services and training classes, please see TheSuccessLeague.io

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Kristen Hayer - Kristen believes that customer success is the key to driving revenue, client retention and exceptional customer experiences. Her areas of expertise include developing success goals and metrics, designing the optimal customer journey, selecting technology, training teams, and building playbooks. Prior to founding The Success League, Kristen built and led several award-winning customer success teams. Over the past 20 years she has been a success, sales, and marketing executive, primarily working with growth-stage tech companies. Kristen has her BA from Seattle Pacific University and her MBA from the University of Washington.

Sitting on My Hands - The Real Job of a Vice President of Customer Success

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By Lauren Costella

I’ve never been one to sit on my hands. I’m not an idle person. I love solving problems, being hands on, and making things happen. It’s in my nature. It’s probably why I’ve cultivated a career in Customer Success! I want to create change and make things better than they were before, and given this very youthful area of business, it’s easy to want to jump in and take action and experiment for the better.

There’s nothing wrong with general attitude this per se, but the question is: should an Executive Leader be jumping in and being hands on? As I reflect back on 2018, I’ve come to think that my best position as an executive is actually sitting on my hands.

One the one hand (no pun intended), there’s certainly benefit to knowing the ins and outs of how things work and actually being able to do them. Having worked in multiple startups, small companies, and now a company growing to that $100M revenue mark, I’ve seen that it’s not uncommon for executives to be hands on in some way. In fact, part of the thrill with any early stage company is managing the typical chaos into something that grows and scales. And in many ways, it’s a very visible measure of productivity and success for early employees. There’s a sense of community to everyone working together to get things done, and there’s a sense of “respect” for those folks willing to jump in and get their hands dirty!

On the other hand, as the company grows it’s becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with every moving part of the organization and the team, especially as an executive. In the past 18 months, my CS organization has grown from around 9 people to almost 30 globally, with three different teams (Support, Professional Services, and Customer Outcomes (CSMs)). Locations span from the US to Japan to Australia and EMEA. Given the growth and change, my challenge has been trying to keep up with those changes, product changes, go-to-market changes, and how customers change! Quite the whirlwind to be sure. And in my attempt to try to be hands on, when I reflect back about what I could improve going into 2019, I’m wondering if hands on does more harm than good?

I recently sat down with my boss, Mike Novotny (CEO of Medrio), and talked about these challenges, and he gave me a really simple piece of advice: “Lauren, realizing impossibility is freedom.” Now, I’m not necessarily one to believe in “impossibility” so his advice was difficult to digest. But when I reflect about what he really meant by it, he is absolutely right. It’s literally impossible to know and be proficient in everything. If we could do everything, there would be no need to have support and help! And the real beauty of this advice is this: with freedom, you can focus on the right things, not everything.

There are some common traps that I’ve personally fallen into that led me down a path of either doing, dictating, or directing, when I needed to be stepping back, sitting on my hands, and listening. When an executive is doing or dictating or directing, we often miss the mark of productivity. Why? We aren’t on the front lines, we don’t have all the context for actually producing success. When we are dictating or directing without context, we force teams into situations where they haven’t bought into those decisions or executing plans, which typically leads to missed deliverables, and this is a recipe for disaster. Talk about no fun for anyone.

As an executive, my job is this:

  • Provide an environment for a Cohesive Team: a team that has trust, healthy conflict, commitment to decisions, peer-to-peer accountability, and produces results

  • Radial Transparency: decisions should be made by the team, not me

  • Sitting on My Hands: I listen, watch, but I do not decide; I do not do.

While on the surface, this may seem obvious and maybe perceived as a little “easy” but speaking from my own experience, this is probably the hardest thing I’ll do!  

First, let’s talk about creating a cohesive team. I just became a certified facilitator for The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team powered by everything DiSC. The 5 Behaviors of a Cohesive team are these:

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Trust is the single most difficult piece to build in a team. Trust is not about “predicting” how a person will act in a given situation. For example, If I tell David X, I know he’ll respond by saying Y. Rather, it’s about being vulnerable. This is creating an environment where team members can freely admit things like “I messed up” or “I need help” and the team can support that person in solving the issue. It’s having a foundation of mutual respect, so that healthy debate of issues (healthy conflict) can occur without team members looking at debating issues or questioning methods as a “personal attack.” More often than not, teams don’t have the foundation of trust needed to support all of the other areas above it. And when the other areas aren’t supported, it’s not often that results are achieved or results are short lived. As an executive then, it’s my job to ensure these 5 Behaviors are understood, maximized, and executed within the team. If the team isn’t a team, there’s no room for achieving results. The leader sets the culture and the environment.

Secondly, my job as leader is radical transparency. If my team doesn’t have access to all of the information I have, how can I expect them to make decisions and drive change? Context matters! It’s exactly the reason I can’t execute (I don’t have the context needed to do it well). By the same token, if I don’t provide visibility into the data and facts that I have, the team can’t make good decisions. Decision making should happen as close to the front lines as possible. Setting the culture for that type of work happens at the executive level. So, as an executive, my job is to make that transparency possible, give the team context to drive decisions, changes, and ultimately results! A really great book that discusses “radical transparency” and was introduced to me by my boss, is called Team of Teams. It talks about how the military incorporated radical transparency into their practices. We’re talking top, top, secret stuff being shared at all levels of the military, so troops on the ground can make decisions. And what do you think the role of the Commander is? I can promise you it’s not deciding what the troops are doing in various military raids...rather sitting back, watching, and listening. Pretty crazy right?

Which leads me to my third point. My job as an executive is to sit on my hands! I say sit on my hands because I am a talker, and as a part Italian gal, the only way I can successfully speak (at least according to my boyfriend) is also using my hands to express myself. When I sit on my hands, I stop talking. And when I stop talking, I’m engaged in listening and the craziest things happen. My team becomes the problem solvers. My team debates ideas back and forth. My team figures out the “hows” and the “whys” and the ways forward. My team commits to decisions, and hold each other accountable. They think, they commit, and they do! And we all achieve results. What a beautiful thing!

So when people ask what is my main focus as the Vice President for Customer Success, I don’t lead with net retention or revenue or churn; rather, I say “I sit on my hands.”

The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that works with leaders to drive positive team behavior and incredible results. Check out our leadership programs for more information on how you can build your customer success management skills. TheSuccessLeague.io

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Lauren Costella - Lauren is a change agent, communicator, leader and passionate champion for Customer Success in business, since a great customer experience drives retention, growth and brand advocacy. Her expertise centers on building early signs for risk and growth, defining cross-department success plays, team enablement, operations and process, and selecting and implementing CS software. When she’s not working as the VP of Customer Success for Medrio, you can find her serving as an advisor and blogger for the Success League, an active board member for the Customer Success Network, and blogging generally about her CS experiences on the CS Playlist. Lauren has her MA and BA from Stanford University. She was a former USA National swim team member and enjoys staying active with running and surfing in the Bay Area.

7 Steps to Planning an Amazing Holiday Contest

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By Kristen Hayer

Team contests are a fun way to drive positive behavior, introduce new processes and keep your group focused on results. The holidays are a naturally distracting time and often, as leaders, we’re busy planning for the next year. This is a perfect time to introduce a contest. Whether your goal is to build new habits or just finish 2018 strong, here are 7 steps you can use to build a contest that drives positive outcomes for your team and customers.

Define Desired Behavior

First, don’t try to accomplish too much with your contest. Contests are great for driving short-term behavior change (like pushing your team to hit a monthly target) or establishing good habits related to a new process. Choose 1-2 goals for your contest that are simple, concrete, and measurable, and make sure you have a way to measure results throughout the contest. Mid-contest milestones (like a weekly winner, or mid-month targets) keep everyone focused on results.

Write Up the Rules

A write-up of the contest rules helps to motivate your team to perform the behavior you’re looking for, and helps to avoid conflicts or negative behaviors. As you’re writing, think less like a lawyer and more like a board game creator – this should be fun! Do consider potential negatives (like your team focusing too much on the contest rather than some of their other important work) and try to create rules that prevent those situations.

Choose the Rewards

Consider what you’re asking the team to do, and make sure the prizes are large enough to keep people interested. That said, this is where you can really get creative, even if you have a small budget. You can opt for actual prizes, gift cards, time off (check with your HR team first!) or team events. If you choose to go the prize route, keep in mind that even small prizes can be meaningful, as long as they are thoughtfully chosen.

Set the Stage

Some of my favorite team contests involved pretty elaborate decorations, and the holidays are a great time to make that happen. This time of year, consider making decorating your space a part of the contest, or make the decorations part of the game (like a game board or leaderboard on the wall). The constant visual reminder of the event will keep your team focused on the results you’re trying to achieve, and can add to the fun.

Update the Leaderboard

Part of the fun of participating in a contest is knowing where you stand at any point in time. Think of it like a race: You want to know how fast you have to run to catch the leader. Publishing results daily or weekly is a great way to keep the contest top of mind for your team. In addition, mid-contest prizes are a great way to reward quick wins as well as acknowledge some of the team members who probably won’t win the grand prize.

Promote the Winners

If you’ve decorated your department and kept a leaderboard going throughout your contest, other departments will be curious about what’s going on. In addition to awarding prizes, promoting your winners to the rest of the organization can be very meaningful for your team. Be sure to share what they did to win, and how that benefits your company. This is great PR for both the individual winners and your customer success team as a whole.

Measure Results

Contest are fun, but they should also produce meaningful results. At the end of each contest take a few minutes to create a short report on what you did, the total cost, any unexpected side-effects, and the results you saw from the team. Keeping these reports will help you dial in future contests, and justify the budget for contests and incentives going forward. Over time, you’ll learn what works and doesn’t work well for your team.

Follow these steps to create a December contest that drives powerful results, keeps your team focused through the holiday season, and creates positive morale. Happy holidays!

The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that works with leaders to drive positive team behavior and incredible results. Check out our leadership programs for more information on how you can build your customer success management skills. TheSuccessLeague.io

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Kristen Hayer - Kristen believes that customer success is the key to driving revenue, client retention and exceptional customer experiences. Her areas of expertise include developing success goals and metrics, designing the optimal customer journey, selecting technology, training teams, and building playbooks. Prior to founding The Success League, Kristen built and led several award-winning customer success teams. Over the past 20 years she has been a success, sales, and marketing executive, primarily working with growth-stage tech companies. Kristen has her BA from Seattle Pacific University and her MBA from the University of Washington.