Tag Archives: Value

The Customer Engagement Model

27 Jan

Proactive customer engagement. It’s a tenet of Customer Success. We all do it to some extent – some of us better than others. The question is “How do you best go about structuring that proactive engagement so that you can scale a team and provide a consistently great customer experience?” The answer is “With a good Customer Engagement Model.”

A good Customer Engagement Model needs to be flexible in two key ways:

  • It needs to accommodate different phases of the customer lifecycle; and
  • It needs to support both scheduled and unscheduled interactions with customers

In a prior article on Time to Value, I pointed out that it’s critical to keep momentum going once the initial sales deal is closed and ensure that you aren’t diverging from your customer’s original path to reaching their objectives. Your Customer Engagement Model should, therefore, start at the time of sale in order to maintain momentum and achieve a first “quick win”.

Good Customer Engagement Models should also help keep you focused on answering the three key questions you need to know about every customer:

  1. How is our customer measuring value?
  2. Are they achieving that value?
  3. Are we providing an experience that will result in loyalty and advocacy?

Irrespective of whether your company provides high personal touch Customer Success or whether your Customer Success model is more self-service, your proactive engagement with customers should be governed by an Engagement Model. A good Engagement Model helps you understand: A) what the engagement “moments” are for customers throughout their lifecycle; B) who in your organization is responsible for interaction with customers at those moments; and C) what the objective or expected outcome is for each of those moments.

I’ve illustrated what that model looks like conceptually in the image below:


The Phases:

The first key point of an engagement model is that it needs to work across two very different phases of the customer lifecycle, the Onboarding Phase and the Ongoing Usage Phase.  The first phase, onboarding, is the much higher intensity, much more critical, and much more interactive of the two. I think of these two phases very much like the takeoff phase and the cruise phase of airplane flight. In the takeoff phase you’re in close proximity to the ground, there’s quite a bit at stake, it’s the phase where more incidents happen, and it generally requires a high degree of pilot focus. During the cruise phase of flight, it’s important that pilots monitor their instruments, ensure they’re on course, and pay attention to external factors. They can’t ignore that they’re flying an airplane during the cruise phase; however the workload, intensity, and immediate consequences are lower than during the take off phase. Pilot’s don’t need to give the airplane nearly as much of their attention during cruise as they do when they’re screaming down the runway, getting it airborne, dealing with heavy air traffic, and monitoring for even the slightest anomaly – which could have dire consequences if left unchecked. During cruise, a pilot can leave the cockpit to use the restroom. During takeoff, on the other hand… not so much.

The Onboarding Phase:

The Onboarding Phase serves two purposes:

  1. It ensures that your customers are getting off on the right foot and are set up for success with your solution; and
  2. It creates a logical opportunity for both you and your customer to think about, articulate, and agree on how you’re going to measure value in the ongoing phase.

In a “high-touch” customer engagement scenario, much of the onboarding phase may be done by a CSM or someone from the customer onboarding or training team. The customer needs to become familiar with your solution during this phase, and you need to ensure that they’re able to be self-sufficient when using it.

A “low-touch” customer engagement scenario will have the same objective, but will achieve it more with automated marketing/email campaigns, automated measurement and exception handling of early adoption indicators, and automated training for the customer.

In both the high and low touch models, it’s critical to measure early indicators of user adoption and determine what course corrections need to be applied. The method for measuring the indicators and for communicating to customers needs to be much more automated in the case of a low touch engagement model.

In addition to ensuring adoption and self-sufficiency, the onboarding phase in a high touch B2B/Enterprise Solution world provides an opportunity for you to validate key assumptions with your customer on how they are going to measure value and how they’re going to quantify the success of their implementation of your solution. If your sales process is value based, you have probably already begun identifying use cases, measurements, and customer ROI expectations. You may very well have also quantified the expected ROI from adoption of your solution. The bad news is that too many companies don’t do any further measurement once the deal is closed.  A good onboarding process not only ensures that a customer is adopting your product but positions you as a partner to help ensure they’re making progress against their stated objective.

Example Engagement Moments during the Onboarding Phase (some of which are included in the sample model above) include:

  • A kickoff meeting to ensure that the customer meets your team (either virtually or face to face, as appropriate)
  • Confirmation that the customer has dowloaded / activated / or logged in
  • Initial Product Training
  • A formal review of the first set of metrics delivered by your solution. These should provide an indication of the customers adoption, usage, and effectiveness (how well they are doing x, not just that they are doing x).
  • A checkpoint with the customer to ensure that they understand how the product works and that they feel self-sufficient

In the spirit of Time to Value, it’s vital during the onboarding phase that the process moves as quickly and efficiently as possible and that customer momentum is maintained in the process. I’d strongly recommend two things to manage momentum:

  1. Once you have defined your Engagement Moments, measure the time that it takes each customer to progress from one to the other. Analyze your metrics and determine whether there are any systemic delays in any of your phases of onboarding and work quickly to get to root cause.  I’ve had teams shave weeks off of implementation/onboarding by measuring individual phases, identifying root cause for the delays, and then fixing the process.
  2. Set escalation triggers if you don’t see adoption events occurring with your customers according to expected timeframes during the onboarding phase.  If your customers haven’t created x accounts in y weeks for example, that should trigger proactive engagement on your part – in addition to the predefined moments in your plan.

The Ongoing Phase

The focus of the Ongoing phase is to ensure that your customer is achieving the objectives identified in the Onboarding phase and that you’re keeping a pulse on their experience.

Engagement Moments in this phase can be categorized into one of two types: 1) Time-based; or 2) Event-based.

Time-based Moments

Time-based moments are ones that you can put on a calendar, such as a Quarterly Business Review, Monthly Metrics Review, Annual Account Review, or even Weekly Meetings for your highest of high-touch customers. Time-based moments are great ways to keep your customers interacting with you for the duration of the lifecycle – as long as you clearly set expectations and provide valuable feedback to them during those engagement points. If you aren’t continuously providing value to your customers during these moments, they’ll lose interest and stop attending regular calls/meetings, so be careful not to over-schedule them, and be sure to provide relevant engaging content in each of these engagements.  Dan Steinman from Gainsight recently wrote an informative blog post characterizing a good Quarterly/Executive business review.

Event-based moments are ones that are triggered by the occurrence of an event (or non-event in some cases), such as a customer logging a high-severity case with your Support Desk; a new product release from your company; a change in leadership or executive sponsorship at your customer; a poor or mediocre survey response; an absence of support cases over a defined period of time; a decrease in overall usage; or a decrease in key usage metrics from a given customer. The purpose of event-based triggers is to help you react quickly and appropriately to events that can influence the health of the customer relationship –  for better or for worse. In either case, the sooner your team reacts to the event that triggered the engagement, the better off you’ll be.

Customer Engagement Models are unique to companies, products, and customer types. An Engagement Model for an enterprise customer with a highly complex solution will look very different than one for a consumer with an off-the-shelf SaaS offering and both will engage different parts of the organization. Logically breaking down that model into two key phases (Onboarding and Ongoing) and defining the Ongoing phase in a way that supports both Time and Event-based moments of engagement with customers should help you optimize for your products and customer types. You will likely end up with more than one engagement model for different customer segments.

Have you employed a Customer Engagement Model and what methods or tools have you used to ensure that the model is consistently applied across your customer base?

Time To Value: A Key Metric

25 Aug

As the old saying goes: “You only have one chance to make a first impression”. If you want to increase the likelihood of success for the deployment and adoption of software, you need to make that first impression while your customer is still excited about their purchase decision. It holds true for enterprise software, B2C software, and everything in between, even though complexity and timeframes differ for each of those categories. In the world of SaaS, the post-sale journey to adoption and value can make or break a company.

So how do you effectively manage your deployments so that you’re: A) maintaining that momentum; and B) providing a quality customer experience that is helping them get a return on their investment in your solution? A great metric to use is Time To Value (TTV). Every solution is going to have it’s own onboarding process which can be as simple as an in-app wizard or as complex as a data integration and product configuration/customization project done by a Professional Services team. In either case, a reasonable target TTV should be measured in days or weeks (rather than months), depending on the complexity of the product and the onboarding process. Even for complex enterprise solutions, you should create a phased deployment where you can measure initial value in 4-6 weeks. Loss of momentum in an implementation can create an incredible amount of pain for enterprise software deployments. Too often, the perceived/expected value in an enterprise software deployment looks like the Gartner Hype Cycle where customers fall into the equivalent of the trough of disillusionment (and frustration) prior to seeing any value from their solution. There was a surprising amount of tolerance for this in the world of perpetual licenses. In the SaaS world, however, …not so much:


It should really be a much smoother and consistent curve of increased value demonstration (with aligned customer expectations) over time.


So how do you minimize time to value (TTV) for your customers, manage their expectations through the deployment cycle, and avoid the equivalent of the “trough of disillusionment”?

Step 1: Identify the unit of measure for value and set a quantifiable objective

Unless you define a “currency” by which you will measure value, you won’t know whether you’re delivering it. In some cases, adoption/usage may be used as a proxy, but to the extent that you can use a metric that your customer will use to measure the financial impact of your solution, start with that unit of measure. Examples for different types of solutions include:

  • increased overall revenue
  • larger basket size (for e-commerce transactions)
  • higher customer lifetime value
  • higher conversion rates
  • quicker time to transaction
  • lower cost per transaction

Even for a single given solution, different customers may measure value in different ways, so it’s important to connect with them to understand their specific objectives that will justify the time, effort, and funding they’re allocating to your solution.  You’re getting their resources because you can solve a problem for them.  Figure out how they’re justifying their investment in your solution and use the same currency to measure value.

Step 2: Identify the phases for delivering that value

Even if your solution can provide an order of magnitude return on investment, don’t try to get there all at once.  Provide quick wins for your customers by phasing your deployment.  Don’t try to deploy to the entire enterprise (or market) at once.  Pick a department or small, logical group, where you can prove adoption and value, then continue to move forward with the additional momentum you’ve created from the internal user base you just identified. Your objective should be to get a customer advocate/thought leader to stand up in under 60 days and say “look at the value we’ve gotten from this solution.  We need to roll this out to a broader group.”  If your strategy is to land and expand, understand that you haven’t really landed until you’ve proven value.

Providing quick wins not only keeps the momentum going, but it also provides a healthy deployment model where you’re interacting with your customer on a frequent basis and continuously validating that you’re proceeding according to plan.  Without frequent checkpoints, customer expectations and deployment realities can diverge quickly.  The most common reason I’ve seen behind runaway or at-risk projects has been this disconnect between expectations and reality due to inadequate interaction and communication.  The longer the time period between conceptual agreement and validation, the higher the likelihood that the end result will not be what the customer expected. Improving Time To Value will increase your chances of success.

Step 3: Execute and Manage(!) according to that plan.

This one might seem obvious, but execution is key.  If deliverables aren’t met, understand why… and quickly.  Break your implementation process into stages and understand which of the stages are creating friction/delays. In many cases, if you’re suffering from slow deployments, it’s primarily because of one or two key aspects of your implementation process, not all of them.  Even in cases where the entire process needs work, by breaking it down into stages and seeing which of the stages are causing the biggest problems, you can quickly understand how to prioritize your activities around improving the deployment process. Customer Success requires constant iteration, listening, and learning from your customers.

In some cases, implementation delays are seemingly due to lack of responsiveness or loss of momentum on the part of your customers. Re-think this problem and see if there’s a way that you can restructure the deployment process so that you’re being more prescriptive for your customers and not requiring them to do things that take so much time and effort.  I recently came across one example with a company that provided configuration options for custom reports in their new social analytics product. As part of their implementation process, they would ask customers to provide them with the top 4 items they wanted to see in their custom reports. Enterprise customers would iterate for weeks trying to get internal consensus on those 4 items, delaying the deployment, and delaying the time to value for customers. The solution: create 4 prescribed reports as defined by the implementation consultant, based on their knowledge of the customer as part of Phase 1 deployment; then allow the customer to modify those reports in Phase 2.

Good social networking and B2C companies really get the importance of Time To Value. They’ve sped up adoption and reduced time to value by implementing sign-up wizards as part of the enrollment process.  By the time a new customer has finished creating a new account on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram, they’ve been prompted to import contacts from their address book or other social networks in order to be positioned to get value immediately. In a previous life I ran deployments for an enterprise social networking technology and as part of our implementation process, we “bootstrapped” user accounts so that every user had profiles built on Day 1 that incorporated expertise from their previous 90 days of activity. Look at your implementation process to determine whether there are any similar opportunities to prescribe/recommend configuration options to your customers or speed system readiness for your customers.

Momentum is incredibly powerful.  By optimizing your deployments for Time To Value, you can maintain, and even increase that momentum to create successful, loyal customer relationships. That, in turn, will lead to a shorter TTR (Time To Reference) …but that’s a whole other metric!

Demonstrating Value and Progress to Your Customers

9 Jul

Creating demonstrable value is the single most important objective of a Customer Success organization.  Renewals, upsells, references all happen when you have a relationship based on value with your customers.  While achieving that objective requires input and contributions from Marketing, Sales, Professional Services, and other parts of the company, the Customer Success function owns the primary responsibility.  Some companies do an incredible job at delivering and proving value to their customer base; however many companies (some would argue most) are working to put a model and plan together to demonstrate value for their customers.

The steps I propose for getting there are, at a high-level, very straightforward:

  1. Identify a Framework and Representative Behaviors for Each Phase
  2. Identify Meaningful Quantitative Metrics
  3. Perform a Benchmark
  4. Create an Improvement Plan
  5. Measure Against Plan, Provide Feedback, and Revise

Getting them right, however, is by no means easy. Each one of them takes thought, analysis of data, and iteration.  The metrics and behaviors you need to identify are going to be unique to your space – and if identified well, will actually be unique to your company, so that you can measure value based on true differentiators that you offer.

So I offer these 5 steps not to make the process look easier than it is, but rather to provide some guidance as you take on your most important task as a company: continuing to earn your customers’ business.

Step 1: Identify a Multi-Phase Framework and Representative Behaviors for Each Phase

Every exercise needs an objective, and ideally a roadmap to get there.  A framework provides your customers with a “bigger picture” view of the landscape and what they should be thinking about in order to be more effective at what they’re doing.  Frameworks also give customers some perspective on where they fall with respect to industry leaders and laggards.

Figure 1: Example of Maturity/Effectiveness Model

Figure 1: Example of Maturity/Effectiveness Model

One framework that works well is a Maturity (or “Effectiveness”) Model.  These models generally consist of 5 (plus or minus 2) categories that represent different levels of maturity/proficiency/effectiveness in your space.  In order to define these categories (or levels of maturity), identify behaviors that are characteristic of each of those levels and associate those behaviors with each level of proficiency/maturity as shown in Figure 1 above.

Customers can look at a framework like this and quickly conceptually grasp the types of behavior/activities necessary in order to advance along the model.  As you develop this framework for your product and space, ideally try to map some of the behaviors that are associated with maturity levels to features of your product, so that you can easily associate customer usage of valuable features with their progress along the Maturity/Effectiveness Model.

Step 2: Identify Quantitative Metrics that Matter and Can Be Measured

In order to objectively measure progress on an ongoing basis, you will need to identify relevant quantitative metrics that drive value, are measurable, and ideally are good indicators of customer health/stickiness.  For example, in the case of a CRM company, you may want to know your customers’ conversion rate of leads or opportunities in order to understand whether you might be able to help them become more effective with your marketing automation solutions.  In the next steps, you’ll compare this data to benchmark data for a given customer and measure improvement.  You can also compare these metrics to aggregates for “like” companies.  As you identify target metrics, you’ll need to distinguish which ones are considered “usage” metrics that you can obtain directly from your SaaS application and which ones will require consent and participation from your customers to obtain.

Step 3: Benchmark Your Customers on Day 1

It’s important to understand the specific stage where each of your customers fit in the model/framework you’ve created, and it’s also important to get some baseline data on quantitative metrics as well.  For larger, higher-touch customers, you should be able to understand this during a consultative sales process; however even with lower touch customers, you should be able to characterize/segment new customers based on system configuration, features purchased/implemented, and initial capture of the quantitative metrics you identified in Step 2 for that customer segment.

Step 4: Create an Improvement Plan

This step is critical and is a combination of art and science as it can be challenging to set targets at the right level.  Your primary objectives should be to:

  • Set targets that are based on incrementally improving from the baseline you measured;
  • Encourage practices and usage of product features that will advance your customers along the Effectiveness Model you defined in Step 1;
  • Create a structure and context for the ongoing digital and interpersonal communications you will have with your customers.

Step 5: Provide Constant, Ongoing Feedback on Progress Against the Plan – And Revise as Necessary

Now that you’ve defined a framework, key metrics, and a plan for improvement against a baseline which you’ve captured, you can engage with your customers in a meaningful way that is focused around helping them get value from your product and become better at what they do.  And you can measure their progress against defined objectives.

As a first step, you may want your CSMs to interpret system data and personalize recommendations to individual, high-value customers.

As you expand this offering to additional customers, you will need to define customer behavioral segments based on the metrics you’re capturing and provide those customer segments with extremely relevant digital content.  For example, if you’ve identified a subset of your customers whose systems data indicate that they haven’t been using a key marketing automation feature of yours and that their conversion data hasn’t improved since their baseline, you can begin a drip marketing campaign to them on best practices in marketing automation and how to use your product to improve those metrics.  That specific message should only go to that identified segment of customers, though, as you don’t want to “spam” your other customers with information that isn’t relevant to them. Your marketing team segments prospects based on behavioral data and delivers relevant content to them.  You should target communications to your customers using similar logic.  Great technology already exists to help you do this.

Helping customers improve and become better at what they do through their partnership with you is one of the greatest ways that you can demonstrate value.  You don’t need to demonstrate it for all customers on Day 1. In fact, the sooner you can deliver it to some customers, the better.  You can begin by implementing this model in a manual way with your most valuable customer segment, then roll it out to your broader customer base by segment – perhaps as you deploy additional Customer Success Automation and Marketing Automation tools. Hmmm… I bet a Customer Success Maturity/Effectiveness Model would fit in perfectly right about now…

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