Thank You, Customer Success, for Uniting Marketing and Finance

“Over the years, I have come to dislike marketers,” a CFO at a $350M company recently told me.  “I have found they just aren’t good business people.”

I couldn’t help but smile and explain to him how his mind was about to change.

During the past several weeks, I've had the opportunity to work with my colleague Sean Geehan and the smart folks at Strikedeck to better understand the nuts and bolts of B2B marketing’s new priority, Customer Success.  Before this time, the Finance snob inside of me assumed “Customer Success” was just another slick label marketing had put on the tried and true function of customer service or the practice of simply following the immortal words of James Cash Penny, “The well-satisfied customer will bring the repeat sale that counts.”

I don’t know who gets credit for the name “Customer Success,” but my cohorts in Finance should scoff no longer.  Despite its glib name, disciplined Customer Success is serious business (over $50 million committed by the US venture community on solution providers), and it can make or break players in the Cloud Subscription XaaS Economy.  According to the Customer Success Association, “Across the SaaS B2B sector, the choice is becoming clear.  You either actively manage your customer relationships as strategic portfolio assets, or you effectively cede control over them and your company’s future to chance and/or the competition.” 

Whoa. Those kind of words place Customer Success at the crux of SaaS company strategy, so much so that the CS Association advises, “The ultimate strategic goal of the Customer Success role is sustainable corporate profitability and growth.  The method is to make your customers as profitable and productive as possible.”  With such an important strategic imperative, Marketing, who has to date been driving most Customer Success initiatives in XaaS companies, is now placed in an even more significant position.  I wonder if these marketers realize their elevated status (most think they are still low men and women on the corporate totem pole), or that to take advantage of it, they get to think again about a group to whom they can't help but feel a gravitational pull: Users.

"The fate of your B2B company rests in the hands of a few people," our team has said for years about the connection between executive decision makers and B2B strategy.  While this is still extremely true, in the SaaS model, users are taking back some of the attention because the adoption and use of their seat licenses have become a significant factor in determining the economic value borne by the purchase of SaaS technologies.  And, more importantly, it has become the onus of sellers and their technology to make sure users adopt and use it.  As such, a subscription based business is probably the closest a B2B organization has been to needing to consider users and their happiness strategically in quite some time. Furthermore, the importance of keeping user cheeks happily in license seats requires Marketing and Customer Success to plan, coordinate, monitor, and possibly even design most of the major functions of service delivery.

As one example, let’s look at one of the primary drivers of adoption and use: training.  In the not-so old days as a user, it was his responsibility to learn and adapt to whatever technology the decision makers several levels above his pay grade chose to purchase and install (I am reminded of a major software conversion required at a major US bank because the CEOs at the two companies golfed together).  To learn the new system, users might get to attend a class or benefit from hands-on training, but many times it came in the form of a set of very large binders through which time had to be found to dig and find answers.  Online training later offered a more efficient Q&A search tool, but again, the content was fairly static (and boring) and nowhere near our modern day definition of “interactive.”  All in all, learning the new system on which a user performed his job was really his responsibility, if he wanted to perform well.  The technology wasn’t going anywhere, or at least until when GAAP said it could.

Today, learning the system is no longer altogether the user’s responsibility.  Users expect the technology either to be intuitive enough so that even a caveman could use it, or to teach them with on-demand “Live Chat” training and quick answers to their questions in forums and chat rooms.  In fact, when I talk to millennials about their jobs, they expect to be taught how and when they want to learn.  If they don’t feel competent quickly enough - or they just don’t like the technology - they just won’t adopt and proceed to influence a move to an alternative.  It’s “There's another app for that” mentality. There is always another app or similar technology that can do the job just as well, but maybe it has better chat rooms with more clever emojis.  When their employers see adoption is low, they can scrap the technology by unsubscribing and moving their data elsewhere.  Gone are the capital expenditures that had to be amortized and force users to use or lose.

The Technology Marketing and Sales research and services company ITMSA recently held its annual Marketing Leadership Forum which included a panel discussion of leaders from Amdocs, Cisco, and Oracle on customer experience and customer success and the role marketing must take in both functions.  In his summary of the session, ITMSA President CEO Dave Munn notes the perspective of Steve Pinedo, vice president, Oracle Global Cloud Customer Success, “the shift to the cloud is driving dramatic changes in customer expectations for technology based solutions, with new demands for immediate and frictionless support and value at every stage of the relationship.  From a marketing perspective, this puts customer success front and center, and makes reducing customer churn the number one KPI.”

Customer Churn.  This is where the finance nerd inside me really takes notice.  As Sean wrote in his recent post "Customer Success: Applying Science to the Art of Customer Engagement," churn (the rate at which customers leave) is the metric which could finally give marketing and customer engagement a measurement by which these efforts have a benchmark, and benchmarks mean funding and more importantly, credibility and stature with The ELT. 

Armed with churn rates, Marketing may now have the words Finance has longed to hear.  Whenever Sean and I speak to a group of CFOs or financial leaders, we remind them of their right to demand ROI on the investments they make in marketing.  Unfortunately, their marketing peers have struggled to find an irrefutable number by which they can say, “Our programs elevated our position to Leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant,” or even, “Our efforts contributed to raising our market cap.”  The churn rate statistic erases this previous shortcoming as the metric becomes more heavily weighted in technology evaluations and company valuations.  Marketing leaders can now say, “Our Customer Success Program, with its new onboarding engagement plan, has lowered our churn rate and brought us a new round of venture funding.”  With this type of measurable contribution to the organization’s growth, how can a CEO or CFO not take notice?

Marketing has an excuse no longer to shy away from numbers and figures, and they should embrace this opportunity to take ownership of measuring, monitoring, reporting, and hopefully bragging about their contribution to low churn. This might be an overstatement, or even blasphemy, but marketing finally has a reason to embrace at least one statistic.  And they get to talk about user decision making behavior again.  Win-Win!

I end here by sharing a graphic I found on the Customer Success Association website because I think it effectively ties together the relationship between Customer Success, retention, and profitable growth.  It's a picture to rally around and unify all the corporate languages.

 

 

 

 

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DCR Workforce: Texbook Orchestration of B2B Growth Strategy

Holy Beethoven!  I read dozens of articles about innovation and strategy each week, but none of them reflect the simple foundational melody of B2B growth: engage your customer decision makers and provide a mechanism for them to collaborate meaningfully with your team. 

So imagine the music to my ears as I read "DCR's Customer Advisory Board: Orchestrating Innovation," a publication DCR Workforce (DCR) released along with its recent announcement outlining the collaboration between DCR customers and the company's product managers, solutions group, and internal implementation team.

In its press release, DCR, a provider of Vendor Management System (VMS) solutions, describes "the successful collaboration of its Global Implementation Summit in conjunction with its Customer Advisory Board Innovation Summit to produce the next generation of industry innovations."  Sequenced throughout the year, DCR meets with decision makers and ties their input directly to nearly all aspects of the company's product development and management processes. "DCR Workforce works closely with VIP clients in identifying industry trends and assisting in developing the overall strategic vision for our product."  The company describes getting feedback on both the current and new, including product roadmaps on recent releases, procedures for new customer onboarding, roll-outs of new features, specifications for more established, advanced users, and new innovative ideas the DCR team is "composing."  According to Rich Piva, Director of Implementation and Client Services, "We're orchestrating innovation together with our valued customers.  And this synergy continues to grow and make Smart Track the best VMS in the industry." 

Most importantly, DCR leadership understands its role in the B2B executive engagement process. "Our most important job during these Summits is to ask the big questions, then sit back and listen," says Naveen Dua, CEO and Vice President of Solutions. "We want our customers to know that we are true partners with them and take their needs very seriously."  It may sound elementary, but unlike Mr. Dua, a surprising number of very smart and successful executives continue to struggle with surrendering the PowerPoint.  I don't suspect this reluctance is necessarily a habit inherent to a generation, but rather a habit inherent to a career path which has been paved with having all of the answers.  Wisdom tells us, however, that oftentimes the roadmap which leads to one point of your journey won't necessarily be the same guide to your next. Let go of the clicker, and see your growth soar.

Bravo, DCR!  I look forward to reading your results over the next eight quarters and hearing the sweet music of B2B Sustainable, Predictable, Profitable, Growth.

 

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Learning to Drive B2B Profitable Growth at Ariba Live

Business strategy books fill bookstore shelves, but none draw attention to the unique ways in which B2B organizations need to strategize and run differently than B2C companies in order to achieve true sustainable, predictable, and profitable growth.

Please join me at Ariba Live In my feature break out session, where I will identify those unique differences and demonstrating how B2B companies need to apply B2B strategies with proven approaches. Everyone attending this session will receive a signed copy of The B2B Executive Playbook.

Don't miss this amazing event where you’ll learn to optimize the connectivity and analytics made possible by business networks and the Cloud, gaining essential insights that empower you to transform business commerce. This event includes informative breakout sessions, dynamic keynotes, and engaging networking opportunities, where you'll learn how to buy better, sell more, and manage cash more efficiently.

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Turning Advisory Council Insights into Actions

We all have our to-do lists.  They include things like register the kids for summer camp, call the bank about the extra service fee that showed up on last month’s bank statement, call insurance company to find out why they didn’t pay for my last trip to the doctor, etc.  We all have a way in which we prioritize that to-do list whether it is by due date, money related items or by some other means.  The companies I work with are faced with similar, albeit more daunting, to-do lists that result from each Advisory Council meeting.   How do they prioritize their to-do list?

Turning the insights and feedback gained from your Advisory Council members into action isn’t an easy task.  We have successfully implemented a process that is more engaging and interactive with our clients through a Market Alignment Planning (MAP) workshop.  As outlined in Sean Geehan’s book, The B2B Executive Playbook, MAP pulls together the inputs from the Advisory Council that will then feed directly into the strategic planning process.  A MAP workshop can turn that to-do list into a manageable list of prioritized actions that reflects the collective voice of your Advisory Council members.

And, since these are your top customers, integrating that input into your strategic planning process, will better align your organization to the needs of the market.

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3 Tips for an Impactful Customer Advisory Board

I recently attended a breakfast briefing, Street Smart Secrets for Change Management, where Jeff Cole, co-author of Driving Operational Excellence, shared nine tips for changing behavior throughout an organization. I found it intriguing. In less than 90-minutes, Jeff managed to get me thinking differently about how customer advisory boards impact an organization.

I’ve seen first-hand how customer advisory boards provide strategic insight, focus marketing direction, and promote leadership team alignment.  My clients have leveraged their customer advisory boards to acclerate sales, improve customer retention, and advance product innovation. Customer Advisory Boards are proven to drive sustainable, predictable and profitable growth (SPPG), as outlined in Sean Geehan’s book, The B2B Executive Playbook. So I know how customer advisory boards can truly impact an organization. I did not consciously realize, however, that an organization’s inherent resistance to change can make transformational impact extremely difficult, or kill it altogether.Resistance

Launching a Customer Advisory Board often implies that change needs to happen in your organization.  After all, that’s why you are investing in it!  Savvy leaders see the need for change (a new direction, increased sales, improved relationships, etc.) and realize customers can provide the guidance to make it happen.  In fact, organizations that utilize advisory boards to their fullest potential have made them synonymous with continuous improvement and drivers of transformation.  But, you have got to get everyone on the same page.

To achieve truly impactful results, consider the following when developing your customer advisory board.

  • Stakeholders inherently resist change, so communicate progress, both big and small, early and often.
  • Culture impacts an organization’s ability to change, so build a tolerance for ongoing change into your corporate strategy. 
  • Change doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes time and requires a certain set of skills, so designate a change agent/architect to manage the process.    

As you can see, I had a few “Aha” moments during Jeff’s presentation. So much so, in fact, that I immediately ran out and bought his book.  I recommend it to all who aspire to be the agent of change and transformation in their organization.

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8 Building Blocks of World Class Customer Advisory Boards

Are you responsible for your organization's Customer Advisory Board (CAB) program? If so, you don't want to miss Sean Geehan's session at the Customer Advisory Board.org conference on Thursday, June 7, in San Francisco, CA: 8 Building Blocks of World Class Customer Advisory Boards.

Many companies have tried to launch successful Customer Advisory Board programs but have struggled to realize the potential and value of a World Class Advisory Board.  Sean and his team at the Geehan Group have developed and perfected bullet-proof methodologies to assist project managers and their executive stakeholders in executing World Class Advisory Board programs across multiple industries.

Sean's presentation will cover the key elements for success, from executive involvement, to strategic alignment, to recruiting the right customers, as well as best practices for designing an engaging agenda and providing a great meeting experience, to the right follow-up and communication techniques post-meeting. 

“We never could have imagined the results Geehan helped deliver from day one, which have exponentially increased since.”
Anubhav Saxena, VP & Global Head, Business Marketing, HCL

Sean Geehan is CEO and Founder of Geehan Group, the leader in guiding B2B executives to building sustainable, predictable and profitable growth.  He is also the author of the national best-seller, The B2B Executive Playbook.

 

 

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Planning Ahead and Being Prepared for Growth in 2012 - Starts Here!

Back in September, Gartner came out with their rather controversial CIO Advisory:  Four Recession and Growth Strategies That Make Sense for 2012.  Though forecasts for growth in 2012 are modest, Gartner recommended that clients plan ahead and “avoid consuming time preparing for growth should growth opportunities suddenly arise” and that “however long a distressed economic climate may last, growth will remain a top priority of CEOs and boards of directors.”

Many organizations may prefer to wait and see what the economy does, but that would be a big mistake. I agree with Gartner that organizations must be prepared to take action when the opportunity arises.

Plan ahead. Get started by attending Geehan Group’s upcoming B2B Executive Summit:Summit logo Navigating Growth & Transformation. Designed exclusively for VP & higher executives, the B2B Summit provides an intimate setting (attendance is limited to 50 attendees) for learning from a prestigious roster of speakers, including Paul Gottsegen, CMO at Infosys, Joe Austin, SVP Customer Experience at Juniper, and Brent Ahrens, General Partner at Canaan, as well as author Jim Hauden.

  • Learn how Bill Fathers, President of Savvis, helped shape the company’s international presence, increased its market share, and developed leading-edge products for the financial services, media and telecom industries.
  • Discover how John Schwarz, former CEO at Business Objects, doubled the company’s revenue to more than $1.5 billion, improved profitability, and oversaw seven strategic acquisitions.
  • Hear how Joe Morgan, CEO at Standard Register, is transforming his organization from a document printing company into a provider of communications technology.
So get started. Plan ahead by attending Geehan Group’s B2B Executive Summit and begin preparing for growth in 2012. You’ll be glad you did!  

Click here to learn more and to receive your personal invitation.


“Rarely do you find an approachable business environment that invigorates your social senses with intriguing conversations, collaborative exchange of inventive ideas, fascinating speakers with applicable war stories, and the urge to network well beyond the two days that the Geehan Group brought us all together. What I gained out of this B2B gathering of like minds expanded my strategic thinking, opened new opportunities about how marketing can make an impact, plus enlightened me on similar management challenges with realistic solutions and results.”

Greg Jorgenson, SVP Marketing, VeriSign



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2012 Planning - A Golden Opportunity

Have you ever experienced a “moment of fame” when everything you need for your business to succeed comes together perfectly?   It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s “golden!” 
What if you were able to take those “moments of fame” and make them a consistent practice within your organization?  Customer Engagement Programs provide the opportunity to do just that.

Recently, my client experienced one of those moments.  After conducting an Advisory Council meeting with the decision makers of his most strategic customers, he gained invaluable insight into the market, learning what his customers need, and what they are looking for from his organization.

As a member of the executive team, he walked into a strategic planning meeting with the CEO and his peers, armed with information no one else had—even better, it was validated by his most strategic customers:

  • Sunset a core product in mid-term development – a savings of $8 dollars in future development, marketing, sales, and service, not to mention resources that can be devoted to high impact products.
  • Eliminate a new solution from the product roadmap – a total savings of $3 dollars, six months in development and valuable resources.
  • Get positioned to make an acquisition – of an innovative services company.

Gaining insight from your top customers provides a tremendous amount of confidence to participate in your organization’s planning process.  Sharing this information among the leadership team was a “moment of fame” for my client.  His CEO responded, “I’m so impressed by your knowledge this early in our planning process.  You are months ahead of your peers.”

When it comes to internal planning make no mistake—you are competing with your peers for resources and dollars to make the best decisions for the organization.  As you prepare for 2012, part of your plan should include gaining market insight at a decision maker level with your most strategic customers. 

In Sean Geehan’s book, The B2B Executive Playbook, he explains in detail how the market can provide insight, and help validate the following four areas (see diagram below):

  • vennYour “Exploit Solutions” – those areas that align to your business model and for which you have a core competency – in other words, what you do well.
  • Where you should “Evolve” – the market is telling you they want something that is in your core competency, but it is not part of your business model today. 
  • What you should “Acquire” – the market is telling you they want something that would fit into your business model, but you don’t have a core competency for it.  This is an opportunity to gain additional insight for potential companies to acquire.
  • Areas to “Evaluate” – this is something that is part of your business model and it is a core competency, but the market is not willing or interested in buying it.  This is an area you should look to eliminate or sunset the solution or product.

Validate Your Plan with Your Most Important Customers

My client learned that the best way to capture the areas outlined above was through his Advisory Council.  The value of a well-managed Advisory Council is that they can help you capture strategy, marketing, sales, service, product, and merger/acquisition information all at the same time.   

At their inaugural Council meeting, members were presented three specific initiatives for feedback.  The first was a legacy product they had for years—a “me too” in the market. The second was a new product they were getting pressure from sales to develop.  And finally, the third was to look at potential acquisition targets that would fit their business model, but for which they did not currently have a core competency.

The result of the feedback is what my client shared with his leadership team outlined in the beginning of this article.  And it saved his company over $10 million … all from listening to his customers.

Make 2012 a great year by seizing your Golden Opportunity.  Engage the decision makers of your most strategic customers to gain valuable market insight to help drive your strategic planning.

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HCL's Formula for Success

In October of this year the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) held their 18th Annual Marketing Conference and Marketing Excellence Awards Ceremony. Our CEO, Sean Geehan, spoke at that conference on "How Winning B2B Companies Achieve Profitable Growth."  It was exciting to be part of that conference for two reasons:
  1. The opportunity for Sean to present the principles of his new book, The B2B Executive Playbook
  2. The chance to witness one of our customers receive the ITSMA Diamond Award for Marketing Excellence in the category of Building Client Loyalty and Trust.
That customer is HCL Technologies. Evaluated by a panel of renowned industryGowri Shankar Vembu, Head of Global CACs @ HCL, receiving the ITSMA Diamond Award for Building Client Loyalty & Trust experts, organizations were judged upon innovation, execution, and business results - three critical aspects to marketing success.

HCL won the award based on its Customer Advisory Council (CAC) programs. HCL's global, collaborative initiatives involve over 80 of its Fortune 500 C-level customers and thought leaders who convene on a regular basis to advise HCL on industry trends, changing business priorities, and HCL's strategic direction. HCL applies the advice received from Council members into actionable plans that transform business and technology needs, creating more value for their customers. With their customers' help, HCL has achieved 25% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) over the last five years, going from revenues of $1.4B to $3.5B. The CAC also serves as an exceptional platform for HCL's customers and their industry peers to exchange ideas and best practices, and to network.

Awards such as this exemplify the value of spending time with your customers to build solid relationships, gaining a better understanding of their business, and becoming a trusted advisor over time. Customer engagement programs like HCL's Advisory Councils are key drivers for account retention, customer loyalty and revenue growth.

A fundamental reason for the success of HCL's Council program is the internal team leading the initiatives. Executive Sponsor Shami Khorana, President, HCL America, leads the team, stays closely involved, communicates to members, and attends all CAC meetings. Samir Bagga, VP and Head of Marketing, and Gowri Shankar Vembu, Associate General Manager and Head of Global CACs, are equally committed to keeping the Councils at a high-quality and strategic level. They work hard to ensure meeting agendas are robust with relevant, engaging topics, while at the same time giving members the opportunity to serve as "advisors" to HCL.

We at Geehan Group are honored to work with a company the caliber of HCL, and look forward to our continued partnership to help them run world-class customer engagement programs and continue to lead their industry with a market driven strategy, bringing company-wide internal team alignment. Congratulations to Shami, Samir, Gowri and all of the HCL team on this much-deserved award!
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Driving Market Awareness

A common challenge executive's face is building awareness in the market about their organization or a new solution to drive sales. In the B2B world, one way to drive market awareness is through Executive Summits.   Executive Summits traditionally consist of a compelling keynote speaker that focuses on an important topic, one or more case studies from strategic customer(s) and a few sessions that stimulate thought and conversation. This creates an environment where the participants are talking 80% of the time. 


Typically, marketing events focus on the end user or even the influencer but the real opportunity is focusing on the decision maker.  In order to attract decision makers to your executive summit you need to create the right environment to entice them to attend, especially if you don't have name recognition.  Securing compelling keynote speaker, focused on a relevant topic, will make all the difference in attracting attendees because the use of a strong keynote will position your organization as a thought leader. 


Another option when planning an executive summit is to leverage an influential industry group (i.e., magazine or industry group).  This will help you to broaden your reach of decision makers in a more efficient manner (working smarter vs. harder).  Once you have speakers identified you need to think about the number of attendees you want at the event; more is not better in an executive summit.  Executives like a more intimate setting where they can have access to the keynote speaker, network, and really participate in the event.  Creating an intimate environment with no more than 50 people will allow you to do that. 


We recently executed an executive summit for one of our healthcare customers that did not have name recognition with their decision makers.  Their primary contacts within the hospital were with material management and procurement.  They knew they needed to get to decision makers in order to change the perception of their company and their brand.   They wanted to focus on patient safety and invite Chief Nursing Officers and Chief Medical Officers.  


This is where focusing on an influential group such as a trade publication gave them leverage.  They partnered with an influential magazine within the healthcare market and spoke to their editor about what they were trying to accomplish.  The editor was so impressed when she learned about the keynote speaker and the intimate environment to learn and share (80% participants talking), that she was energized to help them recruit key industry leaders to be on a panel discussion based on her own relationship with these individuals.  This gave our customer the start of the ground swell they needed. 


Our customer decided to leverage two panels which now gave them access to eight creditable executives.  Once they locked down the keynote speaker, leveraged the editor of the magazine, and recruited the panelist, the panelist were able to invite two peers in similar positions. They were now on the path to success.


An additional element that added to the success of the event was the use of social media tools such as LinkedIn and Facebook.  This enabled the head of the business unit to personally invite people as well as post and share updates to the event. 


The event was a huge success.  Our customer's goal for this event was to build awareness, executive relationships, and form a clinical advisory council.   They achieved the following:


·         50 healthcare executives in the room that saw our customer's organization as a thought leader


·         Attendees rated the Summit as the best event experience ever


·         100% of the attendees want to be involved in future events


·         Created solid candidates for their Healthcare Advisory Council


An additional benefit for our customer was that their internal leaders who attended the event also got to see first hand that they can be relevant with executives, which helped give them the overall confidence they needed to make some key decisions about where they wanted to go in the market.  


If you are serious about driving market awareness and growth at an executive level conducting an Executive Summit is the way to go.   Our experience continues to show that when Executive Summits are done in conjunction with an Executive Advisory Council, the results of increased brand awareness, revenue, and executive relationships accelerate even faster.

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