Accelerating growth and success through strategic engagement is critical to delivering value to your own business as well as your customers.
In author Vincent Manlapaz’s recent blog, he talked with Centric Leadership Strategies Chief Customer Officer and Senior Consultant, David Ellin, about Strategic engagement, Healthy customer relationships, Commercial responsibilities, and relationship focus.
In this short, 8-minute podcast, Centric Leadership Strategies Chief Customer Officer and Senior Consultant, David Ellin, talks about User Adoption with Henrik De Gyor on the User Adoption Podcast.
During the podcast, you’ll hear about the importance of creating a closed-loop feedback process coupled with Voice of the Customer surveys to expose barriers to adoption. Closing the loop on customer feedback creates engagement, trust, and respect. It lets your customers know you’re listening, you heard them, and you acted.
Training your customers on your products can either drive or hinder user adoption. When done right, training is critical and opens the product for deep and meaningful use. When done poorly, training can create roadblocks to adoption by confusing customers. David’s recommendation – go through your own training as if you are a customer of your own company. You’ll likely find gaps that create confusion and hinder adoption. Correcting those gaps will result in better adoption and accelerated time-to-value.
Centric Leadership Strategies Chief Customer Officer and Senior Consultant, David Ellin, answers crowd-sourced questions about customer engagement strategy in this 30-minute Q&A session with Beau Billington, Founder and CEO of The Free Agent.
During the session, hear answers to these questions:
I’m a small company without a customer engagement strategy. What can I do to kickstart my efforts and increase our ability to begin engaging with our customers?
We have a customer engagement strategy of sorts. how can I tell if we’re deficient and have room for improvement?
What are some good general considerations when thinking about customer engagement?
How’s the customer journey map used in the development of a customer engagement strategy?
We’re pretty good about taking action on the feedback collected through our Voice of the Customer program but don’t close the loop with customers. Is it important to take that step? And if so, how should we do it?
My company is very good at engaging with users. Our retention is suffering and we need to start engaging with executives at our enterprise customers. How would you recommend we go about that? is it simply having a follow-up meeting with them after company-wide discussion? What does that look like?
So, I’ve been having some conversations with an SMB with a rapidly growing SaaS product. The company is looking to build a win-loss analysis program. What considerations should be accounted for when designing and executing this excellence program?
During this Customer Success Leadership Roundtable hosted by SuccessHACKER Co-Founder & COO, Andrew Marks, David Ellin, Chief Customer Officer & Senior Consultant at Centric Leadership Strategies joins panelists Melinda Gonzalez, Vice President of Customer Success for Pendo.io, and Steve Bernstein, Principal at Waypoint Group, to discuss strategy and execution of Voice of the Customer programs, and answer questions from the global customer success community.
The Value of the Customer Advisory Board to Your Product Organization
During this interview with SuccessHACKER Co-Founder & COO, Andrew Marks, David Ellin, Chief Customer Officer & Senior Consultant at Centric Leadership Strategies discusses how Customer Advisory Boards can play an important role in driving product innovation, development, and delivery.
Critical Interfaces: Sales, Marketing, and Customer Success
Feb. 25, 2021 by David Ellin, Chief Customer Officer and Senior Consultant, Centric Leadership Strategies
How can Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success teams collaborate to benefit your company and your customers? Here are 5 key interfaces necessary to drive great customer success.
1 Create an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)
Interfaces: Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success
Customers must receive value from the products and services they buy or they’ll go elsewhere. The Ideal Customer Profile describes the profile of customers who can likely receive the most value from your products. It is used to align Sales & Marketing so they can identify and attract customers who best fit your products. I also recommend including the Product team. They will have great input about the types of companies for whom the product was developed. When using an ICP, you’ll likely minimize product customization, reduce support costs, and drive higher retention.
2 Targeting and Selling
Interfaces: Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success
Once the ICP is developed, your Marketing team can target the right markets and Sales can optimize their time by selling to the right companies. During sales review meetings, Customer Success should participate as a sounding board for the prospect’s “fit” to your products.
This collaboration is crucial because your Customer Success team has to live with the customer after the sale. If your Sales team is selling customers who are not a good fit, Customer Success will struggle to keep the customer happy likely resulting in churn.
Interfaces: Sales and Customer Success
Onboarding is the first post-sales experience your customers will have. The Onboarding experience often sets the tone for the relationship and has the ability to drive engagement, early adoption, time-to-first-value, and a strong relationship.
Prior to the start of the Onboarding process, it’s vital that Sales and Customer Success collaborate for a smooth, issue-free handoff. Your Sales team must share accurate information as to why the customer purchased your product – what problem(s) they’re trying to solve, the customer’s desired outcomes, and the player landscape (who’s who in the customer’s organization). When Onboarding doesn’t go well, it’s often due to a poor handoff which creates gaps in the customer experience.
4 Account-based Marketing
Interfaces: Customer Success and Marketing
Account-based marketing is a great way to drive product adoption. By designing and feeding informative content to your customers based on their maturity stage and the products they’ve purchased, you have the ability to highlight features and functionality, and the value they can deliver to your customers.
Additionally, account-based marketing enables your marketing team to deliver timely and relevant content to your customers based on the products they’ve purchased, their maturity with your company, and their additional needs. Your CSMs should work with your Marketing team to identify potential growth opportunities so Marketing can design and deliver the right content to the right customers at the right time.
5 Revenue Expansion
Interfaces: Customer Success and Sales
Most Customer Success teams are responsible for identifying revenue expansion opportunities. In some cases, CSMs have commercial responsibility for negotiating and closing up-sells. In other companies, CSMs feed expansion opportunities to the Sales team. The debate about whether CSMs should have commercial responsibilities is a topic for another conversation. For now, we’ll simply focus on the collaboration necessary between Sales and Customer Success.
There are two important aspects to collaboration around revenue expansion. First, when your CSM refers growth opportunities to Sales, it’s extremely important for the Sales team to understand the current state of your customer’s business, their perception of your company (NPS, CSAT), history with the product (products used, adoption, support tickets, prior expansion), and new problems your customer is trying to solve. Without that information, the effort will appear like a shallow attempt to sell instead of a value-driven way to solve the customer’s problem.
Second, when your CSM handles the expansion opportunity, it’s still valuable to share the expansion opportunity with the Sales team by explaining your customer’s situation and their new problem. The Sales team can use the information to identify companies similar to your customer, see if they’re facing the same problem, and build the product or feature into the initial sale. It also keeps the Sales team up to speed on changing issues in the market.
Building solid interfaces between Sales, Marketing, and Customer Success will position your company to increase retention and lifetime customer value. More specifically, you’ll tear down silos, drive higher customer satisfaction, and deliver more value to your customers resulting in greater retention and revenue growth.
Have questions or want more information. I can help. Feel free to reach out by clicking here.
Feb. 18, 2021 by David Ellin, Chief Customer Officer and Senior Consultant, Centric Leadership Strategies
You haven’t had time to prepare. You’re frantically pulling data, throwing together an agenda, and don’t even know who should attend.
Business Reviews (whether Quarterly or Executive) should be well-planned events with critical components for every meeting. Follow this plan and you’ll see immediate positive results.
Follow these steps
Schedule the date far enough in advance to ensure attendance from key stakeholders.
Collaborate on the best date, time, and meeting duration. If there’s travel involved, allow ample time for short delays.
Develop an agenda that serves your needs and those of your customer.
It’s all too common for CSMs to create an agenda in a vacuum that only addresses their talking points. Business Reviews are not for you…they’re for your customer. Collaborate on the agenda so your customer’s needs are addressed during the meeting. Remember, if your customer doesn’t see value in attending a Business Review, attendance will suffer as will the relationship.
Address these critical topics.
Revisit customer goals. If you’re preparing annual Strategic Account Plans, those plans likely include your customer’s goals and objectives. Bring them up in every Business Review. Let your customer know what you’re doing to help them achieve their goals. Ask if there have been changes to their goals, if there are any new obstacles they’re facing, or if their priorities changed. If so, it’s likely you’ll need to shift your future actions.
Customer Feedback. Don’t brush it under the rug – put it front-and-center. Let your customer know that you appreciate their feedback (via surveys, interviews, focus groups, etc.) and take action based on their comments. If you’re surveying many contacts within the customer’s business, display the aggregated results, talk about what’s good and what can be improved. Give examples of actions you’ve taken as a direct result of customer feedback.
Product Roadmap. Take the opportunity to keep your customer informed of product enhancements. Give your customer a chance to weigh in on features that would bring value and items under consideration but not yet developed. You’ll gain valuable insights into what your customers want from your product.
Ask probing questions, clarify, and collaborate.
Probing questions create thought, engagement, and learning opportunities.
“Can you tell me more about that?”
“How do you feel this will impact your business?”
“What obstacles are you facing in accomplishing that goal?”
Clarifying what you heard shows interest, sincerity, and caring…”What I heard you say is…”
Collaboration brings new ideas to the forefront and shows partnership…”What do you think about…?”
Thank your customer for attending and actively participating. Your customers are busy and they’re being pulled in many directions. Give a sincere ‘thank you’ for their attendance. Tell them how much you appreciate their time, input, and collaboration. At the end of the day, they may not remember what was discussed but they’ll certainly remember how you made them feel.
Follow up with a summary and transactional survey. Send an email to thank the customer and summarize key points and action items. This reminds your customer of progress made and actions to be taken. Send a transactional survey. Transactional surveys are just one element of a Voice of the Customer program. The survey should thank them for attending and measure their satisfaction with meeting content, the value received, and the time invested. It should also ask for suggestions for improvement. Short…sweet…and highly valuable.
Avoid these common mistakes
Don’t regurgitate data everyone already knows and can read on their own. Turn data into management information. Use data to develop and present insights, discuss trends, and create actions. “This chart illustrates the trend in…”; “What this tells us is…”; “If we do X, Y, and Z, we can positively change the trend…”.
Don’t present…discuss. When you present, your customer sits back and likely drifts off to other topics. Keep your customer engaged in the meeting – maintain interest, drive interaction, and generate ideas that lead to action.
Come prepared. Don’t just memorize the information to be discussed. Know what you’re talking about, understand the underlying issues, data, and causes. Know the contributing factors for successes and delays. Anticipate and be prepared to answer questions.
Trade information for value. It’s easy to have a long list of topics to discuss during a Business Review. if there’s no value to be gained for your customer, the topic is simply a waste of time. Every topic discussed should add value. If it doesn’t, leave it out.
Don’t sell. Business Reviews are about sharing insights and information, looking forward, being strategic, and making adjustments. They’re not about selling…not in an overt manner.
Don’t overstay your welcome. You worked hard on preparation and you’ve got key stakeholders at the meeting. It’s easy to want to take advantage and keep going for hours. Don’t do it! Keep to an agreed-upon schedule and end on time. If you don’t, you’ll lose your audience and they’ll remember it. Future meeting attendance will suffer.
Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs) and Executive Business Reviews (EBRs) are not the same. While being strategic, QBRs can contain some “in the weeds” conversations about critical projects and initiatives. EBRs should be highly strategic and avoid “deep dives” unless you’ve verified the need for that level of information in advance. EBRs should be shorter than QBRs as higher-level executives have less time to invest.
Remember to gear your topics to your audience, include your customer in the planning process, deliver value, and show appreciation. Follow these steps and you’ll be on a great path toward successful Business Reviews.
Have questions or want more information? I can help. Feel free to reach out by clicking here.
Do you know what your customers want? How about what they need?
A man walks into a store and says his pants are falling down and he needs something to hold them up.
The sales associate looks at the man, takes note of his worn jeans, t-shirt, jacket, and the absence of a belt. After quickly sizing up the man’s style, the associate brings him over to the casual section and shows him the thick brown belts. “I believe this is what you’re looking for”, says the sales associate.
The man tells the associate that he doesn’t think a thick brown belt will work for him so the associate shows him the thick black belts. He says, “No, that’s not right either.”
The associate shows the man thinner casual belts and explains that these are more stylish than the thicker belts. Once again, the man shakes his head and now starts to get frustrated.
Finally, the man decides to leave the store. On his way out, he walks past the dress clothes, picks up some suspenders. He stops and says, “Wow, that’s exactly what I need.”
With a puzzled look, the sales associate says, “Sir, if I may be so bold, those suspenders don’t go with your outfit.” The man replies, “Oh, these pants aren’t falling down, I need something for my dress pants. You see, I wear dressy clothes for work every day and after losing 25 pounds, none of my dress pants stay up.”
The sales associate follows with, “Why didn’t you tell me that when you came in?” The man answered, “Why didn’t you ask?” He closed with, “By the way, I never wear belts.”
All too often, companies expend tremendous effort trying to please customers without ever asking what they need or want. Not only did the associate misread the need – the problem the man was trying to solve (holding up his dress pants), the associate never took the time to understand what he wanted (suspenders).
At Centric Leadership Strategies, we help companies clearly identify customer needs and wants, and then develop strategies for delivering great outcomes. When done correctly, you align your efforts with solving customer problems which drive retention and revenue growth.
If you’d like to learn more about identifying your customer’s needs and wants, click here and we’ll schedule a call.
In this interview with author Vincent Manlapaz, David and Vincent discuss how strategic customer engagement accelerates growth and success for a company’s customers.
In this interview, David Ellin, Managing Director and Chief Customer Officer at Centric Leadership Strategies LLC, talks about how to create meaningful business strategies and effective execution of it (including customer engagement, revenue growth, advocacy, and retention).
Background and Career
I have been a customer-facing person throughout my career. I started in sales and became the Chief Operating Officer of a public company. In this role, I met customers, learned about their businesses, understood their challenges and obstacles.
I led several Customer Success teams in various organizations. Most recently, I was the Head of CS for a (large) B2B unit of eBay (now Radial).
What led me to CS was my passion for seeing customers succeed. You have to be a good listener, asking probing questions and be genuinely interested in their growth and success. Only then can you be successful in understanding the challenges, obstacles, and establishing healthy relationships.
As a customer before, I always wanted my vendor to make me feel that way. We can give back more to the business world by making our customers remarkably successful.
One of the biggest business challenges today is having a strategic relationship (or engagement) with its customers for the future success of their business. Customers want to talk about what is going on in their business right now, the challenges they face, but they rarely talk about the future.
CS organizations have to deal with this. Businesses need to create a bulletproof [success plan] for the success of their customers. Few of them include the following:
Understand the success customers want to achieve now and what they want to be in the future.
Create a road map for customers to get there. Define clear deadlines and milestones in your success plan. Map out the customer success journey and keep an eye on their experiences.
Improve and ensure that all CS activities are well-aligned with customer success from onboarding, implementation, adoption, segmentation, QBRs, EBRs
Drive immediate action and foresight on how relationships should develop over time. It means when to have a strategic conversation with customers.
Construct activities that support the organization’s strategy. These include understanding which markets and segments will be critical in the future. How will they support the unmet or unserved customer needs, trends that will affect how they do business, and how these changes impact or apply to their business?
Without this engagement and future-focused activities, organizations cannot stay strategically focused on their customer success; instead, they will be sucked (or absorbed) tactically wondering if they are in the right place or time or the strategy executes well or not.
For CS organizations to be healthy, they need to be in a good position within the company to share customer insights: what customers are going through, their needs and challenges. What they like and dislike. They understand how they should use this feedback to align with their roles, impact, larger business goals, and how they can deliver better value to their customers.
If you look at it more deeply, there is a strong correlation between how customers view their relationship with us and what value (they expect) we can deliver effectively. Whatever success customers achieve by partnering with us will be the basis of their loyalty and business sustainability.
Consequently, if we do not deliver (or fail to deliver) that value and customers do not see their ROI, they will not buy it. Worst of all, customers will see this as a consequential warning: leading to the early cancellation of an account or bad review.
A healthy relationship allows customers to participate and effectively present, collaborate, and share their sides on how to improve the process, product, or service.
A healthy relationship is not just about being tactical but strategic. The latter means that we must consider how we can support not only the customer goals but also the overarching purpose of the organization.
It includes taking or owning some commercial responsibilities. There are three areas of revenue responsibilities. Those are renewal, upsell, and cross-sell.
(1) Renewals. CSMs should own it. They are in the best position to drive renewals. Why? Because they know their customers best, they have built or formed a trusted advisor relationship. The challenge here is that most organizations view renewals as an event.
They should consider this as an ongoing business process, not just a 60 or 90 days business cycle. They should view it as a daily sequence by ensuring that customers use the product successfully, are satisfied, and see tremendous value in the product or service.
Consider the field of sports. Most players perform best when their contract is about to expire (or up for renewal). It is for a simple reason: they are trying to do their best so that they can renew their contract and make more money. Companies do the same thing. They put their best effort forward when renewal is around the corner.
(2) Cross-sell. Sales should own it. For example, your business has three different modules or services offered. Let us call it platforms 1, 2, or 3. Currently, your customer is using platform 1, but not 2 and 3. CSMs have to identify opportunities for why customers are not using platforms 2 and 3. Once the reason is determined and learned, they should engage the salesperson and do it together.
(3) Upsell. CSMs should own it. Let us say customers use platform A with 20 features and platform B with the same features. CSMs should know why customers do not use (or not using) the full features and functionality of the product. By understanding customer usage cases – they can pitch unused features that they think customers could benefit from.
Focus on the relationship
For CS organizations to be truly impactful, they need to focus on the future and incorporate (or embody) a customer-centric mindset (beginning) from the C-suite. They also need to provide or share customer insights not only with C-suite but to the rest of the executive leaders in the company.
The success of the business depends not only on the ability of a few people but on everyone who works with customers. Therefore, everyone is responsible for securing and managing a successful customer relationship (or journey).
This pandemic (Covid 19) has given us (business) an excellent opportunity to become more empathetic and intimate with our customers. It allows us to get to know them on a different level. Before the pandemic, business is moving at the speed of light. Everything happens so quickly.
If something good happened in this pandemic, it brought a personal side of the business. It gets us to know our customers as people as opposed to being customers.
In the past, we always thought we knew what was best for our customers. What does customer satisfaction mean to them? What it takes to make them happy. What I have learned over time is that a customer has a different view of what makes them happy. We should ask those questions to customers and rethink our engagement strategy to adapt to new times.
You have to be a good listener, asking probing questions and be genuinely interested in their growth and success. Only then can you be successful in understanding the challenges, obstacles, and establishing healthy relationships.
The success of the business depends not only on the ability of a few people but on everyone who works with and impacts customers.
A healthy relationship allows customers to participate and effectively present, collaborate, and share their sides on how to improve the process, product, or service.
For CS organizations to be healthy, they need to be in a good position within the company to share customer insights to adapt to new times.
We need to rethink our engagement strategy to adapt to new times.
A customer has a different view of what makes them happy. We should ask those questions to customers.