Customer Success – An Argument Against the LAER Model

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Warning – this is a long article.  Its purpose is to create an “oral history” and rationale for a different approach to Customer Success.  I considered posting it in chapters but decided that having it together in context was more important.  Feel free to chunk it up and read it in chapters yourself.  If not, go get some coffee!
My last article described the various factors that weighed into my decision to do the customer success role.  That was the easy part.  Once I had the responsibility the challenge was – what exactly is customer success?!
Assess Situation
The first step was to assess what the industry was already doing.  Since Customer Success was such a widely used term there had to be a standard methodology similar to sales and sales engineering right?
Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 9.30.47 PM
Cool standardized name – Yes.  Consistent approach? Nope. Nyet. Nada. We found that it was about as standardized and understandable as the master plan and road layout in downtown Boston.
Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 9.42.04 PM.png
Example Customer Success Approaches:
  • A. A fancy name for their Tech Support
  • B. Renewals and Upsell sales team
  • C. Professional Services and Deployment
  • D. All the above
The most common models we could find were LAER (Land, Adopt, Expand, Renew) and a Periodic Table.
Caveat alert.  Customer Success is a new function and we all owe a debt of gratitude to those who pioneered the original approaches.  I am sure I don’t fully understand the details or nuances of these approaches and how they are addressing the Customer Success need.  I am also not trying to say that they are wrong, we just reached a different conclusion.
Imagine I presented the LAER model to a customer in order to explain what Customer Success is.  What do you think the customer would say?
“This sounds great!  You should totally land me.  I am really glad I bought your solution because I am looking forward to the expanding.”  Or….
“My company totally wants to transform!  I am glad you got it covered, I want a different service & support experience and have product success! I am glad you are focused on my outcomes, my manufacturing/retail/healthcare/xyz company is focused in 2019 on the following outcomes: adoption, renewal, expansion, tech touch, etc.”

Is this Customer Success or Vendor Success?  

All of the approaches were from the perspective of the Vendor out to the customer!
Ok… ok… perhaps I am approaching this wrong and I shouldn’t be presenting it to the customer.   I should have a different model that is customer facing.
Unfortunately this would increase complexity by 2x.  Now we need to communicate one strategy internally and different one externally.  We will need two separate sets of metrics, etc.  Which set of metrics do you think your managers will focus on the most?  What behavior do you think this will drive? When you are starting up a new function and you need to double or triple your headcount annually complexity is the enemy of success (pun intended).
Let’s take a step back and look at this with a clean slate
Given that the existing models were educational but didn’t align with our Customer Obsession culture we decided to take a step back and rethink the problem.  History and lessons learned are valuable… if I had a clean slate, what have I learned in the past that would be applicable?
  • MBA
    • Sustainable Differentiation:  lots of companies are good at a lot of things.  Is that why customers buy their products?  Not Really.  Companies are successful when they offer a capability to the market that other companies are not offering and can not easily replicate.  At new hire training I ask “why do you think customers buy our solution?”  I write down all of their answers, “We reduce cost!  We are innovative! We can Scale! We simplify their operations! We have good relationships! We buy them beer and give free T Shirts!”  I then select one of their previous employers and use those exact terms to describe their product.  For example, Webex, Veritas, Dell, VMWare, Avaya, Microsoft, etc all say they are. innovative, reduce cost, etc.  At the end of the day, it isn’t what we are good at, it is what are we sustainably differentiated at?  Why else would customers pay a premium for us?
  • Exec Coach
  • Critical Accounts – Escalation
    • Unknown“The Change Function”:  The early days of VOIP and Video over data networks are not well remembered for their 99.999% quality and uptime.  The ‘negative business impact’ was enormous.  For example, in one hospital emergency room a patient had a heart attack and when the Nurse tried to use her WiFi VoIP phone to call a doctor it deregistered and failed.  The patient passed away.   Heck – most companies a decade later still can’t get Skype to work consistently.  If it was so bad why did Customers stuck with it when they had perfectly fine copper phone lines?
    • Support and Satisfaction: Support organizations often tout their Customer Satisfaction scores. We are a 4.4 out of 5!  Our customers are 96% satisfied!   I don’t know about you, but when I have to call customer support it is not because I am satisfied. No one is ’satisfied’ when they have to open a case.
  • The Best Man in Your Wedding
    • Ever wonder what the difference is between your hundreds of friends/acquaintances and your Best Man, “Bro”, or Maid of Honor?  I believe it is spelled out well in a famous poem called footprints.  This applies to your customers as well.  When they have a major problem, are you there for them even when it isn’t your fault or responsibility?  Do you stand by them in their time of need?
    • Adapted Version: One night a man had a dream. He dreamed He was walking along the beach with his “Bro”. Across the sky flashed scenes from His life. For each scene He noticed two sets of footprints in the sand. One belonging to Him and the other to his “Bro”.

      When the last scene of His life flashed before Him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of His life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of His life.

      This really bothered Him and He questioned his “Bro” about it. Hey man, you said that once I decided to hang with you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed you most you would bail on me like that.

      Dude chill, I Love ya, and I would never leave you hanging! During your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.

  • Sales Engineering
    • Architectural Control Points: When your sustainable differentiation aligns well to solving your Customers’ Business Objectives then not only do you provide a smooth path to adoption/expansion you are also well positioned defensively against your competitors.  At Cisco if we had Call Manager installed and owned call control then it was just a matter of time until the customer would purchase a new phone handset for every employee.
    • Market Messaging: coming from the pre-sales side I had a good handle on our corporate value prop and what customers wanted in our POC.  When customers buy a solution they not only buy today’s technology but your vision for the future.  The post sales experience should map to this market messaging vocabulary, terms, etc.  Too often post sales teams invent their own lexicon.
  • Start with the Customer/Outcome and Work Backwards
    • If you take all the ’stuff’ you did previously in renewals, sales, support, professional services, etc and try to combine it all into Customer Success in a bottoms up approach you will end up with a very comprehensive but likely overly complex approach.  However, if you put the primary focus on the customer and work backwards it is amazing how much simpler and more robust your solution will be.

A New Customer Success Model

Before diving in, let’s look at 4 example company/products.
1. Clippy: if you google “Top Tech Fails of all time” poor Clippy comes up first.  If you don’t remember him, he was Microsoft’s attempt to guide you through the product.  Unfortunately, he never seemed to be able to guess what you were trying to do (Screw you Clipp,  I am not writing a letter!) and added no value.  Worse than that, he caused Word to crash at the worst moment – every time.
2. Gasoline: what gasoline brand is the best?  Which brand will you drive miles out of the way to purchase and pay a premium.  For 99.9% of you out there there is no ‘best’.  Instead there is what ever gas is the cheapest or most convenient.
3. Wireless Service circa year 2000: remember your first cell phone? “Oh wait… damnit the call dropped.  Hello?!  Can you hear me now?”  How many times a day did your calls drop?  My bet is a fair amount more than your land line at home.  Yet, did you give up your cell phone or do you still have it today?
4. Apple iPhone: If you kept your wireless service then chances are at some point you purchased an iPhone.  It  not only provided excellent quality compared to my old Treo and Blackberry but transformed how we use our phones.  High quality cameras, hundreds of 3rd party apps per person, Apple Pay, video calling, etc. Apple is now worth almost a trillion dollars.

Now lets overlay the concept of EXPERIENCE
(user experience, quality, results)

As the British would say, “Is it fit for purpose?”
Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 7.15.46 PM
  • Clippy: poor user experience, crap quality, and it definitely didn’t help me write a letter.
  • Wireless: Can you hear me nooooooow?  Nuff said.
  • Gasoline: fueling at the pump is usually pretty quick and easy so the user experience is ok, gasoline makes our cars go vroom vroom (results) and for quality… when was the last time you had bad gas? (Pun intended).
  • iPhone: my grandmother can use it (experience), I can’t remember the last time it crashed (quality), and it makes calls (results).

Next lets overlay the concept of TRANSFORMATION.

Transformation is an alternate word for sustainable differentiation and value.  What are you able to provide to a customer that provides 10x the value compared to what they were doing previously.
  • Clippy: 10x the annoyance… not value
  • Gasoline: no real Transformation – it has been working the same way for a hundred years
  • Wireless: I can receive a call anywhere!?  I can leave the office and take a call while catching my kids baseball game?!  Cool!
  • iPhone: Candy Crush.  Nuff said.

How does this apply to Customer Success, Renewals, Upsell, Churn?

Note: I couldn’t find the original source for the matrix below but someone smart out there made it.  Probably someone from McKinsey – they love 4×4 matrices.

  • Clippy: not only is he crap, I am going to tell everyone he is crap.
  • Gasoline: if your competitor offers me gas 1 cent cheaper you are fired and I will go to them
  • Wireless: since I can make calls anywhere and use it in an emergency I will give you an opportunity to improve your service over time but I will not be buying more lines for my family and getting rid of my landline.
  • iPhone: I will not only spend 10x compared to my old Nokia but I will also buy an AppleTV, iTunes, Mac and read fanboy websites about upcoming product leaks.  I don’t think Apple is trying to shake me down for $$.  I *want* to buy more things from them.

We are missing one key factor though… ENGAGEMENT

Customers want to feel an emotional bond to your brand and people.  Does your company listen to me?  Do you know how I want to use your product?  Are you teaching me about it?   Engagement is a multiplier.  If your company is heavily engaged with me I will likely buy more and be more resistant to churn.  If you ignore me I will take for granted everything you do for me and will start to listen to that really friendly new sales rep who buys me beer and gives me free T-shirts.  Think of it like a marriage – don’t ignore your spouse 🙂

Translate TRANSFORMATION, ENGAGEMENT, EXPERIENCE into a Customer Success Model

  1. Identify what your TRANSFORMATIONAL 10x value to customers is.  Collaborate with your pre-sales team and marketing
  2. Identify what an amazing EXPERIENCE would look like
  3. Learn who/how your customer wants to ENGAGE
For our company:
    • SECURITY: protect and apply business policies to 100% of user traffic anywhere regardless of encryption
    • NETWORK: transition from expensive private hub and spoke networks, the internet becomes your corporate network
    • APP ACCESS: trusted users can access trusted applications with nothing bad in between
    • QUALITY: means never having to open a case/ticket/bug in the first place
    • EXPERIENCE: 100% of end users able experience our solution transparently and apps just ‘work better’,
    • RESULTS: achieved the costs savings you expected, kept the bad out and the good in
    • We meet on a scheduled cadence with the network, security, application, and executive team to “Make the news” not “Report the news”.

When a Customer purchases our service they are coming with Business Objectives, themselves (contacts) and an existing architecture (environment).  They purchased us because they want to TRANSFORM their network, security, and/or application access.   To achieve this we will ENGAGE with them in a process to make this happen and endeavor to ensure a world class EXPERIENCE.   We are able to measure all of these outcomes quantitatively to track our mutual progress.

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 8.05.59 PM
A common objection to the Customer Outcome based approach is that you cannot operationalize it at scale.  Every customer will have different business objectives.  Yes and No.  If you successfully identified your areas of TRANSFORMATION then they are why the customer bought your solution.  If not, then why would they have chosen your solution over someone else’s?   Sure the customer may use different terminology and project names but the end results are usually similar.
Knowing this you can choose consistent metrics that best indicate progress on their outcomes.  NOTE – these metrics should not be a % feature usage that product management asked you to go drive.  For example, for Network transformation instead of tracking a feature we track how many of their global offices were able to do local internet breakout and how many of their employees are covered when working remotely.   My next blog article will be a deep dive on customer metrics (similar to Measuring & Tracking SE Teams – Solved?)
This customer facing “Journey” also serves as our internal organizational strategy, maps to our CSM/TAM Job role definition, our metrics, our bonus plan etc.  If something is not customer facing we do NOT operationally measure it.  For example, typical CS metrics like NRR, CLTV, churn rates, Customer Success Qualified Leads, are only measured at end of then quarter and only at the global level.
If the customer is TRANSFORMING with a positive EXPERIENCE and good ENGAGEMENT then they will not only happily renew but if your solution is well designed then the upsell will be a natural progression and be driven by customer vs. sales rep.
Future posts will delve into how this is operationalized, how to design good customer outcome metrics, how to get your customer’s business objectives (hint: it is not as easy as just asking)

Customer Success (not Vendor Success)

3 thoughts on “Customer Success – An Argument Against the LAER Model

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