Five Steps to Getting Customers Successful Sooner
By Team Kantata
Professional services teams play a key role in driving both customer satisfaction and overall organizational success at technology companies. Providing a skilled team to get the customer up and running swiftly is the initial step in establishing strong customer relationships, which then translate into a great reputation and a growing business.
As soon as your customer signs their contract, the countdown starts for measuring the quantitative value of the product they’ve purchased — known as the return on investment (ROI). ROI is measured starting from day one, which requires the services team to hit the ground running. The services arm of an organization is responsible for accelerating the time-to-value and ensuring customers see the benefit from investing in your product as soon as possible. Product businesses that can predictably deliver benefits to customers on a tight time scale are in a strong position to grow and scale in today’s competitive marketplace.
Services leaders face a number of challenges when getting customers successful as quickly as possible. They have to manage customer expectations, often coupled with a resistance to change, slow adoption rates, and alterations in product scope. In addition, the professional services team must be closely aligned with other parts of the business in order to deliver a seamless customer experience. In this whitepaper, we outline five steps businesses can take to enable professional services teams to accelerate time-to-value, increase return on investment, and get customers successful sooner.
Proactively Manage Resources
Take Advantage of the Sales Pipeline
Successful services leaders take the opportunity of a long sales pipeline to ensure they have the right mix of resources ready to meet demand. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to complete the sales cycle for most B2B technology products. Looking ahead at the sales pipeline and seeing what demand for professional services is on the horizon gives service leaders an opportunity to ensure the right resources will be on hand to meet the need. If resources with the right mix of skills and experience are not available to implement your products, it will be much harder for professional services to accelerate time-to-value for customers.
Build a Team of Flexible Product Experts
Human capital doesn’t appear overnight and most product companies have to grow their own talent as product experts cannot be easily outsourced or recruited. Looking ahead at the sales pipeline and approaching resourcing in a proactive manner is vital. As products are fine-tuned and enhanced, the particular skills required to support them may change — for example, if a new product feature is proving especially popular, are there enough people trained to implement it? If the demand for that feature took the business by surprise and there aren’t enough resources with the skills to support it, customers will take much longer to see value from it. The services team must be flexible enough to grow alongside the products being sold, and this often requires training to ensure resources have the right skills and are readily available to implement the latest product functionality and deliver value to the customer without lag time.
Take Current Trends Into Account To Predict Future Resource Needs
Managers must analyze both won and lost deals — including the reasons and stage of the buyer journey prospects may have decided to choose a different product. This gives services leaders a better understanding of trends in the marketplace, the common challenges faced in the selling process, and what parts of the product are lacking or standing out against the competition. In turn, resource managers can pivot priorities to ensure that a flexible pool of resources with the appropriate training and skills are prepared to deliver on an ever-evolving set of customer needs. While it can be difficult to predict exactly how the focus of customer demand will shift in the future, the best way to prepare for it is by analyzing the sales pipeline to understand current trends, and shaping a skilled resource team that is flexible enough to adapt to those trends.
Ensure a Smooth Handover from Sales to Services
Align Sales and Services Before Implementation
The services team can only be fully prepared to deliver on demand by the project kick-off date if they are closely aligned with the sales team on expectations and timeline. At the end of the sales cycle when the contract is signed, the customer is handed over like a baton in a relay race to the services team. This is a key moment in the customer experience, and requires complete alignment to ensure the baton is not dropped. In companies where the handover process is clumsy, it can appear to services as if the sales team ran silently up to a fence and then threw the baton over at them. Some of the promises and assurances that were made in the sales process about timeline and scope come as a surprise, and the services team must often scramble to pull together a team that can deliver on the customer demands that were previously agreed to.
Include Resources in Pre-Sales Efforts
A good handover depends on these two teams being in sync. Just like in a relay race, the services team should already have started their run so that they are ready to take on the customer’s challenges. It can be difficult for a busy services team and growing business to justify spending time before the sale helping with scoping and preparing for project kick-off. However, preparation is key to good performance, and the organizations that dedicate professional services resources to pre-sales efforts will have the most satisfied and successful customers — both because project scopes will be more realistic and achievable, and because professional services will be better prepared for project kick-off. Sales and services must have the opportunity to communicate and collaborate before the handoff to ensure they are on the same page regarding customer demands and expectations. No customer wants to hear the leader of the implementation team ask, on day one, “so what business challenges are you looking to solve?”
Identify Your Project Team Early
Looking ahead at the sales cycle and soft-booking resources helps optimize this handoff. This also makes it possible to introduce the services team to the client towards the end of the sales cycle. The sales team can also share what they have learned about the customer and share some of the key challenges they are hoping the product will solve. Keep in mind, in order to commit resources early, the sales team needs to communicate to new customers that close dates cannot slip. Both the customer and the sales team need to understand that if the customer postpones a start date because they are not ready, the services team that is being assembled may no longer be available to them. The services team will face their own communication challenges when it’s their turn to take the baton. Because of the nature of sales, it is likely that the customer will have been asked to view the product and implementation through rose-colored glasses, presenting only the happiest stories about the most successful customers who achieved the largest benefits in the shortest time. And the customer organization is made up of many people, who may not have been involved in the selection process at all, and who may be resistant to change. So, there is generally some work to do on expectation setting at the start of a project.
Establish Clear Expectations For Implementation
Keep an Eye Out for Changes in Scope
One of the most obvious blockers to time-to-value for customers is project delays that keep the product out of the customer’s hands for longer than anticipated. Often, whether they realize it or not, the customer creates roadblocks for the services team that stand in the way of their business seeing success sooner. It is incumbent on the services team, then, to assess and manage risk throughout each implementation project. Customers may want to change the scope and focus of the implementation, adding certain features or trying to re-engineer the offering in order to accommodate resistance to change from existing processes or tools.
Communicate How Scope Changes Will Delay Time-to-Value
The services team are the experts in the product and how to use it to drive benefit. They should be encouraged to be clear with the customer about the likely impact of scope adjustments. They need to ask why the customer wants to make certain changes, what they expect from those changes, and inform them on the potential impact on ROI. The services team often has to have the difficult conversation that certain changes or customer demands are likely to have a negative impact on the implementation process and are likely to reduce time-to-value. While customers may not love hearing their demands may not be in their best interest, it reduces the chance that the services team will be blamed for any repercussions that occur down the line. An open and candid conversation of any and all risks of scope change with the customer saves even more difficult conversations later in the implementation process, or worse, after implementation is complete. Raising any issues or risks at the earliest opportunity improves the chances of successful implementation and reduces the time between product purchase and the realization of value.
Deliver the Implementation Strategically
Understand the Most Critical Challenges the Customer Wants To Solve
Implementation is all about focusing on getting the customer to the benefits they were looking to achieve as quickly and seamlessly as possible. Service leaders must understand the customer’s definition of success and then translate that into how they can use the product to reach that goal. It is important to prioritize the aspects of the implementation that will provide the customer the most value in the shortest period of time. When planning the implementation process, it is tempting to start with the easiest tasks. But pushing the more challenging aspects to the end is generally a mistake. Ignoring the more difficult tasks often leads to a delay in time-to-value and backlogging problems which may be harder to fix down the line. Every customer has unique challenges and unique expectations for how the product will help them to overcome those challenges. That means each implementation will likely present new and unique challenges to the services team. It is best practice to bring the parts of the implementation that will be uniquely challenging to the forefront.
Take a Phased Approach to Implementation When Necessary
The implementation team will need a step-by-step plan for how to deliver the most value to the customer and set them up for success after go-live. This starts with hitting all the milestones that have been agreed upon for this engagement, in the time specified. Accomplishing this requires an understanding that it may not be possible to tackle every aspect of the product in the initial implementation. It may be sensible for the team to hold off on focusing on some milestones until future engagements, taking a horizon-based approach where the first horizon focuses on a minimally viable product that addresses the customer’s most critical objectives, and future horizons focus on the less critical or time-sensitive goals. Of course, if the plan calls for future horizons, it is important that these horizons are revisited and actioned. By stratifying aspects of the product into horizons, the services team can concentrate on getting the customer live and deriving value from the product as soon as possible.
Build Close Customer Relationships for the Long-Term
Provide Tips on How to Increase and Speed-Up Adoption
Enabling the customer to be successful doesn’t end when the initial project or implementation is marked as complete. This is just the beginning of a much longer story of value creation, customer satisfaction, and advocacy. Of course, there needs to be a plan in place to ensure all users understand the value of the product, why they should use it, the challenges it is meant to solve, and how success of the product will be measured. Giving users this information will improve the chances that the product will be adopted by even those parts of the organization that were initially hesitant to move from existing tools or processes. While dispersing this information across an organization may not necessarily be the responsibility of the services team, providing a plan or tips for how to drive adoption directly following implementation will speed up the time-to-value and ultimately enhance ROI. While the product champion may be bought into the value of the product, executives will not be happy with the investment if the actual users of the software fail to adopt and use the tool effectively. Adopting new technology is often a challenge for any organization, so proactively communicating what can be done to improve the chances of adoption during implementation will benefit both the customer and services team in the long-run.
Establish Personal Relationships & Maintain Consistent Touchpoints With a Variety of Users
Speeding up a product’s time-to-value requires having strong links within the customer organization, not just the key stakeholders or those involved in the implementation. The services team must be connected with — and have the ability to communicate and collaborate — with a broad and deep group of users and champions across the customer organization. Building strong relationships outside of just key stakeholders is critical in driving momentum and value realization. Communication is key when it comes to building momentum. As well as face to face meetings, the services team should consider automatically sharing information on an ongoing basis with customers, so that it is as easy as possible for executive sponsors to understand what is happening and how the business is being impacted. This all ties into a continuum that started at the sales process, and continued through the implementation and into an ongoing customer journey: customers that were given a clear idea of what ROI they should expect and who are able to evaluate what they have achieved with clarity are more likely to be able to provide strong reference statements, such as measurable increases in revenue, profitability or customer satisfaction.
Services leaders in product companies play a key role in driving business success. They are responsible for building strong teams of skilled professionals who can ensure customers get value from the product swiftly, time after time. In order to provide customers with the most immediate time-to-value and contribute to long-term ROI, the services team must follow the five steps mentioned throughout this whitepaper.
- Proactively look at the sales pipeline in order to assemble the most optimized and efficient team of resources that is ready before the contract is even signed.
- Enable sales and services to communicate and collaborate before implementation to ensure the handover between teams is seamless.
- Promote open and candid communication between the services team and the customer early in the implementation phase in order to uncover how changes in scope could delay time-to-value.
- Require services teams to fully understand and agree upon the key challenges the customer is looking to solve, their expectations, and their definition of success.
- Communicate openly and consistently with customers post-implementation to ensure the greatest value is being provided and the product is being used to its full potential.
Putting the Five Steps Into Practice
Let’s look at Esri, the global market leader in geographic information system (GIS) software, to see an example of a professional services team putting these steps into practice.
“We actually don’t run our [services] business on just the bottom line. Of course, the bottom line is important, but customer success is our main priority.”
Kevin Ochs, Director of Business Management, Esri
Since the software Esri offers is robust, it was critical that the business would have the right resources ready to take on upcoming customer demand for professional services. Without those appropriately skilled resources, services teams would struggle to unlock the true value of Esri’s products for customers, hampering the division’s ability to drive customer satisfaction.
Recognizing the important role strategic resourcing would play in customer success as the business grew, Esri sought out a tool that would enable them to move beyond manual resource management processes that were holding them (and their customers) back. The team ultimately determined that what they needed was a purpose-built professional services solution that would give decision-makers the insights needed to stay ahead of customer demand and keep projects on track, ensuring Esri can get customers up and running quickly. Since adopting Kantata as their one source of truth for resource and engagement data, Esri has seen significant expansion in their services division, and has been more efficiently and effectively able to meet client demand.
According to Kevin Ochs, Professional Services Business Management Director at Esri, “The real game changer of Kantata is the windshield view of our plans. Any accounting system will tell you where you’ve been, but Kantata gives us an accurate, up-to-date, living and breathing plan. Kantata shows us our future demand — if we expect to be short or over-staffed we can turn some dials to hire and proactively make decisions that will influence the future.” Read the entire ESRI success story to learn more about the results they experienced since adopting the Kantata Cloud for Professional Services™.