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Customer Success, SaaS

Podcast ft. @LincolnMurphy: The Secret to SaaS Retention: Cutting Time to First Value (+ other insights from @SamuelHulick, @patio11 & @statwonk)

If you’re charting customer success milestones into your user flow and/or onboarding processes, congratulations! You are way ahead of those who don’t. But before I can offer the panacea statement “You’re doing everything right!” – there’s one step you might be missing.

It’s easy to miss, because it’s counter-intuitive.

It’s counter-intuitive, because, being the very good CSM that you are, you’ve done ALLTHERESEARCH on your target customer. You know what they want to do and need to get done with your product. And you are building milestones into your product to keep them on track.

But here’s the missing link.

It’s easy to assume that time to first value is the same as time to first milestone.

It isn’t.

And understanding the difference is very… well… valuable.

It’s easy to assume that time to first value is the same as time to first milestone. It isn’t. Click To Tweet

We’re talking dollars and cents, make-or-break your company valuable.

First, a couple of definitions for the newly initiated:

Your Milestones: Typical milestones include trial period, sale, onboarding, product usage, upsell opportunity, renewal, etc. These are your milestones – the things you’d like your customers to accomplish so your product is successful. These are not your customer’s milestones.

Customer Success Milestones: The steps a customer has to take in order to reach their desired outcome. (Lincoln Murphy’s definition.) You can also think of them as the little successes along the way to reaching the customer’s ultimate success.

Time to first value (TTFV): Time to first value is how much time it takes for the customer to get real, tangible value from using your product. And this is “value” by their definition, not yours. This first value is probably going to be related to your value proposition – that promise that got your customers in the door in the first place.

The onboarding process, in particular, is where we really win or lose customers – and the surest way to win them is to show them value. In The Most Important SaaS Metric Nobody Talks About, RRE ventures connects the dots between the value proposition and time to first value in a nice, concise way:

Onboarding should emphasize and reinforce the value prop that drove the user to your product in the first place. Sign-up should be frictionless and deployment should be self-service to the point where the customer is up and running in minutes and, most importantly, getting value from your product a few moments right after.”

Onboarding should reinforce the value prop that drove the user to your product in the first place. Click To Tweet

A few moments isn’t much time to deliver value, and if your product simply can’t manage that – you’re not alone.

Lincoln Murphy has been noodling over the idea of time to first value for a while – and I particularly like what he has to say about including “quick wins” in the onboarding process. Quick wins don’t have to happen within the first “20 minutes” like the RRE Ventures article suggests, but they do need to happen fast enough to prove that your product is worth the time/money investment before the customer loses interest (or patience).

Reaching that first value quickly is easier in simpler SaaS products. But what if you have a complicated product, one which does a lot of things and has a steeper learning curve? I asked Lincoln Murphy, Founder of Sixteen Ventures to weigh in on time to first value, and what the TTFV process looks like for a more complicated product.

Time to First Value (TTFV) Podcast ft. Lincoln Murphy

Lincoln on Time to First Value

Since there’s some confusion over value versus milestones, Lincoln clears that up first.

I like TTFV because it forces us to think about value; milestones can quickly devolve into the typical inward-focused CX of just trying to get a customer to do what we want, not what they need to do.

The purpose of milestones is to get the customer closer to finding value – I might have to go through several milestones to reach first value. If a milestone isn’t value-based – if it’s not moving the customer toward their Desired Outcome – it isn’t a milestone. Or it isn’t a milestone in the context of Customer Success.

Also remember that “first value” may be actual value delivered (or received, depending upon your POV) or it could be when the value potential is first recognized by the customer outside of their interactions with sales and marketing.

More complex products often take awhile for value to be truly recognized, so the value potential is what we focus on initially.

Lincoln on First Value when it’s Complicated

Onboarding design is usually about prompting the new customer to complete “setup” tasks and/or learning how to use the product.

It’s a bit like creating a new character when you want to play your computer game – you pick a name, do some cosmetic surgery on the face, choose a species (I know I’m not the only RPG gamer here). The best games make that part fun too, because they know that fun is their customer’s desired outcome. It’s not that different for SaaS products, but with SaaS products – especially those adopted by teams and businesses, you also have to manage expectations.

Setting up the system is part of getting to first value, but you need to be prescriptive and manage expectations with them along the way, meaning you really have to understand what first value actually is [for the customer] and design a process to get them there quickly.

Structure begets trust.

The more we can help our customer set things up and manage expectations on their end, so they can plan for it accordingly, the more they’ll trust us. Often it’s the unknown that causes our customers to lose confidence in us.

The unknown is problematic because it’s confusing, hard to plan around. Sometimes, onboarding processes are even confusing on purpose.

For most vendors, the onboarding process is a total black box, at least throughout the sales process, and only then does it become more apparent that it’s… not actually that great.

You see this when vendors try to hide the details of onboarding from their customers until it’s too late for customers to back out. We need to be open, prescriptive and structured with our customers.

That said, very often, the setup, implementation, data seeding, integrations, etc., aren’t necessary to getting the customer to first value. That’s a huge idea, because vendors often don’t understand what initial value is for the customer. They think that in order for a customer to get value they have to have everything set up. The customer has to have all the implementations and integrations complete.

The reality is that’s not true.

It may be true for the customer to get ultimate value, but that’s not first value.
The critical piece here is understanding the difference.

Back to my role-playing games – sometimes the setup is more fun than the game. That’s doing it right. ie. finding the first value insta-fast. But in the serious world of SaaS, product development and sales folks are so concentrated on full adoption, that they miss opportunities to identify other, in-between ways in which their customers can get closer to their ideal outcomes.

Most vendors have an idea of value for their customers and that idea usually greatly varies from the idea of value that their customers have for themselves. The vendors’ idea of value is often full adoption, full breadth and depth. Customers must use all the seats and every feature or they can’t be successful, but your customers tend to have something else in mind. They have a business outcome that they need to achieve and that may not require what *you* think success really is.

The question is: do you care about what your customer sees as success? Or do you care about what you see as success?

You have to make a decision. If it’s all about you, all about that full depth and breadth of use, that’s fine, but know that’s not the same as your customer’s definition of success.

And that’s going to be a problem.

So how do we dig deeper and find out what first values to target?

We need to ask what is their ultimate business outcome and what would first value actually be?

Is it when they first get some real tangible value, or is it the first time, outside of sales and marketing, that they see the potential for value in their relationship with us? Figure out which one it is and that’s your onboarding goal.

Now we have to engineer a process to get them to that point.

Here’s the deal: We have this ultimate business outcome, and to get there we have to achieve these smaller outcomes along the way – an initial outcome followed by logical milestones.

If they don’t achieve those first few milestones, their ultimate goals don’t really matter because they won’t get there. This is why we see so much churn and non-renewal attributed to early lifecycle issues.

It’s your job as the vendor to know what that initial outcome is and help them achieve that in the appropriate way, and you have to know what those milestones are on the way to the next logical outcome.

But because software vendors often invest millions and millions into features, they want to shove those features on customers as quickly as possible instead of understanding what the customer needs and just giving them that.

Just that.

Instead, vendors tend to overwhelm their customers with too much stuff – features, tasks, integrations, enhancements, training, whatever – and the customer never gets any real value because they’re never really onboarded.

And how does timing work in this onboarding process? It’s not tied to the typical 30 days – that’s for sure!

I see a lot of vendors tie their onboarding to some artificial time frame, usually 30 days. And they say, “Well, they’ve been a customer for 30 days, check that box, they’re onboard now.” So even though they have an onboarding process, they have some arbitrary time frame, they overwhelm the customer, and then they say after that 30 days, the customer is onboard.

This makes no sense.

Then, of course, the customer complains they’re not getting any value and the vendor blames them for not finding value from this – obviously – super valuable product. There’s a mentality that has to change here.

Treat time to first value as a goal.

Every customer achieves success in their own timeline. We have to set a goal for them. We would like our customers, or at least a specific customer segment, to achieve first value either by getting actual value from their relationship with us, or, for the first time, see that real value potential in the product.

We want them to achieve that milestone in 30 days, but that’s a number we made up. It might take them 3 days, or three months. We might have to intervene, or it might be fine. It’s a goal. And we want to make sure that, if things aren’t fine, we intervene before those 30 days are up and get them back on track.

Instead of saying we have a complex product, we should start viewing it as a complex customer relationship. If they have a more complex goal, we’re going to have to work with them in various ways to help them achieve that goal. It’s not a complex product – the product is there to facilitate success through this relationship. It’s a different way to look at things.

But at the end of the day, you need to know what the ultimate value is, and you need to know what first value is, so you can design and engineer a process to meet them where they are and get them to that first value.

What other people are saying about TTV

Of course, Lincoln isn’t the only one talking about time to first value. Here’s what other SaaS industry insiders are saying.

How do you define TTV?

Samuel Hulick, UX Designer, UserOnboard.com:

“This is surprisingly tricky to define, because on the surface it would simply be “the amount of time it takes for someone to experience value from your product,” but HOW MUCH value is necessary for you to officially call it “finished”? Ideally, you provide some value in your product’s very first experience, but if that was also equal to all of the value someone COULD EVER get out of your product, you probably don’t have much of a product at all. Instead of coming up with a rule of thumb for when it’s “enough value to count”, I would instead focus on something like “value per minute”, wherein you focus on delivering more and more value more and more efficiently, kind of like this concept in video game design.

Of course, the people who NEVER receive value will skew that ratio way down, but, well… that’s sort of the point!”

Patrick McKenzie, Kalzumeus:

“Are you familiar with the character Walsh on Firefly and how he uses the word “Shiny?” When I’m thinking about this in my own head, I think Time-To-Shiny. You’re looking for a combination of both a) delight and b) either demonstrably improving someone’s life or credibly demonstrating that you have the capability of doing so.

Twilio, for example, has among the best Time-To-Shiny of any complicated, development-heavy software product you’ll ever use. You can credibly promise a massive improvement in folks lives as soon as their phone rings in response to code they have written; Twilio can have that happening in ~30 seconds or so for a new user if they’re being guided; perhaps ~5 minutes or so if they’re a motivated self-starter.

How to improve it? One, figure out a way to track it obsessively. Two, cheat like a mofo; ruthlessly defer as much as possible about the full experience until AFTER you have achieved that one moment of concentrated joy. Exact tactics for doing this depend a lot on the product at issue; often they involve (e.g.) having fake data pre-loaded in accounts so that someone doesn’t have to do weeks of data entry prior to seeing any improvement in their lives, scripted onboarding experiences, etc.”

Christopher Peters, Data Scientist at Zapier:

“Studying survival analysis taught me a great rule of thumb for this. The highest likelihood of TTV is always the moment after signing up. This is when the user is active, it’s only downhill from there. Having realized this, I’ve guided the team to really focus on onboarding well. Incorporating UX research is invaluable to get customers to TTV faster.

TTV is a curve. Some reach it in seconds, other years or even never. I think of it in terms of influencing a curve rather than a discrete point. The key is using statistics to measure TTV, but qualitative UX research to guide the improvements.”

How are you building value into your product or onboarding process? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you!


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Success, SaaS

How to Start a Customer Success Program From Scratch by @NikkiElizDemere

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

If your SaaS company hasn’t leapt on board the Customer Success train yet, it’s likely due to “focusing on other things,” or “we don’t have the budget for that right now.” But prioritizing Customer Success pays big dividends in returning revenue – so much so that it’s gaining the reputation as the ultimate growth hack. That’s not hype – Customer Success is how SaaS businesses raise retention rates and increase referrals while paving the road for cross-sells and upsells.

If you’re focusing most of your resources on acquisition, you’re missing out on one of the greatest growth engines at your disposal.

“Customer success is where 90% of the revenue is,” – Jason Lemkin, venture capitalist and founder of SaaStr

Acquisition may get the ball rolling, but retention is where the big money is. Big, sustainable money that costs less and less to make. And, this alchemy only works when customers achieve the successes with the product or service that they’d hoped for upon signing up.

Statistically, successful customers:

  • Spend more money over time
  • Are highly likely to consider additional products and services
  • Serve as enthusiastic brand advocates that reduce the Cost to Acquire new customers (CAC)

That last point, customer evangelism (aka. brand advocacy), is the most significant benefit of Customer Success and the one that leads to spending less on acquisition efforts, while acquiring more customers.

When your company understands what success means to your customers, then ensures they receive what they need to achieve it, those customers respond – on Facebook, on Twitter, on Yelp, on Linkedin, and in person. They become not just your fans, but your best salespeople, helping your company grow.

But how do you start a customer success program from scratch?

First, let’s start with what customer success really is, because any time a term becomes a “buzzword” it tends to lose its original meaning.

Read More on Wootric


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Customer Success, Product Management, SaaS

Product Managers: Why You Should Include Customer Success Milestones In Your User Flows ft. @Wootric & @16v

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

As a Product Manager, you develop user flows to chart how customers move from signup to successfully using your SaaS product. Your colleagues in Customer Success are doing the same thing — mapping a flow of customer milestones to success.

But “success” can mean different things to PMs and CSMs. And, while both teams employ user flows (or customer journeys), what they put on them are very different, reflecting their very different goals.

You are responsible for making the product functionally work, with enough awesome UX so it’s relatively intuitive for the customer to use. For your team, “success” often means that the product works. It does what it says it will do, and does it well.

Customer Success is responsible for helping customers use the product to achieve their desired outcome. Most of the time, that desired outcome isn’t in the product – it’s outside of it. For example, if I purchase a budgeting app, my desired outcome is to save enough money to sun myself on a Caribbean beach, with a good-looking server to bring me fruity drinks with umbrellas in them. The Customer Success manager’s job is to get me there.

You might say it’s a conflict between focusing on the world inside the product and the wide, wide world outside of it.

And that conflict can bring about a deep divide between Product and Customer Success.

Yet, we’re all working towards the same goal: Creating a product people love, need and want more of.

What if you were to bring both user flows together, so the functionality inside the product meets the desired outcomes outside of the product?

Read More on Wootric


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Metrics, SaaS, Startups

Why Every Team Needs Quantitative Goals ft. @UseNotion

whyeveryteamneedsquantitivegoals

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

The mistake I see most often: Companies hit a million or two in revenue, and not every department has quantitative goals. Sales always has a goal – but does marketing? What are their quantitative goals in customer success? What are engineering’s quantitative goals it has to hit this quarter? Do you have a point system? Do you have a card system? Most marketers are like ‘I don’t have a lead commit, I just have a budget.’ We’re not in that world anymore. We all have to set measurable goals.

– Jason Lemkin, founder of SaaSTr, Metrics that Matter Webinar, April 26th 2016

Jason Lemkin, venture capitalist and founder of SaaSTr, says the biggest mistake he sees with companies in the start-up phase ($1mm – $2mm ARR) is not that they don’t track CAC or LTV or one single metric, but rather that each division, from sales to marketing to product to customer success, and even engineering, don’t have specific quantitative goals.

In short, each department needs to find their key metric to drive success in order to keep getting better.

And, while Lemkin doesn’t go into the specifics for each department, his rule of thumb is crystal clear:

Figure out a goal for every department. Most importantly, set a baseline based on what you know, then drive that up or down.

Sales has always been driven by metrics and quotas. Why not other departments? With the data gathering and tracking technology we have at our disposal, there’s no excuse not to try and optimize every process, every department and every team.

Here are some suggestions for success metrics — Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) — that make sense for the key players in your start-up phase company: Engineering, Product, Customer Service, and Marketing.

Read More on Notion


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

SaaS

SaaS Marketing Journey

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 8.11.05 AM
Here’s a SaaS Marketing Journey that I developed with Katy Katz and Trevor Hatfield at Inturact. Learn more about it in Katy’s e-book, Strategic Marketing Tactics for SaaS Companies.

“It became apparent to us that when it comes to digital marketing for SaaS, the inbound model just doesn’t cut it. We locked ourselves in a room and went through many variations of the key strategies that should be included in SaaS marketing (there were lots of post-its and cups of coffee involved). And we came up with this model to highlight some important variations from traditional inbound marketing: 1) Customer success content is imperative to the consideration and decision phases, 2) the decision phase never really ends in SaaS, and 3) delight should be woven into your entire marketing strategy.”

— Katy Katz

Customer Success, SaaS, Sales

What To Do After You Close The Sale: Why Acquisition Is Good, But Retention Pays Better

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

When you make a sale, what is the first thing on your to do list? Happy dance? Happy hour? A night out on the town?

May I make a suggestion?

How about making another sale? And another, and another.

This isn’t a fast-talking sales technique or a short-lived marketing gimmick; it’s the result of customer success done well. When you have a robust customer success program, you can start celebrating multiple sales within much shorter periods of time.

As you know, the new customer sales journey is a long and arduous road. But the current customer sales journey? It’s like a quick trip down to the market to pick up a carton of milk – at least in comparison. Numerous studies show that current customers are far more likely to buy again than prospective customers are to buy the first time. Customer success capitalizes on this, and so can you.

Read More on Drift


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Success, SaaS

11 Articles on Customer Success that Will Change Your Business by @NikkiElizDeMere

11-Articles-on-Customer-Success-that-Will-Change-Your-Business

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

Really, if you followed the advice in just one of these articles, your business would change for the better – in real, measurable ways. I’m talking about increasing acquisition and retention, and turning your Customer Lifetime Value charts into something that looks like an artistic rendering of Jack’s magic beanstalk.

These aren’t empty promises. They can be backed up with hard data, like this article from Shopify and RJ Metrics: What Sets Top Performing E-commerce Companies Apart? Customer Success is heavily focused on retention, and companies that nail retention grow faster than their competitors by leaps and bounds – making 2.5x more than other companies within their first three years, primarily by marketing to existing customers. Marketing to existing customers only works if those customers are A) Happy, and B) Have already achieved success.

Forbes called Customer Success “The Best Kept Secret of Hyper-Growth Startups” – an article that begins with an even more impressive number, supplied by venture capitalist Jason Lemkin: “Customer success is where 90% of the revenue is.”

But what is success, exactly? Is it satisfaction? Is it happiness? Is it something else entirely? To answer that question, we turn to Lincoln Murphy, the man who coined the phrase “Customer Success” in the first place, and then spent roughly 6300 words defining it. Surprisingly, it’s not an eBook. It’s a blog post. One that will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Customer Success in SaaS – and then some. Read Customer Success: The Definitive Guide here. Highlights include:

Customer Success has its roots in the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) world and my original definition was very much SaaS-centric.

But since then, companies that are not SaaS, or even technology companies at all, have recognized the transformative power of Customer Success and embraced it as their new operating model.

If you aren’t familiar with exactly how Customer Success is transformative, I’ll lay that out for you below in great detail in this guide.

Simply put; No Customer Success = No Your Success.

If you’ve read this far, you might be wondering “Well, okay then – how do I start?” I’ve written a few thousand words on that topic myself, including: Customer Success for Dummies – What Every SaaS Startup Founder Should Know, with sections like “how customer success works, with real, actionable tips.”

It’s the real, actionable tips that are missing from many discussions about Customer Success. The one you have to begin with, however, is this:

Identify your ideal customer.

This is where Customer Success and Customer Development come together, because both require that you answer the same essential questions:

  • Who is my audience?
  • Why are they here?
  • What are they trying to accomplish?

You can read more about the intersections of Success and Development here.

From there, you have to take a long, hard look at your product to find out where Success Gaps may exist that you need to bridge. A Success Gap is the space between what your product does, and what your ideal client needs to accomplish. For example, if your SaaS product handles mass email communications – your customer’s success isn’t sending those emails, it’s in their open rates. To fill that Success Gap and ensure that your client is achieving his or her desired outcome, you might want to host a webinar on writing email titles that guarantee higher open rates.

Get it? Not quite? Don’t worry, Lincoln Murphy is ready and waiting to explain why the Success Gap is “A Huge Opportunity You Haven’t Considered.”

Now that you’ve identified your ideal customer and uncovered potential Success Gaps, it’s time to create Success Milestones.

As a wise manager once said: What doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get done.

These Milestones should, ideally, be built into your app so that users can track their own successes (and your sales team and/or success team can keep tabs on their progress as well). Typically though, companies get this backwards.

If you think Success Milestones look like this…

Trial Sale Onboarding Use Upsell Renewal

We need to talk.

Those are YOUR milestones! They track your success, not your customers’! Each of your customers might have their own set of Milestones, and it’s your job to ensure they can track their progress towards reaching them, whatever they may be.

Even if it’s:

Buy product Send emails people love in less time Get home in time for daughter’s soccer game

If you’re still confused as to exactly how this tracking works, Jason Lemkin explains “Client Success owns the customer from point of inception (sometimes pre-close) all the way through the entire life and lifecycle of the customer. Sales closes the customer, and Customer (or Client) Success takes it from there.” Considering Jason Lemkin founded and grew EchoSign within a scant few years, it’s advice well worth heeding.

Need the Cliff’s Notes version? Totango claims to have developed “The Simplest Guide you will ever Find” to Customer Success. I think they may be right. In 12 slides, they take you from what the Customer Success process should look like, what trouble signs to look for, and how to maximize Lifetime Value.

If you still have to sell the idea to the Higher-Ups, you’ll need one more link: The Real ROI of Customer Success Management: Expanded Revenue, Preserved Revenue, and New Bookings. Alternately, you could sell it as a new and improved marketing program.

Here are a few fun catchphrases to use in your pitch meeting from Gainsight’s Why Customer Success is the New Marketing.

“triple digit retention numbers”

“turning customers into advocates and creating new revenue streams”

And, “These numbers tell us that building a marketing program around customer success is arguably more profitable than acquisition programs for mature businesses. In fact, the data shows that it’s a 5x more cost- effective use of your time.”

It’s compelling stuff. Once you understand what Customer Success is, and what it can do for your business, it’s hard not to love it. After all, when you do it right, your customers will love you.


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Content Marketing, Customer Development, Customer Success, Product Management, SaaS

Free E-Book by @NikkiElizDeMere: How to Align SaaS Content Marketing and Product Management

success

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

You’ve seen the studies – companies that retain customers grow bigger and faster than companies focused solely on customer acquisition. You can fill your funnel to the brim, but if your onboarding process acts like a leaky sieve, you’ll never have enough revenue to build and grow sustainably.

The good news? You have everything you need, right now, to create a sustainable system for acquiring and retaining your ideal customers.

It’s not a magic formula. It’s just two people: Your content marketer and your product manager. Working together.

We hear you. We understand every objection rattling off in your head about the crazy – COMPLETELY CRACKERS! – notion that content marketers could actually help your product development department:

  • Do better work, more efficiently
  • Be less distracted by support tickets
  • Align behind a single, shining vision of your ideal customer
  • Produce products, features, and updates that result in retention and growth
  • And have more fun

These are wild claims to be sure, so allow us to present you with a 3-part paper that will show you how your content creators and product developers can join forces to build the kind of business you’ve envisioned all along: A business with the right products, successful customers, and zero limits.

Read More on Inturact


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Development, SaaS

Who Owns SaaS Customer Development? ft. @sgblank & @CindyAlvarez

who-owns-saas-customer-dev

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

“I have seen startups fail because founders were either too prideful or just plain shy (find a +1 to help!) to connect in meaningful ways with customers – potential or actual.”

– Amazon Customer review of Lean Customer Development by Cindy Alvarez

Don’t you love Amazon user reviews? They tell the unvarnished truth (unless, of course, the reviewer you’re reading happens to be the author’s BFF). This one, in particular, nails one truth that every founder interested in Lean methodology and customer development must face: You’ve got to be willing to put yourself out there.

Not in a metaphorical sense. I mean this quite literally.

Yourself. Out. There.

You, the founder, are the key ingredient. Your vision is more important than any other part of your nascent company, which is why you – not an intern, not your product developer, not your assistant, not your head of marketing – have to be the one listening to your customers.

I know. I know. You are so busy. You’re trying to run a company, after all! And I’m here saying you have to be the one on the phone, on the street, or in the Skype session, gathering qualitative data.

What am I, nuts?

Well, if I am, I’m no crazier than Steve Blank and Bob Dorf, co-authors of The Startup Owner’s Manual. According to them, this is precisely how new companies, and established companies creating new products, are growing intelligently and sustainably, while avoiding the pitfalls that have spelled disaster for the thousands of companies that fail each year.

If the definition of customer development is asking your customers for input that helps you develop the solution they’ve been hoping for – who better than the founder to lead the charge? By learning from your customers, on the ground, what they need most, your vision can and will change – for the better.

Why should I conduct customer development interviews when I know what my customer wants already?

In The Startup Owner’s Manual, the authors make a list of “9 Deadly Sins” that qualitative data is uniquely able to absolve, including…

  • Assuming “I know What the Customer Wants”
  • The “I Know What Features to Build” Flaw
  • Emphasis on Execution Instead of Hypotheses, Testing, Learning, and Iteration

Blank and Dorf recommend founders create a set of business model hypotheses for how they envision their businesses working, and physically go out and ask people in their target market for insights:

Of all the lessons of Customer Development, the importance of getting out of the building and into conversations with your customers is the most critical. Only by moving away from the comforts of your conference room to truly engage with and listen to your customers can you learn in depth about their problems, product features they believe will solve those problems, and the process in their company for recommending, approving and purchasing products.

The road to bankruptcy is littered with founders who thought they knew what people wanted, but never bothered to test their hypotheses. It’s a completely unnecessary risk, especially when avoiding these pitfalls is as simple as finding the answers to three questions:

  1. Do you really understand the customer’s problem, in its entirety, within their everyday context?
  2. Is the problem severe enough that people are highly motivated to solve it?
  3. Will they care enough about the problem to tell their friends?

To find the answers to this list, you’ll need to do a few things:

First, identify your ideal customer – the customer who has a severe pain they’d do anything to solve, and who is willing to pay you real money to solve it. Bonus points if this customer has been so desperate that they’ve hacked together a stop-gap solution on their own already.

Then, ask your ideal customers open-ended questions that lead you to these insights:

When you collect and use qualitative data correctly to inform their product designs and marketing strategies, you’ll have the information you need to produce a product that people need and want, finding problem/solution fit (and product/market fit too).


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Development, Customer Success, SaaS

5 Steps To Rock Your Value Prop for SaaS Customer Success ft. @MorganB

5-steps-to-rock-your-value

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

Special thanks to Morgan Brown for contributing insights. ❤️

Use qualitative data to uncover language-market fit

When the right words appear in front of the right people, it’s like the copy from your page joins a conversation already happening in the minds of your prospects. It becomes a dialogue of “I wish I had this” and “Do you wish you had this? Let me show you how you can get it.” The conversation continues from there, sometimes with other people, like user reviewers, chiming in just at the right moment. Sometimes with your marketer sending an email that is so perfectly timed your prospects wonder if you’re reading their minds.

In this conversation, your job is to convey a simple message of the value you have to offer. But, crafting that message is anything but simple. It all starts with…

Customer Success

Customer Success is a complete customer-lifecycle process that helps customers achieve success – whatever success means for them in the real world – with your SaaS so that you can decrease churn, increase revenue, and create an exponentially increasing mountain of new sales. 

I’m not over-promising. When you nail Customer Success, those are the results.

This process begins with qualitative data research: Real feedback from real users. This research can help you form a unique value proposition to attract your ideal customers from the very beginning so that you (and they) can start achieving Customer Success, and all of the results that come with it.

Qualitative Data Research

At best, analytics can tell you what is happening, but they can never tell you exactly why. They can tell you a channel is underperforming or a page has a high bounce rate but those are symptoms, and you can either guess at the root causes or you can conduct qualitative research to get meaningful answers. When you’re investing time and money into growing a business, guessing becomes expensive. Running A/B tests or trying new things based on your own intuition or your team’s brainstorming without getting outside of the building is an easy way to waste time and money. 

In fact, this is how many startups fail – or make fools of themselves. Remember the fiasco when iTunes gave everyone the latest U2 album?

When you try to guess what to improve upon or how to fix what’s wrong, it’s not just that you might waste time getting to what ultimately works, it’s that you might not ever make the change that really matters. As people, we’re great at coming up with options and ideas based on the combination of things we “see” or understand, but we’re not good at identifying the factors that may be completely off our radar. 

As Donald Rumsfeld famously said, we’re not good at dealing with the “unknown unknowns.” Unfortunately, it can often be those unknown unknowns that are holding back Customer Success. And we’d never get to the answers ourselves. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, we usually can’t identify the dog that’s not barking. So research isn’t just about speeding up the process of finding wins—it’s essential to finding them in the first place.

Qualitative research breaks down into a few key buckets: surveying, interviewing and observing, and inbound analysis. 

Let’s Get Started

Here’s five steps you can use to gather, analyze and utilize qualitative research to continually improve your language —and ultimately rock your value prop:

5 Steps

  1. Identify your ideal customer
  2. Gather qualitative data from existing and potential customers
  3. Form a unique value proposition to begin establishing language-market fit
  4. Update and test your language
  5. Monitor

1. Identify your ideal customer

Most SaaS companies don’t want to narrow their focus to an ideal customer, but this is critical. After all, how do you know what kind of language to use if you don’t have a clear picture of who you’re talking to? 

Think you can write a sales page that appeals to everyone? Think again. Copywriters know that effective copy, the copy that converts into action, must be highly targeted on just one persona (or, at most, two – but they don’t recommend it!).

You can start identifying your ideal customer by using Lincoln Murphy’s Ideal Customer Profile Framework.

We’ll wait here while you do that.

2. Gather qualitative data from current and potential customers.

Once you’ve identified your ideal customer, you need to determine how the market perceives their problems and your product through the language that you’re currently using on your website and marketing materials. 

After all, language is the foundation of growth.

Here are four methods you can use to accomplish this:

  1. Surveys
  2. Interviews
  3. Observation
  4. Inbound Customer Feedback

Surveys

 This is pretty straightforward. Implement regular surveying of both website visitors and customer segments via onsite and email-based surveys. These include product/market fit, customer satisfaction, net promoter scores, demographic/psychographic profiles, product features and more. 

Why you should talk with “qualified noes”

Onsite surveying is great, but you can also end up getting feedback from people who aren’t your customers – ie. unqualified leads. This is not the feedback you want. Instead, focus on surveying the “qualified noes” (the people who are qualified but decided against buying anyway.) These are the people that can unlock real insights to improve your customer acquisition efforts.

There are two parts to talking to qualified noes: part one is asking your questions within the context of the right parts of the user experience to talk to qualified visitors; part two is asking the right questions. 

The right questions at the right time

You want to ask people who just bought what convinced them to buy, and people who abandoned at the last minute why they changed their mind. All of this is detailed well in this article about “golden questions” with Conversion Rate Experts and Sean Ellis.

Custom surveys via email are another important part of qualitative feedback. Ideally you have a regular survey that goes out to your user base on an interval—say every quarter—that asks the same set of questions about overall satisfaction, demographic data and more. This helps you understand if your product is improving or not, and how your user base is evolving. 

Pre-launch Surveys

In addition to regular surveys, you should survey your customers occasionally about new features or initiatives you’re thinking of launching. These can be stand alone, one-off surveys sent from time to time.

Targeting these to the right people is essential to get meaningful feedback.

For instance you don’t want to send new product feature surveys to users who haven’t logged in recently – if they don’t care about your old features, they aren’t likely to invest interest in the new ones. 

You can get a lot more detail about how to survey users in Qualaroo’s Marketer’s Guide to Surveying Users.

Surveys are great for aggregate qualitative data, but they often only collect data around the issues you think are important—after all your team is writing the questions. So they are not always the best at getting to unknown unknowns. Free-form fields can help here, but they’re not as good as interviews and observing users. 

Interviews

Interviews, such as those done in usability studies, ethnographic research and customer development provide a much richer profile of users. They also help uncover unknown opportunities and issues. The key to interviews is to ensure you’re not leading the interviewee, and are able to elicit the insights and information you’re looking for. Interviewing is a skill, and whether it’s for usability research or customer development, knowing the right questions to ask and being able to put subjects at ease are critical to making the sessions valuable. 

Ash Mayura does a great job of outlining the specifics to customer development issues in Running Lean and includes a specific format and question recommendations to help you get the most out of the interviews. Of course it’s critical that you’re interviewing the right types of people—people who are like the customers you are trying to attract or retain.

Observation

Beyond interviews, observation can be really valuable as well. Especially when it comes to usability it studies and ethnographic research, simply watching people interact with your product or service is highly instructive. You can do this remotely, with tools like UserTesting.com and Inspectlet, or you can do it in-person with some of the user testing studies outlined in Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. 

Ethnographic research has you observing users in their actual environment with your product. Watching someone work all day and then pick up their phone to use your app, or login to your service while trying to manage their leads, etc. is an incredibly illuminating experience that not only provides great context to understand how your users think about and use your product in relation to the rest of their lives, but it also creates a great deal of user empathy which is essential in creating new features, campaigns, etc. 

Inbound Customer Feedback

Combining these individual deep dives with other qualitative feedback can help provide context to results and analytics data. All of this is proactive research led by the organization, but you also have a great deal of qualitative inbound data that you can take advantage of.

Complaints, support tickets, phone calls, posts on social media, reviews and chat logs are all founts of qualitative data that can be mined for insights. They can be structured, through tools like UserVoice, or they can be mined from unstructured data like support logs or Twitter mentions. 

While most inbound customer feedback is simply used to manage complaints and triage issues, the growth team can use this feedback to find new opportunities for features and campaigns that can lead to growth. One of my favorite examples of this is from Bryan Eisenberg, who likes to show how different the language is in e-commerce product descriptions and the consumer reviews of the same product. By mining these reviews, e-commerce companies can find inspiration for everything from ad and landing page copy to new marketing channels to pursue.

User research is an important and rich area of opportunity for businesses. Most of the opportunity is squandered by a lack of action. As usability expert Jakob Nielsen said, even talking to just five users can lead to big insights and wins. By combining surveys, interviews, observations, and analysis of inbound customer feedback, growth teams can find brand new opportunities that can lead to big wins for their business.

3. Form a unique value proposition to begin establishing language-market fit.

As pointed out by Peep Laja on ConversionXL, your value proposition is the number-one thing you need to get right — and to test. It is a promise of the value to be delivered to the customer. It should be in the language of the customer and should join the conversation that’s already taking place.

To do this, you first have to understand what your customer needs (and what they’d like to gain), what their jobs are, and what their biggest pain points are. Don’t try to guess – use qualitative data gained from interviews and surveys of your ideal customers.

Then, look at what your product does, what benefits/gains it offers, and what pain points it relieves.

Where the two lists intersect is where you have problem/solution fit. And each “fit” becomes an ingredient of your value proposition.

Use this value proposition worksheet or Strategyzer’s value proposition canvas to get started.

value-prop-canvas

Of course, when filling out the value proposition canvas, you’ll have to condense your users’ answers in order to make a list to compare and contrast with what your product offers. But don’t throw away the complete responses from your interviewees. This chart will help you find problem/solution fit (aka. product/market fit) and let you know exactly which benefits to highlight for your audience, but it won’t tell you which words to use that fit your audience.

Your audience already has.

Within the responses your interviewees give you are perfect little sound bites, snippets of sentences, or possible full paragraphs, that precisely express – in the raw language of your users – what your customers need, want and fear. Use these sound bites as they are (correcting only grammar and punctuation if necessary) in your copy.

When your copy – even your value proposition – captures the diction, tone, and feel of your target audience, they’ll recognize it as quickly as you recognize your own signature on a check. And it will speak to them.

4. Update and test your language.

Now that you’ve collected your qualitative data and put it to use in a working value proposition, it’s time to update the language on your landing pages. 

You’ll need to continue to test your value proposition, so form a hypothesis for an A/B test and start testing to determine which variation has a greater positive impact on Customer Success metrics.

A/B testing may be simple, but it’s powerful. Much like the observation technique of gathering qualitative data, a good A/B test measures the real-world behavior of your customers.

Which metrics to look at depends on your goal. Is it lowering Cost to Acquire a new customer (CAC)? Is it monthly recurring revenue, or annual recurring revenue? Is it retaining customers after a typical “drop-off” point in your onboarding process?

Once you’ve chosen a metric and have a hypothesis – which can be as simple as “I think the new language will increase conversions on this page by 25%” – set up an A/B test to find out if you’re meeting your goal. If not, make one change and try again.

You may find that the issue isn’t your language but its presentation, so if you are confident in your value proposition and your on-page copy, you might try having your web design team change the placement of the text, the font, the color, etc. Don’t make lots of changes all at once, unless the page is brand new or severely underperforming. You need a benchmark to compare the new with the old.

5. Monitor 

The problem with A/B testing is that it doesn’t tell you why you’re getting the results you are, which is where qualitative data comes into play yet again. Once you’ve noticed that version B actually performs worse than version A, you can use on-page open-ended survey questions, or interviews, or any of the other qualitative data gathering methods to ask your customers “Hey, what about this page isn’t working for you?”

Then, iterate based on their responses and repeat the A/B testing cycle until you’ve optimized your value prop, or page, or onboarding process for customer success.

Conclusion

Qualitative data is at the heart of Customer Success initiatives – after all, how can you help customers achieve their successes unless you’ve first asked them what they are. With the foundation of insights ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’ you can build an empire.

  1. Identify your ideal customer by using Lincoln Murphy’s Ideal Customer Profile Framework.
  2. Gather qualitative data through the use of surveys, interviews, observation, and inbound customer feedback to validate your language.
  3. Use this value proposition worksheet to form your value proposition.
  4. Update and test the language on your site. 
  5. Monitor.

Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.