Part Two: Aligning With Your Customers’ Objectives and Driving Adoption of Your Product

The adoption mandate is twofold: You want to onboard the new product as effectively and efficiently as possible, but you also want to be sure customers take full advantage of the continuous product updates made possible by the subscription model.
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Here we explore the crucial capabilities you need to ensure customer business outcomes.

Amazing customer service means nothing if you don’t deliver meaningful results. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the B2B cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS) segments where businesses compete to deliver stronger outcomes and value to customers. Simply put, if you don’t deliver strong outcomes, your customers will look elsewhere for a partner who can.

Ensuring business outcomes starts with engaging customers after the sale—paying attention to what creates results and delivering programs that scale to drive improvement across against key operational and financial metrics. To do this effectively, B2B companies need to clearly define what creates value for each market and customer, and hone service offerings to help customers achieve the expected value. We see four core capabilities involved in this process: alignment, adoption, achievement, and advocacy. Let’s look at each.

Capability No. 1: Alignment

To best serve your customers, you must understand their business. This means knowing what outcomes and specific, quantifiable benefits are most important to different facets of the customer organization. In addition, you must proactively manage your customer’s desired outcomes throughout your relationship with them. Only 28% of the organizations participating in our research say their salespeople understand their top customers’ business and strategic objectives “a great deal.” This is about the same for predominantly B2B versus B2C organizations.

To create alignment, key customer stakeholders must have a unified view of their accountability and desired results. Once the sale is complete and the product is to be deployed, stakeholders must know exactly what’s being deployed and how it will help them achieve expected results. This is best done with all parties involved, including the deployment team, the customer’s functional process owners, and any deployment partners or other third parties.

We can’t emphasize this enough: It’s essential to align on intended business outcomes at an early stage. Most often, product deployments are focused on features, milestones, and budgets. Making business outcomes and quantified benefits essential elements of deployment and governance will go a long way toward ensuring success.

Follow these five steps to help assure effective alignment:

  1. Carefully define the scope, sponsorship, and governance of the overall deployment project.
  2. Work with your customer to identify stakeholders, then jointly take a first cut at expected business outcomes. With key stakeholders, work to translate those outcomes into essential performance indicators and set a baseline for each indicator.
  3. Build the initial value map that establishes links between specific product capabilities, key value drivers, measurable performance indicators, and the expected business outcomes.
  4. Assign key stakeholders and the deployment team members to the expected business outcomes. Each individual should be accountable for value drivers, performance indicators, and outcomes as part of their project and operational goals.
  5. Establish the overall alignment and governance model between you and your customer. This will connect team members across buyer and seller organizations in service of the desired outcomes.

Capability No. 2: Adoption

The second critical capability is adoption, which means ensuring your product can be enabled, optimized, and consistently used by your customer.

Poor adoption severely limits the organization’s ability to achieve its objectives. Our research found that 59% of organizations say that they have specific programs and capabilities in place to help customers drive successful adoption of their products and services. Finance and Financial Services organizations claim to have the greatest capability, with 91% saying they work with customers to drive adoption. But in our experience, few organizations have the right level of discipline and structure to make those programs and capabilities truly effective.

By emphasizing adoption, you ensure that customers can efficiently take advantage of new capabilities, securing leadership understanding and endorsement of the level of effort needed to succeed.

Adoption begins with an in-depth understanding of how employees can best use the product. Your customers must be able to operate your product effectively, considering their job, business function, tenure, or geography.

When you are deploying technology, such as networking or application software, the customer’s IT organization will play a big role in driving adoption. One CIO and buyer of technology we spoke to put it best: “Adoption is a combination of factors, including technology and leadership fortitude. If you look at one of our recent sales tool updates, where we added a mobile solution, adoption was driven half by behavior and half by the technology. Reducing the number of clicks, plus the mobile component, drove up use dramatically.”

One of the most important benefits of the subscription model, regardless of industry, is that your customer will get regular updates to the product. This means that they’ll receive new capabilities that can add incremental value. Done right, these updates fix problems, enhance the user experience, and deliver innovation to your customers, allowing them to innovate on behalf of their customers. Passing along innovation in this way only occurs when your customers adopt regular product updates quickly and consistently. This changes the mindset of ongoing updates from a burden into a potential competitive weapon.

The adoption mandate is twofold: You want to onboard the new product as effectively and efficiently as possible, but you also want to be sure customers take full advantage of the continuous product updates made possible by the subscription model.

Here are the critical success factors for adoption:

  1. Recognize that different parts of the organization, different functional roles, and different levels of seniority will use the product in different ways, at a different pace, and for different reasons.
  2. Communicate priorities anchored by business metrics.
  3. Demonstrate links between capabilities, value drivers, performance indicators, and outcomes.
  4. Manage adoption goals, specific to each user or category of users, at the local level. These goals are for both initial adoption of the product and subsequent updates to that product.
  5. Monitor users to assure increased and sustained use by user category.
  6. Identify individuals to model behaviors, provide coaching, and promote full adoption as a fundamental aspect of their role. This can’t be a night job: these employees will be the internal advocates that will create enthusiasm and momentum across organizations and the enterprise as a whole.
  7. Use communications and marketing tools to discuss and promulgate adoption messaging. This includes getting top executives engaged to promote adoption, using social media, gamification, and other modern marketing campaign elements.
  8. Carefully introduce new capabilities without disrupting business activities.
  9. Engage customers and customer stories as tools to communicate the value of full adoption.

In the third article of this series, we will discuss the third of four capabilities needed to help your customers realize value: achievement. It’s one thing to define value, but another to help your customers achieve it and document its impact on their business.

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