Join Me at #DenStartupWeek Session: Developmental Stages of the StartUp ~ Customer Relationship

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I am excited to be presenting at Denver StartUp Week this year. My presentation “Developmental Stages of the StartUp ~ Customer Relationship” is on Friday, September 20 from 1-2:30 PM. Exact location TBD. Here is the summary from the DSW website:

All companies grow through developmental stages. To move through the stages you must master the relevant developmental tasks. How you build relationships with your customers today, and how you prepare for tomorrow’s relationships are key tasks to master to move your company forward. Some leaders live in the status quo and do not anticipate the developmental tasks that must be mastered for proper customer development – present or future. Tasks such as driving product adoption, providing technical support, gathering feedback, and up-selling.

In this session Josh Forman, an eight-year Customer Success executive and consultant to technology companies, will present a model of the basic developmental stages of the startup ~ customer relationship. The session will show you how to use the model to guide decision making for executives, directors, managers, and anyone who aspires to a greater understanding of the customer relationship process.

Please pre-register if you are planning to attend:

Denver StartUp Week is a great event that you shouldn’t miss if you are in the Denver area. You can find lots more info here.

Use Intersecting Territories of Customer and Product to Drive Technology Adoption and Expansion

I’ve developed a repeatable process that enables technology companies to drive their product’s value and enable adoption and expansion. This post is to briefly describe it. The key concept to the approach is what I call the Stakeholder Capability Matrix. It looks something like this:

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 12.44.24 PMTo drive value and sell you must know the territory. And there are two overlapping territories – that of the customer organization and that of your product. How they interact, and most importantly, where they intersect, must be understood and taken advantage of. If you stop at the customer contact who made the purchase decision, you are missing opportunities.

There are two main phases to the approach. First, I work with the technology company internally to define their basic matrix. Then I work with the company to develop the process on how they approach and work with their customers, using the matrix as the map.

First Phase: Build Basic Matrix:

  1. Define the Stakeholders inside your customer organizations that your product serves.
  2. Define the Core Capabilities of your product. How does your product create value for customer end users?
  3. For each Stakeholder / Capability intersection, define how that capability could potentially serve those stakeholders.

Second Phase: Design Customer Approach:

How do you espouse this to your customers? You can’t just tell them “that stakeholder group within your organization should use our product to do this.” The basic process includes:

  1. Identity Named Stakeholders (real people)
  2. For each named stakeholder / capability intersection:
    1. Determine Current State
    2. Educate on Capability
    3. Plan Future State
  3. Build roadmap to future organizational state

The technology company needs a methodology on how to do this with their customers. It can take many forms. For a recent customer, we created a new offering “Assessment & Enablement Services”. In it, the technology company runs the project at the customer site, talking to the named stakeholders with the primary customer contact. The conversations are very illuminating, for both the technology, the customer champion, and the stakeholder being interviewed. And they lead to more sales.

Why to Use “Could” When Asking for a Favor or Assistance Instead of “Can”

unit036aI have become particular about “can” and “could” when asking for a favor or making a request to a customer for assistance while providing support. If you are looking for a positive reply, I suggest you do too. It is better to ask if someone “could” do something, versus asking them if they “can” do it. For some people, this may be obvious, for others it is not.

Forget about the fact that it is the “proper” word to use. Even remove the fact that it is the word with the most appropriate meaning for the situation (of course someone “can” respond to your survey – the question is will they).

As I’ve thought about why I think strongly enough to want to give advice to others to use “could”, I realize it comes down to this: “could” is less challenging than “can”. And when you are asking someone for a favor or assistance, you don’t want to challenge, you want to invite.

Think about getting an email that ends with either of these two sentences:

  • Can you find 30 minutes out of your busy schedule so I can try to sell you something?
  • Could you find 30 minutes out of your busy schedule so I can try to sell you something?

It is subtle yes – and important. There is a questioning tone of the person’s capability with “can”. Think of “can you or can’t you?” With “could” you are inferring they are capable, and are simply inquiring if they are willing.

I think you could also use “would”, and it is very close to “could”. In fact looking them both up in the dictionary on my Mac, I see that:

  • For “could” the second definition is “used in making polite requests”
  • For “would” the fourth definition is “expressing a polite request”
  • For “can”, the word “polite” is nowhere in the definition

I have no question as to whether or not you can use “could”, and I suggest that you do when you don’t have a question of your recipient’s capability.

Helping Our Customers Do More with Less

Customers are demanding more value from their service providers. Gone are the days when you can charge an extra X thousands of dollars for every new thing and change they want. Companies are watching costs like never before. How else do we get the Dow breaking 16,000 and the economy growing at less than 2% per year and so many people still out of work? You hear it on the news all the time – companies are becoming more efficient, they are doing more with less. I just heard it on NPR again yesterday.

At ILANTUS, we support our customers doing just that – more with less. We guarantee the amount of labor they will have to spend to meet a given set of functionality. We also provide 24×7 support of their systems for a fixed fee. They don’t have budget to pay for every thing they want to do, so they are finding new ways to do things. We need to support our customers need to do more with the limited budgets they have. We can’t give our services away for free, but we do need to think of how we can help them do more with less. In this way, we build a long term relationship that will almost certainly lead to more sales for us in the future, when the only way to do more with less is to hire a partner to help.

Keep the Customer Experience Positive

It’s really important to keep all interactions with your customers positive. That lesson was highlighted for me when I was recently a customer on the receiving end of a negatively framed conversation. I resigned from my most recent job in June, and have been looking for a new position. I recently posted my resume on a few job search sites, and one of them,, offered to do a free resume assessment.

I knew that it was bait and they would try to sell me a package to improve my resume, but I thought, it can’t hurt, so I said yes to the free resume assessment. The next day, I got a call from them. The woman who called me framed everything she said to me negatively. She did not say one positive thing about me or my resume.

I am open to the idea that my resume could be improved. In fact, there is not much I do (or anyone does for that matter) that couldn’t use some improvement. But to continually bash my resume was not a good way to engage with me and earn my business. She does have me thinking about hiring someone to help me with my resume. And I can tell you, it will be someone who is better at framing in the positive.

It was a good reminder to always frame conversations with your customer and prospects as positively as possible.

The Psychology of Customer Engagement

Have you ever noticed how many models there are for dealing with different types of customers? I did a search for “customer personality types”, and got a multitude of responses, all with their own descriptions of the challenging customer types you can run across. Here are just the first three:

For example, the first one lists personality types like the “child”, “judge”, “negotiator”, etc… The people presenting these different models usually include a description of the personality type and then how to effectively deal with that particular personality. Having a model like this can be helpful. Using one, you can look at your specific situation and see how it resembles the model. Then, you look at what the model says about actions to take, and try to apply them in your real-life scenario. That’s how a model works.

This is the first post in my “Customer Engagement Psychology” blog series. In it, I am going to present a map that can be used for determining where you are in your interactions with your customers. You can then read the map to figure out where to go (or what steps to take). The map breaks down the interaction between you and your customer into a deeper level of understanding. So rather than saying “oh, my customer is a ‘judge’ and I need to act such a way”, the map will provide some understanding as to where you are, and you can then use the map to know how to get to where you want to go.

The map I have been using for over ten years now, that I will present, was developed by a pioneer in psychology and systems thinking. Her name is Virginia Satir. She brought systems thinking to the field of psychology. She traveled the world, conducting workshops, transforming individuals, families, and organizations. She developed many maps, vehicles, and tools to help people get better connected to themselves and the world around them. The particular map that I will introduce in this blog series point is that of self, other, and context.

Virginia died in 1989, and I did not know her. I have been fortunate enough to study with many of her students, who have carried her teachings while leading their own paths in psychology and systems thinking. Most notably, I’ve studied with Steven Young and traveled the country conducting workshops with him. I’ve also learned from Jean McLendon, Jerry Weinberg, and Laura Dodson, among others.

In the next post, I will explain self, other, and context.

Are Your Services a Product or a Feature?

Professional services for SaaS companies can be difficult to figure out how to market and sell. How much services does the customer need? Will more services drive the customer through implementation and adoption faster? Do the services come with the subscription price of the SaaS solution or are there additional fees?

One way to think about how to go to market with your services is to ask yourself if they are a feature of the technology product or if they are a product in their own right that complements the technology.

All technology product companies have a product, by definition. And something is required to make that technology product work inside the customer organization. For some products, the customer can do everything needed to implement the new product. In that case, no professional services are needed at all. Think Gmail here. I just helped a friend with a small company setup Gmail to host their company’s email. No services were purchased to make it happen.

For other products, there is a minimal amount of services required to get the customer up and running. Think of purchasing a new cell phone. You usually do this in the store, and get someone to help you for 30-60 minutes, activating your account, transferring contacts, etc… In this case, you could think of the services as a feature of the product. It’s very standardized and comes with the subscription purchase.

Other products require a medium to significant amount of services to implement. One of the more classic use cases for a large amount of services is an enterprise-wide deployment of SAP software. In cases like this, the services are a product onto themselves. They have a separate line item on the quote. There are usually different service products the customer can purchase. Sometimes the service product may be selected based on the customer use case to fullfil, or maybe based on the technology product purchased.

If you are providing services for your product implementation, are they a feature or a product?

Aristotle’s Method Applied to Customer Engagement

As stated previously, the next post in the Customer Engagement series can be found here: Aristotle’s Method to Customer Engagement, as a guest post on the Boulder Startups blog.

In future Customer Engagement posts, I’ll go into more details on Ethos, Pathos, and Logos (Credibility, Emotion, and Reason), and what you can do to make sure you are including all three consistently across the customer lifecycle.

The Difference Between Customer Interaction & Engagement

In a previous post, I discussed why customer engagement is important. I also introduced the customer lifecycle map, which is a template that shows interactions a technology company has with their customers. Once all customer interactions have been mapped, you want to make sure that every customer interaction is an engagement. This post is to explain exactly what the difference is between an interaction and an engagement. The next post will be about how to create an engagement.

An analogy to explain this is to think of a first date between two people. Think of the first date where you quickly realize there is no interest:

It is two people interacting with each other, and not much else. You look at your watch just as much as you talk to the other person, if not more.

Now think of a first date where both people realize “wow, there is something here.”:

Conversation is animated, you and the other feel a sense of hope for more. This is more than interacting, it’s engaging.

There are lots of differences between these two hypothetical first dates – a spark, chemistry, involvement – those are all further elucidations on the difference between an interaction and an engagement. The biggest difference is a matter of the outcome – whether or not there is a second date! And when it comes to dealing with customers, you are always looking for the second (or next) date. Sure, sometimes in a pre-sales conversation a point can be arrived at where you realized there is no technology/need fit, but it is better if that happens while the conversation is still engaging. To loose a customer (pre or post sales) because of failed engagement with them is what you want to avoid.

Continuing to the next conversation is why you want to engage with your customers with every interaction. The next post will discuss how to engage with customers, based on engagement principles first presented by Aristotle in the fourth century, BC. I have been invited to post it as a guest post on the Boulder Startups blog, a part of the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship. I will link to that post with a new entry here on my site when it is out.

Why Customer Engagement is Important

When talking about customer engagement, the first thing I’d like to address is why it is important. It may be obvious, but as one of my favorite sayings go – do not be afraid to state the obvious. Customer engagement is critical because that’s how a business sustains itself, with paying customers. Let’s look at the definition of “engage”, from the dictionary on my Mac:

1. occupy, attract, or involve (someone’s interest or attention). cause someone to become involved in (a conversation or discussion)

If you want to keep the attention of your current customers and attract new ones, you must engage them. And for technology customers today, they are becoming accustomed to subscription-based pricing, and renewing that subscription monthly or annually. For technology companies selling subscription-based services, customer engagement is even more critical because if you don’t engage your customers at every opportunity, you risk losing not just annual maintenance fees, but the recurring revenue associated with that customer.

As a producer and service provider of technology, you must look at every interaction point in the customer lifecycle and make sure you are engaging your customers. From the dozens of conversations and work that I’ve done with technology companies, I have found three major customer touchpoints shared by all technology companies:

1. Pre-sales. It is best to treat your customers like a customer when they are still in pre-sales. Yes, things will change some once a contract is signed or a credit card is entered, but at the very least, they are a customer of your pre-sales process.

2. Implementation and Adoption. Whether this is a complex system being setup for an enterprise, or a few simple steps for a consumer website, there is some process to get your new customer using your service. This step includes not only getting the technology to work, but having your customer adapt their process so that they use your product.

3. Production Relationship Building. Once the customer is live and using your service, they enter what is commonly referred to as “production support” mode. Just as important as supporting their production deployment, is building the relationship with them. I call this phase the “relationship building” phase of the customer lifecycle. Successful relationship building leads to continued use of the product and increases the chance of upselling the customer so they buy more of what you have to offer.

Within each of these major touchpoint phases in the customer lifecycle, are the specifics to each individual company. These specifics depend on the product (simple or complex), the customer organization (small, mid-size, enterprise), the technology company, the market, etc…

The key is to map out all of your customer touchpoints, and then do everything you can to ensure that at each point you are engaging with your customers, not just interacting with them. The next post in this series will explain the difference between an interaction and an engagement, and future posts will discuss how to measure your engagement level.