Raising the SaaS Onboarding Bar for Niche Segments: RIAs and Software Frustrations

According to a recent survey of RIAs by Trust Company of America and TechValidate, advisors are not satisfied with the value they receive from their software. Almost half said that they couldn’t use it to its full capacity and more than a third complained that it couldn’t be customized to meet their needs. This data highlights the fact that even if you believe you have designed a product to target a specific market segment, there is no less of a need to properly set expectations in the sales process and invest in engaging and onboarding customers.

For the advisor market—especially RIAs, who may not have much of a technical staff to support them—the profile of the user makes this need particularly acute. Smart, used to moving quickly and strapped for time, these customers will have little patience for inefficiency and delays in going live and in finding out they were given misleading promises in the sales process. The actions and communications pre- and immediately post-sale will either put these customers on a positive trajectory for success and strong lifetime value or on a path to dissatisfaction.

In our experience, the keys to reaching and influencing RIAs are:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of them and their business.
  • Respect the fact that any time not spent working with existing clients or finding new ones is time wasted.
  • Communicate in plain language and facts, not marketing-speak and fluff.

SaaS businesses, obviously including those targeting RIAs and other niche customer groups, need to ensure customer success to maximize the retention and upsell opportunities that are necessary to turn a profit on acquisition. But like any revenue generation opportunity, this requires investment—in time, personnel, and money. In a niche segment, it doesn’t become easier to satisfy, but rather harder as the bar gets higher for the knowledge and experience necessary to “talk the talk” and “walk the walk”.

Customer Success Boston April Meeting Notes and Video

On April 29th, the Boston-area Customer Success community gathered at the offices of Crimson Hexagon. On the agenda was a discussion with Dana Miller, SVP Client Services at Crimson Hexagon, and Barry Daitch, Global Leader of Customer Success at Autodesk, on how they have steered their respective organizations to deliver results in environments in which “customers” aren’t always the same as buyers or even influencers and where many factors impact customer retention.

Because Autodesk and Crimson Hexagon serve very different markets and customers, and both deal with highly complex environments, their methods of achieving customer success varied. The discussion offered an interesting range of ideas across the following key areas:

  • Standardizing operations
  • Managing customer relationships
  • Hiring CSMs

Standardizing operations

  • At Autodesk, very large accounts with many users and many different products require standardized processes for nurturing, monitoring and growing customer relationships. A “Client Engagement Plan” developed by the CSM focuses on deepening relationships and delivering value while an Account Manager’s “Account Plan” sets growth goals and milestones, and an “Adoption Plan” defines opportunities for product cross-selling and usage. [view video clip]
  • At Crimson Hexagon, the company’s rapid growth and combination of large and small accounts has necessitated the development of “playbooks,” or standard processes for addressing frequently recurring customer situations, as a way to drive faster ramp-up and more consistency among CSMs. Additionally, because the company’s diverse customer base thwarts a “one size fits all” understanding of and approach to customers, the organization takes a disciplined approach to identifying drivers and mitigants of churn. [view video clip]

Managing customer relationships

  • For Autodesk, ensuring the health of their complicated customer relationships requires a combination of disciplined expectation-setting and risk-mitigation. The organization’s “governance model” defines the responsibilities of the Autodesk team and those of the customer team, as well as scopes and reinforces the boundaries of Customer Success and Professional Services. [view video clip] Because even satisfied customer relationships are threatened by the departure of key customer personnel, Autodesk also strives to strategically build bridges throughout the customer organization and to identify and capture customer success stories that can be used to highlight value delivered. [view video clip: 0:00-2:10, 5:50-]
  • Crimson Hexagon’s offering—delivering insights for brands on their social media presence—leads them into customer relationships with marketing agencies that can lose accounts and in-demand social media leaders [view video clip, 2:10-5:50]. As a result, they spend more time and effort on finding ways to identify churn risk outside of application usage, which isn’t strongly correlated to non-renewal [view video clip: 0:00-3:15], and are planning to invest in resources for building and leveraging customer advocates [view video clip: 1:21-].

Hiring CSMs

  • At Autodesk, CSMs play the role of a business consultant to customers—advising them on best practices and opportunities for efficiency gains. As a result, Daitch places significant weight on candidates’ industry knowledge to ensure they will be credible with demanding customers. [view video clip: 0:00-4:48]
  • At Crimson Hexagon, application complexity, lack of clearly established ways to quantify the value of social media monitoring and rapid growth all drive an emphasis on customer-centricity (the ability to see things from the customer’s perspective) and project management capabilities among candidates. [view video clip: 4:49-]

Taken together, Barry Daitch’s and Dana Miller’s discussion [access all the clips] offered disparate but valuable examples that organizations could apply to their own CS teams as well as be part of a blueprint for the questions to ask and issues to address.

Customer Segment Intelligence Delivers Balance to Your Customer Success Initiatives

In customer success management, there will always be a tension between treating each customer as special and unique in order to ensure their success, and serving all customers without exploding the CSM team budget. One way to strike a balance between these two poles is the collection, maintenance, and efficient utilization of customer segment intelligence.

Customer segment intelligence is the knowledge base of elements relevant to the sale and utilization of your product/service by companies within a target segment. These elements would likely include:

  • Key “firmographic” attributes of companies in the segment (e.g., size, geography) that might influence purchase and adoption
  • Market trends
  • Decision-making structures and influence networks
  • Typical needs and objectives related to your product/service
  • Propensity for and approach to technology adoption
  • Common objections to purchase
  • Common obstacles to implementation/utilization

Equipped with this kind of intelligence, SaaS companies can develop segment-specific customer success programs and segment “playbooks” that will produce better results more efficiently.  They achieve this by being adapted to align with the particular characteristics and meet the particular needs of companies in that segment. A “one-size-fits-all” onboarding program is almost always better than no onboarding program is likely to miss the mark for some customers.  A custom implementation plan is highly effective but unscalable.  A customer segment intelligence-based onboarding program strikes a balance between these extremes by delivering a template that applies to a group of customers, but is effective because it is built on the foundation of knowledge of the typical operational constraints on the companies’ ability to get quickly to value and capture quick wins.

As is the case with the aforementioned onboarding, most customer success initiatives benefit from segment intelligence. For example, it is much more effective and efficient to have a series of segment email templates for cross-selling and/or up-selling rather than each CSM writing new emails from scratch for every upsell/cross-sell opportunity and rather than using a single, generic “canned” email that fails to be compelling because it doesn’t speak to the specific segment needs. Similarly, understanding when breadth or depth of utilization should register either as a concern (too low) or an opportunity (very high) requires knowledge of the relevant segment-specific benchmarks rather than benchmarks based on the entire customer base, much of which may behave very differently than the customers in one specific segment.

Moreover, this intelligence delivers further operational efficiency gains by enabling lesser-tenured CSMs to ramp up and effectively help customers faster. Playbooks, templates, and diagnostics provide a foundation of proven tools and process that gives newer CSMs with good relationship-building skills the opportunity to succeed quickly.

In an upcoming blog, we will discuss best practices for gathering and distributing customer segment intelligence.