What I cannot get out of my head today is a post from Nick Mehta over at Gainsight and how it reminded me of one of my favorite investment “isms” that I learned (many times the hard way): “Invest in lines, not dots.”
I agree with Nick’s post 100%. Doing executive reviews is essential to the desired outcomes we strive for as SaaS leaders. What Nick’s post got me stirring on is this: are services and success professionals missing the forest for the trees when it comes to how we collaborate with our clients? We tend to create over-engineered processes with the aim of re-engaging clients and showing off data points (“dots”), when we should be crafting clear “lines,” while we collaborate with the client on getting to their desired outcome (or whatever the value was the sales and marketing team sold them :) )
The issue isn’t executive review meetings — I want to state that right away. Nick is right, and offers some great advice on how to improve them. Frankly, they’re great, and if you have the chance to pull these off with every customer, you should. You need to accomplish two strategic things during these meetings:
1. Show off your product's value to the client
- How have you improved their business?
- How quickly did you pull this off, and how does this value compound going forward?
2. Promote your champion
- This is a great opportunity to make your internal champion look strategic/smart/innovative/valuable to their boss. This person stuck their neck out to buy your product and now is your chance to make them look like a rock star for doing so.
On to my point: you want to build “Lines, not dots.” Why? Well, it's a human problem. In general we’re very bad at understanding situations in a vacuum (as a dot). Humans love narrative. We understand complex ideas or stories as trends. It's just easier when there is context. When you see something over time, it's many times easier to see the trend. It's also easy to get lost in the data without a line connecting you to where the data is going, and where you came from. This is why you want to invest in “lines, not dots” because lines give you confidence in a general direction things are trending. They help shape a narrative. In my experience the best products quickly reveal “lines” out of the dots for their users.
At Baton we are focused on improving the implementation of our clients products. Typically, before we show up, companies manage their implementations through “check-in” meetings and spreadsheets. When you are managing processes with static tools you need to have meetings not only to update your tools, but to present your “dots.” Without these meetings, as Nick points out, there is no “line.” After all, communicating these lines is why enterprise customers buy, stay, and grow with you. Customers buy narratives, they can get variations of the dots your company creates from many other vendors, they choose yours because of the line you draw.
Sadly though, what I've found as an entrepreneur, corp exec, investors and now operator again, is most project managers and account execs share data with clients at intermittent points, and fail to create lines...they love hitting on their dots, but without the line...they’re just dots on a slide.
So when we started building Baton we made sure to bake “lines'' into our product, to ensure our customers and users are freakin’ rock stars as they continuously engage their executive sponsors with lines that hit. We also made sure to bake lines into our sales processes. So here are a few examples of how:
1. Narrative to status updates
Baton users are customer success, professional services and implementation teams. They spend an insane amount of time updating reports, project management sheets and other tools to help communicate the progress and hold ups they’re seeing to internal and external stakeholders. Some teams reported spending 2-3 hours per client a week on just updating spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides! When on average they manage 5-10 projects each that could be 30 hours a week just creating updates!!! That's insane. And to make matters worse most of these updates are nothing more than Dots. This had to change, so in Baton you can share a week-over-week progress report pulling data from all your internal systems (ie. Jira/Salesforce/Asana/Baton..etc) to ensure it's up to date. So now our users create creative narratives with their clients, with one click so they never again have to chase folks down for an “update before Monday's executive status meeting” again.
2. Baton Score
We noticed that service teams love NPS, and it serves as a decent metric for how the teams performed during a project. The problem we have is that NPS is a lagging indicator and not fully representative of your process or progress — you only hear from the squeaky wheel, or the people who had nothing better to do on a Tuesday than try to get that free Amazon gift card. Thus we built the Baton Score, a collection of data, continuously collected automatically from client and internal user behavior in Baton (ie. how, when and at what velocity projects and tasks are or are not moving), mixed with active prompts to the client on how each milestone in your project went as they’re being completed...not two weeks after the fact, right as it's happening. So you know exactly where or what is breaking down in your process on a project or portfolio basis...so you can actually fix it! It's great to know you are net-promoter positive, but it's more helpful to know that your process always slows at QA and specifically when Peter is assigned to more than four projects...clearly you need another QA engineer.
3. Success Engineers
You’ve probably heard of sales engineers that are brought into the sales process to configure the product and answer technical questions. At Baton we bring our success team into the sales conversation early. In studying 1000's of SaaS organizations we’ve found that many implementations fail due to a poor handoff between sales and success/services - expectations of ROI are not communicated, unrealistic timelines are promised and services get discounted to $0. So we bring our CSM team in early to reinforce the ROI of Baton during our trials, to ensure realistic timelines are proposed, possibly up-sell service packages, and to ensure that we fully document and understand why customers adopted our platform. This helps our success team develop success plans to ensure customers get what they want out of using Baton… we won't drop the Baton (see what I did there).
So thanks Nick for getting my brain going early this morning. I strongly believe every software team should be thinking in terms of Lines not Dots. More importantly though is how they can better engage their clients to see the lines through the dots their product creates.