With half my career in management consulting and the other half in consumer tech and B2B SaaS, one theme has been a constant. While buyers and users increasingly expect hyper targeted brand experiences, personalized services and more fluid product interactions, customer centricity – managing your strategy and your customer’s experience across every touchpoint – continues to be nothing but a buzzword. For most, it’s a missed opportunity. Technology executives and their teams are continuously missing the mark. We are preaching a lot of hot air on this topic, professing with very little practicing.
I have such conviction on this belief that I recently joined as an associate partner in Customer Imperative, a B2B SaaS consultancy that grows revenue and profitability through customer success, customer experience and effective product marketing. I have dedicated 2019 to exploring this mission… and to raising my newborn baby girl, Clara. Customer centricity seems easier so far.
With that in mind, here are my predicted Top 5 Customer Imperatives for 2019 – which are also the key reasons I’m excited to join Customer Imperative and help our clients grow.
Customers now have endless options, and will increasingly choose on experience.
B2B SaaS is hyper-saturated across many market segments. Finding a niche and a competitive differentiator is no longer enough to fuel the long-range growth of a SaaS business. As categories within B2B SaaS get more saturated, pressure increases on SaaS players to very uniquely enable a customer to be successful in their daily jobs. This means that companies can no longer just build and market a product that customers can configure and tailor to the best of their ability. Products are now becoming perceived as services, where UX design is at the forefront of the product strategy. Customer success teams are now part AI, part human touch, with the engagement model deeply integrated within the product and services experiences themselves.
Customers will always tell you what they want, but that won’t always solve their problem.
Customers are experts in their own businesses and functional areas. They certainly know what they want, and what’s not working, and they’re experts at telling you about it. Often, customer success managers provide feedback to product managers, product managers go away to develop a hypothesis, and return to the customer asking “Would you use this feature?” This is a prime example of customer responsive behavior instead of customer centric behavior.
A great example of customer centricity is in the body of knowledge created by Teresa Torres. Teresa, a phenomenal product coach that advised my product, design and marketing teams at Snag, helps organizations adopt user-centered, hypothesis-driven product development practices. Teresa believes in utilizing a concept she calls the Ladder of Evidence: that is asking customers what they would do in a certain scenario, to explain what they’ve done in the past, to provide anecdotes, or ask to ask them to demonstrate — actually observing them in real life. This leads to addressing customer needs versus customer wants.
SaaS can no longer afford to ignore the onboarding adoption curve.
We’ve all seen this. The typical SaaS sales cycle, especially in the enterprise segment. Sales has enormous pressure to deliver on bookings quotas. Customers have pressure to buy on a budget cycle and make their best educated guess on the necessary funding. A big bet occurs, culminating in the signing of a multi-year contract, and the customer enters into a subscription agreement where value delivered is largely unrelated to fees paid monthly or quarterly.
Then comes the onboarding adoption curve. I thought SaaS was supposed to be easy to implement? What do you mean I need to be the expert on requirements for my integration? Customer onboarding teams need a new lens on this experience in order to properly facilitate the journey and delivery earlier time-to-value.
Customers are growing weary of the promise of value without value actually delivered.
While the subscription model is the cornerstone of SaaS businesses, the market is pressuring marketers and customer success leaders to think differently about how customers want to pay. The concept is not revolutionary, but it is a departure from the origin of SaaS pricing models. In the customer centric world of 2019, more SaaS businesses will find themselves exploring a new pricing model: the customer’s perception of value as the basis for monetizing their products on a transactional or pay-per-use basis. A prime example of this is in marketplace businesses models, like Airbnb or Upwork. While SaaS inherently powers these companies, the business model is built to provide low friction sign-up, easy customer onboarding and monetization at the point of perceived value.
Customer Success is evolving beyond a functional department and into a cross-functional discipline.
Allegedly (according to the Internet) the concept of the customer success function was created by a CRM company called Vantive in 1997. The early years of customer success were built on a simple concept: post-sales operations had to be more than just implementation and support. Customers needed access to a person that was actually compensated on their success. Fast forward to 2018, and customer success is still one of the most nebulous functional areas in technology businesses. Is it about retention? Is it upsell? Or is it glorified technical support? In addition to answering these questions, the most advanced, successful companies in 2019 will realize that customer success is not a department or a team of people, but is instead embedded within the entire product strategy and customer journey.
In summary. It’s no secret that the growth playbook for B2B SaaS has evolved. Sales and marketing machines know what it looks like to be well performing. The discipline of product and design has risen to an unprecedented level of importance. Business models are blending subscription, pay-per-use and pay-for-value, changing valuation strategies and monetization points.
Customer success is the next to deliver transformational change to the business. Successful SaaS businesses are quickly realizing that customer success is not just a department, but is better positioned as a cross-functional discipline. Customer success is only useful when it is a cross-functional goal.
What are your predictions for 2019?
As associate partner at Customer Imperative, Jason works with growth-stage technology clients to help them gain, grow and retain valuable customers. Jason specializes in customer success and product marketing practices that drive SaaS product-line growth and profitability. Prior to joining Customer Imperative in 2018, Jason spent over 10 years in leadership positions across management consulting, B2B SaaS and consumer technology industries.