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The Iron Man – Borg Technology Spectrum

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The Iron Man – Borg Technology Spectrum

Technology is an awesome and horrible thing.  It can be positive and elevate your business or it can be negative and drag on your bottom line.  I like to think of this as the Iron Man – Borg spectrum.  On one side you have the newest and best technology integrated together to make a better man for the betterment of society.  On the other side you have a writhing patchwork of wires and hoses that assimilates all it comes across – resistance is futile.

The obvious strategy is to stay on the Iron Man side of the spectrum, but that is certainly easier said than done.  As companies grow, the natural tendency is to assimilate new technologies without (re)evaluating their value or to keep old technologies simply because of the technology debt.  But resistance is not futile!

ERP (“The Borg”) is Dead

Enterprise Resource Planning (“ERP“) is dead… or at least dying.  With the advent of SaaS, PaaS, IaaS and API interconnectivity, the once almighty ERP system is facing steep declines due to its enormous cost, rigidity and complexity. However, these new (X)aaSs seem to proliferate faster than rabbits!  How do you sift through and find the solutions you need while avoiding creating the next Borg?

B2B Customer Success Tools

Technology selection is a continual assessment and reassessment process that changes with company and market needs.  I recommend initially picking two or three providers for each of the categories below and continually tracking them as well as new entrants to the market.  Individual features are certainly important, but efficient integration should hold significant weight with your final selection.  No one likes to log into 10 systems to review 10 dashboards to make one decision.

*Caveat: I do not represent any of these software companies.  While I do have my favorites, it very much depends upon the individual business needs. Remember, there is no one magic key… 

1. CRM

Customer Relationship Management (“CRM“) platforms are essential for basic tracking of communications, contacts, leads, opportunities, products, and accounts.  Start by making a list of your business needs and identify a couple CRMs that best align with those needs.

CRM differentiating factors could include:

  • Hosting Capabilities
  • Email Marketing
  • Automation
  • Business Intelligence
  • Billing Models
  • Sales Cycle Complexity
  • Configurability
  • Project Management
  • Collaboration Tools
  • Accounting Integration
  • Support

For more details on available CRMs, Business News Daily put together a great summary of CRMs here.  I encourage you to read this article to get a better overview of the solution landscape.

2. Customer Success Software

Customer Success Software is of paramount importance for companies with low-to-medium touch clients.  In order to effectively scale the efforts of your CSMs, you will need to select a CS Software package that will allow them to proactively focus on flagged accounts as well as those trending towards churn.

I recommend evaluating CS software on the following factors:

  • CRM Integration:  Does this integrate with my CRM(s) of choice?
  • Lagging Metrics:  How are health ratings computed?  Are they customizable?
  • Leading Metrics: How does the solution predict churn through customizable warning signs?
  • Playbooks:  Scalable CS requires repeatable best practice steps that can be easily referenced.

The Customer Success Association put together a good list of currently available CS Software vendors.   It’s a great place to start your evaluation.

3. Platform Usage

An often overlooked piece of the CS puzzle is platform usage.  You must have a keen idea of the five Ws:  Who, What, When, Where and Why.  Not only will you be able to spot churn warnings from product usage, but you will also be able to identify power users and those features that truly matter to your customer base.

I’ll probably get in trouble for this, but I can’t find a good review of the leading solutions currently available.  Below are some of the vendors I am familiar with and who provide great services – in alphabetical order:

Evaluate these providers on ease of integration, rule configuration for auto-messaging options (email, in app, etc.), level of tracking (actions as well as events) and analytical reporting.

4. Support Tickets

Efficient tracking, closure and notification of support tickets are incredibly important to client longevity.  Evaluate providers from a holistic view of your telecom, email, web, text, chat, etc. offerings.  You will want a provider that handles all of your channels, but also matches your support team structure (traditional help desk vs. virtual).

Capterra put together a good list of current help desk solutions.

5. Learning Management System (LMS) and Knowledge Base Communities

The LMS and Knowledge Base space is very mature and very crowded.  To narrow down the field, I recommend evaluating a few key factors:

  • Complexity of Product:  Do users need more of a knowledge base or a full fledged step-by-step training?  Do you need both?
  • Certification Programs:  Are you providing (billable) certification programs with multiple levels of expertise?
  • Live Training: Are you providing live training or archived only videos?

Even if an LMS is not right for your product, I highly recommend a knowledge base / user community at minimum.  Your 1:Many marketing and support efforts will be rewarded by a thriving user community.

6. Customer Feedback

We can’t have a CS tool article without talking about NPS and CSat.  Many of the above tools provide survey features for NPS and CSat surveys based on both lifecycle as well as milestone events (services, launches, support, etc.).  While this capability is more of a commodity, select a provider that will allow for personalization, analytics of response rates, trend tracking and integration into your CRM.

7. Customer Marketing

Ongoing customer marketing should be used to welcome new customers, provide key information during the onboarding and adoption phases as well as keep customers updated on new features, best practices and to celebrate customer wins.  The primary differentiating factor for platform selection is need for automation.  Does your platform require complicated campaigns and specific segmentation, or would a simple email marketing platform work?

For simpler (and cheaper) solutions, Business News Daily has put together a great review of available email marketing platforms.

For more complex, enterprise solutions, the current market leaders are Eloqua, Hubspot, Marketo and Pardot.  A good starting place on their similarities and differences can be found on Growlot.

8.  Data Analysis

Business Intelligence (“BI“) is not just for big companies anymore.  You need a way to aggregate, analyze and digest a glut of information about your product and your customers.  Many CRMs and CS Software packages will provide basic analytic packages and dashboards.  For those needing a more comprehensive solution,  there are three main players in the space: QlikView, Tableau and MS Power BI.

Differentiating factors include:

  • Technology stack
  • Ease of integration
  • Ease of use/learning curve
  • Computation speed
  • Business user expertise

9. Financial Modeling

I want to end this post teasing the topic of SaaS financial modeling.  To my knowledge, there are no software platforms to manage this.  Excel is still my tool of choice to monitor the many financial health metrics of a SaaS company.  These metrics require a much larger discussion and will be the focus of an upcoming article.

Be Iron Man

Invest the time to identify your business needs and systematically and continually evaluate your software solutions to ensure a scalable and efficient system.  Resist the borg.  Dump the tech debt.  Be Iron Man.

Coming up Next… CSM Advocacy and Expertise 

timschukarThe Iron Man – Borg Technology Spectrum

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