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Ask Me Anything: CEOs Talk Enterprise Software Adoption

Written by Sarah E. Brown

Published on November 11, 2015

Adoption rates for enterprise software are surprisingly low considering how many resources companies invest in software to run their businesses. 

For example, according to Forrester Research, nearly half of all CRM projects fail. Most of us have experienced software implementations that suffered from lower user adoptions. A Sand Hill Adoption Insight study found that poor software implementations can result in reduced employee productivity and wasted time and financial resources. There is a significant opportunity to improve software adoption and in turn drive customer success for fast-growing software companies and their enterprise customers.

In a recent “Ask Me Anything” webinar, Rob Castaneda, Founder and CEO of ServiceRocket and Aaron Fulkerson, Founder and CEO of MindTouch, tackled this subject. In the hourlong audience-driven Q&A, Aaron and Rob answered frequently asked software adoption questions and discussed strategies companies can employ to achieve desired outcomes by ensuring customers are adopting software tools.

customer success with software training aaron_fulkerson.jpg
Rob Castaneda
Founder and CEO
servicerocket logo
Aaron Fulkerson

View Recording

Topics covered included:

  • How training can be used to start software projects off on the right foot.

  • A well-developed and data-driven knowledge base or Customer Success hub to help users become experts in using software.

  • Ongoing support can be a lifeline for employees or customers who need help in the moment.

  • How the right implementation ensures enterprise software works in a company’s existing workflow.

Why is the adoption rate for enterprise software so low?


Rob Castaneda: These days, it's easy to initially break software into an enterprise. It’s so common now that someone will grab a credit card, swipe it online, and install some software inside of their team, subscribe to it and start using it. The software company then grabs their logo, sticks it on their website, and says, look, we’ve got a major customer as one of our customers. But it might be for only five users within the team.

When we look at adoption for software, if you're not growing users, it’s not going to last. When the person whose credit card got swiped moves on or changes teams, or gets a new credit card, adoption stops. Growth stops. Then there’s a churn risks and everyone wants to know why aren’t they using your software anymore. It’s important that software is adopted and gets spread to more than the initial team.

Looking at this problem over and over, it’s about enabling people to spread things out, and understanding what customers are trying to do. Is the person who has signed up for your software an early adopter? Are they solving a problem, or are they an influencer? Are other teams trying to copy them? It's about understanding them and enabling them to share knowledge internally. You want your customer to be proactive in terms of having access to customer success materials in a hub, or having them attend training. When we look at training, we don’t look at a one-size-fits-all approach. Look at your customers' motivation to do training or learning. If people aren’t learning more and more about a solution or how to apply it, their interest level goes down, adoption goes down, and then there’s another piece of software they’re looking at or business issue to solve that gets in the way. You need to attract attention, maintain interest, and continually solve more problems and enable users to train other users and keep growing.


Aaron Fulkerson: When a software product is deployed at a company, it’s generally done so by a champion who buys into the vision of that software product. They believe the software product can make their product stronger. The challenge the champion has is getting rest of stakeholders that help that product to realize the value, and then onboard with the vision of the vendor who sold or the champion. How does a champion lower effort for all stakeholders so they can become bought in on this software package the company pays for to achieve goals set forward? 

How does a champion lower effort for all stakeholders so they can become bought in on this software package the company pays for to achieve goals set forward?

- Aaron Fulkerson, CEO of MindTouch

That’s the big challenge. Everyone has a day job. Far too many learning modalities for delivering right information pre-date the internet. We need modern solutions. No one wants to sift through a five-thousand-page Salesforce PDF. We need to equip companies with what they need to become product experts. Vendors need to do a better job of equipping champions with a way to deliver information throughout the organization and find ways make the champions successful.


Rob: Time is an important context. Early adopters or innovators in organizations are trying to make a change. You have a window while they're making that change to start off a chain reaction of adoption. Within an enterprise, there are often multiple innovators, sometimes competing, trying to solve the same problem.


Aaron: Imagine if they send them to an archaic LMS circa 1999. Who has time for that? How many people have received the user manual PDF? No one will read it. So, you google and search, and end up on third-party community site. Unless it’s someone who’s invested in taking content and turning it into a customer engagement channel, it’s completely broken. ServiceRocket makes it easy to get up and running as well. Why is adoption such a challenge? It’s because while there’s been so much innovation around automating business processes, but only recently has there been significant innovation in how we help people to become experts in concepts to learn.


Rob: In the Learning Management world there are around 600+ LMS solutions out there, and as you said, many even pre-date  SEO. Making information available for users is paramount.

What can be done to help companies increase initial adoption?


Rob: Initial adoption sometimes isn’t about what someone knows, it’s what they don’t know that can make all the difference. Initial adoption is figuring out, "what does the customer already know?" and also being mindful to get them the tools they need to get value quickly, answer questions and then let them do what they need to get that value.  You also need to make them aware of what they don’t know because they may be able to apply it. In my mind, a great analogy is if if someone is lead doctor and working on surgery and is calling for tools over their shoulder give them what they want. The same is true of your customers when it comes to information they need, usually through a customer success hub. They’ve got one place to go for info and get tools over shoulder and can work successfully.

When a surgeon isn’t in surgery, then they will want to make sure they’re aware of what they could do or know about without needing to do a whole bunch of research. Some of these things are more learning than marketing. Sometimes there’s a fine line.

With our customers, it's about doing a one-hour training or 40-minute training or seven-minute bite-size learning that helps early adopters, technicians and specialists know and understand more so if they want to dig into features or capabilities they’re able to dig deeper and get into them but won’t waste their time or put up barriers in process.

For initial adoption, you need to figure out how to help your initial champion help themselves and start to make them aware of what they don’t know without intruding or talking down to them. Let them be the expert. Also, for that initial person that's doing first roll out or innovation, be aware that other people in company are asking them questions. People are asking them, wow, you just rolled out this new piece software, this is excellent, how can I do it for my team? The innovator doesn’t have time to solve everyone else’s problems, but if they know there are these easily accessible bite-size learning pieces or there is a customer success site readily available and easy to get to, they will start referring those offerings you have to the rest of the organization. Once you can get that going, that’s how you cross the chasm from one innovator using tools and being successful to have a circle of people looking, wanting to emulate, point to your offerings, and help you jump over to next group and multiply what’s happening for adoption.


Aaron: Lower the barrier for people to contribute relevant content. Subject experts are too often disconnected from customers. Don’t make it hard for them to provide relevant content to users, because then there's no payoff for them. Make it very easy for them to publish or author content and best practices. We're seeing an architecture shift from monolithic to microservices. Do the same thing with your customer success content. It should be structured as microcent in a semantically rich environment.

You can also layer content across the customer journey. Give relevant content at every point in the customer journey. If customers are using your application, layer that microcontent as a service into the software. Rich, relevant content enriched and contributed to by subject matter experts is key. Track user events and analyze and build content maps back to customer record. Generate pieces of microcontent that help your users to renew. This also helps your salespeople close deals faster.

Avalara, for instance, during the sales cycle, use to have to do proofs of concepts of demos. Now they point to their success center, where customers can get ramped up quickly. Post-sale, layer content in bite-size pieces across customer journey. Helping users become product experts improves NPS. Build content maps to know what content to deliver programmatically for email, newsletters in customer journey. Employ a system to automatically optimize through machine learning to auto organize based on event data. Future users have automatic recommendations for content to help them be successful. Customers have been trained to go to google because businesses have failed them. They have not bothered to get information to customers hands in format they care about. So, your customers know to go on google. On google, they're faced with competitors, advertisers, etc.

If you’re not organizing content, it’s not showing up in google. If you organize your content, then the top ten search results will be your content in google and you’re controlling your brand message. Make sure when customers are googling long-tail branded search terms about how to use a feature within your product they’re finding your content. This helps them, and then they know they can trust you to go to your dot com.

Make sure when customers are googling long-tail branded search terms about how to use a feature within your product they’re finding your content. This helps them, and then they know they can trust you to go to your dot com.

- Aaron Fulkerson, CEO of MindTouch


Rob: With the SEO, optimizing for google is key. It’s crazy for older systems employed by customers in customer success knowledge area or learning management systems; many are not optimized. If customers can’t find context information, for example successfully search for a training course in Dallas next week, you're missing opportunities. Do customers get taken to your site, or do they even get your listings, or will they be getting your competitors and therefore you're losing traffic?

What sort of program is needed to help turn these initial adopters into experts?


Rob:  In the past, trainings were built like traditional universities. There were complex courses that might take multiple days, delivered in a ssingle mode, or in-person course. We’re about step-by-step paths for all things you can do to be an expert. We allow people to drop in different pieces, like admin pathways. Maybe in step one, they're just given videos to watch. In step two, they may submit a questionnaire, or attend a course online or in-person, or eLearning. The key is to build pathways someone goes through. They should make it possible to for someone to go from beginner to becoming competent and an expert, each in defined paths with many different steps and multi-modalities. Certification would be a completion of that pathway, not just 50 multiple choice questions and thumbprint and photo ID making sure someone has answered static questions. Even if you're not charging for your training and there’s very little friction, plan roll-out of content and steps for customers to go through in a learning journey. Also, re-use modules in different ways. Understanding your product would be the same on the administrative pathway and developer pathway.

This is opposed to just saying, here is a certification test, go to a test center. We don't want to treat our customers as if they're going to DMV. Create pathways so they’re achievable and people are incentivized to finish and don’t feel like they have to put forth a lot of effort to get it done. Release these pathways at the right times.


Aaron: Atlassian is a great example. I know that ServiceRocket is responsible for driving adoption programs at some of the most successful companies today. What you can do pre-sale is help. At MindTouch, during the sales process, our team has been trained to develop a customer success plan. Gainsight now has this in their product. They went through our customer success planning session during a sales cycle, and adopted it in-product. Salesforce is partner at MindTouch, and they developed a customer success plan during the sales cycle.

During the sales process, a sales person is an assistant to the champion who’s making the purchasing decision. They're an assistant in IDing the stakeholder, challenges addressed, and determining how to measure success of deployment. Essentially, salespeople become a secretary to the champion. They create a plan that's viable whether they move forward with MindTouch, and they can use it at their company to help them with what they’re trying to achieve around helping with user adoption, customer success, support, etc. The sales function at MindTouch is there to create a blueprint that follows the account through each stage from sales, launch deployment, account management. And it is continuously updated.

When someone new comes in that’s on a MindTouch account, if they're unfamiliar, stakeholders only have to send that person a single url login to see who’s involved, what their challenges were, what their business objectives are, how tracking against metrics and any training videos produced are part of onboarding to drive user adoption. I’ve seen these success plans accelerate the sales cycle. Make sure you don’t lose a customer post-sale because they didn’t adopt your product.

An unintended side effect in this is actually an accelerated sales cycle; we're at 50 days at MindTouch. MindTouch went from a little bit of churn to negative 20% churn in our customer base, with accelerated adoption post-sale. 


Rob: We believe in focusing on the success cycle vs. sales cycle. Get alignment up front and focus on change management. Remember: the best people to own change management are those living the change:the customer. 


Aaron: At MindTouch, our focus is on creating generative value for customer. This goes back to my applied mathematics computer science program in school, when I had a software professor named Fred Brooks. He's we call software engineering, why we call a bite a bite. He shared that computer scientists are toolsmiths, like a blacksmith. But tools are only as valuable as customers understanding how to use. Our role is to help companies realize the value of the tool we’ve created. Customer success and adoption begins with the sales team. 


Rob: Internally, we have a saying: "Selling doesn’t help, but helping sells." We even have a chief toolsmith position, who is our expert Matt Doar, who writes O'reilly books for Atlassian. Our services team embraces the culture of being craftspeople, and understanding tools properly. It’s how we enable customers. We don’t try to build large consulting teams for the sake of it. It’s why our team is a culture fit with the MindTouch team.

What is the best way to test your onboarding process?


Aaron: For us, we're focused on measuring time to launch. That’s the critical metric that we care about. How quickly does the customer launch for MVP and then we look at extend phase where we extend MindTouch across customer journey. We're fixated on this customer success index score, which internally we're calling C6, which is a combination of days to launch, touchpoints that MindTouch is extended to and reports that are delivering busines intelligence to the company. It’s what we’re pioneering, boiling down to that single metric.


Rob: There’s multiple ways to look at this. We do keep stats on how many days to go live and so forth. Sometimes there are reasons things get delayed, shifting to launch at same time as conference, or release of a product. I try to keep things as simple as we can at the company. Make decisions based on values and what feels right along with measurement. We have a voice of the customer team that talks to customers and run through interviews, basis of that is NPS score but that’s not the only thing we measure. Ultimately it’s about communication with the customer. We are always looking for nuances where we’re annoying the customer and don’t know we’re annoying them.

The only way to pick them up is not through a metric but through human communication. One of our customers revealed that they love what we're doing, we did what we said we were going to do, but through our voice of the customer program we found out they really hated the way the invoice came. For us it was like, “what?” We looked back to determine what happened and how we could empathize with the customer. We did great work and the wording on the invoice wasn’t very nice. It wasn’t incorrect, it just wasn’t nice and wasn't  representative of what we wanted to show. For us it’s about picking up little nuances and then caring about them. We have a culture where we want to put the best work of our lives on display all the time. This doesn’t necessarily mean we’re perfectionists and will delay, but it’s important if we’re annoying people with our invoice we take time to get it right. Automated metrics don’t pick up those nuances.

The best way to know whether your customers are talking positively about you is to talk to them. It is very rare that a customer will talk to you happily and behind your back say negative things. Our VOC team is not delivery or sales, they’re an independent team in company continually through surveys, face to face, or phone, looking for little pieces where we can make a small tweak and make a huge impact or stop doing annoying things that might be making customer feel uneasy or we didn’t do right away. It all comes back to values of company and culture instilling and incentivizing and getting team members to care.


Aaron:  I don’t know why buyers don't ask vendors what their NPS score is. MindTouch net promoter is 77, which is insanely high. Why don’t people during sales process find out promoter score.Have that as factor. There’s no independent site where everyone submitted NPS score. If you’re not tracking NPS and another vendor is, it’s a good indicator maybe post-sale experience isn’t great.


Rob: Do you have any secrets or things you’ve done with NPS internally with the system? I find a lot of people do different things with it.


Aaron:  MindTouch has a humble culture. Our NPS is 77, we’ve been floating over 70 for two years now, and it’s so high that when I tell people, they almost don't believe me. We don’t beat our chest at MindTouch. We should be beating our chest about it and I wasn’t even talking about it. We use our own product. The key is we set correct expectations during the sales cycle. We have a customer success program that is focused on getting the customer to maximize the value they get out of the product. we’ve got that baked down from best practices since 2008. We continually refine that. I don’t know what else. On product side, engineering, largely responsible for NPS. Everyone in the company is responsible for NPS, beginning with the sales cycle. If you’re selling snake oil, or the post-sale experience with support and success isn’t good, it doesn’t matter how good product is, your NPS will suffer.

If you’re selling snake oil, or the post-sale experience with support and success isn’t good, it doesn’t matter how good product is, your NPS will suffer.

- Aaron Fulkerson, CEO of MindTouch



Rob: We’ve had customers who have been so happy with our service that they have worked with us to help them change their processes because they value the service so much. Sometimes funded companies growing quickly have to run by metrics to accelerate return which gives them more challenges. In our office, we want numbers on butchers on paper on the wall vs automated reports. When someone writes numbers every week and sticks next to desk, you know they’ve read them. They appreciate what the numbers are. What's more interesting to me is not the number but the difference of numbers. Is our number of downloads, NPS score, etc. better than last week? We look at differences between time periods and also the differences of differences. Is it better and are we getting better, or is it better but overall we're trending down? Having that mindset of continual improvement is key. You can never be totally finished with providing great service. Our value is delight customer, and you can’t delight customer if never hear them. We need to get back feedback from them.

“You can never be totally finished with providing great service.”

- Rob Castaneda

Let's say you're converging content across the organization specifically with the purpose of educating users, building product awareness and building user communities.

What are 1-2 best practices for simplifying the process of integrating and converging content across divisions such as training, support, engineering and service?


Aaron: Your company today is producing content that your customers would like to have access to in a format that helps them be successful with product. We believe in micro content delivered as a service. If you have customers first come through authoritative content that subject matter experts produced, the tone of conversation is different. iI you don’t you know what it looks like: people who aren’t happy. If you haven’t expected minimal effort to publish content or make available in a format they’d use. 


Rob: I get frustrated with a lot of learning tools out there. There’s an old standard called SCORM, it’s probably older than I am, built before 2000. A lot of learning and eLearning especially is built in these SCORM development tools. A person who’s almost effectively working in imovie making learning. they publish this package deployed out. problem with old monolithic model is one person creates knowledge and assumes they have all knowledge and are producing for everyone else. the challenge with that in software is fast-moving products and tech and that model is broken. Not only that, knowledge is not all in one person. A big part of what we’re focused on doing is democratize content development also for learning and working with training departments to link in with forums and create smaller pieces of learning. Working with different products to collect knowledge, allow people to quickly create training courses and push through. 

 Learning departments generally don’t have a lot of people in them. So how can they borrow all of the resources coming from product documentation, support, marketing, product management, engineering and easily combine them together, get feedback, publish out as part of learning pathway for students. We live in an age that products are changing so much it’s rare customers’ learning departments even get notice before features are released or changed. If you’ve ever been in a situation where you have 30 or 40 elearning course and then the company decides to change a color scheme or user experience and all of sudden learning course have to be changed. That’s why it’s important to structure things the right way and be able to borrow as much as we can. We’re not have to build a university. We’re not training lawyers and doctors and nuclear scientists. We’re training in the use and adoption of technology which is a fast-moving area, and you need the right mindset with processes and structure you put in place. The way the teams are structured needs to be collaborative and not command and control.


Aaron: It’s true most self-funded companies exhibit these characteristics, but that's not exclusive to us. It’s about being a craftsman. There’s companies that focus on being craftsmen where it’s all about the value of tools. And there are self-funded companies focused only on growth. They may have hypergrowth for a period but they are building a house of cards that collapses later. We believe in value creation and approaching how to build a company from a craftsman approach.


Rob: That’s when you make small decisions driven by inspiration. We always ask, are we doing the best work of our lives? Are we and our customers enabled to do the best work of our lives?

If you’ve got a person on your team and you’re context switching them between projects and initiatives, they can't do best work of lives. It comes back to culturally and structurally how we do things. If you give them time to grow and complete, you’ll produce better results. It's about building customer success, learning, and putting all those things together. If you get buy in from product teams and various other teams and collaborations working across them, you will get the best content, information, and successfully get into the hands of early adopters and customers. They will take your output and do best work of their lives at their companies and have that impact. You want to be serving up the best you can so they can do best they can. That’s when you get a good NPS score. When you have weakness in that or where quality is not quite there, that’s the foundation that customer is building their programs on, and we live in an age where everything is about reputation and interest. If i’m a customer taking someone’s software and rolling it out, my reputation is attached with success for that project. It’s very important to have each of these things aligned if you want software adoption success.

Originally published Nov 11, 2015 4:30:00 PM, updated Nov 11, 2015