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Customer Success Lessons From a Future Cross Country Champ

cross country champ2As a Customer Success leader, I’m involved with a lot of “check-ins” with customers to see how they’re progressing on the success goals that underlie their software implementation. Sometimes these conversations are a lot of fun. It’s great to see people hitting their goals and achieving things they never thought they could. In other conversations, when we ask about progress toward success goals, we get a lot of pushback, such as: “They’re not important. We just need to get the project done. We don’t need them. Why should you?”


The second group could take a lesson from something I learned this year from my 12-year old. She went into seventh grade this year at a new school and decided to try out for the cross-country team. I love to run myself, but this was new for her, and I was sort of nervous. Would she make the team? Would she turn in decent times?


In the beginning, I told her to just go out and have fun. She made the team, had her first meet and posted a time of 27 minutes--not a very good time for two miles. She was frustrated, but also determined to do better.


Run two miles

I said, “Okay, let’s sit down and figure out what you want to achieve by the end of cross country season.” So, she put some goals together: Run two miles without walking; do well enough to have fun, and turn running into a passion.


She went to practice every day, and got a little better every day. At the next week’s meet, she dropped her time to 21 minutes, which was a big improvement--but still a back-of-the-pack finish.


We revisited her goals. I suggested she not start so fast in the beginning, letting her first mile be slower and saving up some energy for the second. She tried that, and came in at 18:54. Sticking with that strategy for the next meet, her time popped up to 19:27.


That was a bit frustrating. And when she learned from her coaches after the meet that in order to make districts, she needed to have run under 19:00, she was crushed. I was frustrated by the lack of communication and also the fact that the coaches weren’t doing a lot of coaching. They were just telling the kids to go out and run two miles.


What are you running toward?

That’s when it hit me that this all felt an awful lot like working with customers who don’t have clearly defined success goals. They’re running, but they don’t know what it is they’re running towards.


Well, I guess a lot of kids were upset about the lack of communication of the 19:00 goal, because the coaches gave them another opportunity: Hit 19:00 in an official practice, and go to districts.


After she hit 19:17 in the first official practice, I put my Customer Success hat on. I said, “You’ve run under 19:00 before. Let’s figure out what the problem is.”


I took her out to a track. Two miles is eight laps around, so we broke it down lap by lap. We calculated that to break 19:00, she had to average 2:20 for each lap. Some laps could be a little slower if others were a little faster. I timed her so she could get a feel for it. We worked on pacing, on breathing, on relaxing the upper body, and on running faster on the straightaways and jogging around the curves. It started to click with her that running wasn’t just putting one foot in front of the other.


Now instead of facing a really scary prospect--hit 19:00 or your season is over—she was energized and focused on a set of strategies and actions she could take to get there. The next practice she hit 18:44. And in the official practice: 18:22. She went on to districts and finished middle of the pack with 18:41. I was one proud dad.


Igniting the passion

Most importantly, she came out of that extremely happy and excited for the next season. The season is over, but she’s training three times a week so she can meet her goal for next year: 14:00, which looks like the time you need to hit to medal. She wants to medal. I think the process of putting in those success goals in place, working on a plan to hit them and then working on a plan to achieve them was exhilarating.


I think it can be just as exhilarating in a corporate setting, and the same principals apply.


If you take a group of seventh graders who’ve had with no training in cross country and just say, “Go run,” what do they do? They start out very, very fast. They run like that for about half a mile and then walk the rest of the way. The next day they go out and do the same thing. They make some progress, but not as much as they could.


Even though she hit her original goals of having fun, running fast and igniting a passion for the sport, it wasn’t until my daughter had really specific success metrics to focus on that she really started to improve.


Changing the conversation

You can do the same thing in business. We have a lot of conversations with customers who ask us how we define success with Coupa. We can give them industry benchmarks, and tell them what other customers are doing, but what really matters is how their company, and their leadership, defines success. Too often, they don’t know, or their goals are too high level or they’re not quantifiable or there’s no roadmap for getting there. Or all of the above. Then what you have is a lot of unfocused effort and frustration.


When everyone is working toward clearly defined metrics and has a roadmap for achieving them, it changes the conversation completely. We all know what we’re trying to accomplish, and we talk about our progress doing the things we need to do to get there. That’s the center of the conversation. There’s a lot more energy and engagement. Internally, it helps me make the case for the resources that I need to hold up my end of the bargain. When we meet our goals, we celebrate together and reset with new goals.


Setting business goals is not as straightforward an exercise as setting running goals, but your goals don’t have to be perfect from the outset. We have a whole series of workshops and exercises we can do to help people figure out what kinds of goals make sense for them, and how to break them down into sub-goals, specific action items and success metrics. The first thing that has to happen though, is that you have to decide that this is something you need to do.


If you have that mindset, we can do a lot together. This is not a one-time thing. It’s a journey, and it’s okay to readjust as you go along. Start with something simple, and build on it as you go. As they say, you have to walk before you can run. But once do get up and running, you’ll find it’s a lot more fun.