The Baton Handoff in the Rio Olympics and Winning Gold in Sales

Allyson Felix passing the baton to English Gardner at the 2016 Rio Olympics

Baton handoffs make, or break, Olympic history. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the United States men’s and women’s 4×100-meter relay teams dropped batons in a disastrous performance that cost the United States crucial medal counts. Four years earlier, at the 2004 Athens Olympics, imprecise baton passing by the American men’s team had allowed a British relay team to win in an upset, while the United States women’s team were disqualified after a botched exchange.

In the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, a scandal erupted over the baton handoff between the United States sprinters in the women’s 4×100 race. In the final leg of the relay race, Allyson Felix, a veteran US sprinter, was in the lead and about to pass the baton to English Gardner. In the crucial hundredths of a second where a near instantaneous baton handoff can mean the difference between a gold medal and failure, disaster struck. Felix appeared to stumble and flipped the baton into the air, the baton landing with the sound no one wants to hear in a race they have prepared for over four arduous years.

Ping. Ping. Ping.

As CEO, I pay a lot of attention to baton handoffs. They happen every day — between sales and marketing, product and sales, and sales and customer service. Revenue growth requires these baton handoffs to be flawless — so we don’t hear that sound of dropped deals, leading to missed quarterly numbers and slow growth.

Are You in Sales, or Are You On a Sales Team?

Let’s say you are a salesperson at a large retail electronics store like Best Buy. You are in sales, and you are in a sales team, but you are not on a sales team. Your success in selling printers or calculators or ream of copy paper doesn’t rely on the rest of the sales team — it is proportional to your individual skills. There’s not much that the rest of the sales team can do to help you make that sale of a calculator. The product is easily understood by both the buyer (the consumer standing in the aisles) and the seller (you). You see a prospect looking around the store, you say hello and ask if you can help him, and then direct him to the calculators. There, your individual sales skills come into play — you can ask them if they need a calculator for business, and if so, suggest they purchase the model that has the sales tax function.

Now let’s say you’re not selling calculators at a store, but you’re in a competitive industry like tire sales, or you’re selling specialized equipment like industrial robots. This is where you can’t rely on just your individual sales skills to sell more. If you’re selling tires, then you better have a savvy marketing team that delivers leads by building and attracting prospects to sites like Tire Rack. Or if you’re selling industrial robots, you’re going to need the assistance of sales engineers and product managers to help you sell. In either competitive industries, or complex sales, great sales is all about the smooth functioning of a great sales engine, not the individual salesperson.

This is where the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO), or for a smaller company, the CEO, CMO and SVP Sales comes in. More often than not, however, decisions are taken that emphasize the individual, or department, over the company. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the selection of sales enablement tools. When we sell our Dossier lead generation platform to enterprises, we ask if the CMO or the CRO has reviewed the requirements. If the answer is no, and that the decision will be taken by a departmental leader, then the risk is that the decision will be weighted towards the needs of that department.

For example, first-generation website chat products were designed for either customer service departments, or for appointment-setting sales teams. When the head of customer service or inside sales evaluates these products, his qualification criteria will end with their own team’s goal — i.e. reducing time to resolution for customer service, or increasing appointments for inside sales. These leaders are trainers for individual athletes, and all they care about is how fast that athlete runs to win the 100m sprint. But like a national team coach, the CMO, CRO or CEO, doesn’t care just about the appointment — they care about the handoff to the account executive who will turn that win into an enterprise sale. These are national coaches that care about the country bringing in 50 gold medals — and winning on the international circuit.

And to the best sales and marketing leaders, creating a relay team isn’t about taking the four fastest runners and putting them together. They must work amazingly well as a team. They must learn to pass the baton to the next person on the team — from marketing to inside sales; from inside sales to an account executive; from the account executive to the sales engineer; and to the customer success manager; and finally to the customer service manager.


Winning gold is all about the baton handoff.


Lead Handoff from Website to Email

Let’s review the first handoff of a lead, or prospect, who visits your website — when the baton is passed from marketing to sales. Like baton handoffs in a race, precision and timing matters if you want to win gold. Our goal is to efficiently convert site visitors to qualified prospects, then a sales opportunity, and then close that deal. Since website visitors are anonymous when they come directly to your site, getting to know them by name and email is essential for the personal service we aim to offer.

We used our customer communications app Dossier to track the stages of a lead from discovery to close. First, we connected Dossier to the apps we use: G Suite, Google Drive, Slack, Asana and Salesforce — so that we could organize all customer conversations that happened on email, website chat or SMS.

            
G Suite is where we start all conversations, but we sync it with these apps

Let’s Start the Chit Chat

To capture the lead, we decided to do away with forms and use chat on our website. However, the first generation of chat software works if you have a transactional sale, because the goal of the chat is to answer the questions of someone who’s on your site, about to buy, but for some reason cannot take that step — ex. she wants to know more about the warranty. This first generation chat was designed for service teams to resolve customer requests, but they were not designed for sales and marketing teams. Chatbots are also inadequate when dealing with an enterprise, consultative or higher value sale, which often requires follow up with other internal teams, such as sales consultants, professional services, customer service or contract and finance teams.


First-generation chat was designed for customer service, not for sales and marketing. Customer service agents are motivated by reducing or eliminating the question in the first place. Sales and marketing teams, unlike customer service, seek to create an experience that encourages the website visitor to return and ask more questions. Questions are good for sales, because it allows for a dialogue. Dialogues lead to an understanding of the prospect and a personal relationship to be built with a salesperson.


Let’s illustrate this by an enterprise sales example. Many of you at are familiar with getting a call like this:

Salesperson: “Hi, this is ____ from _____. We’re calling because we can do ____ for you. How’s tomorrow at 10 or 11 am for us to talk?

You: “I’d like to learn more about your solution and how it compares to others. Is this like ___ or _____?”

Salesperson: “Sure, I’d be happy to schedule a meeting with our account executive. Are you available tomorrow at 10 or 11 am?”

You: Not really. I’d really like to know more before scheduling this call.

and then you politely disengage.

In that cold call, the appointment-setting sales rep should have been able to patch in a more knowledgeable salesperson immediately — except, it’s a bit awkward to do that on the phone. However, in a second-generation conversational sales platform, the chat can handle increasing complexity of conversations. Sales Development Reps (SDRs) can include other sales experts on the chat. Sales engineers (SEs) supporting the sale to a large, named account can feed the salesperson with private messages to use in her chat with the prospect. It’s also very natural for an SDR to include the Account Executive (AE) in that first chat.

We therefore designed a process — to help sales and marketing teams communicate with leads and customers, with zero disruption to the ways our internal teams already communicate. Here were our first principles.

#1: Humanize First Contact on Your Site

Many website chat apps look and feel exactly the same — leading to the perception that they are commoditized and your site visitors become immune to these similar-looking chat widgets greeting them. Our first goal in deploying Dossier chat on our site was to fit into the site’s color scheme and be very human. Putting pictures to the faces who are available to chat with the visitor

and a customizable color palette are important . We designed Dossier chat to humanize the experience with salespeople, and be customizable to the site’s design.

Website chat works well when it fits in with your brand guidelines

#2: Forms are Just Bad Form

Our next diktat of user experience was — don’t make visitors fill out a form. Forms, even beautifully designed ones, are impersonal! Imagine you walked into a clothing store, and then needed some help finding your size. You look around, but instead of helpful salespeople on the floor that you could quickly talk to, you see a kiosk tucked away in the corner.

You walk over and the kiosk says “Hi! What’s your name, email address, enter it again just because I don’t trust you to fill out your email address right the first time, and oh yes, your phone, and ah, your company name… also, we need a title to know if you’re worth letting into our fitting room, and finally, don’t forget to click that BIG BUTTON right there… and, Thanks! Someone will be with you as soon as possible, usually between 1 and 24 hours, if you’d like to wait with bated breath.” That’s what a form feels like to your visitors. Um, no forms.

We decided, instead, to create a lead experience using a conversational platform that would capture all the information needed by the marketing and sales teams. While we’re gearing up to respond, our chatbot, DossierBot, greets the visitor and collects the visitor’s name, email and organization, then passes on the lead to a human being, with an automatic reply sent to the user. Suddenly things felt a lot more human, on both ends of the chat!

Chat on a retail website asks the visitor for their contact info

#3: Zero Disruption to the Ways You Already Communicate

In the modern sales enterprise, your sales reps staffing the website chat are not sitting at their desk all day. Even when they’re working, they’re mobile — when a chat comes in. Slack is the best mobile app for responding to website chats — it is portable, conversations are visible to your entire team, and you can easily manage multiple chats with Slack channels. If one rep isn’t available on Slack, the chat can be handled by someone else on also on Slack. The baton handoff is built into Slack teams.


Dossier chat was designed to make your apps work better. Since our salespeople use Slack, we wanted to reply to our site visitors right from it, as this causes zero disruption to the ways we already communicate. No new apps to learn.


Now, with every familiar knock-brush Slack sound, we instantly know we have a visitor on that wants to chat with us. Website chats appear instantly in a Slack channel.

Responding to a website chat from the Slack mobile app

#4: Visibility Speeds up Sales Handoffs

A month into our deployment of Dossier chat, website visitors were responding well to chats, conversations were had with them — with our team responding via Slack — and leads were being qualified was happening at a pretty fast clip! Once the chat is completed, the lead needs to be sent to a salesperson who can address the next stage in the customer lifecycle.

As we handed off Marketing Qualified Leads, or MQLs, to the sales team, we didn’t want the conversion of this lead be dependent solely on the availability of one specific salesperson handling it. Enterprise salespeople are often busy in meetings with clients, yet there are supporting staff who can assist, such as account managers, sales engineers, and product specialists. We wanted a more robust sales process, but with the speed of a startup.


In all business, and especially in sales, knowledge is power. Dossier handles the transition that leads make from being online visitors to going offline on email, texts or messaging.


What if you could not only hand off MQLs to the sales team, but also help sales managers, support staff and executive stakeholders watch the progress of this prospect and assist the salesperson? We have that visibility in the lead conversation. Not only are chats visible to sales managers, but all followups that are offline, on email, or text messages, or Whatsapp, could also be analyzed. No sales manager ever had to ask “What’s going on with that prospect?” They would already know.

Curating the handoff to sales meant that we should streamline our process so that we were not simply handing a set of leads over to sales. We assign salespersons to the chat conversation from the very beginning. As Dossier chat collects the visitor’s name, email and company, we look up the named account in Salesforce, our CRM, and pick the appropriate team of sales development reps (SDRs) to join the chat. Since the sales crew is usually online on Slack, Dossier automatically adds them to a chat channel with the website visitor without any human intervention.

Responding to a website chat from the Slack mobile app

#5: Speeding up Contract Management

Once an opportunity has been created in Salesforce, the deal is in play. In an enterprise sale, delays happen in contract process because the G&A contracts team is often oversubscribed with contracts that may or may not be related to closing sales that quarter. Managing this process is essential. With Dossier, the account manager converts the chat with the client into a task, usually in a task management tool like Asana. The account manager assigns it to the legal counsel for review of the contract. Our contracts team now has every request from sales in their Asana task management tool. The account manager gets a response from Dossier: “Revcyclery contract review created in Asana”. When the contracts person logs in to Asana, she will see tasks in her inbox related to deals in the pipeline.

Creating an Asana task from an email
…and the tasks, in Asana

#6: Speeding up Post-Sales Onboarding

After the sale has closed (yay, sales team! Ring the bell), a different team, either Customer Success, Professional Services, or Onboarding, gets involved. They usually start by getting a briefing from the salesperson involved in the deal. We’ve eliminated this hand-off entirely by converting client emails into a list of open tasks in Asana, that are then delivered to the CSMs. Without any delay, the CSM has what he or she needs to take the reins on the account. All onboarding actions are communicated to the clients, no matter where they are. If they are on our website, they see a task list like the one below. Note that the first item in the website feed is an Asana task — the client knows that it’s an open task.

When your client visits your website, they see a dossier with all their open requests

When the client visits the website some days later, Dossier chat intelligently recognizes she’s back and shows her the Asana task and the assignee. She also has a dossier of white papers, left by the CSM ready for her to review.

The lead-to-close lifecycle — a visitor turning into a prospect and then a customer — is now complete. During this process we’ve made our existing apps, such as Gmail/Outlook, Slack, Asana, Box/Dropbox/GDrive/OneDrive, Salesforce and our website work better — all powered by the one app that organizes all customer conversations — Dossier.

Winning the Gold Medal

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, the US women’s team appealed the circumstances of the infamous Rio baton fumble. Replays of the race showed Brazil’s third runner, Kauiza Venancio, pumping her arms as she gets ready to receive the baton from Franciela Krasucki. Venacio’s left arm makes contact with Felix’s right one and throws her off balance as she was attempting to pass the baton to Gardner. Felix let out a yelp as her handoff missed its mark and the baton tumbled to the ground. Ping. Ping. Ping. She picked up the baton and urgently yelled to Gardner to finish the race — a crucial action that allowed them to qualify for an appeal. The 2016 Rio Olympics worked out for the US women’s team. In a sudden-death 4×100 race, USA’s Allyson Felix, English Gardner, Tianna Bartoletta and Tori Bowie celebrated after they won the Women’s 4x100m Relay Final on Aug. 19, 2016. Their baton handoff was flawless and they came home with gold.

The victorious US women’s 4×100 relay race winners at the 2016 Rio Olympics

 


About Vik Chaudhary

Vik Chaudhary is the CEO of Dossier (http://www.dossier.work) in San Francisco. To business professionals and teams, Dossier is an app for organizing communications with customers. In his spare time, Vik observes how CMOs and CROs lead their teams to gold or fumble the baton handoff.

Dossier is an app for organizing customer conversations, no matter where it happens, with zero disruption to the ways you already communicate. Based in San Francisco, Dossier is helping business owners, business professionals and teams around the globe intelligently sync their customer communication channels and organize documents, tasks and more. Welcome to a new way to build better customer relationships and a better business. Sign up for a free account today at https://www.dossier.work.

Pick Up the Slack, or Why Speed Matters for Customers

Slack. The word conjures up relaxation, or even lethargy, slowness, torpor, lassitude. Far from it. Slack, the messaging product used daily by over 5 million people, is anything but slow. Spend three months with Slack, like our team at Dossier did, and if you’re a fast-moving team at any knowledge-based business, you just know that Slack isn’t about lethargy or relaxation. It’s about harnessing the speed of collaboration, about learning the ways speed can make you, your team, and your company listen faster, say faster, build faster, feedback faster, and earn faster. How do you use Slack to respond faster to customers? Read on.

Fast. Faster. Fastest.

The success of Slack has been written about, and the numbers I repeat aren’t new. 5 million daily active users, 1.5 million paying customers, and $150 million in annual recurring revenue as of Jan. 31. As of just yesterday, there is talk of Amazon offering $9 billion for the messaging company. Slack has delivered a product that has been hugely successful, and as a Silicon Valley company using Slack for internal team messaging, we see why both the speed of messaging as well as the plethora of application integrations make it a must-have product.

In the years since Slack rocket-shipped into our lives, many products have come (and some, gone), aiming to spurn Slack, denounce the very lightness that gives the product its edge, harangue its philosophy of quick chats, and even supplant it. Slow down, they say. The problem with Slack, they say, are the unending streams without a beginning, a start and an end, the dozens of channels that require you to pick and choose your way through communications. Organize. Even, turn it off.

How wrong they are.

 


Speed is the secret DNA of Slack’s success—and the killer application for customer acquisition, engagement and success.


 

Moving at the Speed of Business

The team at our company, Dossier, knows a thing or two about speed. 100% of us are engineers who came from a software infrastructure company Dynatrace, which acquired a company we had previously built. Our software was used to speed up websites, and it was used by Microsoft, Yahoo, FedEx, Citibank, Sony, and many others. A SaaS application, we collected almost 1 billion records in our Oracle database every day, each one of these a signal that would tell us if a website, a mobile app, or a server was slowing down, compared to, say 60 seconds ago. We analyzed months of this voluminous data in seconds. Analysts give it fancy names – Big Data, Predictive Intelligence, Application Performance Management. We analyzed these large data sets in seconds because speed was essential to our customers. If Amazon’s website or mobile app were slow, or even down, every second would be crucial to revenue for Amazon. So we became speed junkies—driven by the need to alert quickly, move faster, fix quickly, and make the world all right, again.

What we learnt is this – if you have a team that is fundamentally driven by the need for speed, it changes how you operate. In industries such as finance, retail, e-commerce, or media—speed was essential to survival, revenue, and brand. Safeway moved like a lumbering giant all these years, while Whole Food Market moved quickly. You could tell in the litheness and speed of the Whole Foods staff, compared to the stolid slowness of Safeway employees. Amazon purchased Whole Foods for over $13 billion. Grocery stocks plummeted: Kroger fell 13.4%. SuperValu was down 16%. Costco sank 7.5%. What made these stocks fall was the concern of investors that Amazon valued speed, and that speed—of merchandising, logistics and customer service—is what will shake up the grocery industry.

One area that we felt was overlooked was the speed at which companies communicated with and on the behalf of customers.  CRMs like Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics and HubSpot were designed around the work of a salesperson, to help them organize and shape how they communicated internally on how sales deals were going. A new notion began to make the roundsthat organizations needed not just a system of record, but also a system of engagement, with some debate over whether they were one or separate products. The fact is that systems of engagementthose tools that make it possible to connect with customers, and, on behalf of these customers, with internal teams—have to be designed from the ground up to focus on communications, not organization. That’s why systems of record like Salesforce, Dynamics and HubSpot are designed around companies, contacts and deals.  

Products like Slack and our product, Dossier, are designed around the concept of messaging and underscored by speedy technologies. In Slack, send a message, and it appears, for tens or hundreds of people in your team, on all the desktop computers and smartphones they are on, instantly. Slack, though, is designed around making internal communications faster, and it’s just starting to use Slack to connect two organizationsthis configuration is called the Slack Enterprise Grid. We wanted to extend the use of Slack to communicate naturally with customers—gaining the speed of Slack, but without the complexity of forcing customers to choose our communication channels.

So we built Dossier, an app for organizing customer conversations, no matter where it happens, with zero disruption to the ways you already communicate.  And it gives us great pleasure to announce our FREE Slack app that allows you to reply to website chats and customer emails without leaving Slack. This video shows you how you can use Slack to talk to website visitors. Check out http://www.dossier.work/apps/slack for more information. Dossier is FREE for up to 5,000 messages, and if we can be useful to you, we’d of course, love it if you signed up.

 

Productivity is not just a goal designed for internal teams to collaborate. It is essential to extend productivity to all customer interactions with clients and prospects. Leads visit your website, ask questions, and you answer them instantly—in Slack. Sometimes these leads are new contacts within companies that you already work with, or they are existing clients that need to be routed to their account manager. Handing the baton to different teams is where impedance begins. Customers can email, text, tweet, or facebook you or someone in your organization. Your company has at least 5 different communication channels, and anywhere from 5 to tens of thousands of customer facing employees. Speeding up customer communications becomes harder as teams diverge around time zones, geographies, and divisional structures. An organization naturally fills with torpor, and there is slack in the system. By using Slack on the front lines of your customer channels, you can speed up customer issue resolution, lead routing, or account management. Our mantra is:

#pickuptheslack

 


About Vik Chaudhary

Vik Chaudhary is the CEO of Dossier (http://www.dossier.work) in San Francisco. To business professionals and teams, Dossier is an app for organizing communications with customers. In his spare time, Vik observes how companies communicate with customers.

Dossier is an app for organizing customer conversations, no matter where it happens, with zero disruption to the ways you already communicate. Based in San Francisco, Dossier is helping business owners, business professionals and teams around the globe intelligently sync their customer communication channels and organize documents, tasks and more. Welcome to a new way to build better customer relationships and a better business. Sign up for a free account today at https://www.dossier.work.

Atlassian’s Trello Acquisition and the Three Principles for SaaS Market Expansion

SaaS companies that expand from selling to IT to selling to business teams (or, vice versa) rely on 3 principles, which I call The Three Principles of SaaS Market Expansion. It requires these companies to take a resolute approach that is similar to the crossing of the Rubicon. “The phrase Crossing the Rubicon means to pass a point of no return, and refers to Julius Caeser’s army’s crossing of the Rubicon River in the north of Italy in 49 BC, which was considered an act of insurrection and treason. Julius Caesar uttered the famous phrase alea iacta est—the die is cast—as his army marched through the shallow river.”—Wikipedia.

 

Atlassian Buys Trello for $425 Million

This week, Atlassian broke the news that it was acquiring Trello, a simple list-making software company, for $425 million. It’s an amazing price for Trello, 15 times TTM (trailing twelve months revenue). Forbes wrote about why Atlassian bought Trello, and the primary reason was, as CEOs know, an adjacent market move. Adjacency thinking leads CEOs to consider how to expand to a different buying group within the kinds of companies they already sell to. Atlassian has now expanded from selling to IT to selling to business teams. As Forbes wrote:


“Atlassian’s existing products, including Jira, sell mostly to software developers and IT departments. Trello, on the other hand, is popular not just with coders, but with marketers, HR departments, sales teams, media companies, and other non-technical groups.”


 

As the CEO of Dossier, and having made 17 acquisitions previously, we know a thing or two about making acquisitions work. Every day we have thousands of teams using Dossier, an app for organizing customer conversations. Our team, like that of any startup, is small—and made powerful by the way we use software to automate how we can communicate with our customers. We use many self-service products to run our business—we wrote 20 Affordable Tools to Run Your Sales, Marketing and Service Stack for a total $1,000/mo. Also, many teams that use Dossier have also attached CRM tools like HubSpot and Salesforce, and task management tools like Asana and Trello, so we’ve learned much from our common customers. Atlassian’s purchase of Trello is a textbook example of market expansion—a playbook that large companies employ to grow their market share. How do you make such an acquisition work?

You’ve got to hand it to the Atlassian management team—they weren’t content doing what they always do, but have taken a bold move to enter an adjacent market. As I wrote in my previous article, Your Corporate Strategy is a Prisoner of History (or, Why CEOs Should Listen to Their Inner Revolutionary), at our previous company, which we sold for $395 million, “The thinking behind our corporate (expansion) strategy was that our sales teams were selling products to IT teams only, and that we needed to expand our brand to business teams at Internet and e-commerce companies like Facebook, Amazon, eBay, and brand managers at Chase and FedEx—all customers”. How do you make such a strategy work?

Selling to IT and Selling to Business

How easy is it to expand from selling to IT to selling to Business, or vice versa? On paper, the thesis sounds great. Start by selling a niche, but highly differentiated, product to your first audience. Start with a departmental sale, rather than to the enterprise. Expand capabilities so that federation occurs—i.e. you land in one team (say, to an IT buyer), and then expand to another team (still, another IT buyer). And then when you’ve established a strong brand with a specific buyer persona, then make an acquisition of a company that knows how to sell to the other side (this time, a business buyer), and then rinse and repeat. It’s been done in the technology industry.

Adobe started with multimedia and creativity products, then acquired Omniture to sell to marketing teams. Since then, it has added several more acquisitions to deepen its footprint for marketing automation. Oracle started with the database business, selling only to IT, then acquired Siebel Systems to enter the CRM market, changing its persona from IT to business rapidly. Autodesk, on the other hand, has stuck to its knitting—once glance at Autodesk’s list of acquisitions tells you that these apples don’t fall far from the tree (of CAD automation). Salesforce has tried to expand from selling to business teams (it’s core CRM business) to selling to IT (by the acquisition of Heroku)—but it is not yet working to dislodge entrenched competitors like Amazon Web Services.

So what is the secret to adjacent market expansion? The Harvard Business Review provides insights in its seminal article, Growth Outside the Core. It identified six ways to expand outside a business’ core, and provides nuggets such as this: “One was that most sustained, profitable growth comes when a company pushes out the boundaries of its core business into an adjacent space. We identified six types of adjacencies, ranging from adjacent links in the value chain to adjacent customers to adjacent geographies“.

Market expansion for SaaS businesses may follow these six strategies, and any MBA worth her $200,000 degree, will tell you—business expansion is a time-honored tradition. Yet, like any industry, the technology industry, and, in particular, software-as-a-service companies (I’ve worked for no other type since I left Oracle), have a different set of rules. To make such a market expansion work, consider these characteristics of the companies acquiring, and being acquired:

1. Transactional Sales

When two SaaS companies both have transactional sales, rather than expertise-driven consultative sales, market expansion is much easier. Atlassian sells ticketing software like JIRA, and it’s a transactional sale—i.e. it does not require a high degree of domain expertise for the sales team that is selling it. Prospective buyers sign up for or download the software, learn how to use it or get some general assistance in getting the software to work, and then they buy it for a per user price. Trello also has a transactional sale, marketing and HR teams that purchase its software also follow the same pattern as the JIRA sale. The synergies between the two businesses are all about operational effectiveness—making the sales process more efficient. Expect a lot of consolidation of IT infrastructure costs between the companies as they merge their teams. On the other hand, consider why Salesforce, which sells to business teams, isn’t able to effectively compete in the AWS market. Selling an enterprise-level CRM is a consultative sale, but selling cloud infrastructure services is a very transactional sale—hence, there are no sales synergies.

2. Inbound Marketing

SaaS companies thrive when marketing teams generate a large number of inbound leads. Companies like HubSpot have perfected this approach, practically writing the playbook for inbound lead generation that is then fulfilled by inside sales teams. As long as the combined marketing teams are able to use their expertise to generate relevant content, the success of market expansion is increased. On the other hand, if the acquired company’s marketing team is decimated under the false assumption that the acquiring company’s marketing team will be able to handle the marketing, then the acquisition has a high chance of failing. Inbound lead generation is an expertise-driven business—your marketers have to understand the content that generates interest, the experts to be interviewed, the guest blog authors to be invited, etc. If a marketing team understand how to sell to the business buyer, they are not likely to know how to sell to to the IT buyer, and vice versa. So, Atlassian, I imagine you’ll be sweetening the deal for the Trello CMO.

3. Internationalization

Traditional companies can expand in other markets if they expand the geographies in which they sell. The same happens for SaaS companies, virtually overnight, if they can internationalize their software. Think, for example, about the signup workflow of any transactional SaaS application. If it can be translated into a dozen languages, that’s another 30 countries it could sell in. Online advertising makes it a cinch to enter these markets. A caution, though—the product must not require telephone calls to sell or support the product. It must be done online, via email and chat, because then it can be done in countries which specialize in customer service—such as the Philippines, or Ireland.

When SaaS Market Expansion Fails

SaaS companies that require expertise-driven sales, rather than transactional sales, are not likely to be able to successfully expand markets when they cross the Rubicon with the buyer persona. We once acquired a company that sold primarily to business audiences, and the sale was highly consultative. When the COO of the acquired company decided to not come along with the acquisition, that caused a ripple effect in the sales organization and many of the expertise-holding salespeople left. And with it, went their customer relationships, and the acquisition we made failed to yield any market expansion results. Note that this is different from non-consultative salespeople leaving the company. It’s because the salespeople had expertise that the clients relied upon, such as presenting findings from quarterly reports to their management team, that the customers were happy. Take away these salespeople, and the customers walked as well.

However, if the above 3 characteristics match between companies as they acquire their way to market expansion, the acquisition has a high rate of success. We’re going to be watching Atlassian and Trello work this one during the integration—the signals look great because the 3 fundamental factors for successful SaaS mergers are present in both companies.

 


About Vik Chaudhary

Vik Chaudhary is the CEO of Dossier (http://www.dossier.work) in San Francisco. To business professionals and teams, Dossier is an app for organizing communications with customers. In his copious spare time, Vik—well—asks CEOs to not screw up large acquisitions.

Dossier is an app for organizing customer conversations, no matter where it happens, with zero disruption to the ways you already communicate. Based in San Francisco, Dossier is helping business owners, business professionals and teams around the globe intelligently sync their customer communication channels and organize documents, tasks and more. Welcome to a new way to build better customer relationships and a better business. Sign up for a free account today at https://www.dossier.work.

Customer Service in the Fast Lane—the Zip and Sip Strategy

One day we will drive cars that zip at 300 miles an hour and sip at 300 miles per gallon. And our Customer Organization will close 1000 cases and talk to 1000 customers. Can one do both?

Like a lot of kids, I wanted to be an astronaut. I started studying Astronautical Engineering—at least, until I wrote my first software program—and realized that’s where the real rocket science is. Having switched to a computer science and engineering major (“6-3” in MIT-speak, ex. “I’ll meet you after 6.001 in 18.301 at 11:01″), and with a strong interest in flight, I’ve always been fascinated with systems that are immensely fast yet solidly powerful. So like many CS grads of my time, I traveled west to San Francisco to work in tech. A fast-growing public company gave me my first job, and it was 3 startups later—one went public, one failed, and one acquired for $395 million—that we started Dossier in 2014. And in all these companies—the process of managing customers felt like the Sisyphean task of building the 300 mph/300 mpg car. One company Volkswagen is building a hybrid car called the XL1 that zips at 100 mph and just sips gas.

The Opposing Forces in a Customer Organization.

Building the utopian 300 mph/300 mpg car illustrates why our Chief Customer Officers can’t operate their customer organization that is simultaneously efficient and strategic—the two are opposing forces in an organization. For efficiency, you need to speed up and look for improvements in operational processes. For strategy, you need to listen for patterns with customers, and that often requires slowing down rather than speeding up. Indeed, the facts on customer service look pretty dismal:

  • 89% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service [Rightnow].
  • 17% of consumers would recommend a brand that provides a slow but effective solution [Harvard Business Review].
  • 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated [McKinsey].
  • …and so on. For more bad news, see 50 facts about customer experience.

But look closely at the facts and you will see that many of these statistics have been around for years. From the 1970s to the 1990s, the customer service industry was designing itself for efficiency—to channel incoming telephone calls to the correct representative.  In the 2000s, technology companies began creating software tools to help businesses handle customer service. Zendesk was the first software-as-a-service technology company in customer service to go public, and around them there are others, as this Gartner magic quadrant graphic shows.

Tech companies would have us believe that well-designed software can help you create a customers-first strategy. Buy Zendesk, Salesforce ServiceDesk, or Verint, and your organization will handle customer woes and also listen to customers strategically. Companies that use such software are driven to listen better to customers, but it’s really responding, not listening. Operational efficiency and customer intimacy are opposing forces.

Customers and Social Airwaves.

When the social revolution hit the business world, and Twitter came into being—customer service changed forever. Customers of any consumer or business brand were able to take to the airwaves and communicate their experience. I myself took to Facebook when receiving disastrous emergency roadside assistance from my auto insurance company.  My insurance company’s mascot may very well be an animal with a British accent (identities of company mascots have been changed to protect the guilty), but the operational efficiency of the customer service rep was not amusing—I was in a broken down car in the night with my young daughters. My insurance company rep was insistent on process that would require us to wait for “anywhere up to 2 hours” and would not look for a towing company that was closer to us. So instead, I called a company whose customer listening skills are legendary—American Express. Their roadside assistance rep understood the situation and routed us to a towing company whose drivers were just a mile away, getting someone to us in 15 minutes. That’s the difference between a customer service organization designed for process (mistaking it for efficiency) and one designed for strategic success. As the American Express rep showed, you can be both efficient and strategic, and they’re designing the legendary 300/300 customer organization.

After I messaged the insurance company on their Facebook page, I got a quick call back from their social media team. However, Facebook and Twitter channels are staffed by marketing and PR reps. We know that the people who manage a company’s social media channel are not trained customer service reps. And customer service reps, on the other hand, are not trained in positioning and public social media. In today’s social world, though, you need to provide a customer support channel that has the power of Zendesk and the agility of Facebook or Twitter.

Customer Silos? It’s not WWII.

Having a customer service platform that allows each department to go deep and yet have the entire company be agile—is utopian (and, as our engineers at Dossier have demonstrated—finally possible). It requires a platform mindset to developing software products that open up communication throughout your company. Customer silos are so World War II—yet these deepen and are really hard to penetrate. Let’s say you, the CEO, start to check on company health on the weekend, and want to know how you are doing with your top 10 customers. You have access to email, Salesforce, Zendesk and Marketo. Retrieving financial data is easy, but to get the real customer picture you need to see across systems.

Even the CEO will take days to get the full picture on the top 10 customers, if at all. He/she will need to ask his/her head of sales, customer service, and product teams—by email, phone calls, and maybe a customer dashboard that shows revenue, number of active users, usage and so on. That slow and manual process is mind-blowing in its backwardness. But that’s what software designed for divisions and departments does—it creates information-rich silos that block the rest of the organization from understanding customers.

By and large, though, customer service is done by a highly-trained, process-oriented team called, variously, Support, Tech Support, Customer Service, App Support, Helpdesk Support, and so on. And the entire software industry, a $2 billion industry, has spawned companies like Salesforce.com and Zendesk. These tools are designed mostly for specialized customer service teams. Watch a demo of these products and they will talk about “call deflection”, “queueing,” and “ticket escalations”. In other words, customer support is a science, has a waterfall process, and operationally-savvy people lead those departments.

Somewhere, in the goal to make customer service efficient, companies have lost the strategic ability to really listen to customers. I don’t mean those companies with 10,000+ employees—I mean, even 20 and 100-person companies have lost that ability to really listen. Between the customer and the employees are highly trained customer service people who follow a process—and when they are good, know when to be flexible and delight the customer. However, it’s time to break down the customer silos.

The Fear of Scaling Customer Feedback.

The reason for customer silos being created is—there is a fear in every organization about not being able to handle the scale of customer feedback. Handling scale requires depersonalization—ex. follow-the-sun customer service models that bring staff from different geographies to handle service inquiries. That leads to automation of responses, knowledge bases, driven by effective Chief Customer Officers with a relentless focus on efficiency and quality. Add to this the inherent depersonalization evident in the design of customer support software, and you get an organization that is driven by reacting to customers, or, at best, proactively heading off customer calls by creating self-help knowledge bases, communities, and so on.

By making interacting with customers the domain of Customer Service, the functions that need to listen more to grow the company’s revenues and customer intimacy—the Executive Team, Sales, Product or Program Managers, Marketing, and IT centers or Engineering no longer have the ability to listen to customer feedback at volume and see patterns. The “silo” divisional thinking takes over, there is no visibility into customer issues, and the teams that need to listen every day to customers don’t have the ability to do that.

Customer Listening Posts

What we have seen our top customers—from startups to Fortune 500 companies—do is to create highly efficient customer listening posts. These listening posts are seamlessly integrated with people in customer service organizations, who use Zendesk or Salesforce.com. Yet, these listening posts are designed for ease of use and for everyday people—your employees and your customers—to use.  As natural as having a conversation, the CEO can now search all conversations from prospects on your web site, customers in your apps, and all customer issues discussed by employees at your workplace. Type in “unhappy” and you will find all customers who have said that they are unhappy. Conversely, a “love it” will reveal all your champions, by user, account or geography.

That is why we created Dossier, a Collaboration App for Teams—to make it possible for the Chief Customer Officer to help the entire company listen to customers, while at the same time handle the scale of customer service issues efficiently. Fundamental to this new wave of customer collaboration software is delivering a Facebook and Twitter-like experience for customers and all teams that want to listen to them, yet being able to instantly sync with and search all customer issues in support platforms like Zendesk, Salesforce Service Desk or Desk.com, and all projects in project management tools like Asana, Trello, and Clarizen.

One of the ways we are encouraging companies to get every employee to tap into customer feedback is to remove the biggest impediment to getting the entire company to listen to customers—per-user pricing for customer support software. All customer support software—from Oracle, Salesforce, to Zendesk—is based on per-user pricing. This means that, the more employees that you want to have listen to customers, the more your company pays these services. While this makes tremendous economic sense for the customer support vendor, we feel that a pricing structure that encourages all employees to just drop in to listen to customers is called for. So, for example, while your customer service organization uses Zendesk, the rest of your organization—like Sales, Marketing, Product and Customer Success—use Dossier without any user restrictions. And the two platforms—Dossier and Zendesk, Salesforce, Asana, etc.—are connected and seamlessly integrated, giving the rest of the company visibility into customer questions, feedback, and praise.

This is why today, we’d like to invite you to start collaborating with customers for FREE—today, many companies—from 10-person startups, 500-person private companies to 44,800-person companies like CenturyLink use Dossier in all its glory with unlimited customers, unlimited web site visitors, unlimited application users, and even unlimited employees. The first 5,000 messages in your company are free, and then after that, paid plans for the entire company start with a fee of $100/mo.

We’re doing this because we want to bring back the art of listening to the customer, backed by our data science that makes it possible for all companies to both be efficient and strategic—by not just managing customer issues, but also listening and talking to them. And this means that every employee in your company should be hearing customer feedback, asking questions internally, learning from that feedback, and jumping in solve problems or apply that knowledge in ways that you didn’t imagine was possible. Your people are what make your company, and we want to help you turn your company into a customer-intimate culture, not just an operationally-efficient one.

In other words—take a complete approach to customer engagement, not that of the auto insurance company whose customer service rep wanted me and my daughters wait for 2 hours for a tow. Be like American Express, or like Volkswagen, driven to build the impossible and delight the customer. Bring back customer listening—make every employee listen to, learn from, and help a customer. You can have both a “Zip and Sip” strategy!

Do you have a story on how your organization works amazingly with customers? Please share it with everyone.


About Vik Chaudhary

Dossier is an app for organizing customer conversations, no matter where it happens, with zero disruption to the ways you already communicate. Based in San Francisco, Dossier is helping business owners, business professionals and teams around the globe intelligently sync their customer communication channels and organize documents, tasks and more. Welcome to a new way to build better customer relationships and a better business. Sign up for a free account today at https://www.dossier.work.