PROVE Value to Your Customers

Visibility into customer accounts always seemed to the “holy grail” of Customer Success. While a fully-fledged Customer Health Score can require years of work and refinement, here are some ways to get started and finding value in 1-2 months (or less!).

My company recently completed the first version of our Account Health Scoring methodology (more here). The exercise helped frame each metric as directly linked to the customer’s value.

Disclaimer: As of the writing of this blog post, I am employed by GitLab. The views expressed are my own. I will be highlighting pages that are publicly available.

The acronym, PROVE, serves to remind us internally that the point of the Health Score is not for our own internal desires and goals, but to ensure that the way we analyze customers is to PROVE value to them and us. PROVE stands for:

  • P: Product
  • R: Risk
  • O: Outcomes of the customer
  • V: Voice of the customer
  • E: Engagement with the customer

With this, as we build each component we ask ourselves, “but does this PROVE value for the customer?” The acronym is more than a handy mnemonic — it serves the greater story of ensuring we always think about the customer, the most important part!

Purpose

You can find more context on the handbook page, yet the reason is when companies create a Health Score, it’s often conflated as they are trying to solve several questions. Here are just a few:

  1. What is the likelihood of my customer churning? (predictive analytics)
  2. What does their adoption journey look like? (product adoption)
  3. Have they adopted all of the product? (product adoption)
  4. Is my customer achieving their desired outcomes? (outcome)
  5. Is this an early warning indicator? (predictive analytics)
  6. Are they a promoter of our product? (predictive analytics)

Different stakeholders expect to solve different — and often competing — questions. It is necessary for your team to be crystal clear on what you’re solving. And then revisit that likely every couple of weeks as alternative definitions will sneak up in a variety of ways.

In our case, we opted for understanding customer adoption. We revisited PROVE and chose adoption as that will best benefit the customer. That may change over time, though, it is what we’ve agreed on, have commitment for, and our health measures are in sync with that approach; this isn’t a Swiss Army knife Health Score. We’re not solving everything.

Health Score Components

What should a Health Score include? What measures should we include in the calculation and why?

The components should necessarily derive from the purpose: the purpose defines the direction we take and needs to be thoroughly debated. Since customer adoption is the purpose, that defines and shapes the components. Specifically, we want to know if the customer is achieving their primary goals with GitLab. This goes beyond the product. We want to know if they’re achieving their intended use cases with the product, but we also need to heavily weigh their outcomes and sentiment. For instance,

  • Product: Are customers using the product as they intended from their purchase reasons? Are they finding intended value?
  • Outcomes: Is our customer achieving the results they set out for? This is generally more easily solved at the high-touch segment, but can be operationalized for the Digital customer segment
  • Sentiment: Is our customer responding to surveys and providing helpful feedback? How’s their experience with Support, with their CSM, with our content (LMS, knowledge base, video trainings, etc.)?
    • Note: we called this “Voice of the Customer”

These aren’t the only way to go, but these are three great starting points for a company to begin or expand their work into Customer Health. We’ll expand on these below.

Yes, But How Do I Deploy Something Now?

For the PROVE methodology, here are several tips for which ones to prioritize. But first, let’s address some presuppositions of the PROVE methodology:

PROVEDescriptionPriorityPrioritization Assumptions
ProductBy far one of the toughest setups of the PROVE acronym. This should include:
1. License Activation
2. User Engagement
3. Use Case Adoption (are they using the product in key, specific ways?)
4Product Analytics (telemetry) come from integrations (your own product, or another system) which requires time and resources. Also, the metrics need to be assessed for predictability. Note: this is likely the toughest to measure given it typically requires integrating telemetry data to make calculations. While the first of the PROVE acronym, consider this a long-term solution
RiskIs there risk in the account, relationship, or opportunity that causes concern for your company?1Relatively speaking, this is easy to deploy. Measured by hand, which requires a CSM, Sales Rep, or another person. Great for high/medium touch but not for low/tech touch
OutcomesIs the customer truly achieving their desired outcomes through your company? This means they purchased your software and were able to perform their actions in a shorter time period, they saved money, their team became more efficient (cost savings), they became more effective (better campaign targeting, analytics, etc.), or some other bottom-line financial outcome. This is measurable, noticeable, and traced to the financial statements.5This is tough as measuring the outcomes (not activities) often requires either a well-trained CSM team to spot value outcome achievement and/or highly focused product analytics. Can include survey data measuring, “Are you achieving _____ objective with the product?”
Voice of the CustomerSurveying customers is an effective way to keep a pule on onboarding, renewals, expansions, customer lifecycle, and more. For instance, use it in conjunction with Tech Touch campaigns (“is the content helpful?”), assess the value of your company (NPS), and the customer’s interactions with your personnel (Support, CSMs, Sales, etc.).3Can be deployed relatively quickly with NPS, CSAT, CES, and other feedback methods
EngagementThis is one of the first measures to deploy (after Risk) as it is relatively quick with High/Medium touch customers. The math is fairly straightforward as you are looking for what a typical cadence should be with your customers. If your CSMs/Sales teams aren’t engaging with your High/Medium touch customers frequently enough, that can be a warning signal. Note: as a v2, you can have different calculations for High vs. Medium touch where you expect a more frequent engagement with High touch. Again, a v2.2High touch: requires measuring if the customer is engaged with their CSM or other company contacts
Low/Tech touch: necessitates tracking webinars, open/click rates, product analytics, or other resources (note: Engagement could be excluded for Tech Touch as there is no human-to-human interaction)

Warnings

There are several areas where we in Customer Success Operations are liable to become stuck. It is tempting to, boil the ocean (attempt to solve everything), become paralyzed by analysis, or focus on less meaningful initiatives. Let’s break each of those down.

Boil the Ocean
It’s really easy to believe we can build it all. Except…there’s a lot of thinking, algebra to solve for, research to do, studies to evaluate, and change management to see through. The best approach is to ensure you have someone who has done this (or similar), you’ve hired professional services, or you have a really good assessment of what it’ll take to build. And time.

Paralyzed by analysis
This is the most common. There is always the possibility of making a better decision with more and better information. GitLab helps us address this by following the Make Two-Way Door Decisions popularized by Jeff Bezos and Make a Proposal. Especially the “Make a Proposal” sub-value where our team is clear the decision is a proposal, but it gives something for others to work with, debate, refine, or refute; it’s a lot simpler than calling several brainstorm sessions — not to mention makes immediate progress. Most of all, it unblocks work and progresses us forward.

Setting The Correct Focus
Do we put our time to what we know, or don’t know? To what is easy, or has a high reward potential? Do we focus on product analytics, support analytics, or something else? Do we say yes to all? Or which segment do we start with? All?

Sadly, this is where the response is “it depends”. Customer segmentation, B2B or B2C, high/low/tech touch, and other factors play into account. For us, we started on our Enterprise segment given the revenue attribution and then have been working downstream. That allowed us the luxury of our CSMs getting used to Gainsight with setting the health for their accounts (CSM Sentiment).

Conclusion

In summary, your health score should help your customers better themselves — to grow, go faster, be more consistent, predictable, and scalable. It should factor in what’s important to them and if it happens to align to renewal goals, then great, but it should not be conflated with a churn score. What if your doctor only considered procedures and prescriptions based on whether they could retain you?

What to do now? Start with one step. Build your vision, but take one step at a time. Keep your vision before you (print and stick it on your wall!) and give yourself grace when it’s not built in a day. You’re building something great, sustainable, and vital for your customers — make it great and do it with joy.

You Are Building a Case Study

“You are building a case study here.”

My boss told me this. It has stuck with me. It is an explicit reminder that we do not hire people to accomplish the same initiatives as their previous employers to replicate here — copy and paste does not apply. Our growth is a different target market. The team is different than the previous company. Our values aren’t the same. The go-to-market strategy is distinct. The environment, the economics, the Geopolitical factors have deviated. Besides, if we needed someone to run a pre-existing playbook then why is our hiring strategy to bring on the best, most creative, flexible people?

Seasoned veterans do not artlessly replicate what has been, but they work together to fashion something new, under different circumstances and dynamics. Imagine being a chef and learning French cuisine in France. To learn the French style and then start your own restaurant, is it enough to simply mimic the exact dishes in the same ways with the same ingredients and same styling as your previous chef had done? Maybe.

That’s the tricky part. Sometimes it doesn’t need to be the same. Many times it needs to be different. The brilliance is knowing what worked and how it worked to re-create the splendid dishes you learned early on. Know how to incorporate ingredients in your new location for their characteristics. It’s not an either/or proposition. Many times a traditional crème brûlée suffices, and sometimes creativity calls for completely changing the entrée. It is wisdom to decipher between the two.

When building the case study, incorporate the past — the history, the successes and failures, and learnings — but not copy. Instead, your future successes depend upon your past experiences, your team’s capabilities, and a compilation of ideas. An open mind and an outlook of creativity will help administer the past to solve the challenges of tomorrow.

Copy + Paste Proliferation

Early on, I learned this magical set of features where I could take existing material, copy it, and then paste it to whatever degree required. 

That doesn’t sound that magical today, especially compared to augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI), or self driving cars! However, it’s foundational. Without that simple set of tools (cut, copy, paste), I’m not sure we’d have the modern conveniences or at least not so quickly. Think of how helpful it is to copy a URL, paste in the browser, and go!

But with all these amazing benefits from such a simple tool, we shan’t ignore how it has changed us. It has, without our knowledge, morphed our thinking and behavior. Making it so simple and easy to use has increased our use of the tool and, thus, has changed our behavior.

The proliferation of copy + paste allows the spread of information (or pictures or…) much more rapidly. The switch to digital cameras, when many started a blog, or others tweeted their opinions. We got a flood of Yosemite’s El Capitan photos, long-form opinions the environmental dangers of pollution, and snarky 140 character (now 280 character) societal remarks. These aren’t bad in themselves, but a lower entry barrier means more noise. If copy + paste were compared to television, it may be like cable TV with over 1,000 channels with nothing to watch.

Barriers can be a good thing. A rock barrier protects a lake or ocean bay from rough waters. The emotions with writing a post (this one, as an example) of fearing “that’s stupid!” Or “you missed a comma, dummy” or “how trite” can be a good thing. Writing whatever comes to mind may be your ideal, but isn’t your readers. 

In the modern world, it is so easy to send an email, schedule a meeting using Google Calendar, or send a text or Slack message. Lacking intentionality, the quality can be subpar and demand more mental energy or clarification from the recipient. What would it look like if it took me an extra 15 clicks to send an email, or if I had to draft a proposal for a meeting? What if that proposal had to be so clear that I would be proud — rather than terrified — of sharing more broadly for critique? Would I be proud of my work? Or would I find that I’m trying to move too quickly and not only creating an uncreative solution, but I’m also putting the onus and unnecessary extra work on others?

This modern world has necessitated creating strategies for Inbox Zero and we celebrate 5pm because our calendar is finally free to allow “the real work” to begin. Effectively, we create strategies to overcome the efficiencies we created. In our mad desire for even more efficiency, we’ve lost our ultimate desire: effectiveness.

I’m not suggesting good is the enemy of the perfect; however, we need to live responsibly and see the implications of our tools. The goal is the goal, not doing it faster or cheaper — it’s great that I can efficiently order dinner from an app, but the ultimate goal is to nourish my body. The easier something becomes for us, the more we use it, the more it becomes our default, and gradually it changes who we are. There are many implications like this in life. It’s up to us to evaluate our lives, examine our habits, and ask ourselves if we are who we say we are and want to be. When we confuse what we need with how we get there, we will perpetually frustrate our own objectives and apply patches of all sorts without stopping to reevaluate the real problem. As Emperor Augustus desired and ancient Romans said, Festina lente; in English, Make haste, slowly. Sometimes you need to slow down to go faster. The quickness of copy + paste isn’t always that quick.

Fatness

Editorial note: I wrote this back in October 2018, but with it being January (and the main season for resolutions) I figured this is quite the opportune time to post. Quick note: though this has nothing to do with anyone’s resolutions, let me know how I can encourage you as you pursue yours!

As I was laying in bed last night, I couldn’t help but think about the cultural phenomenons that change throughout centuries. Last night was what are the cultural references to fatness?
No, this is not about gaining/losing weight but our cultural perceptions. This will go a lot deeper and, yes, get under our skin.

Up until the recent century (at least for Western Civilization?), a lot of people considered “skinny” or “slender” was a negative — as if that represented malnourishment. And, for many people in the third world today, that’s still a strongly held perception.

In 18th century England, being “plump” was a good thing. Today, we’re the complete opposite. Putting aside health concerns/risks for a moment (you can veer to either extreme), using fatness as an analogy, imagine your grandkids (or great-grandkids) reading their history books about us today and being shocked at our activities. What activities of ours fit into these cultural trend buckets:

  • Non-moral issues – something that the 1800th century prized (e.g., fatness/plumpness)
  • Moral issues – 1800th century activities that are reprehensible now (slavery, hangings, etc.)
  • Non-issues – 1800th century activities that continue today, and will continue for a long time (i.e., not issues at all such as establishing government, eating food…)

(First, some would disagree with the assumption that fatness could be a non-moral issue. I welcome the counter-points)

I can think of many issues of our day. The point of this exercise isn’t to get people riled up (though that’ll likely happen), but it is designed to engage our minds. To pause, think critically — rather than emotionally — about our situation, who we are, and what being human is all about. Here is a starting list:

  • Environmental concerns – climate change, climate deniers, marine biology
  • War
  • Abuse of power
  • Bribery (publicly outlawed in most Western Civilizations)
  • Housing
  • Healthcare
  • Technology
  • Privacy
  • Money
  • Capitalism
  • Socialism
  • Communism
  • Facism
  • Other -isms
  • Fairness
  • Equality
  • Equity funding
  • Banking

Again, this list isn’t to incite you, but to get us all thinking.

For example:

  • Most of us don’t like war but it can be necessary (e.g., WWII), so we can ask ourselves questions such as “okay, this may be necessary so how do we think about this topic?”
  • Or take Capitalism with all the flack it gets. I may say “I believe in Capitalism, but are there sure restraints or constraints that need to be put in place.”
  • Or perhaps our view on working hours where it may not be a moral issue for many, but people look back and think “that was dumb that I overinvested in work/pleasure and underinvested in pleasure/work”.

So, what are the changes today that we’ll make an about-face in 100 years?

Builder and Maintainer: Pitfalls of Handing Off The Baton

If you make statements like: “I’d lose interest in simply keeping things moving. I’d get bored.” You’re a builder.

Alternatively, perhaps you don’t enjoy “that level of risk.” You desire to work in an established company or team with plenty of structure, doing something a tad safer — there’s nothing wrong with this — you’re a maintainer. 

It is a spectrum — few people are on either extreme, with most everyone being somewhere closer toward the middle. The point is not to put people in boxes, but employ a mental model to help us through obstacles and challenges. Risk-taking/risk-aversion is not the single contributing factor; risk, creativity, personal desires, ability to invest time, money, or other resources also factor in.

That said, for builders, I’ve noticed a trend when handing off the baton. They build like they’re handing it off to another builder. 

It goes back to the mental model. If a builder creates and passes off the package or responsibility, does the person receiving that package have the desire and know-how to keep it going at that rate?

Let’s say you build a Sales team. You develop the processes, implement all the systems, and establish the reporting. Moreover, for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s rock-solid. Then, let’s say you pass it off as you want to pursue something new. You find a maintainer, hire him or her, and pass the baton off. You’ve succeeded, right? Maybe.

At this stage, two ingredients could spoil the handoff:

  1. The builder has all the institutional knowledge, and
  2. Training and equipping is significantly underrated as a core component

Let’s address these as a potential curse.

Creator’s Curse

It’s entirely possible (and happens every day!) that someone other than the builder can approach a broken system, triage it, and get it operational. Many clever people can approach something they’ve never seen before and understand it. It can be done, but it’s not easy.

When building, keep in mind you’ll likely be handing it off. During the planning process, think about the following criteria:

  1. Simplicity over “innovative.” If you know you will pass it off, make it simple and straightforward. Complexity is the driver of dysfunction. You may understand all the complex interwoven components, but will the majority see it that way?
  2. Documentation. You will (likely? hopefully?) document your processes a lot better. After all, who wants another person to see their messy room? Some documentation is likely better than none at all. So, at a minimum, get started early. Documentation is often seen as drudgery because it’s thought of and written as something to be stored in on a shelf, never to be read, never to be appreciated.
  3. Think things through. It’s one thing to slap together a prototype. It’s another to realize that this will be a serious investment. Building a skyscraper takes a concerted effort with immense planning. Your project will be smaller, though still requires planning ahead. It’s easy to build quickly, but you’re not just building your project; you’re also building technical debt. Even with the best of planning, you’ll procure technical debt. Choose to make it manageable. 
  4. Training. You may have thorough documentation. However, what does training look like? If you know the person, what’s the best way they learn? If you were suddenly gone, could they look at it, read/watch your training, and then execute? If so, how quickly and effectively could they take over?
  5. Coaching and development. Is it possible for you to coach and develop that person to understand the way you think, the way you design systems? Develop people to grasp how it functions.

Builder’s Blessing

Lest we ignore the other side of the coin, there is a blessing hidden within.
As a builder, you have an amazing ability: the courage to create when the status quo offers you a form of stability. Without you, the world would not have as many amazing tools, inventions, and ways of living that we have now. We must celebrate that!


So build — absolutely build. You bring incredible worth to this world. To leave a legacy you’ll be proud of, take heed of the warnings: watch out for the pitfalls and navigate the trouble spots, all to build that incredible thing in your head. Make this world a better place.