The Essential Guide to Professional Services Success

Time moves quickly in the business world. With subscription products on the rise and recurring-revenue business models becoming the darling of CEOs and Wall Street alike, Professional Services organizations are finding themselves in the midst of a revolution. If they want to keep up, Professional Services teams will need to redefine their definition of success, embrace new technologies, and put the customer’s needs at the forefront of every new operation. Only then will they be able to drive outcomes that deliver value to client and company alike.

Professional Services and the Age of Subscription

Subscription and recurring-revenue models are taking over. According to Gartner’s 2017 Market Trends, “By 2020, more than 80% of software vendors will change their business model from traditional license and maintenance to subscription”—regardless of whether the software resides on-premises or in the cloud.

As this tidal wave of change ripples out, it’s leaving a shift of perspectives in its wake. With a constant stream of new competitors entering the market, customers have a wide range of choices at their disposal. No longer locked into the massive upfront cost of legacy solutions, clients are free to easily switch between solutions. Companies that rely on recurring revenue understand that making customers successful for the long-term is now more important than ever. Delivering exceptional experiences and valuable business outcomes is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity. This is driving Professional Services organizations in particular to rethink their approach and change the way they define success.

Redefining Success

“Delivering success in Services was certainly about managing projects, mitigating risk, and responding to escalations. However, we need to further evolve our framework to focus on delivering valuable outcomes for the customer.”
In blog post "Journey to Services Success" by Saood Shah VP Professional Services

Prior to the subscription model, the definition of success for most Professional Services teams came from an internal perspective—finishing a project on-time and under-budget was considered a success. While this worked in a legacy transaction model, where implementation was a large up-front investment by the customer, those operating within a recurring revenue landscape will find this definition no longer applies to Services that support subscription products. “The unremitting, industry-wide transformation toward new technology consumption models is generally undermining PS’s traditional, core cash cows and competencies (product-led, project-based, deployment-oriented services) and forcing them to explore and deliver on new ways of being relevant in a B4B context,” shared TSIA in their State of Professional Services 2017 Report.

Redefining success for your Professional Services organizations starts with redefining what success means to your clients. When a client enters a services engagement, they do so in order to achieve business objectives. If your goal as a Professional Services provider is solely to finish the project on time and on-budget, your head is in the wrong place—these are table stakes to a client. To drive success for your business, you must define success in your client’s terms: Has your involvement produced positive outcomes that align with the client’s goals? Have they been given proof that you’ve achieved these goals? Do your other Post-Sales teams know what’s been going on in the account to ensure a smooth handoff? Instead of asking, “What’s the quickest, least-expensive way I can onboard this customer?”, change the question to, “How can I provide services to this customer so they achieve exactly what they wanted from our product/service?”

Delivering exceptional client outcomes and experiences is a necessity because in a recurring-revenue business model, customers represent not just one opportunity to grow your revenue, but three:

  • The customer can extend their contract
  • The customer can expand and use more of your products or services
  • The customer can spread the word and bring your company new logos

By connecting your Professional Service team’s definition of success to each client’s definition of success, you’ll cultivate a relationship that will become a source of exponential revenue.

Growing Pains: Evolving Your PS Team

If your company is or will be introducing subscription options, your PS org is bound to experience some growing pains. These can arise in the form of overloaded resources, higher customer expectations, and new ways of engaging with customers, just to name a few. To overcome these roadblocks, you must first be conscious of them. So, we’ve compiled a list of common pain points Professional Services can encounter when adapting to subscription-service clients. Then, in the following chapters, we’ll provide tactic-rich processes to move your organization forward into the future.

Onboarding

  • Customer Overload: Onboarding is a critical milestone in the customer lifecycle. A superior onboarding experience will set clients up with a solid foundation. As you move from legacy to subscription services, you may be expected to onboard more customers with the same amount of resources and often at a lower price tag. Implementing a fully automated or a blended onboarding strategy with the help of technology can free up your time while still giving clients the attention they desire.
  • Higher Expectations: One of the benefits of purchasing subscription services is the quick time-to-value. Your clients will want to get up and running ASAP and expect a short, low-effort engagement to get them there. If your team is engineered to deliver large, custom implementations, it can take some additional strategy and technology to find the balance between efficiency and service level.

Outcomes & Expectations

  • Bad Handoffs: If you’re committed to being customer-centric, there needs to be superior alignment between teams. This means sharing customer goals, milestones, and other data during handoffs. Without this open flow of information, every team suffers a lack of insight from which the customer ultimately suffers.
  • Lack of Customer Sentiment Data: You aren’t sure about the customer’s sentiment during the project or how they feel upon completion. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a survey after the project closes but chances are, you’re in the dark. While this might not have mattered in the past, knowing how your customer feels is paramount to driving Services Success. Asking for customer sentiment, whether that’s through NPS/CSAT surveys or in-person interactions, gives you the opportunity to proactively remedy negative sentiment and leverage positive sentiment.
  • Reactive → Proactive: Reacting to escalations can waste valuable time. By monitoring customer health, you can work proactively to mitigate fires before they start, resulting in happier customers and more time on your hands to dedicate to valuable processes.
  • Proving Value to Clients: Instead of focusing solely on internal successes, like hitting utilization or project margin targets, put client outcomes as the top priority. If you don’t have a way to measure or demonstrate what you’ve helped them achieve, they won’t fully realize the value your services provide.

The Customer Journey

  • Tracking Post-Project Success: You end a project on a good note, but a few months later, the client churns. What happened? If you continue to track customer health after a project, you can see if it had a positive or negative effect and react accordingly.
  • Leveraging Advocates: Producing satisfied clients is great, but if you’re stopping there you’re missing out on a major growth opportunity. Leverage client references and reviews to boost growth without increasing customer acquisition costs.
  • Identifying Customer Needs: Understand what events drive a customer to expand. By knowing what to look out for, you can proactively market your solutions and capitalize on the opportunity.

3 Goals to Propel Your Org Forward

Adopting new processes and mindsets can be daunting. You need to establish new frameworks, add to your technology stack, drive adoption within your team—not to mention find the time and money to drive all this! Not to worry, we’ve rolled up important PS initiatives that drive customer-centric operations into three key goals. They’ll set you up with a solid foundation so you can provide Customer Success at scale.

Goal #1: Scale your onboarding options

  • Segment your clients into categories based on the amount of outreach they require to get ramped up
  • Implement a ‘tech-touch’ approach to offer a low-cost, standardized onboarding option for SMB customers
  • Utilize both 1:Many and personal outreaches to create a blended approach for medium-cost, standard onboarding packages
  • Improve the project experience for enterprise customers who have lengthy or customized implementation needs

Goal #2: Don’t just deliver projects, deliver customer outcomes

  • Train your Sales team to gather a customer’s objectives in the sales cycle
  • Center team handoffs around the completion of customer objectives
  • Establish a process to measure the impact of service engagements on a customer’s objectives and overall success

Goal #3: Drive the customer journey beyond implementation

  • Develop targeted services offerings that solve common customer issues
  • Gather data that will enable you to proactively identify opportunities to sell these targeted services to your customers
  • Work with the Sales team to create a process that will allow you to capitalize on these opportunities with minimal friction

3 Steps to Get Started Now

Step 1: Segment your Portfolio

Segmenting your portfolio will streamline how you approach customers and make it easier to efficiently delegate time and resources. There are many ways to categorize your customers—just to get your gears rolling, here are some criteria you can use:

  • The cost or type of their services package
  • Their overall contract amount
  • The level of involvement from a customer’s in-house departments (IT, Ops, etc. will take care of a certain amount of their onboarding needs)

By gaining a deeper understanding of the needs required by each of your categories, whatever those might be, you can work to deliver strong customer experiences with efficiency and consistency.

Step 2: Establish cross-functional relationships with Sales, Customer Success, and Support

As your customers get passed between Sales, Services, Customer Success, and Support it can become increasingly difficult to keep track of information relating to their involvement with each department. The handoff is a critical moment—with every exchange the customer is vulnerable and could potentially lose trust in your company. On top of that, every new person that comes in contact with that account needs to know the state of the customer, their goals, health, milestones, etc., in order to drive outcomes without spending time getting caught up on customer activity. The last thing a customer wants to do is repeat the same information to every new team.

To deliver an exceptional, seamless customer experience between handoffs, you need to establish customer-driven, cross-functional processes within each of these teams. This will ensure that with each interaction, the current team can operate with utmost efficiency and the customer remains on track to achieve their predetermined goals.

Step 3: Establish your Processes

Now that you’ve segmented your portfolio and established cross-functional relationships with your fellow departments, it’s time to get to the nitty-gritty. It’s time to establish a set of frameworks that you can use as a springboard. In the next section, we’ll dive deeper into the following key processes:

  • Handoff Management
  • Turnkey Onboarding
  • Project Experience Management
  • Outcomes Planning
  • Sell Across the Lifecycle

Diving into Processes

Process #1: Handoff Management

As we mentioned above, handoffs are a critical moment in the customer lifecycle. If mishandled, the customer will feel disconnected, anxious, and annoyed. On the other hand, a successful handoff will bring customers closer to their goals, leaving them satisfied and able to clearly see the value you’ve delivered. To ensure smooth exchanges between departments, you need a heightened focus on transparency, accurate customer data, and open communication across your company.

How do I achieve success in this area?

  • Require your Sales team to capture customer goals and objectives at the start of every engagement and store the information in your central source of customer data. This way, when other teams come in contact with that customer, they can understand how their tasks contribute to the customer’s ‘big picture’ objectives.
  • Define the roles each party should play in handoffs between Sales → Services and Services → Customer Success Manager.
  • Deliver definitive proof of value to customers at the end of every engagement. To increase customer buy-in, suggest success criteria at the beginning of the project based on similar projects you’ve carried out with other customers.

Metrics for Measuring Success

  • Improving the Handoff and properly capturing customer objectives should set the customer up for success across for the long-terms. To measure success of this process, you should look at:
    • NPS or CSAT
    • Adoption Health
    • Professional Services Qualified Leads (PSQLs): Leads that are generated from engagement by the Professional Services team

Process #2: Scale Onboarding

Onboarding is the foundation of the customer lifecycle. How your customer feels after completing their onboarding plays a huge role in customer adoption and overall Customer Success. Customers want to get value from your product ASAP, but in order to get there, some require more attention than others. For those that want low-touch turnkey onboarding, you need to establish a solid strategy that will effectively get them to a go-live state with a sustainable resourcing model. If you’re used to the long-term engagements that legacy onboarding requires, you may have to take a bit of a “trust fall” to leverage technology to supplement or drive the onboarding process.

How do I achieve success in this area?

  • Design a semi-automated onboarding approach that will lead low-touch customers to success.
  • Vigilantly monitor customer health and proactively reach out if a red flag occurs.
  • Implement a technological component to automate outreaches and drive engagement.

Metrics for Measuring Success

  • Hours spent per Customer
  • Onboardings completed per Quarter
  • Onboarding CSAT

Process #3: Project Experience Management

When a client signs up for a project, they want to be blown away with the experience and the outcome. This is a great opportunity to significantly impact customer satisfaction, but if you don’t manage the project wisely, you risk the opposite. Focus on these three aspects to deliver exceptional project experiences: efficient project execution, streamlined risk management, and meticulous data collection. Measuring customer health throughout the process is vital. By keeping your finger on the pulse, you can act on any signs of declining health and take proactive measures to nurture a healthy relationship and great project experience.

How do I achieve success in this area?

  • Create a unified understanding of the project goals and customer health
    • Establish a central source of project and customer data, including health scores, plans, dashboards, etc, that can be accessed by all customer-facing teams
  • Proactively manage risk
    • Define and understand risks before you begin a project
    • Build a playbook for each type of risk customized by segment
    • Form a hierarchy for risk escalation
    • Put a framework in place that requires project approaches to be reviewed and validated by management
  • Execute a survey program
    • Form a customer communication strategy that follows the customer’s journey (i.e. send surveys at certain project stages—at the beginning, upon completion, as a midpoint check-in, a few weeks post-project, etc.)
    • Design specific communications targeting each role involved with the project
    • Automate survey delivery and response collection
    • Create dashboards so you can review survey data and drive improvements

Metrics for Measuring Success

  • Number of Project Escalations/Risks
  • Customer Implementation Team NPS or CSAT
  • Overall Project Health Score

Process #4: Outcomes Planning

When a client enters a project, they want to be blown away with outcomes. This sounds easy enough—do your job well and the client will be happy, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Your client can’t jump for joy if you don’t align with them on their goals and give them insight into the work you’ve been doing behind the screen to achieve them. This absence of alignment is usually to blame when a customer is dissatisfied with their outcomes. The good news is, you can combat that with a few simple tactics. It all comes back to that idea of having a clear definition of “success” through the customer’s eyes.

How do I achieve success in this area?

  • Align projects with specific criteria for success from the client’s perspective
  • Track project progress against the success criteria shared by your client
  • Automate measurement of customer adoption and health
  • Create a scorecard upon completion that ties project objectives to engagement metrics

Metrics for Measuring Success

  • Number of Objectives Completed
  • Overall Customer Health Score
  • End User & Executive Sponsor NPS or CSAT

Process #5: Sell Across the Lifecycle

In the first chapter of this guide, we mentioned how a customer of a recurring-revenue business can positively impact revenue growth in three ways: they can renew, expand, or advocate your product—all without raising customer acquisition costs. This process is all about understanding the customer lifecycle so you can maximize on these opportunities and grow using your existing customer base.

How do I achieve success in this area?

  • Expansion management
    • Establish frameworks to help your team leverage healthy customers for additional service offerings
    • Constantly monitor customer health and proactively approach customers whose activity reveals that they may be in need of your service offerings
  • Reference management
    • Utilize NPS and CSAT surveys to capture customer sentiment and leverage
    • Keep track of customers who have opted into your reference program wherever you store your customer data

Metrics for Measuring Success

  • Number of PSQLs
  • Services Revenue
  • End User & Executive Sponsor NPS or CSAT

Gainsight for Professional Services Success

“Gainsight has enabled us to streamline our onboarding program without compromising on the experience and outcomes we can deliver. Giving our Onboarding team the tools to contribute to the initial customer journey ensures a strong foundation for long-term customer success.”
by Bharath Devanathan Chief Customer Officer of Belong

Gainsight for Services Success was created to provide Professional Services organizations with the platform they need to adapt to and thrive within a recurring-revenue business model. Gainsight’s solution complements Professional Services Automation (PSA) tools and the traditional PS tech stack by bringing a customer-focus to these internal systems. With Gainsight’s robust features, you’ll be able to provide transparency into the customer across the company, promote efficient best practices, automate processes, and much more. Here are some of the ways Gainsight for Services Success can support the five key processes we mentioned above.

Create a Seamless Handoff Experience

  • Track customer key objectives during handoffs from Sales to Onboarding to Customer Management, aligning teams around a single view of customer goals

Scale your Onboarding Program

  • Scale standard onboarding with lightweight, multi-step project plans and gantt-chart visualization or fully fully automate the experience for one-to-many onboarding

Improve the Project Experience

  • Integrate PSA data and customer data to create a central source of truth that can be accessed by all customer-facing teams with a Project360
  • Provide a white-glove experience to your most valuable clients; manage multiple ongoing projects in coordination, survey key projects contacts at important milestones, closely monitor the health and proactively resolve customer risk

Deliver and Demonstrate Outcomes

  • Measure the impact of implementation on customer adoption and health with a comprehensive scorecard that ties project objectives to engagement metrics

Sell Across the Lifecycle

  • Proactively engage after implementation to identify opportunities to sell additional services based on customer behavior and needs
Shares