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One Customer Experience: The Handshake Between Services and Product, by Chris O’Donnell, Hubspot

It wouldn’t have been about half the room, I think about half the room raise their hands. That’s really exciting! Hubspot! It’s a fascinating company, we’re about 11 years old and it’s a SAS company software-as-a-service with one of these more modern business models where we’re selling subscriptions it’s mostly low touch or inside sales driven, and then we have a big and very innovative service set of offerings.

On top of that, we’re about 2,000 people globally, most of us are in Cambridge, but we’re spread around the world. Singapore Sydney, Tokyo, Portsmouth, New Hampshire and a big office in Dublin 300 of those people are working on the product side. That’s my side of the house and about 700 are on the services side. We’ve done some really really interesting things to drive this growth. We went public about a couple of years ago.

We’ve had some good success and Patrick and Anne Thomas invited me out here to share some of those learnings. So we’ll take a look at a framework that is emerging of how we look at the handshake between product and services and also some background and some concrete takeaways. Some things that you guys can try at your organisations that may work for. You may foster a little bit better communication, tiny bit about me, I’m sort of an interesting person.

My background is in music, I got my degree in computers and music and from there I got into marketing. I was a marketer for a start-up for a while, and then I got into product management, because I was so passionate about the product side on what we were building and I’m really a maker at heart. Ever since I was very little, I wanted to play instruments and make things and do things and work with other creative people to build things.

I started some startups over the years. I came to HubSpot in an acquisition of a start-up about six years ago and I’m now leading the product development efforts. There. I get to live my passion with music by playing in a band outside of work and also contributing to Berklee online, which is Berklee School of Music’s fast-growing SAS offering, and I also spend a bunch of time over at MIT. Our company really was founded out of MIT, so we spend a lot of time with MIT in the community they’re talking about taking some of these scale-up innovation models across products, services, sales and so forth, and bringing them into larger organizations.

So that’s just a little bit about me. I have two wonderful kids. I live in the Boston area and I’m thrilled to be here. So why are we here? What’s the goal of this talk today, there’s a huge opportunity, a huge opportunity for teams like mine and teams like yours, to work better and to collaborate as we share these touch points in the customer journey. We’re going to talk about how we can get so focused on on-the-job in front of us that we forget to communicate effectively and we forget to align our purpose and our mission in our vectors across product development and service delivery of every kind.

So I’m going to show you just to start out sort of the summary and then we’re going to go back through the background, how we came to develop this and some concrete examples of what this looks like, hopefully with a couple of fun stories along the way You guys feeling good this morning, you psyched all right. Here’s the takeaway, the takeaway is everything starts with an agreement on who your target customers are.

If you have a service organization, delivering Enterprise Services and a product team that is still trying to build for an SMB you’re going to have a lot of problems right, we’ll talk about that, a unified mission for the company, giving these target customers what’s our approach, what Does success look like and what are the mantras that we’re repeating in the hallway from there? What does success look like and the key is not to have success in one silo and success in another silo, but to share those goals across marketing and sales? Let’s share those goals across products and services share those goals at the corporate level.

Beyond that we have paths for escalation. We love it when our frontline people can solve issues themselves across departments, but it’s not always possible. How do you build accountability and avoid having an adversarial relationship between these departments and then finally, wrapping that entire picture in a culture of regular and effective communication to really imple that change that we’re talking about? So that’s what we’re going to end up in this talk is this framework.

I want to start by reflecting on how I think about the evolution of collaboration at a technology company. It feels to me. Like the first place, there was real tension that forced a conversation about how should we be talking to each other? How should we be collaborating was between marketing and sales classic tension. We talk about it all the time at HubSpot, because we make marketing and sales software.

So we’ve learned over the years that communication about metrics on either side and sharing an overall service level agreement goal between marketing and sales can help deescalate that adversarial relationship and get everybody aligned and moving in the same direction. Beyond that, we have the relationship with sales and services, and I think a lot has been written about that. How do we effectively handoff a customer and onboard a customer? Deliver that technical implementation, whatever it is, that they’re expecting right after that sales process, which was hopefully delightful for them, and I would say, there’s been a lot of ink spilled on that as well.

Both of those we’ve really looked at as an industry, a lot – and you know I’ll be honest, I’m not sure too much has been spoken and written about the technology partner that you guys have in a product development team and how to dovetail those cultures and those Processes and force the right conversations across those groups, because that’s really, where there’s the massive opportunity to delight your customers, is absolutely by improving the service processes and organizations and offerings and all the rest of that, but using technology to make it easier.

Identifying customer roadblocks that service professionals may have to tiptoe around to find workarounds for and really improve the customer experience by getting at the root cause. And when I talk about product and services, it may be obvious to some, but just to err on the side of clarity and product. I’r talking about my entire world. This product managers, designers, UX people, analysts, product analysts and, of course, engineers, right and in product management.

We’re very keenly aware that, at the end of the day, it’s engineers with hands on keyboards that are really building the future of the company and addressing customer pain at its most root right. So we have a very respectful view of engineers and in our culture our job is to help them tackle the biggest problems and not tell them exactly how to tackle them, but to bring them the biggest problems, often from services.

So that joint is super important on the services side. I think really. The eight disciplines of TSIA are exactly what we’re talking about here. I don’t have them all listed, but for us at HubSpot it’s boy. We have a technical implementation team really important to sync with them as they onboard customers. We have a customer success, account management team and we have a big support team and that’s very important for us as well.

At HubSpot we’d love people to buy the software as low touch as possible, and then we would love them to have a hopefully free service experience. That’s as high touch as they want. So we have a huge investment in customer success and customer support. So a bit of a different model. That’s that’s pretty interesting! So if you, if you squint, you say well, this shouldn’t be too hard to set up. I mean we have services working with customers every day.

That’s all they do, and you have product that is not building the product for themselves. Product is building the product for customers as well, and so in the naive mind of an executive such as myself, I assume all the time that this is the ideal state and then, when customers are stuck and we’re spinning up additional service offerings and we’re doing all Of this all this kind of work to address issues that product knows about it and product is both helping deliver those services with tooling, with technology interfaces for the customer and also addressing some of those issues.

That should have never been there in the first place. But when I go and talk to the front lines on either side, I learned that’s that’s not always the case. It’s not always the case. Then account managers struggle to have their voice heard. What is the vocabulary for them to communicate the customer roadblocks that are so intuitive to them, the things that they see, customers struggle with on on a daily basis? You just walk across the street to engineering, and who do you talk to do you just grab an engineer, who’s who’s, pouring a coffee and you show them a screen shot of something frustrating.

Is it can be very difficult to figure out those paths now, at the end of the day, the opportunity is that product is building stuff and talking to customers and services is talking to customers constantly and would love to be involved in building stuff. How do we make that happen to have one unified customer experience? The key is really aligning and understanding what it looks like in that shared area and the actions you can take to widen that shared area and drive more collaboration between these two teams.

They share the goal, which is to reduce time to value for customers. Everybody wants customers to be successful to be happy to have high NPS. How do you get there? I used the word alignment and I’m going to talk a little bit more about alignment and I’ll back off the services piece and just talk about the most recent example of this. In my life, which, which I sort of have a fondness for doing the freshest example, we’re doing our strategic planning in product right now for 2018, and we have a process where we look at all of the great ideas that we want to do as a team.

We show the executive team, we show the company, we get some feedback from them and then internally we resource and we prioritize, and we do the things that you would imagine we would do last year. We did that and every one of those priorities was one team that was going to go. Do it and what we learned throughout the year was that that broke, because each of those teams is trying to deliver on their one thing, but they need help from everybody else.

So everybody’s trying to prioritize the dependencies that they have on other teams with their own goals. We did okay, we had a good year, but this year, what we’re doing is we are. We are deciding those priorities across all teams and then we’re going to break the work out and prioritize that work, raus teams and when we reflect on this, it’s a great example of a concept that we talk about constantly at HubSpot.

Now this is our co-founder Dharma shot and he got to spend some time with. Elon Musk was one of his heroes, one of my heroes as well, and he asked Elon what the key to scaling a company like HubSpot like Tesla, like SpaceX. What that key was – and he expected a big, long, structured diatribe on all the things you have to think about, and rather than that, Elon came back and said. Each person in your organization is a vector, I’m not a big physics person, but I’ve learned that a vector is a combination, two things, of course its directionality and momentum right, and so the interesting thing is, you can have two star players and giving you the short Version here, but you could have two star players who are trying to do opposite things, and the net of that is zero, whereas you can have a bunch of decent people all trying to do exactly the same thing.

They’re going to make great decisions they’re going to make great great progress, so my example about our product planning process was one to show that we had a very thoughtful process. I would argue that we have some really competent people who certainly care about the mission, but we sent them off in various different directions. So that’s that’s an example right of how we kind of align those vectors and get everybody multiplying each other’s work by heading in exactly the same direction.

What if we could do that with product and services, we don’t have it perfect. I can’t pretend that we have it perfect. I would say: we’ve made the most progress with our customer support team. I’r going to show you exactly what that looks like we have room to grow as sales. We have room to grow with customer success, we’re starting that the the early innings there. So I don’t. I don’t want to pretend like we have it all figured out, but we’re happy to share the learnings and where we are in that whole journey.

So, let’s review that framework step by step in a little bit more detail. If you remember the the the middle of that framework, the core was clear: target customers. It’s going to be impossible to do anything else and have alignment if different people in the business believe you are building for different customers and customers can be extremely different. Even with the same product at HubSpot, this is very true.

We have fortune 100 companies who use our product, and then we have five person companies whose our product and it’s exactly the same commercial off-the-shelf software. But we need to be mindful, as we build the software of that context, I’m going to give you a fun example. I read somewhere and and went and looked into it, and it’s actually totally true that if you buy whiskey and you buy it one of those little tiny containers at a time right, it’s a dollar, a piece and to make a bottle this size.

You need 14 of those, so that’s 14 dollars that bottle cost $ 26 and 99 cents for the exact same product. The exact same amount think about that for a second totally different buyers, complete and totally different purpose. Somebody wants to have it on their shelf forever. Somebody just wants one little quick drink whatever it is. You have very, very different buyers, so you have the same product and you package it in a way where people are very aware of who the target customer is what this looks like at HubSpot.

Is this idea of a core buyer persona? We’ve evolved them over time and everybody in the company becomes intimately familiar with what that target customer looks like we had a big debate early on probably five years into the business right right around the time that I came between a persona that was then named owner. Ollie in a persona who was named marketing merit now an owner ollie was somebody who didn’t have a marketing team who was buying our marketing software to use themselves for their their car wash or their drywall company or whatever it may be, and then marketing meri was A very different persona, who was a full time marketer, but was very overworked, so the profile of that company.

The context in the person was using that product was very different and what we did was we looked at what we think of as the unit economics and SAS right so in in SAS. We’re, of course, obvious overwhelmingly concerned with the cost to acquire customer and the lifetime value of that customer. How long it takes to recoup that initial cost to acquire the customer and what we found was the unit economics between these two personas were totally different.

For the same product, they were totally different that allowed us, as a company to say we’re going to focus on one we’re going to focus on Mary, because that’s a better strategic bet for our company. Now, to this day, you can walk through the hallways and ask anybody what an owner ollie is and you’re going to get exactly the same answer and we’re updating these right. So now we have new personas. We felt that our customers had outgrown those personas.

So we have marketing Michelle and growth Gary, and you can ask anybody in the company to explain the difference between these two, what kinds of companies they work at what’s important to them, how do they buy? What do they expect in the service experience? What’s their level of technical knowledge in onboarding all of this kind of stuff and everybody in the company is going to be able to give you a pretty consistent answer right so you’re, starting to see that a language can emerge where all of a sudden and the Count manager can say to me, hey, I have I have this company in there they’re trying to get started in it’s a classic, Michele great fit.

Okay, that’s going to speak to product a lot more than hey here’s. A huge deal we signed write help me make. My commission is a very different message: it’s much more of a strategic mindset for the business, much more of a customer and business first way of thinking about it now beyond that beyond the customers. Let’s think about the mission, so you have those customers. What is the mantra that you’re going to use to service those folks and sell them and onboard them? What is your, what is your North Star? Google is famous for having the the mission of organizing all of the world’s information, so if you’re an engineer or a product manager or a salesperson, you know that that’s where the company is going, it’s going to get all the world’s information and organize it to be Available to everybody or Dropbox have all your stuff everywhere.

You go very, very clear mission at HubSpot. Our mission is to transform how companies grow so there’s an emphasis there on this idea of economic opportunity. People are coming to us to find further growth in their business. One and to transform we’re not trying to help them, do what they’ve been doing that got them this far we’re trying to change the way that they market and sell to match the way that humans have changed the way that they shop and buy again.

This is just mantra to us. You can ask anybody in the company what that mission is and how it ties to their day to day, and it’s very clear, another great pathway for services to be communicating with product. The next layer from there is sharing goals, language and metrics in pretty much every culture. You have your KPIs, you have maybe your waterfalls and your goals and what over performance looks like or OKR whatever framework it is that you’re, using one thing that we’ve learned is that we run into a lot of trouble when we expect teams to work together across Disciplines and leave them with disparate goals, the more that we can take two leaders, two vice presidents across marketing and product, let’s say, or services and product services and marketing whatever it is and say: here’s your North Star together, you share this together, the more the front Line people magnetized into that and move forward in a really effective way.

We’ve decided as a company that the most important number for us is Net Promoter Score and with which I’m sure you’re all very familiar, and the interesting thing that we’ve done here is we’ve taken. A high-level brand and sort of customer level NTS metric of how likely are you to recommend HubSpot to a friend or colleague and we’ve, given the ownership of that to product right. It’s a really really hard number to move that forces a few things.

It forces us and products to get to the root cause of issues. Ah, so now, when we hear from services that customers are frustrated, it’s harder for us to put our blinders on and build the next feature, we’re so excited, because what we really want to do is delight the customers more so than to build that next feature and Get to market and compete a little bit harder in the market. This is a strategic corporate level priority that is shared across all the teams.

It also forces product to get out of our silo and out of our out of our seeds. Quite quite literally, and not just to talk to customers, but to talk to the people in service again customer success and technical technical implementation Academy, which is our education initiative and to hear from them and really digest and really listen to the feedback that they’re giving us. Because it’s key for us to address, as we move NPS again breaking down walls with shared goals in paths for escalation.

You know boy. I’ve heard it said that the measure of an organization, the measure of an organization is how effectively frontline people across departments can solve issues without taking it to their bosses. You know you have organizations where two people on the frontlines can just deal with an issue on a good day. We’ll have a support. Rep, take a call, identify a software defect, find the product manager find the find the engineer, maybe and within minutes, deploy a solution right and we do we do pretty well with that.

We don’t do perfectly with that. I’r going to show you examples of us not doing perfectly, but we have a culture where we want to be able to take that input and fix it in real time for our customers. We’re a three billion dollar public company, we’re a SAS company and we still go to production 500 times a day right from our engineers. Our engineers have full autonomy to fix issues and ship features 500 times a day.

It’s very important right so that input from services is absolutely key there. So one of the things that we do is we just start to look. We just. We have a phrase that we call sunlight where you have the opportunity to build a process out. You have an opportunity to build in checks and balances and introduce red tape and down in the business. One option you have is to not add the processes, not add the sign-offs and all that, but to provide sunlight.

You know a funny way you could do. This is, you could take expense reporting and you could say you know what use good judgment on an expense reporting, but we’re going to stack rank, how much everybody is spending on travel and if you decide to do something with travel, that’s irresponsible everybody’s going to see It and make funny. You know it’s just a hypothetical example, but um it actually works.

It’s like first-class to Australia. You know really, but it’s a long flight and we we cut them some slack. So here’s one where we say look. We haven’t so Giro’s our issues. Right I’ve got a bunch of yous Jared. We used your love at last, seen by the way, they’re doing really really cool things. If we look up to a company in the market, that has a really innovative go to market model, it’s at lassie and we love their products and we love them.

J Simon’s their Presidents on our board and they just had an unbelievable earnings call by the way, which I recommend you guys review, is really really cool. What they’re doing with service and with sales and rnd really driving a lot of this alignment and boy big results. In the markets, so we have these issues, we have about 8 % of the calls we get and support get escalated formally into product as as a JIRA as an issue, some sort of help, ticket or debug or defect that they’ve found.

You know what we can do is sit down together and just look at how many of these are getting either responded to or resolved later than we would expect, and let’s look at that by team, and it’s not something that we need to send around to everybody And we it’s not something that we need. You know an action plan against and, and you know, full accountability, but what it does is, if you, if you get people from all these disciplines, into a room together to look at it and just have a conversation about it, it starts to foster a lot of Trust we’ve learned that when we don’t actively communicate with services and when services doesn’t demand a forum with us, we just assume that everything is okay or services assumes that there’s no path for them.

To talk to us so again light reports where it’s just a fact on how we’re doing together in terms of communicating and getting the people in the room together, and I think that if you get the right people in the room and often that’s not executives, often That’s line managers right get line. Managers in the room from these different disciplines give them some privacy and say what the heck is going on.

You know you guys, you guys figure it out and go well. You know not for nothing. We don’t have a lot of Engineers on that or we’re not used to hiring people who are really good at solving the types of problems that we have and we’ll talk more about that. But this has been really very cool for us without again creating an adversarial relationship. Here’s another one for for Gira’s, just time to respond right, like how many of these tickets are we getting.

How is time to response going and we do look at these at the at the corporate level? We look at these at what we call helm, which is our executive team, and it’s just it’s good to know that we care, you know just show us in product. Getting up and showing this chart just sends the message that, yes, we get it. We care and customers deserve an answer and deserve to close the loop when they have a question about the the product functioning properly very cool stuff, very straightforward by the way, not rocket science.

It’s really the human side that matters and then wrapping this all in not just regular communication but effective communication. I’ll give you an example. This is if this applies to your organization, particularly if you work in customer support technical support of some kind. This was a huge breakthrough for us for a long time. We would get incident rate, so our support team would, on a monthly basis, quarterly basis, say here’s why people are calling in right and we would try to address those by number of cases.

The bully was really hard and some of those you know how would talk to our head of services and say: okay, we’ll try to get rid of all those and he goes whoa hi. My hypothesis is people who call in about that end up being really happy. Customers, because we get them on the phone and give them a great experience, we set them up. We explain the mental model for them. We do some education and then they’re happy for years, okay, so, okay, so we don’t want to lose those tickets, so it actually became not about the the specific reason that they were calling in.

It was something much more new us. We have this great program at HubSpot, called the accelerated leadership program where we hire folks out of business school and we give them rotations in different departments six months at a time, and then they end up leading a team in a department that was a great fit For them, by the way, this program has worked out, super super well and in a world where it’s tough to find you know, line managers and director level folks.

This is a great way to build those kinds of roles and find people who excel in them across disciplines. So with this fella did he took six months and he said there’s a lot more than just incident cake incident rate. How happy are people once they get off the phone? How long is the call? How often did they repeat and call back in on the same question and he came to present in our product managers meeting and it was this beautiful three-dimensional view of the customer experience that we just couldn’t ignore.

You know I mean this was really interesting and it was a level of thoughtfulness that he put in. He came in, he very very graciously said you know, I’ve thought a lot about this and I’ve talked to a lot of customers, and you know I’m going to take a I’m going to take a whack at what a score might mean across all of these things And nobody picked apart, while you’re multiplying this by three and multiplying this by two and weighting it this way and weighting it that way, nobody had the energy to pick it apart, because you know what it was good enough and it was very thoughtful, and so my Advice to any department trying to work with product is I point to this example and say you know, imagine owning the products and having the the empathy in the connection with someone.

Who’s really thought, through the experience of servicing, that customer in a robust way in a detailed way and offered this level of insight to the product team. This thing comes out, we publish it in slack and we have all the product managers in there and it is just a firestorm of commentary. You know, and it’s not pointing fingers, it’s people acknowledging that they know that certain things are issues or acknowledging that there is a minor outage over here or something happened over there with a third party API, and so there’s this awareness that just bubbles up around it.

That is super healthy and now we’re trying to do the same with customer success. It’s a little bit newer, but what we’re doing is basically a leader on our customer success. Team is saying: okay, when we do calls with customers and we try to get them set up or on board a new point of contact or worker renewal or whatever. It is we’re going to hear the roadblocks that they have in the product and we’re going to enter them in to the CRM and report on those and start to fold those back into that same heat map.

It’s it’s a newer view for us and it’s a newer relationship, but it’s very very promising and it’s working really well and again: it’s you can’t really argue with it. If you’re in product, you gets very and here’s the dirty little secret, a product manager. In my experience is you know they have one answer to anything, you say: hey. Could we go do this? Could we add this feature? Could we do this and they only have one answer which is: maybe you know, and we teach them to do that? That’s like actually the trade for all sorts of reasons, but the real unit.

The real reason is, as a product manager, you’re selling things to engineers. You are a salesperson of ideas to engineers. You know engineers, no matter what they say, they’re working on or anything they can always come in and say. Well I have this urgent thing. I need to work on before I get to the thing that you want me to do in my experience that can be 90 days of working on this thing before they get to the thing I want to do, and so you know, I’ve learned primary source material Is so so important for working with designers and developers, you can almost leave the source material.

These are the things that are causing the most pain for the customer. I did that once with a very skeptical tech lead – and I just said, hear hear the tie was way back when we first had some this information. I said here the top ten issues that cause people to call into support and he read them. He said three of these are on my team. I said this has been good, it’s a good talk, you know and he got so fired up to go address those, as opposed to me, coming with a list of things that I thought would solve those problems.

Without that context, right without that that primary source material, so primary source material from services helps PM’s, but it also helps the engineers wrap their heads around the issues and I’m going to wrap up here and say: we’ve seen a bunch of charts. You know we’ve seen frameworks, we’ve seen graphics, it’s not about that. It’s about people. This was a meeting I was in Monday, and here we have our head of engineering.

We have frontline service people from different departments. We have a product manager, that’s Bella in the bottom left hand, corner she’s, explaining all of the context around the issue. She’s letting services understand know that she understands the issue and a from her perspective on what they’re doing to address it and so forth. This is a great meeting. This is a killer meeting. This has completely changed the relationship between these two groups and we don’t have to get you know a thousand people in a room together to review this data.

We can get six people again. It’s a combination of more senior people and frontline people who really have the context so listen. I hope this has been useful, enjoy the rest of the day, connect with me if you’d like to continue the conversation and more than anything, thank you guys so much


 

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