By Brett Chenail, Vertafore
As a software vendor, you may think that your primary objective is to sell software. But, for sustainable, long-term business growth, you must go beyond the sale to become a true partner in your customers’ success. Here’s how.
As any company that’s purchased software knows all too well, buying and deploying new applications is only half the battle. Getting employees to actually use those new tools is just as daunting. In fact, over 80 percent of senior executives say user adoption is their biggest challenge when it comes to implementing new software, and less than 40 percent of businesses have end user adoption rates over 90 percent. Worse yet, only about 50 percent of the features companies pay for are actually being used.
That means most companies are essentially overpaying for software that isn’t fulfilling the promise its vendor has made. And, while it might be easy to think, “well, that’s their problem,” and call any sale a success, the truth is that’s no way to run a successful software business. By collecting a check and walking away, we as vendors leave the door wide open for our competitors to step in and provide the genuine solution — not just the software — our customers need.
To help customers solve the problem of adoption, we must first understand what causes it.
Problem #1: Change Is Scary
Adopting new tools is hard because change is hard. Simply put, people get comfortable with what they know, even if it’s not the most efficient, practical or economical. Employees may fear that, if they struggle to learn a new technology, it may hinder their job performance or advancement opportunities, or that new technology may make things so much faster and easier, they may not be needed at all.
Problem #2: Stagnant Management Culture
The problem is compounded when management isn’t on board. A midlevel technology champion may advocate for a new solution, and management might even approve the purchase, yet still approach it with the status quo attitude: “We’ve been running this business for 40 years. This is how we’ve always done it. There’s no reason to change now.” This misalignment in company culture is like trying to steer a ship from the front — it’s difficult, frustrating and discouraging to employees who want to see the company succeed.
Problem #3: The Chicken Or The Egg Situation
Poor adoption also can stem from the fact that customers don’t fully understand how the new technology applies to their business model — they just buy technology and then try to make it fit. But successful businesses know that technology itself doesn’t make you successful; it enables you to successfully execute on your business model. Software vendors that ask their customers to make sweeping changes to their business model in order to adopt their technology are setting both parties up for failure. Instead, vendors must have a complete grasp on the customers’ industry and business model, then provide solutions that solve their challenges.
Problem #4: Lack Of A Technology Guru
Businesses that aren’t in the technology industry often don’t have a focus on evaluating new technology. Unfortunately, that’s a big problem for vendors because it means those customers aren’t keeping up with new developments, trends and potential solutions. Companies that don’t have someone on staff whose job it is to evaluate resources, investigate new solutions and bring in tools to drive the business forward, are not only stuck behind the 8-ball in an antiquated model, they’re also some of the hardest to help when it comes to driving user adoption. They lack a champion, someone who can lead by example.
How You Can Help
With so much competition in the market, it’s up to us as solutions providers to ensure our customers get the most from their investment in our products. That means we must invest the time, effort and resources in maximizing user adoption, to help our customers leverage the true value of the solutions we offer. Here are some tips that can help you help your customers:
- Drive a shift in culture. Vendors can help their customers create a culture that’s more accepting of change and more open to new technology. Start by encouraging them to assign an individual or a team to the role of evaluating new solutions. Work closely with management to help them understand why keeping the status quo will leave them in the dust and demonstrate how your solution won’t put employees at a disadvantage, but actually give them new opportunities to learn, grow and advance their careers. With this shift in culture, they’ll be more open to adapting to change and adopting new solutions.
- Guide business processes. Get involved with understanding your customers’ current business model and processes. Listen carefully to how they describe challenges and the nuances around changing processes to address those issues. “Fixes” are not always as simple as they seem — there’s often a cascade of changes that precipitate even the simplest adjustment. Once you have a full grasp on current processes and obstacles, then you can suggest changes and solutions based on best practices you’ve seen with previous customers to help them improve.
- Encourage time to learn. For many employees, slow or poor adoption is a matter of a lack of time. Employees are so busy doing their jobs, they simply don’t have extra time to spend on learning new technologies. Encourage your customers to give their employees the time it takes to learn new skills. Carving out the time to actually learn the new solution will drive higher adoption because employees won’t feel the pressure to do their current job, plus learn a new skill on top of it.
- Insist on education. If software vendors had a dollar for each time they heard, “if your solution was intuitive enough, we wouldn’t need training,” we could all retire early. The truth is, no matter how intuitive or easy to use your software is, employees still need to be trained on its features and functionality — otherwise the customer will fall into that group that’s using only half of the features they’re paying for. Vendors can help increase user adoption by insisting on training employees, so that they can take full advantage of the tools at their disposal.
- Be realistic about timelines. I tell customers they need to walk away from any vendor that says you can ramp up in a week. You must give customers realistic timelines on how long it takes to not just implement your solution, but also to train employees to achieve competency. Make clear how much time they’ll need to plan for each employee. With a realistic timeline, they can plan appropriate resources to cover for those individuals while they’re actively training.
- Go beyond support with expertise. There’s a huge difference between a customer service rep and a customer success specialist. As a vendor, you must have the personnel expertise to drive adoption and use of your solution and to help customers solve problems. If your only contact with the customer is through a salesperson, they’ll be driven by bookings — they want to sell more stuff. A customer success specialist is dedicated to helping customers maximize the ROI of what they already have. Unlike an account manager or CSR who’s motivated by upsell or new bookings, the customer success specialist is motivated by adoption, customer satisfaction and the impact your solution has on their overall business growth. That’s a critical difference for both you and your customer.
- Invest in resources. Of course, you’ll want to invest in training resources, such as on-site workshops, in-depth online video tutorials, FAQs and other collateral. But, it’s also important to invest in supplemental support, such as putting together a national conference or user group. Here, customers can get one-on-one interaction with you and with each other to learn tips and tricks while learning about creative solutions to common challenges. It’s also a tremendous opportunity for you to hear authentic, honest feedback from your customers about what they’re facing in the industry and what they need to succeed.
The harsh reality is that failure to adopt new software properly isn’t just a waste of money for your customers — it can actually drive their business down. When companies buy the wrong solutions, experience poor implementation or fail to maximize adoption, it can actually cause a sharp decline that could be devastating to their business, potentially eliminating them as a future customer for your other solutions.
On the flip side, helping your customers drive greater adoption among their employees positions you as more than a vendor — you become a partner in their long-term success. It shows that you’re invested in making sure your solution is actually that — a solution to their challenges — and not just one more licensing fee they pay each month.
It’s that kind of relationship that drives sales goals, longevity and a higher customer lifetime value. It also transforms your customers into advocates for your company and your solutions who are happy to refer you to the next customer.
About The Author
Brett Chenail is VP of Solution Consulting for Vertafore.