Think back to your first smartphone. Unless you’re one of the first people to buy an iPhone, way back in 2007, there was probably a time when you thought a smartphone was unnecessary. All those features were flashy, sure, but who needed it? You’ve got calls and texts on your current phone already.
When you first got a smartphone, you may have thought it was nice, but not necessary. Sure, you’d look things up while you were on the move, but you could live without it. Now, all that has changed. You need your smartphone — you probably check it over a hundred times a day for work and personal reasons alike. Somewhere along the way, you adopted it, and now it’s irreplaceable.
But how does the manufacturer know when that moment happened? They can’t just ask — you probably don’t know yourself when that tipping point occurred. Gauging adoption isn’t a simple task, but it’s important. Adoption predicts renewal and repeat business, so your business needs to have a sense of what it looks like.
Once you’ve figured out how adoption usually comes about, you can start to examine prospects and new customers and predict whether they’re on track to success. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
A customer who’s truly adopted your product will be using it — probably more often than one who’s still undecided about the value you provide. You should be able to examine the usage rates of your customers to establish a threshold for adoption, then sort your customers by daily, weekly, or monthly login.
If your customers aren’t using your product or service as often as you’d like, it may be for lack of knowledge on what your service can do. Email reminders to infrequent users about the features they’re not using can be a great way to boost adoption rates.
Keep in mind that “in their day-to-day” doesn’t mean “every day” — a payroll administrator might only be logging in once a week to approve hours, but that doesn’t mean the software isn’t crucial to their job.
A Customer Success Automation tool can be a critical function in measuring usage data at adoption time, and automating the communication triggers to your end users via e-mail, in-app notifications, and reminders to reach out personally. These tools can also learn patterns over time, and give you insights as to what adoption behaviors drive outcomes, good and bad.
As with any adoption metric, there’s no hard-and-fast answer for how often customers should be logging in. You’ll have to establish your own benchmarks, based on past users who renewed, and compare current users to those numbers.
A simple login to look at a dashboard isn’t the same thing as organizing tasks, setting up workflows, installing on multiple machines, or other signals of comprehensive use. Look at past usage patterns first to get a sense of what kind of behavior is usually indicative of higher adoption, and then look for that same behavior in your current customers.
Your onboarding process will strongly affect how your customers use the product — if they’re not using a given feature, they may simply not know how. “Time To Onboard” is a KPI you should be tracking — it’s simply the number of customers who have completed the onboarding in the time you expect divided by the total number you onboard — and it’ll give you a good sense of who isn’t finishing the process as quickly as they should. Customers can’t adopt the product if they don’t know how to use it, so you should be focusing your attention on those who might need extra help.
Your customer picked your product or service for a reason — something they expected to get out of your product that will help them do their job or serve their customers. They might love your product and find it easy to use, but if it’s not delivering the results they need, they won’t keep renewing. You need to set up a way to track outcomes — after all, the core of Customer Success is making sure your customer is successful.
The most useful KPI to track here is Time To Value (TTV). We explain TTV in more depth here, but it’s essentially the amount of time between a customer taking an action and seeing the value of that action. In this case, it’s the amount of time between a customer making an initial purchase (or trial download) and getting what they want out of it.
You’ll need to lean on your sales team and CRM to keep track of what each customer wants to get out of your product — it’s not the same for everyone. Divide them into categories and monitor when they start getting the utility that made them sign up in the first place.
Also, keep an eye on potential early issues. Have they opened a lot of tickets? Is the low usage due to a need for further training? If the client is feeling pain early on, clients will quickly question if they’ve made the right decision.
Your product will dictate the answer to this question — some products are adopted easily, after which usage is sustained rather than increased. Other products are more complicated — customers will begin to use them more and more over a longer period of time.
Your product adoption curve will vary depending on the exact service or product that you offer, but you can look at your past customer history to find the points at which your customers generally upgrade or renew their service.
Tracking continuous adoption will be easier if you think of different levels of use as different products entirely. KPIs like usage rate and TTV can be broken down to each feature to create a timeline for how quickly you expect your customers to ramp up their usage. If they’re not using more features over time or aren’t taking advantage of new features as quickly as you’d like, it may be worth giving them some extra onboarding attention.
There’s nothing wrong with a product with a long adoption curve, as long as expectations are managed and the customer starts to see benefits early on.
Adoption cycles and renewal cycles don’t necessarily have to match up perfectly, but if they don’t, you need to bridge the gap. A customer who isn’t fully realizing the potential of your product before they arrive at the renewal phase might think that your product doesn’t meet their needs, or doesn’t have the features they expected.
This is another reason why tracking TTV is so vital. If you’re celebrating the small wins with your clients, even though there’s still more work to be done at renewal time, the initial value should be clear.
Your job will be to assess their adoption profile before the renewal phase comes along, comparing them to past consumers to see if their adoption has progressed enough to make them likely to renew. If they haven’t, you might need to change your onboarding strategy to get customers to integrate your product into their workflows more quickly.
There’s no master template for how your customers should adopt your product — the rate at which they adopt and the depth at which they utilize your service will be unique to your particular business. Often, adoption is neglected after on-boarding, when in fact, the point at which your customers are leveraging your product independently is likely when they need the most monitoring.
That’s why it’s so important for you to establish these benchmarks yourself. Use your hypothetical ideal customer, rolled together with historical data from existing customers, to track the way that customers use and adopt your product or service between onboarding and renewal. The better you can understand that cycle, the better you’ll be able to appeal to people who are still on the fence, preventing churn and fueling sustainable growth.
Your customer has bought your software, and they’re excited to dig in and start using it! But, how do you avoid the pitfall of managing their onboarding via a standardized checklist driving toward a timely go-live, and then moving on quickly to the next customer?
Jennifer, our resident onboarding expert, coined the “Tupperware Cupboard” analogy. We all have the dreaded Tupperware cupboard — a jumble of containers in various sizes along with a pile of lids haphazardly shoved into an ill-fitting space, just waiting to dump out onto the floor. Sure, you can shove that one last lid in there, slam the door, and assume it’s someone else’s problem now.
When it’s time for your roommate to put the leftover lasagna in the fridge, that cupboard might have everything they need in it. But, you know good and well that the moment they open that door, everything will come tumbling out. The pieces are there, sure. But they’re not usable yet (plus your roommate has a mess to clean up).
This is not unlike checking off all those onboarding checklist items and then quickly handing off the customer to Support before moving on to the next project. Making sure your clients can open the cupboard and find what they need quickly is critical. Understanding your client’s Time to Value is key to avoiding the mess, and ensuring they are delighted as early as possible.
So, let’s talk about Time to Value (TTV), how to track it, and why it’s so critical.
Time to value, usually shortened as TTV, is the amount of time between when a customer takes an action (makes the purchase) and when they see the value of that action (uses the product in a meaningful way).
Your customer’s TTV varies, depending on your product or the service. Some SaaS products are designed to improve the day-to-day operations of a business, so their TTV will be near zero. Others, like accounting or inventory software, might not show their true value until the end of the quarter or until tax season rolls around.
To keep up your business’ momentum and show your customers the ROI that you offer, you need to keep track of your TTV as a key metric.
It’s your job to show the customer the value that they’ll get out of your product — not their job to find it. That’s the role of onboarding. If your customers can’t figure out how to use your product, they won’t. With the exception of services that customers hope not to see the value of — data backups, home security systems, and so on — most services are intended to be used. If customers can’t see that their money is well spent, they’ll churn, switching to a competitor.
Your marketing is all about showing prospective customers what you can do, but after they buy, they still need to learn how to do it. Whether that’s through in-person demos, tutorials, or a simple welcome email, your job is to hand off the product in a way that lets them hit the ground running as smoothly as possible.
As mentioned above, TTV can vary greatly depending on your clientele, the services you offer, or even your customers’ customers. Remember, we’re not talking about the moment the customer becomes valuable to you. TTV is about when you become useful to them, and that means different things to different people.
Your software has a lot of different features, and customers don’t prioritize them all the same. You’ll need to keep track, all the way through the sales process, of what each customer’s particular priorities are. Since TTV is so variable, it makes sense to keep track of several different types.
Time to basic value will be the shortest TTV metric that you measure — it’s simply the time it takes for your customer to realize they made the right choice. The customer is starting to see the most basic amount of value from your product, but they’ve yet to fully utilize your software or realize just how much you can do for them.
For some customers, time to basic value will come before they’ve even spent any money — a customer who signs up for a free software trial and sees that it’s exactly what they were looking for is already experiencing basic value, even if they haven’t subscribed to a paid account yet.
Time to exceeded value is the time it takes for your product or service to exceed your customer’s expectations and convince them to keep doing business with you. This might come when their free trial no longer meets their needs and they decide to sign up for more features, or after you complete a major project that shows a clear return on investment.
Exceeded value is so important because it shows your customers how much you can contribute — they’ll start to realize that they can’t (or don’t want to) do business without your service, increasing their lifetime value to you as they start to see you as a necessity rather than a luxury.
Some SaaS products and services don’t make their value apparent as immediately — it might take weeks or months to fully implement database, accounting, or inventory software to the point that it can be used day-to-day.
If your service has a long time to value, it’s important to show your customers what you’ll offer them in the meantime. Congratulate them for signing up, and start to offer instructional downloads or videos so they can hit the ground running once onboarding is complete.
Let’s say the implementation has a lot of work and phases, TTV can often begin before deployment. Once the data is populated in the tool, maybe they can start seeing reports! Leveraging a demo instance? Clients love to start to see things coming together! Two keys:
Ask your customer what they’re excited about and focus on it.
Highlight progress early and often.
Short time to value is much easier for customers to wrap their heads around. They have a need, they hire a company to meet those needs, and their needs are immediately met. If the carpets in your office are dirty, you can get a carpet cleaning company to come in in a few days and clean them.
The problem with businesses and markets that have a short time to value is that customers have less patience — if someone else can do the same job faster, they’re much more likely to switch. If your carpets are dirty and Company A says they can come in next week, but Company B can be there today, your loyalty for Company A will go out the window.
Some services are able to provide value with no onboarding or transition period at all. If you go to Hubspot’s website grader, for instance, you can paste in a URL and get SEO feedback within seconds. Because the TTV for this service is instantaneous, users are more likely to keep coming back to it.
Reducing your TTV is a good goal to have — a short TTV allows you to develop new features and adapt your sales cycle. But in order to reduce your customer’s TTV, you’ll need to be able to track that moment when customers realize the value of your service.
The most brilliant product in the world is useless if your customers don’t know how to use it. Whether you offer a product with immediate time to value or long time to value, you need to get your customers interested enough to keep using your product.
That’s where tutorials and onboarding guides come in. Customers picked your product or service for a reason — they had a need that they wanted to address — so creating helpful tutorials and guides to show them how to address that need will give them the confidence and independence they need to keep using your product.
The onboarding process is your opportunity to re-emphasize the value you’re bringing to the table and show the customer how you’re delivering on the features that attracted them to you in the first place.
This step is especially important if you have a product or service with a long time to value. If your service provides data backups in case of physical server failure, your customer hopes never to have to use it. But showing them the progress of their backup, telling them how backups are protected and kept redundant, and explaining to them how they can use your backup software in case of emergency will give them a sense of value, even if they’re not technically using your service yet.
Case studies are a great way to show your new customers your value, even if they haven’t realized it themselves yet. Reading about a similar company in a similar situation who achieved the results they wanted will reassure your customers that the longer time to value is worth the wait.
You can tell them your value propositions or talk about your “extensive experience” ad nauseum, but there’s nothing like real-world examples to really prove your point.
If an implementation is long, generally a timeline is being leveraged to keep all project stakeholders on track. If on a totally separate timeline you’re tracking your customer’s TTV, this can be a great way to show them that you’re really focused on their needs and that you’re listening. Instilling that level of diligence and focus on their business will go a long way early in the process.
Time to value isn’t often considered one of a business’ most important KPIs, but it should be — TTV can provide useful insights that you just can’t get anywhere else. After all, your interaction with a customer doesn’t end when their check clears — you need to keep them informed, engaged, and satisfied if you want to convert a one-time purchaser into a repeat buyer, a long-term subscriber, or an advocate for your brand.
Time to value gives you a way to do that. By measuring the time between a completed purchase and the realization of value from that purchase, you can decide exactly when to engage, when to offer help, and when to nudge customers to renew their subscription. It’s only by understanding how your customers interact with your product that you’ll be able to convert single purchases into loyal patrons.
When the iPad launched in 2010, people couldn’t seem to figure out what it was for. The New York Times’ David Pogue said, “In 10 years of reviewing tech products for The New York Times, I’ve never seen a product as polarizing as Apple’s iPad.” Tech writers wondered why anyone would want a touchscreen-only computer with no ports other than Apple’s proprietary 30-pin dock. The name was mockingly compared to feminine hygiene products.
Now, some 360 million iPads have been sold, and the “tablet” category is firmly entrenched in the tech world. Far from replacing laptops of smartphones, tablets have become a sort of convenient in-between — more portable than laptops, but more powerful than phones.
But that world would never have come about if not for the bold few in 2010. You may have known some of them — maybe they wouldn’t stop talking about it. Maybe they’re the reason you bought your first tablet.
Those people are the early adopters — the first customers to adopt a new product or technology before the rest of the population catches up. And if you’re introducing a new product or service to the market, you need to know how they think.
The term “early adopters” comes from the 1962 book Diffusion of Innovations, which described the acceptance progress of new technology with a normal distribution curve. It’s made up of five different groups of consumers with varying levels of interest in new technology. Here’s a quick rundown of each group:
The innovators are the first to invest in a product. They’re far more interested — even obsessed — with technology and make it a priority to be on the cutting edge. The downside is that their motivations vary. Maybe they needed your exact product or maybe they just wanted to own the latest and greatest. Either way, it’s hard to draw conclusions from their purchases. They’re also a small group — innovators consist of only about 2.5% of the population.
Early adopters come next, causing a swell in numbers as your sales begin to take off. Early adopters are similar to innovators in that they’re willing to test the waters ahead of the mainstream, but they’re slightly more hesitant — they want to wait until initial reviews come out and innovators have started to report bugs.
This is when sales really start to take off — about a third of your sales will come from the early majority. They waited to hear how the product was received and gave it time to be field tested by the innovators and early adopters. They strongly value the opinions of early adopters, but they’re more risk-averse, so they waited to make sure people were enjoying the product before spending money on it.
The late majority waited until your product was mainstream. They’re the people that started buying smartphones when the innovators were already on their third or fourth generation — after it became clear that the smartphone wasn’t a passing craze. They might be more skeptical of the need to start using something new, but they’re willing to follow a trend when they see it.
Laggards are people who only buy something after the hype has died down — maybe years after it’s been released. Do you know an adult who’s just now getting their first smartphone? That’s a laggard. They might be extremely skeptical of the need for what you’re selling, or they might be out of touch enough to have missed the hype when it first started. Whatever the reason, they’re buying late enough that “everyone knows” what the product is — it’s not news anymore.
Early adopters average just 13% of your total sales, but they’re much more valuable than their numbers indicate. Acquiring early adopters is a vital step in any product release.
They’re willing to take a risk on you with their hard-earned money — that means that their loyalty will be stronger if you reward that risk. They’re also more invested in the product, so they can provide valuable feedback about any issues they find before your product goes fully mainstream. And their early spending can give you a much-needed cash infusion to fund research and development, order advance inventory, or get production costs down.
Early adopters also kick off the spread of word-of-mouth marketing about your product. An increasing number of people in the early and late majority — a much bigger slice of the market — won’t even think about buying a product without asking a friend, colleague, or trusted review site about it. If there’s no one to ask, they won’t spend money.
Early adopters aren’t investing in your company out of the goodness of their hearts — there are benefits for them that help mitigate some of the risks. First, a lot of them like the thrill of being the first to own a new product or technology. There’s also the chance that they’ll get the jump on the rest of the world, adopting a useful new technology before others have access to it.
But they also expect a top-shelf customer experience. If your product is truly new, there’s no one else to ask about how to use it, take full advantage of it, or fix it. That role will fall to you, and the way you treat your early adopters will have a ripple effect on future mainstream customers.
You’re not expected to treat every customer the way you treat your first customers, but it’s important to walk the line between over-promising and under-delivering. If you tell your early adopters that they’ll always be able to reach a real person on the phone, they’ll expect that service going forward, and you may not be able to provide it. If you don’t provide good service, they may not stick around.
Instead, focus on making sure that the value of your product is obvious. Early adopters are buying what you’re selling because you’re promising a product that didn’t already exist — show them what makes you different from the competition and they’ll be your best advocates.
Living Up to the Hype
On the one hand, early adopters are easier to please — they know that there are likely kinks to iron out, they expect to pay more than future customers, and they know that the support base for a brand-new product won’t be as robust.
But on the other hand, your early adopters are much more important to please. They’re the ones who will keep you off the ground long enough to hit the mainstream, and they’re the ones who will get the ball rolling on the all-important customer feedback loop: touting your product to new mainstream adopters, who will then refer even more people to you themselves.
In order to properly take advantage of your early adopters’ enthusiasm, you’ll need a way to capture their insights. Remember, these are effectively a big pool of product testers. You need to establish a system to solicit and capture their feedback and ideas — then turn those ideas into actionable feedback for your product team. You don’t need to take every suggestion, of course, but you need to track what those suggestions are.
This is a great opportunity to use Customer Success Automation. Watching your early adopters carefully, monitoring exactly how they use your product, collecting their feedback, and making it readily available to the right people in your business are all tasks that can be built into workflows so you don’t miss out on any useful information.
Whether you’re an established company releasing a new product or a whole new company, recruiting a group of early adopters will be vital for your success. You can’t take off without them.
When your customers decide to begin a relationship with your business, you are both embarking on a path in which you are responsible for delivering on the promises that your marketing and sales teams made. Guiding your customers at the right pace, with the right understanding of their business, and providing the right tools are the keys to a successful SaaS customer journey.
As Customer Success leaders, we have varying points of view on how to visualize the customer lifecycle, and always with the hope of seeing the experience from the customer’s point of view. How do you manage your customers when they’re new and uncertain? What about those many months after they’re onboarded where they’re on their own? How do you know if they’re ready to grow, or want to leave?
Being receptive and vigilant about how you guide your customers requires planning and structure. And, knowing what the key components are: How do you convert strangers into customers, from customers to repeat customers, and from repeat customers to advocates who will do your marketing for you? More importantly, how do you use the principles of customer success to drive that process?
This is how we view the customer lifecycle, and it’s a pretty good place to start if you’re looking at creating this critical framework.
You gotta get this right, but it’s tricky. This is the point at which your customers are getting a first impression of your company and of your service. It’s also where you have momentum coming from sales, and you don’t want to lose that excitement and interest.
The onboarding stage is the stage at which you welcome new users to your ranks, showing them that you appreciate their willingness to take a chance on you. Depending on the exact type of service you offer, this is also the time to help them get set up. That could mean installing the software, importing data, and configuring software to meet their specific needs.
You’ll likely have a checklist of the activities customers need to complete to be considered fully onboarded. Sometimes this is as easy as creating a log-in and getting access, and sometimes it’s a months long implementation with data integrations and project plans and lots of stakeholders.
Whether you’re doing the onboarding yourself, with a specialized team, or providing the customer with the materials they need to do it themselves, you’ll want to track how long it takes. Time to onboarding is an important KPI to try to bring down — time taken to onboard is time that the customer isn’t actually using your product yet.
The second phase of the customer lifecycle is awareness and adoption. By now, the onboarding work is done and the product is up and running. Whereas the initial setup and installation might have been done by engineers or IT people, your product is now in use by the end users who will be incorporating it into their everyday workflows.
This is also the stage at which your customer is starting to get a sense of how much value you’re providing. Hopefully you’re saving them time, hassle, and money. They’re learning the ins and outs of the product, what features are available, and what your company represents. Of course, some of these aspects of the product and the company were in the marketing materials — that’s what drew them to you in the first place. But this is the point where they’re starting to see for themselves just how useful those features can be.
Remember, the educational part of your job isn’t over. If the customer can’t figure out how to use your product, or they don’t fully grasp just how many useful features there are, they’ll move on to other options. Tutorials, videos, and other educational resources will make the path to adoption easier. Your adoption rates should start to increase and your customer engagement score — a number that encompasses how much value your customer is getting out of your product — should be climbing.
This is also where you want to start monitoring usage to make quick adjustments as your client is getting their bearings. How much and in what ways are they using? Are they opening a lot of tickets? Are you getting a lot of questions? Do they need more training? This is a high touch time to ensure your customers are ready to fly.
In the usage phase, your end users are fully comfortable with your product. They’re using the full breadth of features that are helpful to them and they know exactly what your product is capable of. At this point, product adoption should be very high — customers in the usage phase have fully integrated your product into their day-to-day operations and plan to keep using your product in future.
You can tell when your customers are in the usage phase by examining their product utilization. Are they fully taking advantage of the product and all the features they could be using? If not, a gentle reminder of what else your product can do might be in order.
This is also where you can start to understand if there is risk to renewal, opportunities for growth, feedback on the product, etc. Capturing these insights is really valuable to your whole organization if gathered and communicated well.
The value realization phase is when your product goes above and beyond the expectations of your end user to net them a positive ROI. Remember, there’s a reason the customer signed up for your product or service in the first place — there was a need that had to be addressed, a process they wanted to streamline, or a cost they wanted to reduce.
When a customer enters the value realization phase, it means you’ve met their expectation of what your product would do to help them. You’ve achieved the business case they were hoping for and shown them that their investment in you was worth the money.
This is the point where the customer is most receptive to cross-sells and upsells. They’re convinced that what you do is worth the money they spent on it, so your other products must be too! Your marketing efforts should leverage that newfound confidence.
Advocacy is the endgame of the whole process — not only has your customer made the decision to purchase from you, but they’re so happy with your product that they’re telling friends and colleagues to switch over to your side.
Tap into the enthusiasm of your best customers by soliciting reviews, testimonials, case studies, and even incentivizing referral programs. Recent marketing research has shown that the power of word-of-mouth marketing only continues to grow — potential new customers value the word of existing customers far more than your own marketing efforts. If you keep them happy and successful, your existing customers will become your best source of new customers, and the cycle will begin again.
We left renewals off this list for a reason: Renewals are an outcome of strong customer lifecycle management. Renewals aren’t a cause of good customer success — they’re the result. If renewals are low, it’s because something happened in the lifecycle that led to risk, (onboarding did not go well, the product was not fully adopted, they didn’t use all the features that were of value to their business, they didn’t see ROI, they didn’t care enough about it to tell their friends, etc.). If, on the other hand, you dedicate your time and attention to making sure that customers are onboarded effectively, adopting the product, seeing its value, and becoming advocates to their peers, renewal will take care of itself, or at least with much less effort from your team.