How to Improve Product Release Adoption via Customer Success Enablement
Updated: Aug 10, 2022
Software as a service(SaaS) companies are constantly releasing new products/features and updating existing ones Despite product releases being a key part of life for all SaaS companies, many companies find that adoption of their product releases is lower and takes longer than expected.
This slows the rate at which SaaS companies can deliver greater value to customers and increase net revenue retention.
Like most problems in business, this one is multifaceted.
Let's imagine your product-market fit, product quality, and go to market (GTM) strategy are all rock solid... and yet, you still seem to struggle to drive adoption of the features and products you release.
A common issue is assuming driving release adoption is one team’s job. Some companies lean solely on Product Marketing’s megaphone, others rely on Customer Success’s one-on-one relationships and conversations. Neither of these teams can single-handedly drive consistent, high product adoption release after release.
These two teams, and many others, must work together to drive further adoption of your features and products as your offering evolves.
Product Marketing should be the team we lean on for the creation of consistent GTM assets and messaging. However, it isn't JUST on the Product Marketing team to drive enough customer awareness to enact change in customer behavior.
If you expect to market your way to adoption in B2B SaaS, your customer base and adoption metrics are likely going to deliver rough news. As much as we like to think our solutions are incredibly easy to use, adoption is impacted by much more than ease of use. Adoption typically requires behavioral and strategic changes to the customer's business and strategy. Product Marketing can only drive awareness of such changes, it can't manage these evolutions.
The team best suited to manage such evolutions and maturity with the customer is the Customer Success team.
Customer Success is the other team most likely to be expected to single-handedly drive customer adoption of all new functionality. This too is unrealistic and neglects the fact that at the end of the day driving product adoption is a team sport. It is a dynamic process, not a simple check box or single conversation.
One lever for driving product release adoption is to better enable your CSMs to drive awareness, perceived value, discovery, and eventually implementation and adoption directly with customers.
The key here is to leverage Product Marketing to up-level the messaging and delivery of your CSMs’ efforts, which in turn increases the reach and impact of Product Marketing’s GTM messaging and assets.
The simple truth is your CSMs have personal access to the contacts who matter most. This access comes in the form of relationships, scheduled meetings, and established credibility.
Leverage your customer touchpoints, business reviews, and ongoing initiatives for CSMs to drive release adoption all the way from awareness to ROI. This requires enabling your CSMs to ask the right discovery questions, pitch use cases, handle objections, and manage the needed changes.
How we should leverage the Product Marketing team is in the creation of consistent, quality GTM assets which enable all prospect- and customer-facing teams.
So, how can we better enable our CSMs to drive release adoption faster and more effectively? Well, there are a few primary ways we can do this.
Earlier, more complete internal enablement.
Start external enablement earlier and from multiple angles.
Enable and operationalize the activities which drive release adoption.
Earlier, More Complete Internal Enablement
I've experienced, as many CSMs have, receiving product release enablement on the same day as the release happens and the customers are also informed. Usually with the same vague assets which are provided to the customers. This means that the customer and the CSM start their journey of understanding the release at the very same time. This is product release mayhem for CSMs and customers. This is far from the most effective way to drive adoption and customer satisfaction.
CSMs should be provided with phased enablement assets as the release cycle begins, progresses, and goes live.
On a monthly release cycle, this could look like the following. This is just an example – there’s no one-size-fits-all cadence.
Release Plan Overview sent out as an internal resource for all prospect/customer-facing teams. This details which products, segments, personas, etc. are being targeted. It should also include WHY the feature or product is being built - what problem does this solve or opportunity does this pursue for customers? Which uses cases and customer outcomes does this facilitate? In a perfect world, this would even come with a list of customers who A. have asked for such functionality, B. are a good fit for the new functionality, and C. are not a fit for the new functionality (and why).
Release Preview should be sent as a follow up. This asset should come in two forms. One should be a PDF which is detailed and easily shareable. The second should be a presentation deck which communicates the problems being solved, outcomes achieved, and proof points of the new functionality. These slides should include detailed speaker notes which equip the CSM to drive effective discovery and interest in the released functionality. CSMs should plug theses slides into their recurring touchpoint meetings.
Customer Roadmap Webinar should be hosted to formally let customers know what is coming. This should stay focused on high-level business problems and outcomes being pursued by the release. This is always best when delivered by product leadership, as it is a great opportunity to prove to the customer that what their CSM says matches what leadership says. This slowly, but surely, builds CSM and company credibility.
Note, the CSM can use the Release Preview assets to drive attendance to the roadmap webinar, and then use the same slides to reiterate and remind the customer what was presented and begin their discovery into such product fit. We all learn by repetition.
Internal Q&A Session with Product Managers to ensure your GTM teams are prepared to drive adoption of the new functionality in the coming week. This is a great opportunity to make sure revenue teams can better understand specific use cases, value propositions, and limitations of the new functionality. Knowing what the product can't do is just as important as knowing what it can do in building CSM confidence. Note: This could be done live, within a Slack channel, or a combination of both.
Update Internal Demo Instances with the released functionality. This one is only for true SaaS models. This also won't work for companies which make key functionality decisions up to the last minute before release. However, if you can let all employees play with the new functionality a week before the release, you'll see confidence soar. This is especially true if you also send an example recording of how to demo the feature. This enables CSMs to learn the ideal way to demo and then become confident in that via practice.
Manager coaching and strategy session for CSMs to plan and prepare for customer adoption. Managers should hold a session individually or in small groups to role play presenting the new features, strategize which accounts to present which features to, and detail a plan for doing so. This is a great way to drive confidence, best practices, and accountability.
Finalized Release Notes and Release Deck sent externally and internally as the release goes live. This is the final version of release documentation and should reflect what is being released. The speaker notes from the Release Preview deck should be included in the Release Deck, adapted for any product changes made in the final weeks prior to the Release. The best part is that there should be very little, if any, new information in these last two assets. The Release Notes should also link to all relevant documentation – whether new documentation or updated documentation to reflect the released changes.
It's important to know this is just one way you could structure your product release enablement. There are some advanced options which are great additions to these steps yet aren’t a fit for every company. Share in the comments additional ways you've enabled your CSMs to drive greater adoption of product releases.
Start External Enablement Earlier and from Multiple Angles
This really is the area of Product Marketing, so I won't dive too deep into this. Product Marketing is the real source of expertise on this matter. What I will say is that what you send externally should match and move in parallel with how you enable your internal teams. This will help give customers time to think about the release and how the added functionality fits into their business and will ensure the communications from CSMs and Marketing align.
Much of this was covered in the previous section, but it's important to know that this content should also be spread out and built up throughout the development cycle. Don't make the mistake of sending one single communication about the release on the day it goes live.
It's best to follow the timeless sales advice of "Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them."
Just make sure to keep the internal enablement one step ahead of the external enablement.
I see the Release Preview, which should be shared by both CSMs and Marketing, as telling the customer what we are going to tell them. Essentially, "in a week or so we are going to tell you that these features are being released."
The Product Roadmap Session is the business telling the customer "this is what is coming."
The final version of Release Notes is the business telling customers what they told them - "As we told you, this is what we just released."
Everyone feels informed. Everyone has had time to plan and discuss. Every customer who is a fit for the new functionality, likely feels ready to dive deeper into the assessment and planning of adopting it.
That's Product Release success in the making.
Enable and Operationalize the Activities which Drive Release Adoption
This is more advanced and encompasses essentially endless topics. This warrants a separate blog article, but we’ll briefly cover the high-level here.
Look at the key activities which are needed to drive adoption of your newest features and products. How can you operationalize and enable those activities so these are as efficient as can be and are executed as consistently as possible?
What information do your CSMs need for identifying which customers are good candidates for each new feature? Find a way to either A. make that data readily available to the CSMs in the software they use most to manage their portfolios, or B. thoroughly teach them how to find and identify this data on their own.
Regardless of how the CSM obtains such information, make sure your CSMs understand how to make sense of and apply that data to their efforts driving adoption and expansion.
This will look different for every company. The main takeaway is that you ensure the process of driving purposeful, targeted adoption is made as easy as possible for CSMs.
The next maturity phase in this effort is to systematize knowing which customers have adopted which features so that CS leadership can easily know which new features are and aren’t being adopted. This drives efficiency and gives leaders early visibility into which features are and aren’t being adopted. Leaders can then invest coaching on what has weak adoption and glean repeatable best practices from where adoption is strongest.
Product Marketing will always market directly to customers, however, it's just as important that the messaging and assets are utilized in enabling the GTM teams. This maximizes the impact of the Product Marketing team by putting world-class release assets in the hands of those with the most direct access to prospects and customers.
Your CSMs are best equipped to drive the strategic changes required for customers to adopt and receive value from your latest features. To capitalize on the proximity CSMs have with customers, it's important to enable your CSMs ahead of the release itself.
The fastest way to drive adoption of product releases is to enable both CSMs and customers well in advance of each release.
Enable your CSMs in advance, so they can start informing your customers in advance. This shifts much of the conversation and decision process regarding adoption to prior to the release. The more questions, objections, and planning CSMs and customers work through prior to the release, the sooner the customer can begin adopting once the release goes live.
Structured, proactive CS enablement is one of the most effective ways to increase and accelerate adoption of your latest features and products. All in all, it can't be done alone. CS Enablement should create a structure which works with and maximizes the impact of your Product Marketing team.
Adapt the above process and practices to meet the needs of your business. Design this process with your Product Management and Product Marketing stakeholders. Product Release enablement doesn't look the same for every SaaS company. Product type, release cycle, customer base, and other factors impact what product release enablement process will be most effective for your team.
The sooner and better you enable your CSMs on product releases, the sooner and more effectively they can drive adoption of these features with customers.