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Rob Redman of Adobe on building customer success leaders, teams and plans

Rob’s role as Head of Customer Success Best Practice involves standardising the operations, the tools and the systems that are in place to drive an effective customer success (CS) operation—from how customers are onboarded, to driving value and adoption until renewal. He works with cross-functional teams to make sure tight systems are in place to drive best results with customers, and that people are challenged in the right way. Rob has been at Adobe for over seven years.

How do you onboard and train your reps?

A few years ago, we realised that we didn’t really have anything in place that was systematic. I was involved in the process to create a scalable onboarding program called CAPTIVATE. We use a variety of videos and computer-based training. To complement that, we designed particular tasks that employees would do at specific intervals internally or when facing the customers. We also make sure people are supported by their managers and give general best practices and tips. I usually run onboarding calls to support new starters.

Pre-COVID, it was difficult to get people in a room, but now that everything is virtual, there is almost no excuse to sit quietly on these calls and listen for training purposes, which is quite interesting. It’s a good opportunity for onboarders now! We’re trying to be innovative and we’ve had to adapt even more, given the current situation.

Promoting a learning culture is important, how have you maintained yours during this period?

We’ve almost had to curfew a bit of training. A lot of people have recognised that there are good opportunities now for people to focus on development.

How are we responding to COVID-19? Some managers and Customer Success Managers (CSMs) are in this non-essential vs. essential bucket, so their workload is now slightly different based on their customers. They’re going to get half the time to be a bit more strategic, so they can focus on their training, and you get another tier that is being pushed by their customers because they are in need of the CSM more than ever.

To go back to the question, we’re having to be smarter on how we deliver training and making sure that it is more relevant. I have been trying to create an environment of virtual role play (around renewal conversation, objection handling, impact and influence) where we put into place certain tactics and tasks that we have learned during the training session. If this works, it will prove that you can have role play exercises in a virtual environment. Most people dread work play anyway. To do it virtually is going to be quite a challenge, but you have to give it a go and we might have to adjust a few modalities but that’s okay. We’ll see how it goes.

How do you share best practices?

This is the question that keeps me up at night. We’ve evolved over the last few years and tried different approaches. We stick into a habit where we do a lot of emails with video content. We use Teams and Slack, but it is difficult because we have so much great content and it’s about signposting to get to that content as quickly as they can, and that’s the tough part. But we keep trying different approaches.

I also send weekly program updates. I’ve done my top 10 hacks too. That’s been proven to be quite useful for onboarders when the new starters want to make an impact quickly. I share this everywhere but mostly on Teams.

What would you share in a playlist of customer success content?

Join the Customer Success Network! I am all for an inside-out and outside-in approach. This way, you can tap into a community, and we try to promote our champions who are getting this outside perspective. It’s always great to challenge the status quo, so that’s why we enter into such a community.

I have also just released this COVID Lockdown Video Diary which is an initiative that I have been participating in.

How do you share knowledge with customers?

One of our CS KPIs is around reviews. Customers, depending on their segment, will receive the right information. So we help CSMs to get their review presentation with product adoption scores and it gets injected directly into a slide.

It’s a good question. We have to be careful at Adobe for security reasons around the tools we are using. Some people have even used Whatsapp, which has pros and cons. The challenge we are facing is that there is not enough consistency in the different tools available out there so we’re having to use different tools and we are letting CSMs use their right judgement to set the right expectations.

With Teams, it’s often used as more of a push-type model. We use it for amending Success Plans but we won’t take technical questions by this means, for example, as we have specific channels for that, to get speedy responses.

How do you measure the performance of your CSMs?

We use soft KPIs: delivery of the strategic business review, CSM maintaining their mutual success plan and keeping a [healthy] adoption score, which keeps track of the customers use of the product and retention. These soft KPIs are very important [and are] on our radar to improve the process.

We’re exploring the development of soft skills too. This way, it drives this culture of continuous improvement with one another.

How do people become leaders in their team and build authority?

You want to give a team a platform to showcase what people are doing with their customers. We have some CSMs who are in a bit of a rush, but we are trying to encourage [them to showcase more often].

We started something a few years ago, which is the CSM value story. We incentivise CSMs to showcase what they did because you’d get these great stories of how customers met their objectives.

A CSM would say how they did it, what tools they used, the strategies they deployed to meet their objectives and what the outcomes were. That is then shared in our weekly meetings with our ops staff and it’s become a good way to create feedback. It also brings back more day-to-day empowerment [encouraging them] to be leaders, as they represent the organisation. We empower them to come up with new ideas.

I used to get frustrated with people who would come up to me with just problems. We’ve already tried to change this type of culture, so now we’re trying to change the mindset of the culture. It’s interesting to see that with this culture of encouragement, you see people stepping up that you would never have imagined—especially in a crisis. This is where you can find true leaders shining.

How do you build the best success plans with your customers?

We have success plans as our KPI so there’s a lot of attention around them. The manifesto is: what does success look like for each specific customer?

Everyone is going to have their internal and tactical account plan. It has to be smart to plan accordingly to see how the customer can achieve that. We’re trying to speak more and more about use cases.

Where we can also get better, is to always think about this narrative around ‘pre’ and ‘post’ to connect the story between onboarding and all the way through. So the vision is aligned with the implementation.

What are your top productivity hacks?

One thing that I found great value in is a time productivity/time management workshop—that has been very helpful. It allowed me to put each task in specific boxes of what is urgent, nice to do and critical.

This week, where can I make the biggest impact? Where can I add the most value? Spill it all out and then look at all the work you have to do and break it down into the effort and analysis. It definitely helps to determine the best push-backs for tasks, on the things you have to drop. I’m terrible at emails but I always try to keep it at three months and everything that is before that, I just get rid of it.

I’ve also been firm with myself, especially in these strange times, to go and have a break in the garden or have a run. My best thinking time is when I am out and about.

How do you teach your teams to deal with failure?

We always try to push continuous improvement. Some people can manage it better than others, so we provide coaching with managers and people to make you stronger. We did a session last year where everyone would share the last time they failed and it gave a completely different dynamic of how projects are approached after that. People were surprised that they were able to overcome the failure.

Sometimes we live in a bit of a bubble, dealing with the manager’s portfolios, and don’t connect as often, but [you need to] create a culture where you enable people to share. It’s also important to know someone is going to pick you up as a manager to say ‘it’s okay! It’s alright’.

What has been your biggest challenge in a time of global pandemic?

It’s been difficult to know where the lines cross in terms of working day and working hours. I found myself working all day on Sunday, so I need to discipline myself with my time to find a better work-life balance.

From a team perspective, we have determined a COVID-19 customer profile in the last couple of months. We’ve raised certain criteria on where customers have been impacted by COVID-19 and we’re deliberately modeling intensive practices that are suitable for the customers, to be there for the customers. Now, we’re trying to be a bit more targeted with our messaging and how we position ourselves.

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