This is your SaaS Business Asia podcast host: Adelina Peltea. I am a co-founder of SaaS Business Asia, the place where founders, managers, and investors of SaaS businesses come to learn from each other, and also CEO at GrowthSmiths, a growth agency focused on post-product market fit SaaS businesses.
This episode is about setting goals.
Now, I know that when it comes to businesses the usual goal is growth. X percent revenue growth - month on month, quarter on quarter, year on year. But that’s a lag measure. Today we will discuss about lead goals, those strategic and tactical goals that will take us to our north star. And in case you have already prepared your goals before the beginning of the year and quarter, fret not - this is about optimising them.
We’ll go through a few tormenting dilemmas like: making customers’ goals yours (and focus on desired outcomes rather than solved problems), outcome vs process goals, and methods like OKRs and KPIs. And we’ll hear some advice on the topic from Charmaine Chen, Customer Success Manager at DynamicYield and previously at Hubspot, Yi-Wei Ang Director of Product at TradeGecko, and previously their Head of Growth, and Itai Boublil, Marketing Director at Miller Heiman Group.
You probably won’t even be in business if you wouldn’t solve for the customer. Yet, many times we don’t incorporate customers’ goals into our business goals. Successful customers definitely push the needle on growth metrics, especially in SaaS where it is all about retaining customers.
If you attended our SaaS Business Asia meetup on Product Management, you’ve heard a PM from Hubspot, one of the best growth stack tools out there, mentioning how they were incorporating their customers’ goals - get more leads - into their goals. This kind of goal is basically like going to the very root lead measure.
And one thing I learnt related to this from my NLP course, is to focus on desired outcomes rather than solved problems. In business we are taught to think about solving problems, but nowadays there are so many alternatives out there for our customers. There are barely unmet needs to cover or problems to solve, but there are ways to get customers to their desired outcomes in easier or cheaper ways. Plus, it is a mindset shift from negativity to positivity. I’ll leave this as food for thought.
So, consider incorporating your customers goals - and clearly define what success is for them - into your business goals. And if not opting for this at business level, we recommend it at least to Customer Success departments.
Speaking of which, I have Charmaine here with me. She is currently Customer Success Manager at DynamicYield, a personalization engine for e-commerce and content platforms, and previously Customer Success Manager at Hubspot.
C: Hey, hi there!
A: Hi Charmaine. As I mentioned, I’m looking at teams and especially Customer Success teams that look into what success means for their customers and try to incorporate that into their department or company goal. You had plenty of experience at Hubspot and now at DynamicYield. Can you run us through which kind of metrics you usually have?
C: Absolutely. To take a step back, the main goal of Customer Success is not to be fully accountable for customers’ complete success, but rather about aligning organizational resources within the company. Customer Success is in charge of getting every department in your company interested in your customers’ welfare, and then ultimately giving the customers the resources they need.
So in terms of aligning customer value with organisational goals there are some really important things that we look at. So, for example, Hubspot as a company might look not only at the number of visitors and contacts a customer gets, but also at the visitor to contact conversion rate - because customers come to Hubspot to drive more effective content and inbound marketing.
A: And you look at that from a general perspective, aggregating data from all the customers, or on an individual basis?
C: This is why Customer Success is important. Customer Success Managers get that one on one relationship with the customers, so they get the first indicator when things are moving in the right direction or when a course-correction is needed. And then, of course, with the aggregated info from all the Customer Success Managers we get inspiration and ideas for product, marketing webinars, additional customer training resources, and even internal hires that we need - maybe we need to open up a new department, build something new that’s going to drive even more value for the customers.
A: You mentioned quite a few times “value for the customers”. How exactly do you define that?
C: Every customer is really different. The Customer Success Manager builds the relationship with the customers and so they can be very transparent about their company goals. But possibly the hardest is understanding the goals of a customer as an individual - does this user want to get a promotion/ did they take this tool for another reason?
A: And once you know this goal that each and every one has, how do you incorporate that into the goals that you set for yourself? How do you usually operate?
C: For most customers we define something that is called a success management plan. It’s not set in stone, it’s a flexible, living document that we use on weekly calls and on quarterly business updates. It keeps everyone pulling in the same direction.
A: And from all the years you’ve spent in Customer Success...Actually how many years?
A: What will be your number one learning that you would like to share with other people in Customer Success? Especially with regards to this, with regards to how the goals your customers have impact your goals?
C: Something that is really important is that every Customer Success department has different metrics. You can be compensated on retention, or upsells. But ultimately as a Customer Success Manager your job is to focus on ensuring that your good fit customers grow and that your customers have an experience as positive and constructive as possible.
So regardless of you are being compensated, your focus on building trust and also being very transparent about your customer’s progress and opportunities will help you succeed as a Customer Success Manager in any company.
A: Cool. Thank you Charmaine.
C: Cool. Thank you Adelina.
If you heard of Gary V, you must have heard him recommend to focus on the process, not the outcomes when it comes to publishing content. He encourages people to publish consistently, work harder, improve their process and quality. Not to obsess over the number of subscribers, or monetization, as that will come if you are disciplined about the process.
This is quite true in many business aspects. You see, you can fully control the process, but the outcomes depends on external factors too. So focus on what you can manage and tweak your goals to be more about the process that you think has the potential to lead you to the desired outcome. In other words, this boils down again to lead vs lag measures.
Try to apply this at least to your growth department or growth projects. Because when it comes to growth, process trumps everything else.
On this topic, I’ve invited Yi-Wei Ang, fellow alumni at Reforge Growth Program organised by Brian Balfour and Andrew Chen. Yi-Wei is Director of Product and was previously Head of Growth at TradeGecko - which provides a set of SaaS tools to e-commerce and wholesale businesses to manage their inventory and sell.
Y: Hi Adelina. Great to be here today.
A: Hi Yi-Wei. I was telling people about how process trumps any other type of goal, especially outcome goals, and how if you focus on process - which is the thing that you can actually control -, if you constantly improve, you can get to the outcomes that you want. And I am sure that from your experience as Head of Growth at TradeGecko you have plenty to say about this. And maybe you also want to start from: what is Growth in your opinion? Because I know it’s a very misleading term for many people nowadays.
Y: Yeah. At TradeGecko one thing that we realized is: it’s really easy to say you go for the really shiny things and go for the next 10x or 20x. But most of the times the biggest wins we had were from continuous 10% growth over and over again until it eventually gets to our goal.
One thing that we do believe is like you said, that process trumps everything else. If you do something repetitively and focus more on the learnings, that’s the most important.
I believe growth is a mentality. It’s a mentality where you are constantly testing, you are constantly putting down your hypotheses, you are developing a process as a team. You make sure that you are constantly challenging yourself, you are constantly finding the best ways to do things, you are constantly being data-driven about what you are going to continue to invest in and why you’ve decided to stop working on something.
A: How did you start, basically? Because I know Growth can cover many areas. Did you start from actually setting up the process or just doing some small experiments in the beginning? How did you scale it?
Y: From our angle, we recognized that Growth wasn’t purely Marketing, or purely Product. We think about the customer lifecycle holistically - from the point where you read our content for the first time to when you sign up for a trial to when you derive some value from it to the point when you start purchasing us. We believe it’s a process.
So when we’ve put together the growth team, we thought about everything holistically, from the moment you found us on a partner site all the way to you being a customer. The first thing that we did was to align where we thought were the biggest problems. For example, activation was one of the key issues we needed to solve - how do we make sure that when someone lands on the product for the first time they understand the value we bring to the table and they can be successful in the first hour?
A: And how did process building come into this?
Y: 90% of what we invested in were mistakes. It’s really easy to get discouraged. We do 2 weeks sprints where as a team we would sit down and say what we believe are the highest impact experiments that we can run.
The first couple sprints are always the most difficult because you are a bit in the dark, you haven’t run things before, you don’t know what’s working and what’s not. And it’s easy to get discouraged because the data comes in - “oh, we didn’t move the needle”. Try another experiment - “we didn’t move the needle”. But you need to have to trust that with process, with focusing on “ok, what did work about each experiment?”, with extracting key learnings and applying them to the next experiment, you’ll get to a point when it really works.
That really mattered to us. For example, for activation, we were really going almost minute by minute to figure out. We don’t need everyone to achieve everything in the first go, let’s make sure that people spend more time on the product in the first 1 hour. So that was the first metric that we really focused on and did repeated experiments to get there.
A: If you are to advise a company that’s just starting to form a Growth team, what would you advise them to start with? When it comes to process, what are the very basic, foundational steps that they should put in place?
Y: I believe that the first thing you need is to get everyone on the same mindset. Marketing, for example, hasn’t traditionally worked in a very agile way, 2 weeks repetitive sprints. Product teams are maybe a little bit more familiar with it, but the fast pace experiments and learning methodology might not be there. So the most important thing that you need to get everyone on the same level playing field is this concept of fast-paced experimentation.
And once you establish that, really get everyone in the room to learn about what methods you use. I would say keep it simple. At TradeGecko we started really simple early on. For example, we used Trello as a way to plan our sprints. Every experiment idea had a card, we moved things along as we pulled them into sprints, we tried to keep it as lightweight as possible, we kept the results of our experiments and then we scaled out of there. But always, in the beginning, start as small as you can.
A: Awesome. Good stuff. Thank you Yi-Wei.
Y: Thank you.
OKRs, KPIs, 4DX, Kanban, sprints - you name it. They matter a lot. Because it is all about the execution, and less about the idea. And you’ve probably tried them all. And none is perfect when it comes to implementation.
What I learnt from my experience at TradeGecko, ViSenze, and Argomi, is that ultimately all these are communications tools, not so much planning tools. For planning, especially in agile environments as startups, it is much better to have a clear vision and operating principles and then let the teams align by using any of these methods.
And communication, therefore alignment, is tremendously important. I remember an article by the CTO of Hubspot, who got his inspiration from Elon Musk. It was about vectors: “Every person in the company is one vector. Your progress is determined by the sum of all vectors.” It was about the fact that in order to move fast, you need to consider both the magnitude and the direction of each vector. Keep one thing in mind: “You can make more progress with the amazing people you already have simply by better aligning vectors.”
In order to get some practical advice on goal setting methods and tools, let’s hear some tips from Itai Boublil, Director of Marketing at Miller Heiman Group - a corporate providing sales training that is currently undergoing a business model transformation into SaaS.
I: Thank you for that intro, Adelina. And hello!
A: Hi. We’ve been working together and I noticed you are very particular about the planning methods that you use and how you communicate inside your department and outside your department. So to start with, maybe you want to tell us, for your Marketing department, what method do you like to use when it comes to setting goals?
I: First of all, I like my team to actually understand the funnel and their roles in it - so, for example, if you are producing content, if you are in charge of the blog, what are the metrics you are going to be accountable for and what are pretty much your goals? So it starts with the team really understanding these metrics across the funnel and later what we try to do is have a monthly metrics meeting when we come in one room, we keep everything transparent. We use Trello to track progress, we use scrum, agile marketing.
A: So that’s what you use on a daily basis?
I: Yes, that’s what we use on a daily basis. So everyone can actually see how the team progresses. And at the end of the month we meet. And we report on the previous month, and we set goals for the next month. During this month we have weekly tactical meetings when we sit down and go through the tasks the team has, the numbers attached to them, we have a triage and a part where we raise obstacles and tensions. It’s always transparent, there is no siloed work within the team.
A: And how about with other teams? How do you make transparent what you guys are doing?
I: It’s a great question because sometimes Marketing departments try to keep their data to themselves. We have a weekly huddle when we try to bring this information from Marketing, we try to show it to sales, show it to other departments that are interested in our work. For us it’s good, it boosts our ego a little bit, but it’s good to show the company what we are actually doing. Sometimes people have an idea that can help us progress with our work.
A: How do you overcome how people understand you? I assume that inside your department you use a lot of marketing jargon. So if they would look at your Trello it will sound….
I: Yeah. The way to go about it is to keep talking about it. So if you meet with someone, try not to be patronizing. If you meet someone from finance and you say “yeah, we hit our SQL” and they look at you in a weird way, you say “it means sales qualified lead, they come from MQL, we have a lead scoring etc.” So you kind of give them a little bit of a lecture, and before you know it this person will come to you and say “how are your MQLs today?”
A: So it’s a lot of constant education inside the company.
I: Yeah. And keeping things transparent and communicating on everything. Don’t keep it to yourself. That’s pretty much it.
A: What’s your number 1 advice for someone that also uses kanban methods, Trello and so on? What is the main thing you learned from practicing it day in and day out?
I: I know as a Director you always have this big vision, this big idea. And normally Trello would be led by the Director of the department. You want to keep your team aligned. You want to keep your decisions and thoughts very transparent to your team. When they are aligned with what you want to do, you are going to move forward. If they are not aligned, if they have a problem with it but you have a closed door policy, you are not going to go anywhere, you are going to fail. You are going to get frustrated and eventually maybe get fired because you are not reaching your goal. So that would be my number 1.
A: Cool. Awesome stuff. Thank you, Itai.
I: You’re welcome.
That’s all for today. Hope you enjoyed our first SaaS Business Asia podcast episode. Expect to hear from us once in every 2 weeks.
This was Adelina Peltea, Co-Founder at SaaS Business Asia and CEO at GrowthSmiths. If you have questions or business stories to share, please reach out to me via LinkedIn.
Cheers till next time.