"Great things in business are never done by one person; they are done by a team of people.” - Steve Jobs
This is one of my favorite quotes of all time. Teams of people get things done, and never has this been more true, especially now, with everything we are facing in the world today. Teams of people are trying to find a cure for COVID. Teams of people are keeping our hospitals open and running. Teams of people are keeping our children educated and our grocery stores open. Teams are what makes our businesses and our society successful.
Cross-functional team work, though, can be tricky, especially where Voice of Customer is concerned. There’s often miscommunication about who is doing what when, which can lead to a lack of productivity. There’s sometimes a lack of commitment for what various teams should be working on together and why (likely because there was a lack of healthy conflict). And in many cases, cross-functional work either implodes or takes a very long time to actually accomplish anything. And the ones who suffer? Our customers.
As Customer Success Leaders, we absolutely have to nail cross-functional collaboration and teamwork. We are at the center of a spoke that radiates out to various teams across the company to make the customer experience successful. If we aren’t focused on making sure our counterparts in Marketing, Sales, Support, Product, Engineering, Ops, etc. can hear the customer voice, we will fail our customers.
Put in another way, successful, cross-team collaboration allows us to:
- Tackle and solve the most important issues preventing our customers from being successful
- Make decisions from the bottom-up; not top-down
- Say “no” to working on the less important issues
- Solve issues quickly and effectively
- Drive value to our customers
- Save time and avoid “one off” meetings
While all of this is true, for most CS Leaders, the real question is: how do we actually ensure that every function hears the customer's voice loud and clear? And how do we create a successful supporting cross-functional collaboration mechanism, especially in a new world order of remote communication?
Obviously, this is a meaty topic, and as a huge evangelist for Customer Success, Voice of Customer AND great teams, I could write a book about the ins and outs of doing this well. Instead, however, I’m going to focus on 4 practical tips that you can start implementing today that will help you work better with your counterparts:
- Set a cadence, attendees and an outcomes agenda
- Set joint meeting rules
- Creating a cross-functional issues list
- Rating your meeting
1. Set a Cadence, Attendees and an Outcomes Agenda
For cross-functional meetings to work, you must settle on a regular cadence with your counterpart teams. Having ad-hoc meetings leaves everyone spending half the meeting trying to figure out where you left off, and the other half discussing things that you probably discussed at the prior meeting.
The cadence for which I meet with Sales, Marketing, Product, and Engineering is the same (my Support team is part of my team meetings with all of these groups, but if it were a separate team, I would meet with them separately):
- 45 minutes; 1X per week
- VP of CS, VP of other team (Sales, Marketing, Product, Engineering)
- CSMs (or representative of the CSM team, if your team is large), the cross-team counterparts (e.g. Account Executives or representatives of that team)
You also need to set an outcomes agenda. It’s ineffective and a waste of time for everyone, if you don’t know what you plan to accomplish. And as someone who hates when my time is used poorly, don’t be the person who doesn’t know why you’re having a meeting and what you plan to get out of it.
Cross-Collaboration Agenda (it’s the SAME every week)
Outcome: Identify, Debate, and Solve the most important issues impacting our ability to effectively work together and/or support customers
- Core Values (2 min)
- Identify Most Important Issues** (5 min)
- Debate Issues & Solve (35 min)
- Rate the Meeting and answer WHY you gave that meeting that rating (3 min); 0-10 (0 is the worst; 10 is the best meeting ever)
**If we don’t have issues to discuss, we cancel the meeting and get the time back
NOTE: Issues ARE NOT updates!
2. Set Joint Meeting Rules
It’s critical to set meeting rules with your colleagues for meetings in general, and it’s even more critical to do that together. Some basic meeting rules my teams and our colleagues have used are:
- Starts on time & ends on time
- Everyone is needed; equal time
- We don’t discuss things we can read
- We make decisions
- We define our outcomes agenda before we start
- We support ELMO’ing (Everybody, Let’s Move On) discussion, when it’s too lengthy and not moving us forward or generally off track
I encourage you to build a meeting rules list WITH all teams. This way you have more buy-in to adhering to the rules.
3. Create a Cross-Functional Issues List
Now it’s time to create a cross-functional issues list. Any issue can be put on the list by anyone. However, to take an issue off the list, the group (team) must all agree it can come off the list. Issues can range from anything as simple to “we should send gifts to customers after they sign” (which actually isn’t so simple) to as complex as “we need a new pricing and packaging model for our customers.”
Stage 1: Identify. Whoever raises the issue, must answer the following questions:
- Do I really need all of the people in this meeting to have visibility on this issue?
- Does this issue impact a current company KPI or current Initiative (quarterly, multi-quarter, year-long)? If so, which one?
- Do we need to stop working on a current initiative to work on this issue? (i.e. is this issue bigger than what we are working on? how do you know?)
- Why does this issue matter? What exactly are we trying to solve for?
- Bring a proposal of how we think we can solve it
- Do we need a decision or do we need resources to go solve? What's the ask?
We then stage out all of our issues in a Kanban style board (you can use Asana or Notion for this).
Stage 2: Prioritize 1-4; 1 is the most important and 4 is the least important.
- 1: highly strategic; highly urgent
- 2: medium strategic; highly urgent
- 3: highly strategic; not urgent
- 4: low strategic; not urgent
For example, a new coffee pot may be an issue but we would probably probably rate that as a 4, since it’s not strategic or urgent; whereas, a renewal pricing schema for COVID impacted customers is highly strategic and highly urgent.
There will be times when teams bring the same issue to the table. This scenario is especially common across VoC initiatives. This is where a little technique called Keep, Kill, Combine comes in handy.
Keep - the issue is a true issue and needs to be solved. If even one person believes it’s an issue, you keep it.
Kill - everyone (and this is important...it must be everyone) agrees it’s no longer an issue, you may kill it off the list.
Combine - when teams describe and bring issues to the table, you may find they actually have the same root cause. Re-framing the issue in the customer’s terms, by coming to the meeting prepared with customer verbatims and/or datasets about the pervasiveness of its impact, is a great way to assess whether different issues actually have the same root cause. This is also a great way for different functions to build fluency in the customer voice. If the root cause is the same, combine those issues together and solve.
Stage 3: Debate (not discuss) the issue
This takes the greatest deal of facilitation to ensure equal time and energy is shared and all ideas are heard. Pro Tip: Don’t get lost in the discussion of how something is an issue. If teams agree it’s an issue and you understand the issue’s impact, move to solving it and spend time to debate the solution. Often teams get stuck in examples of how something is an issue and examples to showcase it. That’s great, but you need to move the team from discussion about what should be done differently to actually solve it.
To showcase why it’s an issue and the impact, use data. For example, bring how many customers are impacted or the total ARR at stake. That will help move the discussion to the solution. The solution also needs to be data driven. What’s the cost to implement the solution (remember time and ongoing management of a new process or project needs to be taken into consideration when bringing forth ideas)?
Stage 4: Assign an owner and metric
Mission critical in solving cross-functional issues is actually assigning an owner and a due date. Sometimes you’ll have a great solution and an owner, but can’t take action right away because there’s resource or budget constraints. Not a problem! Put this on the roadmap of cross-collaboration projects/initiatives for a future quarter. I recommend revisiting it prior to the quarter of execution to double check that’s still the best way forward given the current environment.
Once you start to execute, you need to make sure you’re measuring the impact of your solution. For example, did your solution (process or software or whatever you chose to do differently) lower the number of customer tickets submitted about the same issue, increase adoption, reduce the escalations between CSM and Sales teams? Whatever it was you were solving for, you need to make sure that the solution is actually having an impact. If not, you may need to revisit the solution, which brings us to number 5.
Stage 5: Report back results
Once an issue has been and a metric/result chosen, we track to see if our suggested solution was successful. If it’s not, it ends up back on the issues list. If it is, we can move it to the “done” status.
4. Rate the Meeting
Similar to measuring NPS, everyone in the meeting must rate it from 0-10 (0 being “a waste of time” and 10 being the “most effective/best use of time” ever). We also ask each person to cite why they gave that meeting rating. This way, we know whether the meeting was effective AND we know what to adjust and fix in the future.
For us, our meetings are rated better when we unpack tough issues and clearly define owners, dates, and actionable steps. Lower scores occur if we are unprepared, scattered or getting lost discussing an issue versus solving for it.
I recommend rating all meetings, including 1:1s and customer meetings. Yes, I’ve asked customers to rate meetings as well. It’s incredibly insightful, and it offers a lot of feedback for improvement.
And those, my fellow CS Leaders, are a few tips that you can start practically implementing today! With more of us working collaboratively, the more value we drive to customers, and the more value we drive with our customers, the more successful we all are!