Building Powerful SaaS Professional Services Teams

Being a Tampa Bay resident, I can’t help but be amazed at the stroke of luck we’ve experienced with our professional sports teams last year and now this year with Tom Brady successfully leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl win. With some of our recent successes, I’ve been thinking about what it takes to build winning teams.

In business, we don’t have to typically worry about just one competitor, but many at the same time. Our performance last year may not be enough to keep our customers happy this year, and one small slip-up may mean a competing firm can get the upper hand and run away with our client. So how can we continue to provide great service year after year and build great professional services teams? In this blog, we’ll discuss five ways to build and engage powerful professional services teams.

  1. Hire Passionate Professionals – Some of the most successful members of professional services teams I’ve worked with are truly passionate about the clients they serve and they really believe in the SaaS product they are delivering (warts and all). These high-level performers are committed to their clients success as if it were their own.
  2. Create Engaging Learning Opportunities – High-performing professional services teams demand opportunities to help them learn more and grow. Typically, these teams are already aware of knowledge gaps and the training or skills needed to fill these gaps. A leader of a high-performing professional services team needs to listen to the team and look for ways to satisfy learning and development needs.
  3. Eliminate Mundane Tasks – Are your talented team members spending a lot of time on expense reports or other mundane tasks? Why? Could these valuable team members be spending their time helping clients with more complex challenges instead? If yes, look for ways to eliminate the tasks that can be outsourced so that your team can focus on what is most important: solving your client’s most complex challenges. In Steve Glaveski’s article, The Professional Services Firm of the Future, Glaveski offers great ideas on how to make the best use of some of the most creative problem solvers at your firm and not burn them out in the process.
  4. Fire Abusive Clients – Nothing can be more demoralizing than working with clients that really don’t appreciate your team’s time. If you’re growing a powerful professional services team, catering to a client that doesn’t understand the value your team brings is a waste of time. Many times, the clients that are the most problematic are not your highest paying clients. Don’t let an abusive client bring your team down. It’s better to break away from that client before you lose a valuable team member.
  5. Always Celebrate Success – Anniversaries, birthdays, project wins, and personal victories are all worth celebration. Nothing can erode morale faster than getting too busy to celebrate the little things and the big things.

Building a top-performing professional service team is key to successfully onboarding clients and increasing adoption. In order to help your clients get the most value they can after signing their initial contract for your services, make sure you are focusing on building the team that will impact that value the most within the first 90-days: your professional services team. By hiring the right professionals, creating learning opportunities, eliminating mundane tasks, firing abusive clients, and celebrating success, you’ll ensure that this critical team continues to help set your firm or product apart from your competitors.

Perfecting Practice

Gymnast on Beam

As the summer Olympics approach next year, many gymnastics fans are reminded of great American gymnasts that have inspired us with their dazzling performances during previous Olympic games. A few names that come to mind include Mary Lou Retton, Shannon Miller, and Simone Biles. Despite how easy these gymnasts can make each move look, there are hours upon hours of meticulous practice behind every movement. Although perfection can sometimes be achieved (Mary Lou Retton did it twice at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games), in gymnastics (and also in life) every time we get close to achieving our “perfect” goal, it seems like the mark gets pushed higher or further. For example, in 2006, the code of points for gymnastics changed and the perfect “10” was replaced by a point system that made achieving a perfect score impossible. Although some in the sport may not have agreed with the change, it did push gymnasts to achieve skills that in 2006 were almost beyond imagination. If we are always chasing the perfect score or the goal, then our happiness and progress can be limited. If we really evaluate our habits and how we practice our craft, whether that’s gymnastics, professional services, or customer success, then we really can aspire to new heights than we ever thought possible.

Angles and Inches: The Difference Between Sticking a Landing or Falling on Your Face
Many times when gymnasts are learning a new dismount from the uneven bars (or any event really) they fall – a lot. Over time, the gymnast learns the difference between the pain of a hard landing and the joy of “sticking it” relies on how early or late she lets go of the bar.

In my professional life, I’m continually reminded of how it’s not the big strategic initiatives that lead to the biggest results. It’s being precise and diligent in the day-to-day that ultimately pays off in big ways. In Atomic Habits, James Clear states, “If you can get 1% better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.” I’ve found this statement to be incredibly inspiring. If I’m not getting the results I want, I start looking at my habits. When I start paying attention to my time and habits, it becomes crystal clear why I’m not hitting my goals (for a little more about managing your habits, check out this recent webinar I did with Courtney Kearney).

Practice Like You Mean It
If you’ve ever watched competitive gymnastics on TV, you’ll always see a gymnast who has built a routine before the routine. Before the gymnast solutes the judge and begins to perform, there is a system of chalk application, water, spit, more chalk, and a run-through that involves mimicking key elements of the routine. These habits get the gymnast in the right mindset to deliver the routine they’ve practiced thousands of times.

How often do we apply the same intensity to our professional performances? Especially in our current work-from-home environments? What habits do we have to get us in the right mindset for work? What habits do we have while working? Are they working for us?

Recently, I noticed my hours were getting longer, but it seemed like my productivity was dipping. I began examining my time and took a deeper dive into my habits. I noticed that I wanted to make some improvements so I downloaded a habit tracker and have seen drastic improvements in areas that I have long been trying to improve. If you’re curious about what kinds of apps are out there to help you with this, check out this post from Life Hack. I’m starting to see real progress and that’s empowering. I’ve wanted to spend more time learning Spanish – but it seemed like I never had enough time. One of the suggestions in the book is to spend two minutes on a new habit. At first, I thought this was a joke. But I have to say, after buying a Spanish workbook and committing to a two-minute exercise a day, I’ve noticed my vocabulary is increasing quite a bit.

It’s Not About Falling It’s About How You Get Back Up
During competitions, it’s always interesting to watch a gymnast when she falls while performing a routine she’s performed and visualized performing perfectly so many times. There is that moment of disbelief. Falling isn’t what she expects when she’s been chasing perfection for so long. With that fall, an elite gymnast knows that mistake just took her out of medal contention. How a gymnast handles that moment speaks more of her habits and character, than the moment when that same gymnast lands the perfect double layout somersault.

How do we handle our blunders and imperfections? Do we have good habits for working on them? Recently, it’s become clear by supportive feedback from my fantastic colleagues and loving husband that I am a perpetual apologizer, and it kind of annoys all of them (and me because it annoys them). I found using a replacement model to squash this habit has been the most effective. In Maja Jovanovic’s TEDx talk, she gives many great examples of ways to replace “I’m sorry” with expressions of gratitude, or more affirming statements. It’s definitely a hard habit to break, but I’m making some progress with this one.

In Summary
“Progress not perfection” is a good slogan to live by, but I’ve found “perfecting my practice” is a better one for improvement in my professional life. By focusing on my habits, I’ve found the biggest opportunity for growth and advancement towards reaching my goals – no matter how they might change.

Collaborating for Success

In school, I always struggled with the team project. The idea of collaborating with others and creating a plan for creating the work always seemed to lend itself to a lot of vague discussions followed by one person doing the heavy lifting to get the project across the finish line. In my career, I’ve learned that essentially most of my work life is one big group project. I’m sure we’ve all worked on projects with colleagues that go well and then we’ve worked on some projects that just can never get going or get finished. What are the key features of a successful collaboration versus an unsuccessful one? 

Trust

At the core of a positive collaborative experience is trust. If your team trusts each other, it really does enhance the communication process. In Franklin Covey’s book The Speed of Trust, Covey describes in great detail the benefits of working in a high-trust environment. A few of these benefits include decisions being made faster and the outcomes of these collaborative efforts are more impactful. 

Clarity

What is the purpose of your project or collaborative effort? Is there a specific time when the purpose or objective needs to be completed? Collaborative endeavors that seem to drag on are usually lacking in a clear purpose and a deadline hasn’t been agreed upon. If these two items are taken care of right at the beginning of a project, the team has a better chance of success. Also, each team member should have a clear idea of their purpose for being on the project as well as what is expected 

A Conflict Management Strategy

When collaborating with others, differences of opinion are bound to happen, and having a strategy for managing conflict is helpful to continue to move forward. The first step in managing conflict is to accept it’s happening. If a team tries to ignore the fact there is an issue, this is only going to break any trust within the team that has already been established. Direct communication is generally best between those team members that might be experiencing conflicting views.

Summary

Collaboration is essential in the workplace. As long as teams focus on supporting a high-trust environment, having a clear focus and deadline, and a strategy for managing conflict, any collaborative endeavor can be successful.

Showing up for Work: The Spectrum of Authenticity

Working with my feet on the desk

Lately, I’ve been curious about how people find themselves at work. It seems harder to let outside influences go as we jump into our days in a world that sometimes seems anything but normal. Many of us try to “be professional” as we sit at dining room tables that have become our home offices, attending Zoom calls while attempting to mute at the same moments our toddler screams and our dogs bark at the Amazon guy. The usual distractions used to be the smell of someone heating up last night’s fish in the community microwave or the coworker’s personal conversations over the cube wall, but now our distractions are intensely personal and not as easy to drown out.

As we work from home, making a clear distinction between our home and work lives is becoming harder. So the question becomes, “Do we try harder to force the separation or just let our coworkers and clients see a little more about who we are outside the office?” Although uncomfortable, my vote is for the latter. I also don’t think that we have to swing from one extreme to another, based on who we’re interacting with that day we can work within a spectrum of authenticity that is based on trust. 

Low Trust: Higher Walls

If we’re dealing with a client or coworker that we may be lower on the trust scale, we may choose to build some barriers between our home life and the life we project on our Zoom meetings. Some ways that we can create some “space” starts with how we’ve configured our digital meeting space. For example, if you’re working in your bedroom, you may want to consider using the Zoom background feature. This can give you a little more privacy while you’re doing video-conferencing. Also, you may want to invest in a noise-canceling headset.  A headset is a great way to filter external noises at your house, but it’s also a great way to prevent your little ones from overhearing heated business discussions.

Medium Trust: Test the Waters

Perhaps you’ve been working with your coworkers for a few years and you’re willing to test the waters maybe it might be time to let them in a little to your home life. The Covid pandemic has introduced a completely new element to our working lives and it’s natural to feel a little uncomfortable in this new environment. Although Dorie Clark’s article What to Do When You Don’t Feel Comfortable Being Yourself at Work was originally written for those that don’t feel comfortable in their current work environments, I think it can offer some great suggestions for those that are uncomfortable about working from home. Broadcasting our home lives can display some of our deepest vulnerabilities however, exposing these vulnerabilities can also open us up to deeper relationships. The key with those you’re starting to build relationships with is to start small and work from there.

High Trust: It’s Still Not a Face-to-Face Conversation

If you’re on a work call with a colleague or client you’ve been working with for years, still beware of the technology you’re using to communicate. If you are using a technology that is sponsored by your company, it could be automatically recorded. And if it is recorded, are you sure you want that conversation played back to you someday? Based on the relationship (colleague or client) you may choose to introduce your family members while on conference calls (especially if you’re interrupted), but you still want to make sure that each layer you reveal of your personal life is being matched by your colleague or client. 

Working from home presents an interesting social experiment. After years of working with people face-to-face, seeing how they live and interact with their families presents some challenges. Continuing to assess how we show up for work and the version of ourselves we display will continue to evolve. There are no easy answers but continuing to examine who we trust with which information will continue to be a factor in how we now reveal ourselves to those we live and work with.

Making Change Stick: Training is a Huge Step in Adoption

Woman training team of people

Let’s face it; change is hard. Many of us have recently dealt with more change than we ever thought possible. In the shift to remote work, many of us have learned that implementing change requires more than just a solid strategy for change management, but on a deeper level, it requires a commitment to learning how to work differently. 

Many of us initially struggled with the transition from face-to-face to remote. However, after we did a little training by reading some articles, watching a few Zoom meeting tutorials, and then practiced what we had learned, we got better. We need to apply the same strategy to our organizations after creating a change. We must solidify the change by continuing to train and reinforce how we’ve learned to work differently after the change. In this article, we’ll discuss three ways to use training and development to reinforce the changes made at your organization.

  1. Use a training sandwich approach. When a change or new process is rolled out, make sure you create a training sandwich. Train your team before, during, and post-implementation. Repetition is key to solidifying change and making it “stick.” Although there are many ways to approach this idea, Procore is a great example of a software company that has given tremendous thought to how important training is to adoption. Procore has learning paths and certification programs for each type of user accessing their platform as well as continuing education content.
  1. A link to a Confluence page or a Sharepoint site is NOT training. Training by definition is “the skill, knowledge, or experience acquired by one that trains.” Other synonyms for training include: drill, exercise, practice. In Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, Mattis details the preparation required prior to any military campaign. Drills and practice are critical to the success of any mission and Mattis attributes much of the success he experienced on the battlefield to the drills conducting prior to each mission. Successful outcomes directly resulted from extensive practice so that when errors were made on the battlefield, his troops could quickly adapt and overcome. What if we applied this same care and diligence in our training programs after a change was made within our organization? Practicing what we learn is key to adoption.
  1. Communication is a two-way street. After changes are made, many times the communication stops. Implementors of change stop sending written communication and managers stop discussing the new change at meetings. However, how teams communicate change and keep the conversation going, is another key aspect of training. Communication should not be the one-way push of information. A key element of communication is listening to feedback and creating forums for discussion. Don’t underestimate the power of listening to your team. Discussion is a key element of learning and reinforcing new changes. These discussions can also lead to improvements and innovation as well.

Change may not always be easy, it’s important to nurture the change once it’s made. Backing change with a solid training approach is an excellent way to reinforce and increase adoption within an organization.