Kevin Bury had a very successful career as the CEO of several technology startups before he took on the senior customer experience leadership role at the very large technology company, SolarWinds. In our conversation, Kevin outlines how he’s used his depth of leadership experience and applied it to his new role in this large organization.
While many business leaders are now talking about Customer Success, Kevin has built and led customer-focused teams and companies for more than 25 years. He’s passionate about helping customers obtain value and believes that the more you do to help them, the more success you will enjoy. Kevin calls this idea “Being Altruistically Selfish,” i.e. taking care of yourself by taking care of others’ needs first. He has successfully proven this philosophy works time and time again in high tech companies such as HP, Affiniscape, QuickArrow, and now at SolarWInds.
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In addition to his work at SolarWinds, he also coaches, teaches, and mentors CEOs, investors, and directors of high-tech companies in creating innovative go-to-market strategies and spearheading operational transformation, increasing sales and reducing costs to increase revenues and shareholder value.
Initially Assessing The Work To Be Done
When Kevin came in, he was told that SolarWinds had tried similar customer-facing initiatives in the past — but virtually all had failed. The assessment was that the previous attempts failed because they tried to boil the ocean — which is a common issue in CCO-level work.
Armed with this recognition, Kevin decided to focus on the customers’ experience post-sale only. Knowing that SolarWinds is a data-driven company, he knew he needed data to back up all of the ideas and suggestions that the teams were sharing with me. He did a lot of initial work with the User Experience team — as well as, of course, talking to groups of customers.
Kevin and team focused on the customers’ first year with SolarWinds products and tracked them through a year in the life including everything post-sale; installation and implementation, usage of the products, interactions with the Technical Support teams and Sales teams (for add-on’s and cross-sells), as well as the Renewals team.
What they found was that they had some gaps in what they believed was happening post-sale and what our customers were actually experiencing. Those gaps influenced all the next steps.
How To Unite The C-Suite
As Kevin explains in the podcast:
“That said, it wasn’t an easy conversation as we had a long-held belief in what our customers’ experience was like post-sale and I had to spend a considerable amount of time and energy explaining, educating, and demonstrating how our reality was different than our customers’ reality.”
I’ve seen this in dozens of places I’ve consulted. There are always long-held beliefs (“gut feelings”) of the pre-existing executive team when you come in. It can be hard to overcome — but for the work to be done properly, it must be overcome.
As research consistently shows, many companies struggle with priority alignment. Kevin wasn’t necessarily expecting that at SolarWinds — it’s a large, successful IT tools company for the energy sector — but he encountered it regardless.
See — and I’ve seen this happen at many companies too — once customer success and customer experience got the attention of the C-Suite, everyone wanted a piece of it. (Because now it’s a way to get yourself noticed by the true decision-makers.) Once everyone wanted a piece of it, that meant everyone had advice and ideas about it. It’s like having a team of horses yoked to a wagon, right? But instead of all the horses working together — which is the ideal — the horses are running in different directions, and the wagon is essentially getting drawn and quartered. In this case, the wagon is your business model. This is why I often speak of one-company culture and alignment. It means bashing down silos and linking leadership, but it also means aligning priority in your organization. Kevin has been with SolarWinds for two years and admits they still have issues around this. It never completely goes away.
The Importance Of Focus
If you scroll back to the top, you’ll notice that before Kevin, one of the problems that SolarWinds had was trying to “boil the ocean.” This is deeply tied to poor priority alignment — it comes about from silo-by-silo metrics and supposedly “urgent” projects that aren’t urgent or customer-facing. Kevin broke down priorities based on real customer conversation. As a result, he knew his team needed to focus on two areas:
- More enablement content
- Customers wanted to help themselves
These focal areas will vary according to your industry — you might not even know what “enablement content” is — but it’s important to have a focus. In Kevin’s case, SolarWinds has 250,000 customers and 30 licensed software tools (or more). It’s impossible to keep track of everything on a daily basis. Without focus, you’ll constantly be running in circles.
“What I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then”
I ask this of all my guests. I call it my “pay-it-forward” question. Kevin’s response broke down like this:
- Talk with your customers. Gather data and information directly from them.
- Build narratives that motivate and compel your organization into action.
- Prioritize your work. Start small and iterate.
- Do NOT try to boil the ocean.
- Surround yourself with good people — don’t be threatened if they are smarter than you — and find ways to empower them to get the work done.
- Celebrate your successes with both your customers and your team.
- Don’t be afraid of failure.
- Pack a lunch. This isn’t a quick fix.
It’s a great conversation, so I hope you listen to the entire episode — it’s embedded above.
We’ll be back on Thursday with a new blog post.