In this final installment of my interview with Yammer co-founder Adam Pisoni, we discuss the role of culture in social business, Yammer's long-term vision and the future of Yammer with Microsoft.
David: So, are you finding a lot of cultural challenges? I mean you're offering that technology solution and, you know, my advice to my clients is pick technology last. Figure out the other stuff before. Do you run into cultural issues when you're trying to bring your technology into an organization?
Adam: Culture is a huge part of becoming a social business. The purpose of the tool is to drive cultural change, to make the company more transparent.
David: So how do you help your client companies do that?
Adam: We have a two-pronged approach to driving cultural change. First, we provide executive support and good models to follow; then we have a “land and expand” strategy where we identify groups that are focused on collaboration. We use these groups as a proving ground to show other parts of the organization that Yammer can work for them. It’s definitely a process.
It’s incredibly easy for an employee to sign up for Yammer, but the actual implementation and success of a network is dependent on a cultural understanding of how Yammer can truly be leveraged to positively impact an organization. I mean it’s too hard to — you know, you open it up to everyone obviously. Everyone can use it but a lot of groups in the company might not be transparent or collaborative, and so the way you get to them is you sort of work your way to them through other groups.
It’s a process. I mean the majority of the time you know, it takes less than a minute to create a Yammer stream. But that’s not the problem. The problem is in setting it up. It’s the sort of the cultural understanding of what this means and what to do with it, how to leverage it.
David: So do you have professional service people that help with that?
Adam: Yeah. We don’t call them professional services because we don’t — I guess there are some sources we charge for but part of the success of Yammer has been we have a large customer success, customer engagement and organization that when we engage with the company, they get a CSM, a Customer Success Manager who is part of a team dedicated to helping customers make the most out of their networks.
Our customer success managers leverage their industry expertise, product knowledge and social best practices to help organizations realize how Yammer can benefit them. Even in pre-sales, they can begin to figure out the playbook for how to get things going — identifying the challenges, champions, and figuring out the best way to roll Yammer out to the organization.
So by the time they’ve signed with us, we have a great foundation to build on. That’s a huge investment we are making. No other software company takes the time to lay the groundwork like we do, but we believe that if we can get these customers using Yammer and really loving it, they’ll use it forever. So for us, it’s a cost worth taking.
David: Well you have to understand the process and the goals you want. So do you go through and interview people?
Adam: Yes, we work closely with our customers to understand what their objectives are. We’ve even gone as far as having one of our employees literally go and work on-site at a large Fortune 500 company for three months.
She had a cube there, worked among their employees and absorbed the culture. Then she worked with different parts of the organization to strategize and implement best practices. This initiative was extremely successful. Clearly we’re taking the long game on this because we’re not just optimizing for profits, we’re taking a genuine interest in the success of a customers.
David: Right. But most collaborative tools kind of the pitch it over the wall and expect the user to figure it out. When I ask them about this, they usually say, "We're a software company, we don't do that."
Adam: Yammer is not a typical software company. We're more like a cultural change company.
David: Well I have often said that features — i.e., just adding more features, is a sign of a lazy developer. In other words, making it easy is much harder than adding features.