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.
Adam: It is much harder, and that’s the beauty of the Yammer model where when we add or change a feature, we know the impact of that because we’re constantly testing, measuring and analyzing data. If a feature doesn’t work, we have to bring it back. We’re not going to add a feature that has negative value or that doesn’t demonstrably show increased engagement. I can’t tell you what Yammer is going look in two years but I can guarantee it that it will work because we verify every change.
David: So how do you deal with new features? Obviously you listen to customer feedback, but you can only drive in a rear-view mirror so far. What about features they need but don't know about?
Adam: It’s a really interesting question because we do it a little differently. Most enterprise software companies can’t measure the impact of the changes they make, except the impact on sales.
David: Well you can look at cycle time?
Adam: Yes -- but at the end of the day, they don't know engagement, they know sales. And so, they get feedback from customers and understand what the market fit is and they build for that.
David: But you can never be a leader just building for what they tell you.
Adam: We do two things. One, we have a very broad long-term vision, which is definitely far beyond what our customers are thinking. We don’t know exactly how everything manifests on-screen, but we have ideas based on our internal thoughts and where we think things are going.
Simultaneously, we get feedback from our customers often in the form of feature requests. In every instance, because we’re going to be measured against the efficacy of the changes we make, we take a step back and say, what is the problem that this our customer is trying to solve, and what feature(s) might solve that?
David: Do you do this better than most other enterprise software companies?
Adam: I’d say we are better-positioned than most companies. We use our data to have open conversations with our customers and address their concerns. I think customers appreciate it because we acknowledge and understand their issues, and they know that we genuinely want to help them figure it out. By opening the dialog, we can work together to find answers and solutions.
David: So, now that you are part of Microsoft you're now part of the company that causes some of these problems. You know, the rigid IT and all that stuff. I mean Microsoft is one of the companies that has been involved with IT for a long time.
Adam: Technology was brought into the workplace by IT in the last decade. IT was the gateway, and Microsoft clearly did a phenomenal job building for their target audience.
David: Well at least marketing to that audience.
Adam: They built what IT said they wanted. The cloud enables a new way of interacting with customers and building software for those customers, and Microsoft is embracing that as well.
Earlier in the year, when we talked with Microsoft about the acquisition, one of the more surprising things was not only how advanced their thinking was on these things, but also how aligned our thinking was. In many ways, the success at Yammer was somewhat predicated in our assumption that they didn’t get it, and it turned out that they did get it and that was our enlightenment.
Microsoft is aggressively moving to the cloud -- they’re going to push their customers to the Cloud, they’re going to push their software to the Cloud, they’re going to start pushing their release cycles, they’re going to start iterating and innovating more rapidly. Yammer obviously is at the forefront of this. We release weekly or even daily.
One of the reasons we’re so excited is they are driving in the direction we’re going in and they are the experts on scale. They have scale, we have speed -- and we’re hoping to bring those two together to improve each other.
David: Well ok, it sounds great, but where will Yammer come into whatever Microsoft software and will it be part of Office, will be part of SharePoint, will be part of Office 365?
Adam: We’re part of the Office division and we’re both continuing to build great tools for the enterprise. We’re in the early stages of figuring out the specific integrations but what we do know is that Microsoft is committed to maintaining Yammer’s freemium business model, pace of innovation, and viral distribution model. Plus, we get to keep our headquarters in San Francisco.
We want to leverage a lot of Microsoft’s assets, including Office, Lync, and Skype. Over time, we are going to figure out how to integrate Office in Yammer more. What that looks like in the future, we’re have to wait and see.
David: But the models are so far apart?
Adam: It’s true they’re not the same, but we have been impressed with Microsoft’s pace of innovation and look forward to growing with them.
David: So what you are saying is that you are asking Microsoft to accept your software philosophy?
Adam: We’re trying to drive behavioral change, but they were already starting to think along these lines. We can share our experience.
We originally launched Yammer in September of 2008, so we had about 4 years in the marketplace. Microsoft has decades of experience in this industry.
David: What are you learning from them?
Adam: We have a lot to learn from each other, but we have a good plan. There are more synergies than you would think, so I think we will be alright.
David: Well I will come back in a year and see how you are doing.
Editor's Note: To read the previous installments of this interview, read Thoughts on the Future of Collaboration From Yammer Co-founder Adam Pisoni and Yammer Co-Founder Adam Pisoni on Collaboration Roadblocks