Prioritize Goals to Profitably Grow Your Business
BY Birger Steen
Birger Steen, the new CEO of Parallels, talks about how he grew a private and profitable company with more than $100 million in revenue and 850 employees around the world.
Six months ago when I started working at Parallels as CEO I knew that I would not be able to accomplish everything I wanted overnight. So I asked myself, "What are the key challenges I want to tackle first?" I worked with my leadership team to define our business priorities and establish clear, measurable goals so we could achieve them to profitably grow our business.
I created scorecards for our company with our executives and their teams so everyone understands our goals, what success looks like and how each person is accountable to helping the company achieve its goals. We have offices in several markets, so I started hosting town hall meetings from different offices every month. This enables me to personally engage with employees in a market while enabling our employees throughout the world to join us via Webex to view our live presentations and participate by asking questions, or view the meetings on demand. During each meeting I review our business performance, scorecard status, address priorities and celebrate top performing employees with awards based on nominations by their peers. This has helped our growing company stay connected, focused and productive.
One goal I set was to improve customer satisfaction and knowledge. A challenge I faced was how to more actively listen to our customers and partners to understand and measure how they perceive their experience so we can track and improve our progress.
I hired a leader to be 100 percent dedicated to customer satisfaction and knowledge. He reports directly to me and is focused on helping us understand how Parallels is doing regarding customer relationships, where we can improve and where we have done well so we can continue to invest in programs that make a positive difference.
Executives and employees at Parallels, myself included, personally called customers and partners to ask about their experiences to better understand their needs first-hand. Every quarter we send a short questionnaire to all of customers asking a few questions, such as what they like about our products, what they would like us to improve in our products, and if they would recommend Parallels to someone else. Responses are categorized by a 0-to-10 rating scale which is used calculate a Net Promoter Score by looking at respondents who are Promoters (score 9-10), Passives (7-8) and Detractors (0-6), and taking the percentage of customers who are Promoters and subtracting the percentage of customers who are Detractors. This gives us a standard for measuring, tracking and improving customer loyalty.
When a customer feels we are not doing well, we assign a person in management to contact them to find out more about the root cause of their issue. Every quarter we have an action planning exercise where we decide what actions we will take to resolve top issues. We assign those actions to executives who are accountable to update the team on the status of those priorities in our next meeting.
As a result of this exercise, I reorganized the structure of my leadership team so customer support now reports to me. We increased our proactive outreach and engagement for customer feedback from 12 percent to 30 percent of our customers. We made the decision to change our support partner to improve the customer experience. We also increased our use of social media to listen, engage and communicate with customers through Facebook and Twitter. In less than months we've seen Parallels' overall customer satisfaction increase from 72 percent to 84 percent.
Another challenge I faced was finding, organizing and sharing useful knowledge with employees and partners to help them be more successful. One of our solutions was holding internal training sessions to help make our databases of information more accessible to employees so they can be more productive.
A solution we developed to share knowledge with our business partners was to conduct and publish research about how they can capitalize on the $12 billion cloud services opportunity by offering small and medium businesses (SMBs) access to computing power, applications, and services that were formerly available only to large enterprises.
Our free report, "Practical Guidance for 2011, Grow Profit as a Full Service Provider, Parallels SMB Cloud Insights," highlighted how our partners can help SMBs stop wasting money on more servers and maintenance by offering them a larger variety of cloud services tailored to SMB needs, such as Hosted Infrastructure, Web Hosting, Hosted Messaging and Collaboration, business class e-mail services and hosted PBX services including email security and phone services via voice-over-IP (VoIP). The response has been so positive that we are planning to replicate this research and report in other markets for our international partners.
Another outcome of sharing knowledge with partners was an increased dialogue about their needs, challenges and priorities. For example, we had prioritized development of Linux operating system (OS) features over incorporating frequently released new OS templates such as Ubuntu and Debian which could take months to complete. I learned that our partners' customers wanted both more quickly. How could I meet this challenge without the cost of hiring more people? After investigating the template release bottlenecks I concluded that we could significantly accelerate the process by investing in our automated quality assurance process (QA). Now when new popular versions of Linux become available Parallels quickly produces an OS template and conducts most of the QA testing using automated methods. Today Parallels can publish a popular new OS template within a month of the new Linux distribution's availability.
As CEO, it's easy to get caught up in the broader strategy. Streamlining the business has enabled me to keep a close eye on the areas I care most about. It is creating a stronger company both internally with employees and departments, and externally with partners.