View the CSM Handbook homepage for additional CSM-related handbook pages.
The questions and techniques described on this page will provide you with some ways to drive a strategic conversation with a customer, and explore the information you need to develop an effective success plan. A Success Plan should always be a continuation of the Command Plan where available. The below questions are for further expanding on what we know from the Command Plan, or refreshing on objectives if it has been some time.
Asking open-ended questions is the most effective way to get clarity from the customer about what they are trying to do, what their priorities are at the moment, and their plans for the future. Calling back to your Command of Message trainig, don't forget about TED. This acronym provides a basic framework of open-ended questions to ask during customer calls.
T Tell me about…
E Explain for me…
D Describe for me…
The most straightforward and open-ended approach to starting a conversation about stage adoption, growth, and strategic objectives is something to the effect of:
"So I know right now you're using [use cases in use, such as SCM, CI, etc.] - where can we go from here to maximize your success and value?"
This question creates an opening to explore driving additional value for the customer, with the customer leading. From here, we can explore with the customer use cases or features they're interested in knowing more about, business problems they could solve using GitLab, or anything else related to GitLab or DevSecOps. This one question also sets you up for more targeted follow-ups.
If the customer responds that there is nothing else they need or are interested in, you can start asking questions about their current situation. These questions can explore what challenges they are currently working on, the focus of their manager or company, etc. to take the conversation in other directions that may give you an opening to make suggestions.
Instead of asking about GitLab and how GitLab might help them, turn the conversation around to talk about their business. Listen actively, let the customer talk without interjecting, and then explore how what you heard could be activated in the GitLab platform.
When you already have some information in your Success Plan but have identified gaps in your knowledge, you can approach the conversation as a periodic review to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Once you’ve opened the conversation, use some other techniques to gather details, and level up to strategic objectives.
If you have a good relationship with your champion, you can appeal to a shared feeling of “we all have a job to do” in explaining that you need to gather some information about how their business operates and what they’re focused on. This approach works well if suddenly asking goal questions within your standard cadence calls could seem awkward.
Once you’ve opened the conversation, use some of the other techniques to gather details and level up to strategic objectives.
Asking about developer or team workflows is a good way to better understand a customer’s current toolchain and SDLC process. This is useful in developing a plan to drive stage adoption, and to ask about pain points, metrics, and dig towards business outcomes.
Ask your stakeholders about the metrics they care about, how they measure them now (if at all) and how GitLab can help measure those. Ask the customers the following questions that tie back to our three Value Drivers…
We also want to ask about Stage Adoption metrics so that we can tie their GitLab usage into Stage Adoption. (Note: All of these can be found along with how we measure stage adoption in our Stage Adoption Metrics page)
Asking the customer to rank their team’s main focuses on a timeline makes it easier to prioritize your efforts. It also sets you up for follow-up questions about what is driving those priorities, and how they are related to strategic objectives.
It can be helpful to ask what your champion’s manager or department is focused on, since it can help move you towards strategic objectives.
As CSMs, customers often expect that our focus is on the technical details of their GitLab usage and environment. While we should be preprared to discuss technical and operational concerns, particularly related to GitLab implementation, we should always be thinking (and talking) about how those details relate to strategic business outcomes.
When the conversation moves into a highly technical space, these questions can help you level it up to business outcomes again, and tie those technical details back to the larger strategy.
Leveling up the conversation will sometimes reveal that our main points of contact are not familiar with the business outcomes that their company is trying to solve with GitLab. When that occurs, we want to identify and connect with the person who can help us understand those.
Here are some questions you can ask to get to the right person:
Frequently when talking to our champion or their team, the things they will tell you they’re focused on are operational or technical concerns, but aren’t strategic business outcomes. One technique that can be used is the 5 Whys. The basic overview of this technique is that when a customer tells you a focus or goal, you can get to the strategic objectives behind this focus why asking "help me better understand why that focus is important?" or something along these lines. On average, asking a "dig deeper" question takes 5 "rounds" as such before you get to the core problem, or in our case strategic initiative.
CSM: As we enter in to the second half of this year, would you please help me to better understand what your key focus is?
Customer: My primary focus is setting up a HA infrastucutre.
CSM: Great! Would you please help me for my understanding what current challenges you are looking to solve for with HA?
Customer: We want to increase our uptime and scalability.
CSM: That makes sense, and is a pretty common scenario for our customers. What are your primary concerns related to uptime and scalability right now?
Customer: We've been adding users to our GitLab instance and have seen some performance problems during times of peak usage, with occasional outages when the system is under heavy load.
CSM: Ah ok, good to know! What impact is that performance decrease having to your business, and what improvement are you looking to achieve by implementing HA?
Customer: Improving GitLab's performance and reliability will make our development teams more effective, since they can count on GitLab to work well throughout the day.
CSM: That sounds like a big productivity benefit! How does developer efficiency relate to your company's larger software development objectives?
Customer: The CTO has an objective to reduce the time it takes to ship releases so we can get new features to market faster.
By asking additional "why does this matter?" questions after the initial mention of wanting to set up GitLab with HA, the CSM in this scenario was able to get to a business outcome that comes straight from senior leadership. From here, the CSM can ask about metrics, pain points, other tools in their DevOps workflow, and other discovery questions to understand success criteria for the business outcome.
If you'd like to see more examples of how to use the Five Whys framework and what it could look like in practice, take a look at the Five Whys breakout session from SKO 2021.
One of our customers has asked to have a meeting to understand what GitLab can offer related to metrics, specifically they've mentioned Dora Metrics as the topic of interest, their Developer Experience Lead will be attending. We can't lose the opportunity to gather valuable information to build a Metric adoption's Success Plan.
Orit Golowinski, Release Stage Senior Product Manager, has shared some open-ended questions that would be useful in another similar scenario illustrated above.