What "Good" Looks Like In Professional Services With Acquia's Meagen Williams

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This is a podcast episode titled, What "Good" Looks Like In Professional Services With Acquia's Meagen Williams. The summary for this episode is: <p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent;">As your customer base grows and your product offerings expand, you’re likely going to be faced with an important inflection point about the most effective way to make your customers successful.</span></p><p><br></p><p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent;">You’ll likely start having conversations about how much your customers do on their own versus how much your company can and should help them to do. If you’re having conversations like these, chances are you’ve considered whether or not your company should have a Professional Services team.</span></p><p><br></p><p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">Whether you’re considering Professional Services for the very first time or you’ve had a team in place for years, o</span><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent;">ur guest today, Meagen Williams, </span><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">has built and developed an incredibly successful Professional Services blueprint for all of us to model. Meagen is</span><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent;"> the Vice President of Professional Services at Acquia, the digital experience platform that was acquired by Vista Equity partners in 2019 for $1B.</span></p><p><br></p><p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent;">In our conversation, Meagen teaches us how to measure what “good” looks like in Professional Services, we dive into the healthy tension between your partner ecosystem and Professional Services, and why the goal of any Services organization </span><em style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent;">should not</em><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); background-color: transparent;"> be to generate services revenue.</span></p><p><br></p><p><span style="color: rgb(3, 28, 51);">Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️&nbsp; review and share the pod with your friends! You can connect with Sean on Twitter @Seany_Biz @DriftPodcasts</span></p>

Shawn Lane: Hey, everyone. Welcome to operations, the show where we look under the hood of companies in hypergrowth. My name is Shawn Lane. As your customer base grows and your product offerings as a company become more robust, you're likely going to be faced with an important inflection point. What is the most effective way to make your customers successful? You'll likely find yourself asking questions like, how much can customers do on their own versus how much should we as a company help them to do? And how much should that help cost? If you're having conversations like this or facing these types of questions, chances are you've considered whether or not your company should have a professional services team or not. Not to worry whether you're considering professional services for the very first time, or you've had a team in place for years, our guest today has built and grown an incredibly successful professional services blueprint for all of us to model. Our guest today is Meagan Williams. The Vice President of Professional Services at Acquia. Acquia is the digital experience platform that was acquired by Vista Equity Partners in 2019 for$ 1 billion. And Meagan has been with the company for the last eight and a half years. In our conversation, Meagan is going to teach us how to measure what good looks like in professional services. We dive into the healthy tension between your partner ecosystem and your internal professional services. And we're going to talk about why the goal of your services organization should not be to generate services revenue. But first I got to be honest, I'm a bit of a rookie when it comes to professional services. So to lay the groundwork for our conversation, I asked Megan to help me understand the case for why you should have professional services in the first place.

Meagan Williams: So why professional services exists at SAS software companies? Professional services is a part of the customer success organization. And here at Acquia, we actually took some time a few years ago to really think about why we needed to question do we need to exist? And we fortunately for me and our team came up with the answer that yes, we do need a professional services organization. And here's why. So as a SAS software company we all know that recurring revenue is a critical component of our business, perhaps the most critical component. And so professional services exists to drive more of that recurring revenue and retain that recurring revenue. Those are it's say two primary critical functions. So driving more revenue means making sure that our customers have plans that are going to succeed as to how to implement and adopt our products, but particularly how to implement products. And then retaining that recurring revenue, whether it's helping our customers continue to grow with the product and helping them get to that next level, or sometimes our customers and our partners get into tricky situations and they need help getting out of them. And having a team that can come in and make sure that if they've fallen off the path that we can get them back on, that's a really critical component of our business. So those were two of the really primary reasons. It's all around recurring revenue. So what it isn't about is building a services business. It's not about generating a lot of services revenue. That's a nice by- product and we might talk about that later in terms of how we do that and what we look at, but it's really more about the product and making the product successful in our customer successful with that product. And then there are two other things that we also came up with that we thought were really important. One is, defining and promoting best practices particularly around implementing our products. So our software teams do a great job of building products, but they're not in the field with customers when they actually figure out how to implement them. And so we're the team that is responsible for defining those best practices around implementation. And then as part of that, what we learn is some really great feedback for our product teams to say, hey, we can make the product better, easier, more functional, whatever it is. And we return that learning back to our product teams to make the product better. So those were the four reasons that we came up with why we think we need to exist at Acquia and probably why professional services needs to exist in many software companies.

Shawn Lane: Okay. So to recap, Meagan has four core drivers for why a professional services team exists. Driving revenue, retaining revenue, defining, and promoting best practices for your product and delivering feedback to the product team. And we're definitely going to come back to Meagan's explicit point that the services team's primary function should not be to drive services revenue. But first after Meagan and the team at Acquia had gone through the exercise of cementing why her team should exist, they took the next steps of designing how the team would be structured and figuring out how it would fit in with the rest of the organization.

Meagan Williams: So let me take you back about 10 years or so. Acquia is I think at this point we're like 14 years old, something like that, but our professional services organization is a little bit younger than that. We didn't start off with professional services, but what we found, if you remember 10 years ago, open source and cloud two concepts that today everybody's doing it ho- hum, we understand enterprise we're on board was not the case. Open source is scary for folks for lots of reasons. They didn't know much about it. They were concerned about security. They didn't have the talent and cloud was just new for many organizations as well. So we had this product, but we had companies that said, we really want you to be involved in our initial implementation to make it go well, because this is high stakes for us. We're doing two things we've never done before, and we want you right there with us. So we were born out of that request from our customers to be there with them through the implementation period. To give them the confidence that this was going to go well, because this was a high stakes gamble for them at that time. Then over time we said, okay, we don't just need to be consultants consulting with them. Some of our customers want that cliche that one throat to choke. So, all right, we are going to stand up a small team to help our customers implement the product, so that we actually have folks that are acting as if they're customers or partners doing the implementation. So that's where we were born out of that customer requests for give us the confidence that we're not making a huge mistake by being there with us. And then for those customers that really wanted just one company in there making them successful, being able to provide that team to them. So with those two components of what our customers needed, we then built out teams in three regions. So we have a team in the Americas, we have a team in EMEA, and then we have a delivery team in India. And in the Americas and in EMEA, our teams are broken into three groups. One is what we call our PS solutions team. So if you're in services, whether you're in services for software or an agency or SI, you know that estimating the project and getting the scope right up front it plays a huge role in whether you're going to be successful with your customers. And so we found that services people are the best at estimating projects. So we have a services team that supports our sales team when we need to estimate professional services projects. And we have that in the U. S. and EMEA where our customers are. And then in every region, we have two other teams. We have a technical team, Acquia has products range from pretty technical. So Drupal implementations can require some pretty technical expertise to not so technical things that can be implemented more by marketers. So we have a range of technical folks who are engineers all the way to implementation consultants and folks all along that spectrum. And then we have project managers and program managers who are making sure our customer's project stay on the rails. So that's how we're organized. We're organized regionally and then within each region, we have a few different groups.

Shawn Lane: I would imagine that within those three different roles that you just described, obviously there's slightly different skillsets required to fit into each one of those three buckets. But I would also imagine it's a slightly different skillset from some of the other folks that might work post- sale at Acquia, right? A customer success team for example, how does your team interact with those teams? And did it eventually become too many different roles trying to interact with the customer? How do you avoid that so that the customer can still have that one throat to choke experience?

Meagan Williams: Oh man, this is something that we have struggled with over the years. And it's such a great question-

Shawn Lane: It's not easy.

Meagan Williams: It is not easy. Years ago we did an analysis of how many different people interact with a customer on their Acquia journey. And boy, were the results not good. It was really embarrassing. So we have made a concerted effort around this. And for our largest customers, yes, you can end up with lots of folks. So we think about customer success and our customer success team it's a team that is focused on adoption. So customer success managers, we have technical account managers and then focused on expansion. So account managers. Those folks they're the permanent team that hangs out with our customers for their life cycle with Acquia. Professional services support some of our learning services teams or ad hoc players. We come and we go, so professional services might be involved from the beginning to help implement and then we go away. When a customer is done with a project we're really project based. So we're done with the project, we can go off and we help another customer while the CSM, the AM and the technical account manager stay with that customer. So we work really closely to collaborate, especially during that initial implementation where we're really the team that is on the ground. Sometimes multiple times a day we're having conversations with our customers. So we get to know them really well, but we need to make sure that the CSM and the AM, and the TM, the ones who aren't there as much as we are, are kept in the loop so that when we go away the customer doesn't feel like we just dropped them like a hot potato. You loved me and now, no, you never talked to me. So we make sure we spend a lot of time making sure that we have those handoffs and that knowledge transfer is really solid and they have those folks that are going to be with them through the entire duration are brought along all the way.

Shawn Lane: I liked Meagan's distinction of the ad hoc players that come and go, versus those resources that will always be there with the customer throughout their life cycle. If you're in CS ops or revenue ops, and you're designing your post- sale customer journey, those handoffs that Meagan is talking about are so crucial. I've seen those scenarios where a CSM checks out for a bit while they bring in one of those ad hoc professional services, then they come back at the end of the engagement only to find out that, guess what? The engagement did not go well. And the CSM didn't have a clue. I also appreciate Meagan's candor about how hard this is and that they've screwed this up along the way at Acquia. It's so hard. Which is why I wanted to ask Meagan how she knew if any of this structure that she had put in place was working? What does good look like in professional services? And what does she measure to know if her team is being successful or not?

Meagan Williams: Remember when we talked about why professional services exists and I said, it's all about recurring revenue. So if it's all about recurring revenue, the way you get to recurring revenue, the reason that customers return and continue to use your product is because they're successful with it. They have reached their goals. So our primary measure is our customers being successful. So we measure that on a project basis, every week our project managers are assessing the health of our project. So is it on time? Is it on scope? Is it on budget? And what does the customer temp? Are they happy? Because all those three things could be green. And if the customer's not happy, then, well, it's not going well. So we're assessing that on a regular basis. And then we at Acquia as many companies do are assessing overall customer health. So once customers have implemented are they successful in adopting the product? Are they using it? Are we seeing metrics out of the product itself to say, yes, they're actually adopting it. And then are their customer success managers, their account managers, their TMs are they actually also seeing success when they're working with their customers? So we look at those metrics and then we tie those metrics back to renewal rates and see if what we're actually doing is having the success that are resulting in the success that we want it to. So that's number one, is the customer successful. And we really try to put that as a north star to help our teams make good decisions about when they're in the middle of a project when the question is, do I do the thing that might save us a little bit of money, or do I do the thing that will make the customer successful. The answer is always do the thing that will make the customer successful. Do the right thing. That is part of the Acquia DNA and something we try to give folks a north star as to how to and what that right thing is, is the thing that will make the customer successful with the product to the longterm because PS is temporary, product is forever, hopefully. So that's number one. Number two. Obviously I mentioned, we talked about time scope and budget. So you can't run a successful professional services organization if you're not looking at your financials. You have to know what projects do I have, where are they? Are they on track? And are they on budget? So we use a project management software to track all of that on a pretty granular basis. And we have a process of reporting out from those teams regularly to leadership. So we call them deep dives and we have deep dives every two to three weeks depending on the project. As projects there are some projects that go more into a maintenance mode. We might scale back on those we don't need because they're set and we don't need as frequent a check- in. But for those projects that are really that initial implementation we're meeting every two to three weeks to check in on, how is the scope? Are we meeting with the customer expects? How is the budget doing? How's the team doing in terms of, are they burning hot? Are they they happy? Are things going well? Work- life balance, all of that stuff. And we'll talk about that as the third thing. But we get that executive overview into every project project, because we might see things that the team might not see itself. Because the team would be focused 100% on one project, but I get to see all of our projects. So I can pick up teams and help our team out there. So we do those deep dives to check in on those key metrics that are important to project health. And then the third thing which I referenced is, is our team doing well? Are they appropriately utilized? So we have utilization targets. Every professional services organization does. Our team members track time against their projects and we see how much of their time, whether it's billable time or time that is making customer successful, but for whatever reason, we're not billing. How much of their time is what we call client utilization time. And we have a global target of 76% of client utilization time. And that's how we deliver our bottom line back to the business which is at the end of the day, the margin that we owe back to all of the business. So we look at the utilization on a pretty regular basis to make sure everybody is utilized appropriately. Nobody's working crazy hours and nobody's sitting on the bench. We try to manage that as much as you can in a services business which is really very unpredictable. So that's a challenge we have, but something that we keep a pretty close eye on.

Shawn Lane: All right, I've taken a bunch of notes and I've questioned about each one of those buckets that you went through. In that first bucket of whether or not the customer is successful, right? You mentioned some factors about it being on time, on scope, on budget and then you also mentioned taking the customer's temperature and asking them how they're feeling. How do you make sure that what success looks like for the customer, right? All of the internal stuff is easy, the hard thing is understanding what are their actual goals out of this engagement? So how do you make sure that you're crystal clear with your teams on what that actually is for them? And are you reliant on the customer in certain situations to know whether or not they actually were successful?

Meagan Williams: Yeah. In some ways we are. So I'll answer the question then I'll tell you a bit of a horror story, leaving folks unnamed. But in the best situation we start this conversation in the sales process and we ask, what are the goals that you are going to be measured on? What does your CEO or your decision maker care about with regard to this project? What is success? And so we try to get them to articulate those things very early in the relationship and implementation really gets you to ground zero. It gets you to the place where the product can just be used to do the thing that's eventually going to result in value. So we want to keep our eyes on what value the customer is going to get once they adopt. But we know we're just getting them to the place where they can really begin adoption. So to think really concretely in our case, we're helping customers build... For one example, we might be helping them build an application that will create multiple websites. So we're just getting them to the place where that application can then create all those sites and they can place content in it and design them the way they want to. And then they use those sites to generate marketing and to create the return on investment that they came to us for. So we're getting them to that baseline and then we're helping them through our customer success and TM organizations to continue on that journey. So starting really early in sales cycle, what are those key metrics that you're going to be judged on, and then how do those trickle down into the implementation projects specifically? So often customers are looking for a cost reduction. I want to consolidate my tech. And so I want to bring it all onto one platform. And if I do that, then I will save this many dollars, but I have to do that within this time period because I need to not renew my existing subscription for my old CMS, for example. So we try to narrow down what are those specific things, numbers, dates really get specific with our customers, but start that in the sales cycle. So yes, are we dependent on customers to know whether we're being successful? I have a horror story for you. So we worked with a really large customer, and they wanted to bring Drupal and Acquia into their organization. They traditionally had not had a huge footprint in open source, but they felt like their key metric was making sure that the marketing team was happy. And the marketing team was only going to be happy if they could do everything possible with their CMS. Everything from any possible way design a page without a technical person in any possible way that they could imagine, as well as connecting to all of their SEO and multilingual and many, many, many services that they had. So they had this really huge and grand vision. So we built a product to that really huge and grand vision. And it turns out that that is a bit of a Frankenstein. And that vision that had been set forward by the immediate customer team actually didn't map at all to what their CEO expected. Their CEO was much more about cost cutting and much more about efficiency, not about whether the marketing teams were really, really happy. So we built this thing that was very robust, but they weren't adopting it as quickly because they continue to add more and more features every time somebody in marketing will say, well, it doesn't do this and I need it to do that. And they weren't achieving their CEO's big goals ultimately. And who ends up on the hook for that? We do because they look at us and say, you want us drive off a cliff? How did you do that?

Shawn Lane: We're supposed to be making people happy over here.

Meagan Williams: Exactly. You made marketing happy, but at the expense of what the CEO's actual goal is. So we realized that we have to first of all, be really connected into multiple places within the organization. So the PS team might be working with a specific implementation team while our customer success and account management and TM teams are working with stakeholders at different levels of the organization to really validate, are we hearing the right thing? Are we meeting your actual objectives? How are you being measured? So they're bringing back this information to QVR and those other ways that maybe our executive contacts are connected in. So it's not just the professional services team making sure that our implementation is meeting the specific objectives of the project team we're working with the customer. It is, how does that fit into the much bigger return on investment and the overall goals that the company has for the adoption of this product.

Shawn Lane: And I feel like most of that goes back to what you were saying before. A lot of that starts way upstream in the sales process and in your earlier conversations of what the expectations are. Are there moments where you and your team have to basically come and step in and say, we have to control what we can control here and put a little bit of a, not a barrier, but a realistic expectation around some of the goals that are being set? I would imagine you probably have to reign those in sometimes.

Meagan Williams: We do. So often the sales team in the sales process will call in professional services to have those honest conversations. I in particular we're in services for a reason, because we're generally pretty straightforward folks who like to accomplish projects, like to get things done, we're doers who like to dig in and solve difficult problems. What we're not really always great at is that sales positioning and the stuff that all of our sales friends are terrific at, the selling and all of that. So we bring that straight forward. We're going to give you the truth perspective that balances out the sales conversation. So often I'll be invited to a sales meeting with a prospective customer and I'll say, okay, what's my role here? What do you want me to do? And the thing they want is lend to credibility. Tell them the truth, tell them what it's really going to be like, give them the full picture. And sometimes that means saying, yes, this huge goal that you have for your digital transformation, you can get there. Here's what it's going to look like. Here's the reality of what it takes to do a massive replatforming of your websites, for example. And so we try to have that, yes, we can get you there because that is part of our mission we're going to get you the place where you need to go, but we're also realistic about how you're going to get there and what it's going to take both from the technical side, but also from the transformation, the change management on your customer side to make this really successful. So we are in the business of level setting, bringing in that reality, making sure customers really know what it's going to take rather than anything's possible.

Shawn Lane: We could do a whole separate episode on this, but I think that I would argue your team coming into that sales process is actually accelerating the sales process. Despite what you're saying about not necessarily having that skillset, right? You are actually lending credibility and reality and fulfillment to this dream and this promise that they've been talking about during the sales process. So I think there's a ton of value to bring in people with those different skillsets into the sale itself. I want to move ahead onto some of those other goals that you mentioned. So on the financial goal front, you guys are really closely tracking time management and budget and things like that. While professional services the goal is not to generate revenue, is there a benchmark that either you have found or you would recommend to folks for what a healthy professional services margin would look like and what they should be returning to the business?

Meagan Williams: So I think it really varies. I think the answer is no, there isn't one answer for every company. So some companies choose to have professional services be a loss leader. They're okay with them not making money at all and in fact, losing money. Some companies are okay with break even, and others they want to see some margin come out of their professional services business. And I really think it varies. So we want some margin to come out of our professional services business. And as I think through I wasn't there when we made that decision, that's been a long standing thing that predates. I've been at Acquia for over eight years and that decision predates me. But some of the reasons that go into that are, first of all you want to balance of product that a customer can adopt and run on their own or implement, adopt, and run on their own with a fully featured product. So if you have a professional services team that you're just giving away to your customers, it's a crutch. You don't have to make that product be something that a customer can implement on their own. And ultimately what customers want, if they don't want to have to bring in a professional services team for everything. And they want to be able to run this product on their own. If you think about your own business, you don't want to have to bring in new folks all the time to get what you want out of your software, you want to be able to do it on your own. So the professional services business that really realize, or a product that really relies on its professional services, to the extent that you need to give away the services in order to make the product successful. If it's a really complicated implementation you've got to look at that and say, what's going on here? It's a simple implementation, no big deal. But if it's a complicated digital transformation type implementation you really have to look at that and say, there might be a problem with the product if we need to give away the services in order to make it successful. Another thing to think about, and what we think about is partners. So for us partners are critical component to our business. They are sales accelerators. They provide a whole suite of services to our customers that we will never provide, have no interest in providing, would be the wrong team to provide. So we really need a healthy partner ecosystem. And partners are service providers. They make money by doing implementations. So if we're giving away the implementation, then we're competing with partners in a way that's unhealthy. We become the less expensive option to implement the product and that starves our partner ecosystem. So we don't want to be the lowest cost provider because we want to be able to feed a robust partner ecosystem as well. So those are just some of the considerations that have gone into how much we have provide back to our business. And then of course, there's all the other financials of what are the salaries cost and all those kinds of other things that go into the PNL. But those are just some of the bigger considerations that go into what decisions you make.

Shawn Lane: I don't know about you, but I was furiously taking notes on Meagan's masterclass for how to goal your professional services team. Seriously, whether you're just starting a team from scratch or your professional services team has been in place for years, she is giving us all the blueprint for what good looks like. So we've covered the customer outcome goals and the financial goals, but before we get into Meagan's third category of the health of her team, I want to pause here for a minute to talk about partners. Anyone in a company that has a partner program will tell you that introducing the partner ecosystem into your go to market can be an amazingly effective accelerant to your growth. And it can also be something that adds an enormous amount of complexity as well. New dynamics like rules of engagement, partner conflict, these things now are enter all of your normal conversations. So I was curious how Meagan and the team at Acquia think about the dynamic between external partners and internal professional services teams?

Meagan Williams: That is another great question and something that is a constant and I would say healthy tension. So partners as I said, they're critical to our business, but you need both. You need a professional services organization for the reasons we talked about at the beginning, and you need a partner organization for the reasons I just mentioned. So you need to think about how do you keep both sides healthy. It's an and not an or. And it's so tempting to think it's going to be one or the other because that's easier, right? But we need to balance both. So how do you do that? Well, we've put some rules of engagement in place over the years of frankly tripping on ourselves and not doing a great job and running to either side of the boat, not really achieving that balance. So we've got some rules that try to help us achieve that balance. The first is, if the partner sources the lead, it is the partner's business we do not compete with that. So as I said, most of our partners or service providers, if they have a lead it's because they want to do the implementation and the ongoing services. So we don't get in the way of that. If they need help so maybe they are taking on a product they've never implemented before. Our services team offers services not just to our customers, but also to our partners. So for example, we have a customer right now that is helping the customer implement a new product, new to the customer and to this partner. And so we have a small advisory engagement with the partner to help them be successful. And then they'll train that team and that team can then train the rest of their organization and they can be off and running with the product. But initially they need us right there. So we offer services to make our customers and our partners successful. So that's if partners bring us the lead, but there are cases where Acquia comes up with a lead ourselves. And in those cases it's a conversation. So we look at a sales team as comprised of the salespeople, but also the partner manager and the PS manager who is engaged with that salesperson. And so a lead will come in and we'll look at it and we'll say, who is the right team for the customer to implement this project. And sometimes the answer is clearly the partner and PS says, great, go for it. We are good. You don't need anything from us this partner is really capable. Absolutely go for it. Sometimes it is, well the partner is the right solution longterm. So reasons that could be the case. Partner offer services we don't offer, whether it's design services, content strategy, marketing, strategy, marketing operations, ongoing maintenance services, all the things that we as a product services team are not set up to do the partner can do it and own the whole thing. And we'll be successful longterm. Absolutely had the partner should take it. And if they need help, we'll sell them or provide to them some of that consulting advice or that training. Sometimes though we decide that actually this is a better opportunity for professional services at Acquia to own. Reasons for that could be it's a key customer. This is one of our top 25 customers, and we want to keep them really close. And so we want our own team to do it. Sometimes the customers decide for us and they say that one throat to choke, we just want to deal with one vendor. And often that's the case where procurement is challenging. So you think of education or the federal government or state and local governments where they have really strict procurement cycles and procurement rules and laws, they don't have the option to go to multiple vendors. So it's easier for them if they just go with a single vendor. So sometimes the customer will make the decision whether it's for procurement reasons or they just want that level of confidence. Another reason would be it's a brand new product, and they're an early adopter. And we want to make sure that we're the ones absorbing the bumps and the go yous and oops, we missed that, because we have that really close connection back to our product team and we can absorb a lot more of that risk. If it's a risky opportunity because it's new or for any other reason, we want to be the ones taking that risk before we give that off to our partners. So that they're not the ones on the short end of the stick there.

Shawn Lane: And you're fulfilling one of those four main pillars for why professional services exists in that case, right? You're bringing that feedback directly back to the product team and hopefully making improvements as a result of that engagement, healthy tension. Love it. The only other category you mentioned that I wanted to dig into was what you said about your team and the employee sentiment within your team as a key goal which I think is incredibly admirable thing for you guys to have within the team. And you mentioned that 76% utilization rate as your global benchmark within the team. I would have to imagine there are times when either, just because of maybe you miss a hire, maybe you have an unexpected trip at, or maybe your sales is blown out of the water, that what you have planned for capacity versus what you need to fulfill are off, right? You do your best to keep those things in sync, but I would imagine there's probably a moment in time. What do you do if that's the case, right? Do you go back to sales and have a hard conversation of, hey, we're not ready? Do you go above that 76% utilization rate? What does that look like in those scenarios where you don't have that perfect balance of supply and demand?

Meagan Williams: Yeah. So it is what we like to call a high class problem. When sales tells you we're going to hit one number and we hit the number plus X. That's terrific everybody cheers and then we look at our capacity and how we're going to staff it and we go, oh crap, what are we going to do? So we have a couple of different levels. The first level we pull is we use what we call suppliers. So those are subcontractors to where we can, we can't use them everywhere, but where we can, we supplement our team with subcontractors and we have a very small group of trusted folks who we go to as subcontractors. And they are our safety valve. What that means is we have our own team who's always leading the project, but for sometimes the development capacity or more than engineering capacity we may go out to suppliers and use those. So that's the first thing we try. Sometimes that is not enough. So then we have to go to some creative staffing. So we look across our global organization. So even if the project was sold and being delivered in the US, is there somebody in EMEA that could help out? Is there somebody in our India team that could take on a slightly different role? Can we shift things globally? And I'm really passionate about this, but the thing we do not do is put this burden on our team members. The fact that sales blew out their number is terrific, but it's also not something that we want to achieve on the back of our team. At least not for very long. There's peaks and valleys. People know that sometimes I got to work a little bit more and sometimes it will have some bench time, but as a routine matter of operation, we do not overborne our people. The work our professional services team does is thought work. It requires that you have enough time to do it and the headspace to do it and really have that dedicated focus. And so if we're overburdening people on a routine basis, that's a recipe for failure. And these folks are super valuable resources. We can not afford to be disrespectful of that. So we don't do it on the back of our team. Sometimes we do have that hard conversation that you mentioned with our sales folks and our account management friends. So it goes like this. Sales team comes in and says, we've got this really important deal, we have to start it. They've got to start next week. And we look at our starting and we say well, we can start six weeks from now because this is a surprise and we didn't know it was coming in. And they say, no, absolutely. If we can't start tomorrow or next week we're going to lose the deal. And so we say, okay, this sounds like a hard decision for you. Here are the projects that you can decide to pause or not start in order to start this one in a higher priority. So you need to go back to the account manager or the sales person on those other projects and get them to agree to have the conversation with their customer about why we need to pause or not start their project or delay their project in order for this one to start sooner. So we push that problem back to the account teams and to the sales teams to manage and we say, this is what we got. We can't clone humans. We can't make them. So here are the ways that we can give you the options you can have to work it out and to make decisions that are better for one customer or another. They don't like that, but it's the best way. So it's not the professional services team making that call. It's really the teams that are right in front of the customers making that call.

Shawn Lane: Before we go at the end of each show we're going to ask each guest the same lightning round of questions. Ready? Here we go. Best book you've read in the last six months?

Meagan Williams: Oh my gosh. That is such a great question. Last six months best book I've read. I'm pretty sure it was in the last six months. It is not the cheeriest book, but I found it fascinating. It is the book about Chernobyl. The one that the series was based on. It's a thick book, but it is really just an engaging and horrifying look at what can go wrong with really big, really complicated projects especially if you don't have the leadership that you need. So I would highly recommend that one.

Shawn Lane: Nice. Favorite part about working in professional services?

Meagan Williams: Oh, easy. The people. So I absolutely love my colleagues. I just have the best team and work with some of the smartest people who are also really kind people. So I am lucky to have a really terrific team. And my favorite part of working at professional services and at Acquia is the people that I get to work with.

Shawn Lane: Flip side, least favorite part about working in professional services?

Meagan Williams: Man, that's a tough one. And it sounds like I'm not being 100% transparent, but I really there isn't. I can't say... Let me put it this way. I have grown to like the tough conversation, but as somebody who wants to do a really good job for our customers and when things go south, I take it not personally in the sense of I'm not personally offended by it, but I really feel on the hook and obligated and we need to do a better job for our customers. So when things don't go well and it's inevitable, software implementation is hard. It's always going to go wrong somewhere. Those tough conversations were originally really hard for me. Over time I've developed strategies for getting better at them. So I think about not just what did we do wrong and how can we fix it, but we both have problems. Maybe I have a resourcing problem, or maybe I have a budget problem and the customer has a scope problem, we both have problems how do we get more now on the same side? Because we're on the problem side. And so how do we work together to solve those problems? So it's probably definitely not my favorite part of the job is having those really tough conversations, but it's gone from something I really dread and keep me up at night to something that I've got some good strategies around and can actually eventually create a better relationship with customers.

Shawn Lane: Nice. Someone who impacted you getting to the job you have today?

Meagan Williams: Oh, let's see. So there's lots of people I could credit. One for sure would be my current boss, our SVP. Who is just a terrific leader and a wonderful example of how to be a great leader. I'm actually going to credit as well though my first customer at Acquia. So when I joined Acquia I was leading one of our largest or our largest professional services implementations and our largest customer at the time. And it was a really large federal government customer. And man, did they have really high expectations? There are a lot of tough conversations and a lot of stuff in that project. And going through that and learning how to work with those high expectations as in the middle of learning how to run a development team, which is something I had not really done before. And just all the different pieces, all the technology pieces that I had to learn, it was a baptism by fire, but it was one that really, I think, propelled me to where I am today. So I have a lot of fond memories about leading that project and being a part of that team. And I think going through that and having to figure out how to sink or swim with something that it's an invaluable experience.

Shawn Lane: It's amazing the stories that you remember about specific customers and specific customer interactions and names and numbers, and just silly stuff that just sticks out about a specific customer interactions. All right. Last one, one piece of advice for people who want to have your job someday?

Meagan Williams: This doesn't work for everybody, but it works for me. The thing I love about my job is that I get to solve all problems. I really like tough problems. I like the tough and ugly and frankly boring problems that nobody else likes. And that is both in my role in professional services, but more broadly within Acquia. The way that I got to where I am today and if you want to be successful, say yes, when it comes to solving those problems. So if somebody invites you into, hey, I don't know what to do about this, or could you help out here this is an ugly problem and I'm not sure what to do. I say yes. Yeah, I'll help you, tell me what your problem is. How can I be of assistance. In a busy company you often see this game of hot potato go on, where you get this forwarded email that's got 17 different threads on it. And you're like, what? I don't even know what's going on here, but it looks like what's happening is you're just getting passed on to the next person who is not answering your question and you're not finding a solution. My approach is stop the hot potato, let's all get together and let's figure out what the problem is. And maybe I can help, maybe I can't help, maybe on someone on my team can help, but I say yes to try and solve those problems. And that builds connection throughout the organization as well as builds my understanding of how our business runs and what it is we do and what our challenges are and what our customer challenges are. So my advice is say yes to those opportunities to solve the ugly problems that nobody else wants to solve.

Shawn Lane: Thank you so much to Meagan Williams for joining us on this week's episode of operations. If you liked what you heard, make sure you are subscribed to operations so the new episodes show up in your feed every other Friday. You can also check out all the new clips that we're posting on YouTube, along with all of the other podcasts that Drift puts out. And last but not least, if you feel like you're learning something from this show and you want to help other people find it, please leave us a six star review on Apple Podcasts, six star reviews only. All right, that's going to do it for me. Thanks so much for listening. We'll see you next time.


As your customer base grows and your product offerings expand, you’re likely going to be faced with an important inflection point about the most effective way to make your customers successful.

You’ll likely start having conversations about how much your customers do on their own versus how much your company can and should help them to do. If you’re having conversations like these, chances are you’ve considered whether or not your company should have a Professional Services team.

Whether you’re considering Professional Services for the very first time or you’ve had a team in place for years, our guest today, Meagen Williams, has built and developed an incredibly successful Professional Services blueprint for all of us to model. Meagen is the Vice President of Professional Services at Acquia, the digital experience platform that was acquired by Vista Equity partners in 2019 for $1B.

In our conversation, Meagen teaches us how to measure what “good” looks like in Professional Services, we dive into the healthy tension between your partner ecosystem and Professional Services, and why the goal of any Services organization should not be to generate services revenue.

Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️  review and share the pod with your friends! You can connect with Sean on Twitter @Seany_Biz @DriftPodcasts