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How Intuit QuickBooks and Mailchimp Scaled its “Adopt a Small Business” Program Globally

Adopting a small business isn't easy when your team is conducting studies across the globe. Here's how Intuit QuickBooks has made it work.

Words by Ben Wiedmaier, Visuals by Maggie Moore

Customer obsession is one of Intuit’s core values. Considering how diverse small business owners are, investing in a long-term program that truly understands why and how its customers use the product seemed like a recipe for success. So QuickBooks began running a cross-functional team program called "Adopt a Small Business".

For the past three years, this mutually beneficial immersive program has brought together small business customers and Intuit employees. Over the course of two months, customers gain confidence in using QuickBooks and Mailchimp and running their business, while employees gain highly contextual empathy and product knowledge. It's grown from a small, in-person operation to a fully-remote, global program with Intuit employees and small business owners across the world.

The program used dscout to level up their remote program capabilities, but that was just the start of the story. People Nerds' Ben Wiedmaier spoke with Senior Program Manager René Whyte and Principal Program Manager Troy Marcyes to uncover how they have grown and scaled this program over the years.

Read on to learn how the Intuit QuickBooks Adopt a Small Business program has leveraged Slack channels, diverse cohorts, and internal communications to bring the executive team on board, engage across teams, and drive empathy across the organization.

Ben: The “Adopt a Small Business” program is now a few years running. Can you walk me through the genesis of the program?

Troy: While the program officially started a little more than three years ago, it came from an existing Intuit Design For Delight (D4D) methodology called "Follow Me Home" (FMH), where Intuit employees observe customers use the product during an in-person, 45 to 60-minute session.

During a company meeting, one of our engineers, who wanted to go deeper than an FMH, asked a business leader, "How can we better understand how our customers use our product? We talked about how our product is intuitive, but is it really? How can we make the products more usable for business owners, many of whom do not understand accounting and finance?”

And so our leader put him to the task of creating a cross-functional team to develop a program. And that's kind of how this program started.

Initially, the program leaned heavily on identifying pain points customers may experience in QuickBooks that might stop them from using the product altogether.

As the program has evolved, we are also getting more insight into what is driving business owners’ decisions and what keeps them up at night while running a business.

Can you walk through what the program looks like today with its remote element?

Troy: In 2019, the team officially launched the “Adopt a Small Business” pilot in our Mountain View office. After the success of the pilot, they looked to expand to other Intuit sites. In early 2020, teams across Intuit sites were getting ready to adopt a local customer, and then in March, everything was put on hold due to the pandemic.

In November 2020, I was hired to relaunch the program, but obviously rethinking the program with a virtual aspect. Zoom had been a great tool for us to conduct research, however, we wanted to develop something that would allow us to truly capture the customer sentiment of being a small business owner using QuickBooks.

Some of the benefits now are that we have businesses from all over the globe that are being “adopted” by Intuit employees distributed throughout the world. We have adopted businesses in Australia, UK, Canada and, of course, most of the 50 states in the US. So, it's an opportunity for employees to expand their horizons on the type of customers that we're adopting.

René: We also realized that eight weeks is a good timeframe for both customers and employees to maintain a high level of engagement and not get burned out. One of the things I love about the program is that we can gain learnings, put them into practice, and quickly test them out to see if they stick.

We did a spinoff program focused on our payroll offering in February of 2021. Troy was running the “Adopt a Small Business” program focused on QuickBooks Online, while I was simultaneously running the QuickBooks Payroll focused program.

Troy had around 10 businesses in his cohort, and I had another 10 businesses in mine. During that time, we were trying to think about the information being shared, trends we were uncovering across both programs, and how to synthesize together.

We realized that we don't have enough time to synthesize, and so that's why we adjusted to quarterly cohorts. Now we have enough time to collect the information from the employees and the customers, understand what areas of the product we need to enhance, cascade the information to our respective business units and figure out what changes we can make to the program to make it more impactful.

Are there other benefits that you can point to?

Troy: I think some of the main benefits to it being virtual are we're able to put teams together from different business units (marketing, customer success, product development, communications, etc.) in different areas of the world and allow them to network and learn from each other.

This also goes for the scalability of this program as well. We wouldn't be able to grow as fast if everything was still in person, because it's a lot harder with having a distributed workforce. If you have someone that's interested in joining and they're in Kansas City, we might not have enough employees to build a team in that location, and then the program wouldn't be a benefit to them. So now, we're able to build diverse teams that can support businesses from all locations.

A lot of that virtual success is because of dscout. And questions that we're asking the business owners in our dscout missions help us uncover trends within the program that help us make changes to create a bigger impact. We also currently use Slack channels, Zoom recordings and dscout diary submissions to track everything. It’s truly been a game changer for us.

Can you walk me through what are some of the special moments from the program?

René: I think about my customer, Marcy, that we adopted in January 2021. She owns three businesses, two were well established so we actively helped her with the newest venture. Being less than a year old, she was using spreadsheets to manage the newest venture and our team wanted to understand why she had not yet adopted QuickBooks for that business. Troy was able to secure her a one year subscription to QuickBooks Online, which our team helped her set up.

The team’s hypothesis was that Marcy would be very confident in the product as she had been using it for several years. The special moment for us was while helping her get set up, we watched her uncover new product capability and she was amazed at all the things it could do for her business.

What do the shareouts look like? You've got quarterly cohorts, nice robust worldwide teams. You mentioned it's sort of a rolling program. You're sharing snackable insights that I sometimes hear. Are you dumping things in Slack channels or comms channels?

René: Internally, we have a quarterly newsletter that we share out, and it talks about how many customers we've adopted, how many employees have participated, the changes we have made for upcoming cohorts and the growth of the program.

This fiscal year, which started in August, we are doing more shareouts to senior leadership to give greater visibility into the current status of the program, the insights and trends we have identified in QuickBooks, and recommendations for what we need to work on.

Troy: We’re always looking for innovative ways to deliver our findings and create buzz around what's going on so people can follow the journeys of the other teams.

[René] created a sizzle reel from our QuickBooks Payroll Adopt a Small Business program, which is about a three minute video that was shown at a recent Payroll team All Hands to showcase to all employees the real benefits of this program.

During the program itself, we have an active Slack channel where we have members that are in the current cohort and members from previous cohorts collaborating with each other. Even some of our product leaders are engaged as well.

And, we're sharing a lot of the videos that are submitted on dscout from the customers. There's an infamous one from Barbara. When we talked about a business high or low, she mentioned it was a business low.

And basically what she showed on her screen was a little sales pop up for some of our new products. And in the background, you hear her say, ‘Stop trying to sell me sh-- while I'm working.’ But at the end of the day, our product teams need to hear that feedback and help simplify our customer’s lives.

It sounds like you've really hit on a formula. You talked about 12 weeks. Maybe four weeks is too little. Is that another element here that it's sort of got a nice structure that you're modifying in small pieces that is really working?

René: I think that's the key that we are not married to any one particular methodology. We'll try it and then we'll get feedback from the employees and the customers. Did this work? Was this enough time? Was this too much time?

One of the things I did want to call out too is the Slack participation. So, even though Troy and I might put three to four people on a team, the cohort has 12 teams. So people will jump to other teams to help out depending on their product knowledge.

For example, one team was adopting a customer named Jake who owns a coffee business. There was a product developer from another team that was able to help solve some product issues by reading through the team’s notes and jumping on one of their weekly calls. All employees have access to all the team’s recaps and their business owners dscout submissions so they can help at any time. We encourage that and try to promote helping each other.

And I’ve got to imagine that this is a giant repository of gold that you have where the insights can live on. Do you have folks who might not even be involved in the cohort asking for access to the raw data? What's the engagement with the missions once they're even closed?

Troy: We definitely have folks from across the organization asking for more information and additional assets they can utilize to make appropriate business decisions. And René and I have worked hard to create a steady flow of content that is easily digestible.

We wanted to build a repository of where that information is held so others can go in and see, "Hey, this is where this customer was talking about migrating. This was a team that adopted them. Maybe we ping those team members for a deep dive." So, it takes a lot out of our hands to where we can focus more on scaling the program and simplifying the experience for all audiences.

And it's so much easier to plug-and-play and be like, ‘Here's a QuickBooks and Mailchimp customer, here's a link to their dscout submissions and this is what the team learned during the eight weeks.’ From there, employees can get up to speed instantly and make decisions in a timely manner. The immediacy of the solutions that are being provided has been a big help because of dscout.

René: And you understand who the business owner is as well. For example, one small business owner, Charlotte, worked in her office and had two kids. Her kids would be coming in and out of the team Zoom calls and you kind of get that empathy of life.

I am not just René that works at Intuit. I'm a wife. I am a sister. And you understand the environment they are in when they make the decisions they do, who will be impacted by those decisions and the pain points they experience. That helps us get a little bit more in depth with the customer, which was the goal of this program.

Anything that I missed, though, that you want to make sure you add right now and today?

Troy: I think one thing is that as we're working with different business units and they're asking more questions about dscout. Specifically, how they can utilize that tool for their research or for a project that they have coming out.

Because before, we had access to people just coming into the Intuit offices and doing things right then and there. Now we're able to broaden our horizons a little more with the location of the customers that we're serving. And it would be harder to do that without dscout. We can't get that empathy as much on just a weekly Zoom call every week.

As the teams meet with the customer every week, that dscout submission that the customers are tasked with entering basically serves as a conversation starter for the adopting teams to focus on.

It's extremely beneficial because you're not wasting time twiddling your thumbs saying, "What did you do this weekend? What can I help you with today?" Those questions already generate the topic of what you're going to work on for that week, whether it be getting customers or syncing your bank accounts. And that's been critical for us in condensing it to eight weeks and getting the most out of that eight weeks.

René: We want to instill that confidence. It's a level playing field and we are equally in this relationship together. And so dscout definitely helps us to set that bar high as we hope to power prosperity for our customers.

Ben is the product evangelist at dscout, where he spreads the “good news” of contextual research, helps customers understand how to get the most from dscout, and impersonates everyone in the office. He has a doctorate in communication studies from Arizona State University, studying “nonverbal courtship signals”, a.k.a. flirting. No, he doesn’t have dating advice for you.

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