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Go on the offense to better serve your customers

By Jay Nathan

Establishing an offensive posture toward customers is the very essence of customer success, and it goes well beyond customer service which is typically reactive in nature.

This concept of focusing on offense, not defense, goes back centuries and is often associated with military or athletic endeavors. The idea is that strong, proactive offensive action creates strategic advantage by interfering with an opponent’s ability to mount a counterattack.

Now, of course, our customers are not our enemies. However, there are enemies all around us that hinder adoption, allow competitors to gain a foothold, and that thwart our ability to provide measurable value to our customers.

Establishing an offensive posture toward customers is the very essence of customer success. And it goes well beyond customer service which is typically reactive in nature.

According to Gallup, “companies that successfully engage their B2B customers realize 63% lower customer attrition, 55% higher share of wallet, and 50% higher productivity.”

With opportunities like that, why aren’t all B2B companies investing in customer success? We recently asked our clients and LinkedIn friends how they are implementing and scaling their offensive customer engagement tactics.

Below are a few key takeaways from the discussion and some added insights we’ve picked up along the way.

1. Identify and address churn by segment

Most SaaS companies serve a range of customer segments, from small to large, varying industries, or needs (see: Is Your Customer Segmentation Too Basic?). It’s critical to understand why customers fail to thrive, and ultimately churn, by segment.

To do this correctly, it’s important to 1) have a segmentation model and 2) track risk and cancellation reasons at the customer account level.

We worked with our client, Acme, Inc (name changed to protect our clients) to find significantly different churn reasons across their customer segments.

On one hand they had small companies using their product for short-term, project-based needs. Customer discovery in this segment revealed that they didn’t consider themselves former customers of Acme at all. They just didn’t have a project need for the product at the time. They planned to reinstate their subscription in the future as needs arose. In response we created an account suspension technique and counted these accounts differently in churn and retention metrics.

The same company found that large customers were adjusting their seat licenses up and down based on variable needs throughout the year. We found an opportunity to stabilize ARR by including unit “floors” in their contracts in exchange for a pricing break based on annual commitments. This turned out to be a win/win for both enterprise customers and the company whose revenue immediately began to stabilize.

Different segments have different challenges and opportunities. Driving proactive activity at the segment level allow us to prioritize and generate more predictable outcomes for the business.

2. Set expectations and deliver upon them

Customer Success leader (and our friend!) Sarah Bowe, responded with the following:

“During the sales process identify the client’s business objectives for purchasing the product and leverage those objectives when onboarding the client so the initial experience post sale is more customized and tailored based on these objectives.”

The most successful companies we’ve worked with track key business drivers as part of the sales opportunity record in the CRM. They incorporate these business drivers into initial kickoff calls, training calls, business reviews and other touch points with established customers.

This is a continuous process of positioning value up and down the customer’s stakeholder chain. “When new team members join a customer’s organization, we engage them as quickly as possible to position our solution and help them understand how it benefits their organization,” Bowe says.

We agree! “Stakeholder / champion turnover” is consistently in the top three churn reasons we see among our clients. This churn is avoidable, but requires proactive engagement with an eye toward selling the value of your solution to the new stakeholder.

3. Maintain a commercial relationship

If we’re going to play offense, we have to build capable teams. Most of the time this profile looks more like sales than customer service or implementation.

Many times, when we see customers churning for preventable reasons, we also find a lack of commercial coverage over customers. Someone within your company should wake up every morning thinking about renewals for every customer in their territory.

In enterprise SaaS this looks more like an Account Manager or a senior CSM (depending on your setup). In an SMB setting it’s the CSM or even Customer Marketing for low-dollar, e-commerce driven buyers.

Not only should there be top-to-bottom coverage over all customers by team members who can drive renewals and sales, but their incentive plans should be aligned with the needs of the business. These teams should have direct motivation for identifying, assessing and eliminating renewal risk.

Contrary to convention, selling to customers drives loyalty. As customers continue to buy new products and services from us, the amount of value they receive grows.

If we’re doing it right, upsells also result in renewals for initial purchases.

4. Ask customers to become your advocates

Vinay Bhagat, CEO of TrustRadius contributed “[h]aving customers to write a review to both provide feedback beyond a simple NPS score, but also outline the outcomes they are achieving. The mere act of writing something public is also a commitment indicator.”

Your customers love it when you elevate them as thought leaders and your company’s marketing engine can help them gain valuable career cache within the marketplace.

Customer Success and marketing can partner to recruit customer thought leaders to become ambassadors and references for your brand to solidify their loyalty. Other ideas for driving proactive engagement include product certifications, customer meet-ups, joint blog posts, webinars, and speaking engagements. Not only do these methods solidify loyalty, but they also contribute to new logo sales.

Published June 13, 2019
About the Author

I've spent my career working in technology companies to build customer-centric teams, processes and technology platforms. In 2017, I founded Customer Imperative, a consulting firm that helps fast-growing B2B SaaS companies improve renewals, increase expansion sales and scale customer engagement. See full bio ›

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