While every business is feeling the pain of our current economic moment, it’s likely no one has felt the impact of this slowdown more than your sales team.
Sales teams everywhere are dealing with shrinking pipelines, delayed contracts, and increased churn in the customer base. New contracts are unlikely to materialize for a long time — so what can you do about it?
In our current climate, forward-thinking companies should — and must — turn to Customer Success (CS) to protect revenue streams. Companies that can manage CS well will not only have an easier time of it now, but they will also be best positioned for hyper-growth in the future when conditions improve.
What are the most effective CS tactics to prevent churn and expand your business? And how can CS executives convince customers and leadership that they are a revenue center, not a cost center?
I recently had a chance to discuss these topics and more with Gabriella Baciu, VP of Customer Success at Dialogue, and Ekine Akuiyibo, VP of Business Development and Deployments at Socotra. Together, we tackled these questions and shared learnings from our own experiences as sales and CS leaders. Our key takeaways are summarized below.
Building and Growing a Customer Success Team
Driving long term growth through CS requires the right talent and the right foundation.
In the beginning stages of your CS operation, there are many priorities — onboarding clients, reporting, managing feedback, support tickets, etc — and all of them are critical parts of the client journey. When hiring for your team, look for jacks of all trades — candidates who like to solve problems and are always curious. Being genuinely interested in learning lends itself to empathy, and asking the right questions is key to understanding customer pain and finding possible resolutions.
How you structure your CS team will depend on your company and your product. Ekine’s company Socotra offers a revolutionized agile insurance core platform, a complex technology that has significantly reduced carrier onboarding. Given that Socotra is replacing legacy technology in large companies, Socotra built their Customer Success team to be a part of their Deployments Team, which takes over as soon as the customer signs the contract to when they’re live.
However you set up your CS team, make sure to mobilize the company around it. With your team assembled, you may want to implement the NPS (Net Promoter Score) framework to get feedback fast. Ultimately, what your CS team learns from your customers will drive changes in product and technology.
Understanding the Customer Journey
Your customer journey is key to align your organization and see the experience from the eyes of each customer. This journey is a series of steps a customer goes through with your company. It consists of the major milestones, the emotions that each person feels, and the functions that directly impact their success. Every team in your company needs to know the role they play along the way.
At Socotra, Ekine’s team thinks of the customer journey in three steps:
- Try before you buy. During this period, you work with the customer to experiment with the product, answer questions, and show the full functionality.
- Implementation. The important thing here is to stick to a timeline. Pick a time when the train will leave the station — i.e. fully operationalize the product. What’s on the train may change during the onboarding process. But come hell or high water, that train will leave on its departure date.
- Iteration. Remember, your product is never complete. Constantly analyze how your customers can improve operational efficiencies. Generate weekly, monthly, and quarterly reviews to evaluate and evolve.
However it’s structured, your customer journey map should unite the entire company, from the tech team to the customer support team. Remember — without clients, your company has no reason for being. So take a leaf from Dialogue’s motto: be client obsessed.
How Your CS Team Can Drive Growth
Here’s a simple way to think about it: your sales team gets the contract. But Customer Success gets the renewal — and the upsells.
The relationship between sales and CS is like a relay race. Once a contract is signed by the sales team, the baton is passed to CS. And the relationships your CS team builds with the customer are the keys to finding new business units to provide value to — whether it’s operational efficiency or saving money. Dialogue currently has close to zero churn because its CS team works so closely with product and sales. Thoroughly sharing information sets every team up for success.
While you don’t need to hire experienced salespeople for your CS team, consider training your CS team with best practices for upselling. Between the traditional sales personas of the hunter and the farmer, your CS associate is a farmer — but with a hunting rifle.
By becoming the trusted advisor of your clients, CS is at a unique vantage point to identify customer pains and the next opportunity to explore. For example, last year Dialogue kicked off a think tank with its clients. In one of the workshops, their clients flagged that they wanted to re-invent their Employee Assistance Program. After thorough analysis, Dialogue is launching its very own EAP for their clients and future prospects.
That’s growth at its very best.
Proving Your Worth To Customers — and Leadership
Whether you’re communicating with customers or with your own company’s investors, finding the right metrics is crucial to demonstrate value — both of the product and of your CS team in particular.
Dig into your customers’ pain points to find the metrics and benchmarks that resonate and prove ROI. For Dialogue’s virtual care technologies, ROI is about decreasing absenteeism and saving time. The advantages of choosing Dialogue were clear when compared to the costs of a private clinic. Generate reports and share benchmarks that will demonstrate where the customer will be after one month, three months, six months out. Know your numbers and show them.
Like Socotra, you might focus on Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for your clients. Socotra calculated that at an efficiently run insurer, IT should account for 4–6% of revenue. While Socotra is still early in capturing metrics, customers are seeing as much as 50% reduction in setup costs. These numbers can go a long way for executives making difficult decisions.
As a CS leader, you’ll find yourself justifying your existence to your own leadership, who are deciding whether to invest in your team — or in engineering or sales. Here again, digging into the data will help you demonstrate the value of CS in customer retention. Minimizing churn means that you don’t have to sell two times the amount to reach your number.
Emphasize that CS is the voice of the customer. You know exactly what the customers are thinking, and because of that, you know how to make operations more efficient, break into new markets, and leverage affinity partnerships. CS feeds this back to the company and builds the roadmap for growth.
Now more than ever, customer success should be a company-wide function. By investing in customer success and getting “customer-obsessed,” you will prevent churn in the short term and be well-positioned for exponential growth when conditions improve.