This is a guest blog post by Kristen Hayer, Founder & CEO of The Success League.
Ever been blindsided by churn? You have a fantastic relationship with your key contact, their usage looks great, and their health score is green. You assume their renewal will just roll in, but instead you get a cancellation call. Your contact gives you an excuse something along the lines of, “We just don’t have the budget this year.” or “Our finance team didn’t approve the spend.” You’re shocked, and you end up having to explain to your boss that there were no warning signs.
Except that there are almost always warning signs. You just weren’t looking for them in all the right places. Often, your key contact isn’t in a position to tell you whether or not their company sees enough value in your solution to stick around. They just know that they like your product and you’re great to work with. They aren’t the ultimate decision-maker. That person, the executive who makes the budget decisions, is a critical factor in the renewal process and someone you need to cultivate a relationship with.
This doesn’t mean that you abandon your key contact and focus all of your energy on the executive. You still need your primary contact to love your solution and work with you. However, you do need to add a relationship with the executive decision-maker to your success strategy. This will be a different kind of relationship, one that is focused on value and strategy. How do you go about building this relationship? Here are 5 ideas for engaging executives:
1.) Identify the Right Executive
It’s easiest to do this at the beginning of the relationship with the customer, by having the salesperson introduce you to the executive who signed off on the purchase. Unfortunately, you’re often inheriting a set of accounts where that relationship was lost over time and you need to re-establish it. Ask your key contact about the structure of their team and budget, and they should be able to help you identify the right executive. If not, do some research on the company’s website or LinkedIn and ask around. You’re looking to start a relationship with the person who owns the budget for your solution.
2.) Talk About Expectations
Once you’ve identified the right person, set up a call. Make it clear that you want to talk about the business results they are looking for from your solution. You’ll want to prepare some questions to ask like, “When you bought our solution, what were you hoping it would do for your business?”, “Have your expectations changed since you made the purchase? How?”, or “What will tell you that you made the right decision?” A successful conversation should involve a lot of questions and note-taking on your side, and a lot of talking on the executive’s part. You’re looking for a list of the business expectations the executive has for your solution.
3.) Set Goals Together
Once you’ve identified the business results the executive is looking for, you need to set some goals together. This may involve the executive, but should definitely involve your key contact. Most of the time, the goals your customer really cares about are not things that are easily measured inside your solution. You’ll need your key contact to be a source of metrics that sit on the customer’s systems. If you’ve been working on the goal plan with just your key contact, be sure to run the draft by the executive to make sure you’ve captured the business goals they had in mind. You’re looking to wrap this process up with a goal plan everyone has agreed to.
4.) Discuss Results Regularly
Executives typically won’t want to be involved in the day-to-day conversations you have with your key contact. They will, however, want to be kept in the loop on how you and your key contact are progressing toward the goals you established. Executive business reviews are an excellent forum for this kind of discussion. If you can, try to schedule these meetings on a quarterly basis. If you’re running a low-touch program these calls may need to be less frequent and more automated. You’re looking for a regular call or meeting that demonstrates to the executive the results your solution is providing.
5.) Always Provide Value
In between executive business reviews, you should try to provide value to your new executive contact. This is also a great way to build the relationship over time, if you’re having a tough time getting the right person to commit to regular meetings. Execs are busy, and they are focused on business. Share interesting business articles, industry publications, studies, and information about upcoming events. Executives love to read, and need to stay on top of their field, but they often don’t have the time to sift through all of the content available. You’re looking to become a trusted advisor by curating thoughtful information that provides value.
Prevent unpleasant surprises by building strong relationships with both your key contact and the executive budget owner. By investing in this additional relationship, you’ll have a richer understanding of your customer and their business needs. You’ll also have an early warning if things start to veer off course. It’s worth the time.
About the Author
Kristen Hayer – Kristen Hayer is the Founder & CEO of The Success League, a consulting firm focused on customer success. She believes that customer success is the key to driving revenue, client retention and exceptional customer experiences. Prior to founding The Success League, Kristen built and led several award-winning customer success teams. Over the past 20 years she has been a success, sales, and marketing executive, primarily working with growth-stage tech companies. Kristen has her BA from Seattle Pacific University and her MBA from the University of Washington.
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