Q&A: How to Get 20/20 Foresight for Your 2020 Customer Success Planning
We are in the thick of Q4 and the high-pressure budget and strategy planning season is in full swing in SaaS organizations around the globe.
Customer Success Teams are on the hook to finish out the year strong, preform quarterly business review (QBRs), determine and refresh key performance indicators (KPIs) for the new year, finalize budgets – and most importantly ensure their customers are successful going into the new year.
To help you and your team with this arduous process, we hosted a video panel-style webinar on this topic so you could to hear advice on:
- End-of-year retention and upsell efforts
- Analyzing performance for 2020 forecasting
- Customer Success operations planning
- Budgeting and getting buy-in for resources
No worries if you missed the webinar, you can view it on-demand here.
This was a great discussion amongst our panelists that we wanted to share some of the key highlights with you here.
- Geeta Arora, VP of Customer Success, LeagueApps
- Antoinette Abboud, Director of Customer Success, Levelset
- Danielle Middlebrook, Sr. Director of Customer Success, Sendoso
Q: As we look at the end of the year, and our customers are often having the same sort of discussions, how do we make sure they’re prepped for the end of the year? What are you doing to help customers set goals for next year?
Danielle: At Sendoso, we are a sending platform, so the end of the year is by far our busiest time. It’s all about sending direct mail during the holiday and it also tends to be our highest sales quarter and therefor it’s also our highest renewal quarter. So, it’s is busy on all fronts and on top of that we’re trying to squeeze about three months of work into two as people step away from the office to spend time with their families around the holidays.
So, when you have as much going on at the end of the year as we do, prepping our customers has to start with prepping our team. So, before Q4 even beings, we start to coordinate with sales leadership to get their forecasts so that we can set hiring plans for the quarter. We start reaching out to Q4 renewal customers just to prep them for the terms and signature. With our customer marketing, we start to build out our one-to-many outreach cadences, which are largely focused on sending timelines and deadlines, tips and tricks for what to send, and countdowns to holiday sending. We just know that it’s a really busy time for everyone, so it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that we’re doing everything for our customers to ease that burden and stress of holiday sending and closing out the year.
Q: Have you done anything that’s been effective in terms of renewals that are right at the end of the year and prepping those customers to accelerate those conversations?
Antionette: We actually (and side plug for ChurnZero) use automated Plays to start talking about the renewals two months out. And we’re getting a renewal sentiment that we’re logging in the system that lets us know where we really need to focus a push if somebody is thinking about not renewing, we will know that two months out so we know how to target and how to focus, so we’re not saving our efforts for the last few weeks when we know that nobody is going to pick up that phone. We already baked that in a little bit earlier in the process.
Danielle: We do something similar and it was really just a look at what we had in our pipeline for Q4, and we started to look at that very early in Q3 and realized that we needed to get that started now. So, we started priming our conversation for those customers for renewals, and it’s something that we’ve actually built into the lifecycle very early on. We start talking about renewal at the 6-month mark and in some cases, we have candid conversations with customers at that time to say if you were going to renewal tomorrow, would you, yes or no? And that creates a really compelling conversation that gives us an opportunity to either expand on what’s working or to pivot to update our strategy to either remove any friction points that might exist for any reason and really set us in a good shape for the renewal when it comes to that three or two month mark renewal countdown.
Q: Geeta, I want to bring you into the conversation here because I’m sure some people are like you where Q4 is actually a little bit quieter. It’s not your busiest time of year. So how does the end of year look a little different and as a group that doesn’t need to be worried about the same sort of chaos at the end of the year, how do you approach it?
Geeta: Yea, we use the playbook that we have during our busiest time and extend it, so for us we do a lot in the summer months and we hit some busy times as well in the start of the year. We tend to have a lot of customers who do multiple rounds of programming in the year and for us it’s getting ahead of that so the renewal concept applies but it’s a little bit different in a sense that it’s not the contract per say, or seats or licenses, it’s more like okay when is their next set of programming and what are we going to do about it? So, from a customer perspective we tend to look 60 days out regardless of the time of year.
Similar to what Danielle and Antoinette have said, getting ahead of it allows you to at least get in touch with the customer and understand what they’re going to need so you’re not scrambling as much and we use that as an ongoing cadence and then beyond that as I mentioned, we actually just did our conference now because Q4 tends to be a great opportunity to engage with our customers in person, which we don’t get to do very often during the year. And it also propels us into what is convention season (which you might not think that exists in youth sports, but it does, each sport has their own event). And so, we use a lot of our time to prepare for that because that’s when we can actually get in front of people.
We also combine that with some basic housekeeping on our side which is to take a look back and see what’s worked well in 2019 and say, okay, how do we want to adjust and change in terms of our overall customer engagement strategy and approach going into 2020.
Q: How are you going to use the current year to inform what happens next year? I think this comes in two flavors- how do we understand what’s happening with our customers themselves, and then how does that influence what we do with our teams and how we change. So, let’s talk first about how we analyze customer health. I’m curious about how each of you go about that process and who you involve in it?
Geeta: For us, it builds off what we’re already talking about a little bit. One of our quarterly processes that we’ve introduced is to do portfolio reviews with each of our CSMs to make sure we have a good gauge on where they think the portfolio is and actually cross-referencing that with ChurnZero because we’re a little bit new in terms of our use of the platform and to see if the data supports the assessment that the individuals were giving us and for us that’s a little bit of a change from what we’ve done in the past just because we haven’t had the platform before but being more data-driven and understanding what’s happening with our customers is a really important element and how we’re adjusting things going into next year.
So, I’d say for us it’s little bit of what do you know about the customer, what have been the touchpoints that we’ve had, how recently have we engaged with them, have we seen any reg flags, and then how does the data support what we believe is happening and using the combination of those things, gears me up to say- okay, what can we reasonably support and manage with the staffing that I have, what are the other inputs I’m going to get from other parts of the company either in terms of sales pipeline and how is that going to grow, and what it means from a product perspective, because we’re launching new services and we have to be able to support that, and how volume continues to shift on the support side of things as well as we bring more customers onto the platform so we can account for that appropriately.
Antionette: We’re always looking at that data, we don’t necessarily wait until the end of the year. We will make pivots and adjustments throughout the year based off churn and upsell and what that net churn is looking like. So, our focus is always on bringing in that expansion revenue. We started off manually creating our health scores in a Google doc and have since switched over to ChurnZero. We’ve learned a lot since then and we are pretty data-driven right now in evaluating the opportunity pipeline for our CSMs and we are actually part of the revenue team.
As CS, we have a really close relationship with our sales managers. So, we work with them when we’re noticing trends with customers and maybe red flags early on or helping them better identify who are most successful customers are going to be and constantly tying that back so it’s not just customer handoff and done. So, the metrics are constantly being looked at and we have monthly KPIs that we’re going to address if we notice we’re not hitting them, or our customers aren’t meeting that target.
Q: I’m interested in how you go about doing an audit on things like KPIs that you can comp your team on and processes that you’re running and how you make sure that you’re making those changes in a way that’s consumable by the team, particularly if you’re making some of those changes towards the end of the year when there is a lot of noise. So, let’s talk about how you guys have looked at some of those key drivers for your team and made those changes.
Danielle: For me, I think that you have to start with your top-line, north-star goals. So, we asked those kinds of like – why are we really here sorts of existence/existential questions and set our goals based on those. I think once you have clear answers to those questions, you can organize around them to make sure that all your metrics and KPIs are aligned accordingly to drive those goals.
And for CS at Sendoso, we are here to retain, it’s the reason that we do everything that we do from onboarding to lifecycle management to renewal management, it’s all designed to drive retention. We know that we have to have really happy outcome driven customers in order to do that. So, when we’re talking about KPIs and metrics everything has to line up to that.
I tell my team often, when we are moving through plays, alerts, etc. in ChurnZero everything that you get should feel like a gift because it helps give you valuable insight into your portfolio and it helps you meet your goals which are retention and platform spend.
Q: I want to shift our discussion a bit towards operations planning for next year. So, how do you make sure you’re getting the right resources in place, the right humans, the right technology, that sort of thing. So, let me just start on the technology side a bit. I know this groups a little distinct in the fact that you all have Customer Success technology, but I think it would be interesting since each of you pitched successfully to purchase Customer Success technology and then went forward and made a discussion on that if you could share for someone’s that looking at doing that in 2020, what would be your advice to them be on making a successful pitch?
Danielle: I actually didn’t’ pitch ChurnZero, it was something very newly implemented when I joined Sendoso and I can say that it’s one of the reasons that I’m here at Sendoso, because it was very clear to me that that investment had been made and that there was an investment in the team. So, it was actually a recruiting trigger for me. I had used tools in the past, and I know that they are a game changer in the way that we move about our work and I have been in CS long enough to remember the days where I was handed a multi-million dollar book of business and told – make sure they don’t leave – and they can be very challenging when you don’t have the data that you need to really show where your time and attention might be put to the best use. So I was not willing to go back in time and work in a state where I didn’t have a tool like this to help me and my team to be successful so I knew that when I started talking to my CEO and my COO whom I report to today about how the team was propped up, even though it was a very small team that investment had already been made and it was very appealing to me as a candidate.
Geeta: So, our executive team and our board is generally supportive of technology if the argument exist for why you need it and so for us, what it was about is a) why is this the right time to introduce the technology that we’re looking b) why are we then equipped to be able to use it in a way that’s actually going to help us c) what’s the incremental benefit that it creates based on what we want to do as an organization. And we approach the case in that regard.
We’ve gotten to a point where we have the information, so I was like – okay – if we can start bringing things together from a lot of different places, in the case of a CS platform, and aggregate it into a more holistic way that makes it easier for my team to consume, that’s an easy argument because there’s efficiency and value to be had for that.
Then as we were exploring platforms and options it was about who’s going to meet our needs and help us drive results as a business and also what other efficiencies and benefits can I drive for my team. So one of the big values that I see in a lot of the technology platforms we have is either the ability to automated workflows and free up space and capacity for people to really focus in on customers or to give them the right set of tools to allow them to do that because that’s what we do in Customer Success, you want to have as much time as possible to engage with the people that are driving that business because that’s not the thing that you can get from a software platform or anything else.
And so we talked a lot about those different dimensions as I was making the case and then also being able to justify and explain why the recommendation I was making for the platform that I wanted was the one for us to go with because I’ve also had experiences with different tools and technologies and it has to be able to make your life easier and also make sense for the size and life stage of your organization, but also be able to grow with you and being able to kind of answer all of that for my team.
So, they’re like, okay, we’re going to give you the money to spend but we know that you’re going to be able to do something with it…not just in year one, but year two and three, became an important part of the conversation as well.
To hear the rest of the webinar and what the panelists discussed on end-of-year Customer Success planning as well as predictions for 2020, you can check out the video replay on-demand.
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