Q&A: The New Next Normal: Maturing Your Customer Engagement Approach to Meet Modern Needs
Your business success and your customers’ success are inextricably linked. Customers won’t succeed if they don’t embrace your product. You can’t grow if the customer doesn’t achieve their objectives, provide feedback, and validate your value by advocating their results as social proof.
Yet, despite this new mutual-success dependency, many businesses still rely on traditional customer engagement approaches.
That’s why we invited Jason Whitehead, CEO of Tri Tuns to join us for a webinar to introduce the “Success Chain Management” model. Whitehead shows us how to use this modern framework to:
- Engage your customers with confidence and get them to take actions that drive growth
- Improve and mature your Customer Success program to maximize mutual success
- Grow revenues through requests for expansions, feedback, references, and social proof by applying Success Chain concepts
If you missed the webinar, you can watch it on demand.
Q: If a customer requests to not be referenced by your company during the sales process, how do you convince them otherwise?
A: I’ve seen that come up quite a few times. Sometimes, they have strategic reasons for doing that. Other times, I’ve seen it as more of a finance and negotiation ploy. I would make it a negotiation piece and just say “Look, we’re committed to mutual success. This is very important for us to get the value that we need from this. Let’s talk about how we can make it successful for both of us.” You can even ask what their concern is behind wanting to keep this private. Is there something that we need to understand here? They may have legitimate reasons for doing that.
Many of the contracts I’ve seen cite that vendors cannot reference a customer without their mutual previous written approval. Go and ask for the approval. Let them know “We’re OK with you not referencing us right now. But at QBRs and renewal, that’s where we’re going to come back and say that we’ve delivered great value for you and we need you to help us with that as well.”
Some customers just won’t do it and that is OK. But setting that expectation upfront that you’re going to come and ask for references, testimonials, and social proof, and it’s in their best interest to do so because it helps you grow to better serve them. That makes it a little bit easier.
Q: Should you ask questions to assess a customer’s capacity during the sales cycle or onboarding?
A: Both. There are a couple different ways that you can handle it. If the salesperson asks some of those questions during the sales cycle, it’s a nice opportunity for them to get a sense of “OK, you have some challenges here getting value. Let us tell you how our Customer Success team is going to work with you during the onboarding process and beyond to make you successful.” Use that as a differentiator for the power of your Customer Success team to help you win and close sales.
Highlight the challenges they will have and say “Look, these are typical issues that will impact any vendor that you might go with. So, if you go with one of our competitors, you’re still going to have to address these issues. The question becomes if your vendor will help you do it in a way that’s better than we can. And chances are, no. Here are the things that our Customer Success team does to make you successful, to work with you, to overcome these challenges. It’s a tremendous value and asset and this approach gets us there faster.”
It also allows them to get a sense of how much effort is going to be required to really make this customer successful and service them. It’s also important to recognize that some sales folks may not adequately explain that. But then also once the sale is completed, the internal people on the customer side who are responsible for getting the system live and adoption done, are probably different people than those who made the buying decision and they need to have these discussions as well.
So, you will need to repeat the questions with the other stakeholders. If it wasn’t covered during sales, you definitely need to do it as early as possible in the onboarding process.
And even if it was done during sales, if you have different people involved, you’ll need to repeat those conversations. Use it to really highlight the idea that to be successful, you need to drive adoption and here’s how you’re going to help get them there. What have you done before? Do you recognize you have a problem?
As you’re asking these questions, your customers should start to feel a bit uncomfortable. They should start to get a little bit scared. Use that to help drive them to take the actions you need them to take. Use that to help them realize that they need to build their capacity to drive change and adoption. I use that to say “Here’s why we need to meet frequently and why I’m asking you to do the activities that I’ve asked you to do. Because if you don’t do these, history has shown that you will not achieve success.”
Q: Should Customer Success Managers or Customer Success leadership ask the questions discussed above?
A: Someone higher up can ask the questions as well, but it’s very helpful if the CSM asks. And part of the reason I say that is when we’re training CS teams and helping build their confidence capacity, we set them up so that the customer perceives the CSM as an expert in helping them get business value from the product.
We don’t want to have them be perceived as a technical resource. We don’t want them to be perceived as an admin resource. We want to establish them as a business consultant for the customer. If you’re the one asking those questions and you can competently and intelligently have those conversations with your customer, it goes a long way with the customer valuing what you bring and you as a resource.
Q: How do you change the mindset of a customer who doesn’t see value in building a strategic partnership, particularly with low-touch customers?
A: Not every customer is going to want to have a strategic relationship, and there’s just no way around that. Highlight the value they get by working with you differently than they have in the past, or from working with you differently than they have with other vendors in the past. Show them how they’ll benefit more if they do this and show them the risks if they don’t. One of the questions that I’ll often ask people is when they would like to fail.
Do you want to fail right upfront because you haven’t done the things that you need to do to achieve success? You waste a lot of time, effort, and money trying to get there. Or do you want to do the right things and have tremendous success? It’s really up to you.
And some people don’t have the time or they have bigger priorities and they’re just using your tool for very small things, and that’s OK. Recognize that as best you can. But for the rest, the idea comes back in to build the capacity.
Similarly, when you’re trying to engage someone in the Success Chain concept and build their capacity to drive change and adoption, an important selling point is that it’s a transferable skill set and knowledge base they can use in future jobs and across any future application they might acquire.
The skills and techniques you use to drive adoption and change of one software can help you increase success with their other software. If you help build their capacity so they can apply it to the rest of the organization, that’s a tremendous value for them. If you can do that more than any other vendor that’s out there, they should have a very special relationship and view towards the value that you bring.
Q: How do you motivate a client who is not proactive about the adoption of your product?
A: It depends on what you mean by the client and the individual. During the sales process, set the executives’ expectations that “OK, we want to have a long-term relationship with you and to make sure you get as much value as you can. That’s why you’re even talking to us right now. Let’s talk about what it takes to get there.” Then, highlight for them that adoption is a critical path to their success. If they don’t take the actions necessary, they’re not going to achieve the full value they can with your product and they probably won’t solve the underlying business problem that made them buy your product in the first place.
Show them that even taking small steps will give them a bump in success and value. Start small. Let them see increased value that they wouldn’t otherwise see, and then come back after they’ve seen some success and talk about how you’ll get them even more at that point. Asking them to commit to more of the things that they need to do is a great way to go. It’s not always easy to motivate them but look at how the organization gets motivated as well as the individuals. Most organizations usually have a major problem where they haven’t aligned incentives and rewards with the use of the technology.
If there’s some sort of conflict there, people will not work against their own self-interests for long. Highlight to your customer as part of their adoption effort that they need to figure out why people are not motivated and what they can change internally to get their teams, managers, and end users to use the system.
Q: How regularly should you ask for customer feedback to make the Success Chain model work? Should you use casual inquiries or more formal surveys?
A: It’s all the above. I encourage people to get some version of feedback, even if it’s small, in every single interaction. But it’s your duty to formalize it. Business reviews are a great point to get feedback and ideas. What’s working? What’s not? Where have we gone? You can also share feedback with them.
As part of renewal discussions, you should get serious feedback from discussions around how your customers’ business has evolved and grown in addition to what product changes are needed to meet their needs. Set the expectation that you want to make sure that two years from now, they still have great success and talk about what that looks likes to them so you can help them get there.
You’ll pick up some nuggets and gems through casual conversation but put it in a business review or as part of renewal discussion to see where it needs to go. There are times you may say “Hey, this is also that reference time. What can we do to get a video testimonial from you? What can we do to get a quote for the website? What else can we do to have you help us build this?” Those are other efforts you should pursue with them, especially when they are at the height of being satisfied and getting full value with your product or service.
Q: How do you save a customer from a cancellation notice?
A: If you were surprised that this was coming, that’s very telling. There shouldn’t be any surprises. You should have a sense of when your customers are not getting value or likely to be a churn risk. There may very well be nothing that you can do for those, but you can contact them to figure out why they are canceling. Where did they stop getting value? Was it a change in their organization?
For example, sometimes if a customer just went through an acquisition and the company that was acquired brought in a different tool that made your toolset redundant, you’re not going to save that customer.
By focusing on mutual success all the way through, you should have ongoing discussions with customers about whether they are getting the value they need. It’s uncomfortable for a lot of folks at first, but set the expectation that at the end of every single client interaction – whether it’s a meeting, phone call, support ticket, or QBR – you ask a very simple question: If you had to renew today, would you? Have you gotten enough value over your entire relationship with our organization? It’s a very simple yes or no.
Most of the time, people say “We’re kind of disappointed in this. It took longer to fix that. We wish this was on your roadmap, and it’s not. But yes, overall, we would still renew.” That’s a good indication. If they say probably not, then you need to figure out what you can do to save them.
But by simply having them tell you that upfront, it should remove any of the surprise around a cancelation and then hopefully you still have time to rectify that situation.
Q: If your customer delegates software management to its junior staff and your main point of contact is less experienced, how can you help drive team adoption?
A: During the sales and onboarding process, it’s key to discuss the need for adoption and change management with the individual who is making the buying decision and who has the authority. You need to get the executives to understand they have a role in driving that in their organization. Point out to them that if the executive doesn’t take the appropriate actions, they will never be successful.
The reality is that many times executives need to delegate the day-to-day work to more junior people or to people who can focus on this task. So, build that individual’s capacity to understand what needs to happen and to build relationships internally with other managers and supervisors, so they can create a coalition to support you.
But sometimes that junior person is a blocker. And if that is the case, make sure that as part of the initial sales and onboarding relationship, when you have the ear of the executive, even if it’s for a minute, you set expectations that you will conduct status reporting or some sort of business review that will require their attention. Whether that consists of you sending them a report once or twice a quarter, or you meet with them every six months, or whatever it may be.
But they should also know that you will use them as an escalation point, so that if the person who they’ve delegated to prevents things from working, or doesn’t take the necessary steps, you have a way to highlight this to the executive and to do so in a timeframe that allows the executive to take corrective action. Because the executive is making a big investment here, and the executive is putting a little bit of their reputation on the line. You want to make sure that you have that second channel there to work closer with the executive as needed.
Q: If a customer’s champion leaves and creates a gap in product knowledge, how do you reengage the customer to demonstrate product value?
A: As part of a mutual success discussion with your customer, you should cover how to handle the transition of staff members (yours and theirs). If the champion leaves, what is their commitment to helping you continue to make that relationship successful? Will they provide a backup contact in case they are not available or leave? Will they do an introduction and a warm hand over to the individual who is responsible after they leave? What does that need to look like? Setting the upfront expectation that this is bigger than any one relationship is important.
If someone has left and you’re not in a situation to set up a new relationship the right way, you need to determine which of your customer contacts is the most supportive and influential in their organization. Or if that’s not the case, who will get on the phone with you? Who will have a conversation with you so you can explain to them “I’m trying to find the right people to do this. You’ve been a loyal customer. I want to figure out how we can continue to make you successful and us successful as well. We have a lot of resources to bring, but we don’t have the right people to talk to in your organization. Who can you connect me with that would be interested in this?”
If possible, then it becomes finding who makes the budget decision around the renewal. How can you get in touch with that person, so they become confident they’re spending money on something that’s adding a lot of value to their organization?
During the onboarding process, how do you ensure you always have additional contacts? How do you set the expectation for handling staff transitions? How do you track that information and keep everyone in the loop so that the perceived value you bring is ubiquitous in your customers’ organization?
To learn more about how to use the Success Chain Model to align customer expectations and goals for mutual success, watch the webinar on-demand.
Customer Success Around the Web
- Who Owns SaaS Customer Expansion and Renewal? – Determining if Sales or Customer Success should own customer expansion and renewals is the age-old SaaS question.
- The Ultimate Guide to Growing and Keeping Your Customer Base– Use this guide to learn how you can build and retain your current customer base.
- The Importance of Sharing Customer Data– See how to avoid being data hoarder.
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