The Immediate Importance of Customer Success and Retention

July 30, 2020

Sara Howshar

Jim Benton was joined by Alice Heiman, CEO, and Founder of Alice Heiman LLC, on the last Weekly Briefing of July.

They discussed the immediate importance of customer success and the role leadership - specifically CEOs - have to play in keeping customers supremely happy.

Jim and Alice opened up the show by talking about the lessons learned from Q2.

The big takeaway? From executives to subject matter experts, teams have to rally all the way from the top-down.

“Salespeople have to go through things differently,” Alice said. “They have to up their game and they have to rally their team. Going into Q3 we’re set up a little better to handle what the customers need.”

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Continued Momentum of Sales Teams #

Overall meeting volume of sales teams was up 3% week over week.

Alice found this to be motivating for sales teams. “This is good news for any sales rep who’s worried that no one wants to talk to them.”

“If you’re not having this result,” she added, “switch your mindset. This is good news.”

Power of Customer Success and Retention #

The overall meeting volume for Customer Success teams was up 1% week over week, and it has remained steady over time. Spiking in April, CS has continued to have a higher volume of calls.

“Customer Success has had a very significant role in Q2 and starting Q3,” Jim said.

Alice added that she suspects the heightened activity is due to being more proactive and team-oriented.

“I see teams bring CS much earlier in the process,” she said. “I love it because it’s much more of a team approach. This is a great trend. CS has to be deeply involved with our customers.”

Jim double-clicked on the momentum that CS teams are seen to be experiencing, and was curious about how they have adapted to the new environment.

Alice met his curiosity with vigor and a theory of her own.

“Some of these companies had more business than they knew what to do with so they needed more help from CS than ever before,” she said. “And on the other hand, some of my clients were completely shut down. So with it being all over the board, companies who are doing well and thriving in this environment are really connected with their customer success teams.”

Where CS may have waited to answer the phone, they are armed with more information and they’re able to call the customer with that information.

Customer Success Productivity Means Proactivity #

Looking at the data, the median CS meeting volume is about where it was in January. And it is significantly up since February and March.

“I hope this means what I think it means,” said Alice. “That CSMs are being more proactive. They’re coming up with good reasons to call the customers and have a conversation with them.

Where CS may have waited to answer the phone, they are armed with more information and they’re able to call the customer with that information.”

“As a customer, now I don’t just call you when I need help. I know you're going to reach out to me with insights.”

Customer Success Benchmark Meeting Data #

On average, a Customer Success Manager meets with 4.6 stakeholders in the account - not counting massive calls that could account for trainings or onboardings. They also meet with the champion three times per quarter and another stakeholder twice per quarter.

As Jim said it: “This is phenomenal.”

This is what Alice sees too.

“This is land and expand,” she said, “We’re going to continue to help you, not just at renewal time. The sale may have been closed, but CS can then dig in and continue to meet with people to expand the deal even further.

The trend used to be that CS used to have one liaison, maybe two. So I love that they’re meeting more people and meeting more often.”

Jim agreed. “We spend so much time talking about sales and outreach. And you also have to focus on your customers. You have to know, what is the experience you’re creating? And what we’re finding is that there are very dynamic messages right now.”

Keeping your customers happy is no longer a nice-to-have. “We want to keep the customers we have and keep them happy so that renewal isn’t even a question,” said Alice. “Not only that, what I’m seeing with CS is that if they’re able to get introductions to people they have never talked to and flip it to sales, this helps the sales effort for new logos. The more CS can dig into these relationships, the more opportunity they’ll have to help the sales team.”

Risks In New Deals and Renewals #

Decision and budget risks are up. Budget risk is up 15% in renewal conversations.

“What I see,” said Alice, “is that the main decision is no decision, and that’s killing us. Why? Because of the budget. So they have to make a decision here. When they’re making a decision to purchase they’re being really careful with their money. Even the companies doing well, they’re using their budgets sparingly.

We have to help them see the value in making a decision to ask versus making no-decision. As a team, we have to help them understand the decision they’re making, that it is the right decision, and help them make the decision and move forward.”

The Added Support of CEOs and Leadership #

Buying side leadership is joining at an unprecedented 108% higher than they were in January.

“But what’s really interesting,” said Jim, “Is that the selling side is on a downward slope.”

There are a number of reasons this could be happening, but Jim was keen on exploring how to get selling side leadership more energized and engaged in the process.

In terms of the buying side’s engagement, Alice wasn’t surprised that they’re more involved than ever. “Even though it may have already been budgeted,” said Alice, “they’re going to poke around and question it. We have to help our sellers understand what these people are thinking on the buying side so that we can help map the decision-making process.”

There’s likely some fatigue as well. “There are not that many senior salespeople to go around,” said Alice.

Alice advised selling side leaders to stay focused: “It’s your job to get in there and bring insights to light and help your salespeople feel confident.”

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In your weekly plan as a CEO, please carve out some time to think about your top customers.

Buying Side CFOs Continue to Join Calls #

As Jim said: “There’s a new sheriff in town.”

Alice had one piece of advice for sales leaders:

“CFOs listen to me,” she said. “Teach your sales teams to think like a CFO. What do they think about, why do they care, why are they on this call. In some cases, sometimes, it may take a senior person who speaks this language to help them understand.”

CEOs Are Getting More Involved in Sales Calls #

In brand new data, Chorus reported that 29% more sales calls included a CEO in June than in January.

Alice was thrilled.

“I’m really happy to see this. Now is the time for CEOs to get really involved in sales. The CEOs aren’t supposed to close the deals, but they are there to help provide confidence. It shows that your company cares. Your CEO can bring in insights that no one else really can. If you do this strategically you can make a huge impact, and your sales will increase.”

But she did have a word of caution for eager sales teams ready to put holds on their CEOs calendars: “You have to use your CEOs well, or else you will fatigue them.”

Jim has been focused on daily, weekly, and monthly planning. “What advice do you have for CEOs,” he asked Alice.

Alice delivered.

“In your weekly plan as a CEO, please carve out some time to think about your top customers. Think about how you can help support your team to keep your customers supremely happy. Strategically think about how, as the CEO, you should interact with your customers.”

Jim agreed that customer interaction is a top priority and that it’s a bright spot in his week. “The ‘aha moments’ come from the customer. It’s the highlight of my week.”

Proper strategic planning on the CEO’s part can energize the entire engine.

“The sales team needs your help,” Alice added. “They need you to think about pricing, payment plans, and products. Think about what they need and how you can be helpful. Let them know you’re willing to do it, but it has to be strategic. This can only be done if you’re planning. You have to model better planning right now.”

Outlook on Q3 #

When asked what her outlook is on how Q3 will end, Alice balances her optimism with realism.

“The optimist in me says things are going to be so much better,” she said, “But if I really think about it, what I want all company leaders to know is that it’s going to be more work. There’s going to be a lot of pressure. But I do see things changing and for the better.”

She added that people are talking and they want to buy. They’re looking to the future.

“There’s a lot of interesting signals right now,” said Jim “We’re looking at ways to solve problems. And we’re looking for bright spots, we’ve got to have fun doing what we all do.”

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