Welcome to our blog series CSM from the Trenches, a community for frontline Customer Success Managers (CSMs) that discusses trends, best practices, and advice for the frontline.
Being on the CSM frontline allows us to directly influence the success of our clients. I love that; as our clients are successful, we’re successful. Each day we learn from the trenches what it takes to make clients happy and successful.
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Get in, sit down, and hold on because we are about to embark on a journey back to a very awkward time in my CSM life. When it came to predicting account behavior and getting renewals, I thought I had a fail-proof strategy. Spoiler alert, I didn’t, it was a horrible strategy, and it failed.
My Success-proof Strategy
My strategy at the time was to make sure I had a good relationship with all of my customers, make sure I was able to answer all of their questions, and respond to all unread emails as quickly as I could get to them. It seems like a pretty reasonable strategy for predicting account behavior right?
I learned that my fail-proof strategy was actually a success-proof strategy right around the time I came to my first big quarter full of renewals. I started the quarter off excited and confident because I had worked hard with my accounts and couldn’t wait to see all of my renewals begin to roll in. I presented my director with my quarterly forecast and explained to him with confidence which accounts we could count on renewing and which accounts would definitely be churning. Long story short, renewal time came around and it was nothing short of abysmal. Customers who I thought were “solid” were churning, and customers who probably hadn’t touched our platform since they had been on-boarded were randomly renewing. All I could do was watch the chaos unfold while trying to hide my discomfiture as I attempted to explain to my director how I went from being so sure of myself to so inaccurate.
Although I hope I never experience another embarrassment like that again, I am actually very grateful it happened. I am grateful because this experience woke me up and made me realize I was working as if I were a glorified customer service representative rather than a strategic trusted advisor. In order to get out of this rut I needed a strategy and I needed a way to better predict the behavior of my accounts based on hard data and not customer sentiment alone. I am sharing this experience and strategy with you today because I am hoping that someone somewhere can benefit from this strategy or at the very least this strategy will spark an idea that will lead to an even bigger and better strategy for predicting account behavior for all of us.
I took my entire book of business and put every single account I had on a whiteboard. I then created the following tiers for each account based on their activity:
- Tier 1 – Loud Accounts: These are accounts who constantly want to have calls in between our already scheduled recurring calls, or constantly blow my inbox up with questions, concerns, feature requests and everything else they think they need.
- Tier 2 – Active Accounts: These are accounts who I also have recurring calls set with, but very rarely reach out unless something is broken, or they have a fire. These accounts are also very good at communicating back if I ever need to engage with them.
- Tier 3 – Lazarus Accounts: These are accounts that literally could have gone out of business right after they signed the contract. They never ever reach out, they never, ever reply, and phones always go to voicemail. These accounts by default get thrown on the back burner, are transitioned constantly, and are forgotten about because they made themselves a non-priority from the get-go.
Now that my accounts had all been accounted for and placed in their respective tiers, I needed to better understand how to more strategically delegate my time and energy to the right accounts. I knew if I were able to somehow identify these accounts and execute this strategy successfully, my renewal rate would skyrocket and I would be much more equipped for building relationships that last.
Tier 1 – Loud Accounts: Because this tier was loud I realized they had been receiving the majority of my time and efforts. This tier enabled me to act as a reactive CSM because I spent all of my time jumping on one-off calls, answering their emails as quickly as I could, and submitting continuous feature requests for them. These accounts were often loud because they were not a good fit for our product which is why they constantly had questions, needed their hands held, and requested new features in order to force the product to fit their needs. I found that these accounts would most likely churn regardless of how much help I provided, or how great my relationship was with them because the ROI and product fit just weren’t there. No company will ever renew because the product isn’t great but their relationship with their CSM is really fun.
Tier 2 – Active Accounts: This tier got the remainder of my time and only because we most likely had a recurring call so I was obligated to take time away from my loud accounts and join our scheduled meeting. These calls were usually always very smooth, easy-going, and full of collaboration. These were the cream of the crop accounts who actually deserved the time I had been spending with my loud accounts. These accounts were getting a solid ROI from our product and great partners for the company.
Tier 3 – Lazarus Accounts: This tier got none of my time or attention because I had no more time or attention left to give after I was done working with the first two tiers. I also completely forgot that some of the accounts in this tier were even assigned to me since they were so low on the totem pole of priority due to their lack of communication. I knew I couldn’t just continue to ignore these accounts since they were ignoring me. They purchased the product for a reason so obviously there had to be a fit somewhere. To prevent these accounts from slipping through the cracks, I created a way to track when it was time for me to reach out. I set my threshold at 30 days so they got at least one valued touch a month from me. Notice that I used the term “valued touch” and not just touch. This means I wasn’t sending the email that said, “Hey, it’s been a while, I hope all is well. Let me know if you need anything.” These customers needed engagements that provided them with company and industry news, information on why adopting this or that feature would better help them scale their business, or details on new features and how to successfully use them.
After breaking down why my old approach wasn’t working, and implementing my new strategy, it is very clear to me now why my initial forecast to my director went so horribly wrong. I realized I was defining my healthy accounts by how often we communicated and how strong I thought our relationship was. Although communication and good relationships are essential, we should be defining our healthy accounts by the ROI they are getting from our product.
Each time we speak with a customer we should be asking ourselves this question when the call ends, “If their renewal were tomorrow would this account renew based on the ROI they are getting from our product today?” If the answer is no, then we need to give ourselves enough time to figure out ways to provide more value to this customer. Make sure you are spending your time working for renewals with the right accounts and not wasting your time putting on band-aids for loud accounts.
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