Jacob Rouser
Dec 6, 2018

Successful SaaS businesses drive growth in two ways – acquiring new customers and maintaining current customers (i.e., having them renew). Renewing customers establish a large part of your annual recurring revenue (ARR), which, for many organizations, is a vital part of the revenue stream that allows companies to forecast and strategize their internal investments.

From the moment you convert a lead to a customer, it is essential to deliver value and ensure that using your product is an enjoyable experience. The best companies establish repeatable procedures that encourage customers to become advocates. This process is called a customer success framework.

Develop Customer Success Frameworks

While the idea of a customer success framework sounds great, it can be difficult to know where to start. According to Salesforce, there are four steps to create an effective customer success framework:

  1. Define the stages in your customer lifecycle (Setup, Launch, Use, Renewal, etc.).
  2. List the actions your customer takes in each stage.
  3. Try to anticipate the customer's expectations in each stage.
  4. Identify the roles, processes, and tools to support customer objectives for each stage.

Not all of your customers are the same. Don’t limit yourself to a single framework if you serve a variety of customer types. Create multiple frameworks for the various customer types and product offerings you provide – this ultimately will provide a better customer experience and increase your chances of your customers renewing.

When creating these frameworks, work with your customers to align what success looks like for both sides. Figure out what your customers’ objectives are, understand who measures the success or failure of these objectives, and validate how your product helps them meet their goals

Build the Relationship with Customer Engagement

Regular communication with your customers is a cornerstone to any customer success framework. Regularly engaging and communicating with your customers builds trust and helps to identify and address problems before they escalate. Customer engagement is broken out into three categories:

  1. Lifecycle — The communication required to get your customer through each stage of the lifecycle. This includes welcoming new customers, onboarding and training, and teaching best practices.
  2. Periodic — Regularly scheduled account reviews and training.
  3. Event-based — Communications about new product releases, meetings for upcoming renewals, and new contacts.

Regular communication strengthens your relationships over time, and your customers’ feedback allows you to gain a deeper understanding of their needs and potential improvements to your product. In an ideal world, you would personally engage with each customer to guide them through the journey. But realistically, there are too many customers and other priorities for this to be possible.

There are 3 engagement model types:

  1. High-touch — Frequent personal engagements throughout the journey. Best for high revenue or strategic customers.
  2. Low-touch — Leverage automated tools to support the customer throughout every stage of the journey. 
  3. Hybrid — A combination of high- and low-touch engagements.

The effectiveness of your onboarding process has a significant impact on how many customers need high-touch engagement in the long run. A quality onboarding process educates customers on how to use your product effectively. Better educated customers require low-touch engagements as they will not need as much training to cover the gaps in learning that a low-quality onboarding process would have.

Many companies transition to a hybrid model as they test and iterate their customer success framework. An example could look like this: starting new customers with 3-5 high-touch onboarding sessions and then transitioning them to a regular low-touch engagement strategy.

It is also important to learn what channels of engagement work best for different customers. Channels such as webinars, email marketing, or one-on-one conversations can all be useful modes of communication, but customers communicate and learn differently.

In a recent Dreamforce presentation, Brandi Rajski (now Senior Director of Portfolio Success Leader) shares how to leverage Salesforce Marketing Cloud to use automation to onboard and engage with customers using the Journey Builder tool.

Measure Success and Get Those Renewals

Being able to measure the effectiveness of your program and engagement with your product is vital to improving. As you build out metrics and reports, you’ll be able to track the likelihood of a customer renewing.

Collecting and refining data should start early. Understand what your key performance metrics are and tie that back to the data you collect -- then make decisions based on what you see over time.

A customer health score is an example of this process. The score can be determined based on any number of interactions (or lack thereof), which provides an at-a-glance look at the direction an account is going. From here, you can create a plan based on these insights to improve both the relationship with the customer and your product.

Don’t wait for your customer’s term to end before starting the renewal conversation. Use Salesforce’s automation tools to provide reminders and reports for customers that are approaching their renewal date. These reports should include critical metrics about the account and what can be improved.

Once you do lock-in a renewal, this is a valuable opportunity to evaluate what you did right — and maybe more important, what you can improve on! Speak with customers about why they renewed and what they feel like should be improved. Salesforce states that renewals are an opportunity to:

  • Identify potential for growth: Are there add-ons or other products your customer needs?
  • Improve payment terms: Is there an arrangement that gives you more stability and makes sense for your customer?
  • Adjust pricing to reflect market rate, product innovation, or recoup discounts.
  • Identify issues with accounts before they become problems.

While having these conversations with customers, try to identify which ones are advocates for your product. These customers are invaluable for building up your brand and getting access to new customers. See if they are willing to leave a review on the AppExchange for you -- some customers are even willing to work with you to craft these messages. And if a customer does leave a comment or a review, follow back up and thank them for their time. The easier the process is for the customer, the more likely it is that they’ll complete the process.

Managing Lost Renewals

Some churn is unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it. Depending on the situation, some former customers may be willing to have a conversation with you on why they left. Take their feedback to heart and learn -- not every person who you sign a deal with is going to be in your ideal customer profile(ICP), and that’s ok.

Knowing which accounts to let go is important. Far too often companies hang onto unsatisfied customers who are either too large or small for the product offering or maybe a customer wants a feature that you’ll never build. Spending time to solve problems that aren’t crucial to those in your ICP can muddy your objectives for future planning and road mapping.

How Salesforce Drives Renewals

One of the benefits of partnering with Salesforce is that they share some of their best practices. We’re sampling one of those pieces to show you how Salesforce manages their renewal process. For existing partners, you can view the presentation in full here.

Collaboration is key

The first piece Salesforce calls out for a successful renewal process is collaboration and teamwork. Throughout the customer journey, your point-of-contact will have interacted with any number of people at your company.

Keeping notes on the Salesforce record allows any person to look through recent interactions and quickly get caught up on the current status of the account. Additionally, Chatter serves as a communication stream between employees to coordinate on the account.

The Proactive Timeline

To get a look at the Salesforce renewal process, they’ve created the Proactive timeline to show the key events that need to happen as a customer approaches renewal.

Image from Salesforce

Automate for scale

As we mentioned previously, having reminders and reports in place to alert you of customers approaching renewal dates is very important; but informing the customers themselves of their approaching renewal date is vital as well.

Salesforce recommends having automated email notifications sent to customers 90, 60, 45 days out from the renewal date. This is a low-touch approach that informs your customers of the upcoming date so that they are not surprised by it, along with gathering information on customer health and risk. Remember to tailor your emails with specific details about the opportunity and track whether or not your customers are opening your emails.

Image from Salesforce

This automation allows for a consistent process on your side, along with a consistent experience on the customers’.

The Automated Global Process

The power of the Salesforce platform is that you keep your information in one place. Here is how Salesforce leverages their platform to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.

Image from Salesforce

Use Metrics to make your program better

Reports and dashboards are native to the Salesforce platform. When cross-sectioning your data, Salesforce recommends looking at renewals that are at 30, 60, and 90 days out and section them based on the information you are looking for some examples could be: Region, AOV, ACV, Auto-Renew (yes or no), Contract end date, Contract start date, Contract type, Account owner, etc.

The Channel Order App is a powerful tool that can serve as a foundational piece to your reporting structure. By pulling the order date and contract term, you can use that data to fuel your workflows and automation for reminders or kicking off a low-touch engagement sequence.

As you spend more time refining your customer engagement program, track your usage and adoption (license usage, login percentages, time of use, etc.) to establish some benchmarks of what is standard for your green accounts. That way you can report and track to see if an account is deviating from the norm and you can proactively connect with your customer to ensure that they are satisfied.


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