Customer Retention is 24K Magic

It is simple: Everyone gets excited when a new customer is signed. There’s a celebration, bells are ringing, and lots of recognition and rewards are handed out. Song’s like the Bruno Mars' “Uptown Funk” or “24k Magic” are blasting in the hallways and everyone feels as though the most popular person in school just asked them to prom.

Been there, done that: How much celebration is there when a long standing customer renews for the 6th straight year? Forget that they haven’t bid out the work in 3 years (no competition=greater margin) and they are already in your system (low cost of support, faster payment = greater cash flow).

It still only generates the excitement of listening to a has-been, one-hit wonder backup band like the frosted haired Vanilla Ice. Yes you’re at a concert, but it’s short and stale.

Now the reality: It costs 3-5 times more to acquire vs. retain a customer. Getting your current customers buying more of your stuff means it’s harder for them to leave you (increased switching cost) and current customers are much less likely to bid out your work (increasing profitability). Shouldn’t you evaluate how your how you are spending your sales and marketing dollars? If that sounds like your firm, don’t fret. Even carpools and Karaoke can be cool (thanks to James Corden). 

Opportunity: Evaluating your sales and marketing mix today re-prioritizing the balance of acquisition to account growth can make a huge difference in top and bottom line results. Now that’s something the entire leadership team will be thrilled to hear about. 

 

Just maybe then you’ll become the most popular person in the company (or at least the leadership team) and the CEO throws you the keys to the company G6, backstage passes, and VIP access to the after-party on the Bruno’s current tour. Now that’ll generate 24K Magic in the air!

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Customer Success: Applying Science to the Art of Customer Engagement

Over ten years ago, our team built a model to describe what we believe is the core of B2B sustainable growth. Called the “Customer Engagement Lifecycle,” it depicts the importance of active, meaningful engagement with your customers and why you cannot realize profitable growth without it.  Market leading companies such as Oracle, AmerisourceBergen and HCL have long understood this principle, and their return to investors shows it.

Others have not been so easily convinced, and I have always scratched my head wondering why stock charts and sales figures have not provided sufficient proof.  Perhaps “end results” metrics such as these do not provide the short term measurements needed to guide the daily, monthly, and quarterly activities that lead to profitable growth.

Enter Customer Success, the professional function which is becoming increasingly critical to companies in the subscription economy.  Unlike Marketing, who historically has been criticized for not applying enough math to its art in order to demonstrate returns, the basic function of Customer Success is measured by a key metric, churn rate.  And since churn can be measured almost daily, it is a number that can galvanize the efforts of an entire organization.

In a recent interview in the Huffington Post, Shreesha Ramdas, CEO of Customer Success Automation platform Strikedeck, explains that Customer Success has quickly become essential for companies to retain and expand their customer accounts, especially those in SaaS and subscription businesses because they feel the pinch of churn much more than other type of business. According to Ramdas, “There is pressure on public companies utilizing a subscription model to report on churn, since venture capital firms give high weightage to churn rates. As such, Customer Success has become equal in importance to Sales, Marketing, Engineering, and Product teams within SaaS companies.

“Today many companies use Customer Success as a competitive differentiator and lever for growth.  The importance of Customer Success can be understood by looking at four statistics:

  1. There are currently more than 200,000 jobs open for CS.
  2. Google search traffic volume for Customer Success has tripled in last five years.
  3. More than $150M in investment has gone into the industry.
  4. There are now more than 500 new meetups, conferences, and events on this topic.

Making Customer Success a priority is no longer an option, but rather an imperative.”

To me, this means customer engagement, which is a key driver to Customer Success, now has a metric to which CXOs must pay attention and invest.  Successful customers are often the ones willing to proactively endorse your company and product to the world.  If you sustain long-term relationships with customers, your business will be able to use that revenue to expand and improve your offerings, resulting in more sales with higher margin.  In one of our previous blog posts, 3 Keys to Retaining and Growing B2B Revenue, we discussed how 80% of most companies’ revenue comes from 20% of their established customers.  By that measurement, losing just 5% of your customer base to churn can potentially sink an organization. The solution for churn is Customer Success, the post-sales retention team who ensures engagement and encourages advocacy.

Given the expansion of the Customer Success field in the past five years, toolsets to help manage its operations (and of course measure and monitor churn) have become extremely prevalent.  Forrester has called Customer Success a Hot New Software Category, and points to the growth of the subscription economy as the catalyst. Vendors such as Amity, Bluenose, Gainsight, Natero, and Ramdas’ Strikedeck all provide software in this space to operationalize the way customer accounts are managed in order to “preserve revenue, expand revenue, and boost customer advocacy.”

Last week, we witnessed first-hand the Strikedeck platform bring together customer engagement and advocacy to define, enable, monitor, and optimize Customer Success.  Impressed by the approach they have taken, we believe that tools like Strikedeck will be required by almost every company, be it a SaaS, Subscription, eCommerce, Service, or even non-software companies.  Simply measuring happiness using customer surveys has become passé.  Strikedeck’s ability to collect data on customer happiness from a variety of sources, including drops in product usage, increases in support ticket volume, and degrading sentiment in customer communications, is amazingly simple, yet innovative.  

What is most powerful about the Strikedeck platform, however, is its ability to provide not only predictions on causes of potential churn in a given organization, but also guidance on actions to prevent it from occurring, such as additional user training, enhancing the skills of support staff, and even how to proactively engage with all levels of the customer base.  Automation is important for scaling customer engagement, but their tools such as workflows and playbooks help standardize best practices and optimize economic value for customers.

Even further, this use of predictive analytics can help organizations proactively retain and grow its current customers by using the toolset to understand what drives their satisfaction.  In his recent article on CMS Wire, Ramdas summarizes the role platforms like Strikedeck play, “The game is no longer a race to acquire new customers, but rather to hone in on retention and upsells.  What can companies do to prevent churn, ensure renewals and drive upsells? The first step is to know which customers are likely to churn, and which ones are likely to renew and/or expand.  This sets the stage for predictive analytics to become the hero.”

For over 15 years, our team has delivered services around customer engagement, from conducting assessments to planning and delivering the initiatives that lead to sustainable, profitable growth.  I am excited to see how the profession of Customer Success management applies the science necessary to give customer engagement the credibility and funding it deserves.  

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Beware of the Invisible 2x4 to the Head

The acceleration of change continues to shift gears, from the speed of sound to that of light. And it’s impacting more than the just the hot topics of today, such as the Internet of Things and Big Data, as well as the hot disruptive organizations leveraging technology, like Uber and Tesla.

Did you ever imagine that transparent wood would become a reality?  Apparently a team of scientists at Sweden’s Wallenberg Wood Science Center sure did, and it’s no longer just the stuff of science fiction.

While, for some reason, I wasn’t moved to digest the full official scientific paper “Optically Transparent Wood from a Nano-porous Cellulosic Template: Combining Functional and Structural Performance,“ simply reading the WSJ summary was enough for me to recognize yet another case of how combinations and convergences of seemingly unrelated scientific advances could upend both longstanding and new markets. For instance, this new wood contains properties that can trap light for extended periods of time which would provide a remarkably light-weight and efficient solar panel, much more so than materials currently used by commercial manufacturers.

What’s more, this “transparent” wood is actually stronger than wood’s natural composition. It could revolutionize all areas of construction, energy, and any other industry which uses or produces wood, including logging, timber, and lumber. So I suppose this new material, a technology I never imagined could be on the drawing board, could even disrupt the metaphor of living in glass houses. Now that’ll give @claychristensen something to think about (the disruption of metaphors).

I’d now like to request the folks at Wallenberg make the Harry Potter invisibility cloak a reality.

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Develop Market and Leadership Team Alignment for 2015

 
The leadership teams of many B2B companies are beset with conflict.  Often, this conflict is based in competing executive opinions about how to best move the company ahead.  These conflicting opinions can blind them to external developments that could have a powerful affect on the company and its markets.  
 
• Rogue ideas 
• Resist change
• “Not-invented-here” mindset 
 
Further, the personal ambitions of leadership team members can stifle alignment and consensus, and limit support for critical initiatives. 
 
There is no better means of overcoming these sources of conflict than executive customers.  
 
When the leadership team of a B2B company works directly with executive customers, it becomes more unified and aligned.  These customers, especially when gathered together into a group, provide an unimpeachable source of information, insight and opinion that acts as a filter – quickly dispatching the conflicting views that can splinter a company’s strategic focus or create barriers to change.  An executive customer collective provides a single point of reference for the entire leadership team—in contrast to the information overload and endless debates, which can paralyze companies when key decisions and faster and bolder moves are most needed.  
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B2B Marketing's Huge Opportunity to Drive Profitable Growth

Marketers often times find it easier to apply the trusted tenets of B2C marketing to B2B selling. Unfortunatley, they then end up with disastrous results because of B2B marketing’s more complex and lengthier buying cycle. While some basic rules apply, B2B marketing is quite different and needs different tactics. It demands marketing involvement for a longer time, and with more specificity.

What else makes B2B marketing different? What should marketers change to get more results from B2B campaigns? How can a B2B marketer connect with customers and leverage innovation to drive business growth?

Join this free webinar sponsored by Regalix for a chance to engage directly with Geehan, as well as other marketing professionals. Don’t miss this insightful discussion on:

  • Unraveling the differences between B2B and B2C
  • Increasing marketing’s credibility with the Leadership team
  • Aligning strategies to market needs
  • Engaging & leveraging your most valuable customers
  • Achieving sustainable, predictable and profitable growth

All registrants will receive an abstract from Sean's National Best Seller, The B2B Executive Playbook.

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Learning to Drive B2B Profitable Growth at Ariba Live

Business strategy books fill bookstore shelves, but none draw attention to the unique ways in which B2B organizations need to strategize and run differently than B2C companies in order to achieve true sustainable, predictable, and profitable growth.

Please join me at Ariba Live In my feature break out session, where I will identify those unique differences and demonstrating how B2B companies need to apply B2B strategies with proven approaches. Everyone attending this session will receive a signed copy of The B2B Executive Playbook.

Don't miss this amazing event where you’ll learn to optimize the connectivity and analytics made possible by business networks and the Cloud, gaining essential insights that empower you to transform business commerce. This event includes informative breakout sessions, dynamic keynotes, and engaging networking opportunities, where you'll learn how to buy better, sell more, and manage cash more efficiently.

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Branding and Positioning in the B2B World

One of the biggest differences between B2B and B2C is branding or positioning your company.  Many extremely successful marketing leaders in B2C have a difficult time making the much needed adjustments to be successful.  In my book, The B2B Executive Playbook, I referred to Michael Jordan’s dominance in basketball and being labeled “World’s Greatest Athlete.”  But, the world’s greatest athlete failed miserably when he tried professional baseball.

He may still be the greatest athlete, but he needed to apply his skills much differently to be successful in baseball.  What he also lacked was experience in baseball.  I’ve witnessed dozens of successful B2C marketing executives who have been met with the same results as Jordan did when they crossed over to B2B marketing. 

Commonly, I run into high-profile executives much like the one I worked with who came over from a major soft drink company.  He is a great individual.  He amassed all kinds of accolades and had great success at his former company as a brand leader of its flagship product. His honors included national advertising and marketing awards as well as several industry awards.  The financials were incredible too…market share gains, profitable growth, etc.  Then he jumped to a B2B and became the CMO in an industry which he had no experience.  The CEO was so excited to land him and even made him over product development as well.  He applied the B2C formula that made him a huge success at his old company.

Well, his new company had about 10,000 customers, but their top 50 customers were 50% and the top 200 were around 75% of the revenue of this $5 billion company.   He didn’t fully understand the impact of this and violated nearly every B2B success principle outlined in the book.  Most of what he did was in the name of branding, (new look, logo, tagline, positioning, etc.).  He committed millions to what made him wildly successful at his B2C Company…updated look and feel of logo, tagline, entertainment/event sponsorship and a broad ad campaign. 

The results were brutal:  sales went down, market share slid, margins tumbled, and because he also oversaw and shifted R&D dollars to marketing, their product started falling behind because they weren’t reinvesting like the competition.  In addition, many of their top customers were leaving them, signing exclusive long-term deals with the competition…never to return.  The only thing that collapsed more than the financial results during his tenure was the company morale. 

That CMO lasted three years. He has been gone for about three years now, and they still haven’t recovered from the damage that the B2C approaches caused to this great B2B Company.  It was like wearing a basketball uniform to a football game.  It was ugly. 

While there is no universal agreement on the definition of brand, the core is simply how the market views your company - your reputation.  It includes aspects like what your firm is known for, where the market believes you have value or have credibility, and your company’s personality and culture.

In the B2C world, the brand position is achieved much differently.  Let’s take the world’s most valuable brand, Coke.  I drink more Diet Cokes than I do anything else.  I have it stocked in my home fridge, in my work fridge and order it every lunch, etc…

The image of the Coke brand, for me as the customer, is contained to the advertising, the package design, others’ perceptions and my experience.  Think about it. Even if the package is damaged, in my head I assume my local grocer dropped it while putting it out on the shelf.  If it tastes bad when I order it at a restaurant, I put it on the restaurant for not have the right mix (syrup and water).  I actually do not know a single person who works for Coke! My touch points and interactions with Coke, as well as all my other brand goods, are similar to this (Crest, Nike, Sony, Tommy Bahama).

All of these B2C companies invest millions into understanding the various personas, segments, demographics, geographical nuances, etc. to determine how to position and manage these brands.  The same is true about all respected B2C CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) brands.

There are two additional elements in the other major B2C category: Retailers.  For  retailers such as Starbucks, Disney, McDonalds, Target and others, the brand is also impacted by the store (look, experience, etc.) and the people (knowledge, culture, interactions, etc.).

In the B2B world, the brand position is also established with all of the above-mentioned brand-building components.  The difference, however, is the priority and weighting these elements are assigned, as well as the impact that a very few customers can have.  And while it’s only one element, that impact can be the difference between Branding Nirvana and losing your job (CMOs have the shortest tenure of all C-level positions and functions). 

Why are the customers more important in branding a B2B?

Because in the B2B world, the people you are selling to are industry veterans and most are also subject matter experts.  Simply put, they are living what you are selling.  They live and breathe in the industry you are supplying.  When GE Aviation sells jet engines to Boeing, the people that are evaluating and making the decision are engineers that have been in the Aviation industry for 15-25 years on average.  When Harris Broadcast sells content distribution solutions to Disney, the people evaluating and making the decisions are have 15-10+ years in the media industry.  The expertise, level of complexity, layers of customer contacts and overall sophistication of the prospect is exponentially different.    

In the B2C world, in a blind taste, 90% of the population can’t tell a $10 bottle of wine from a $100 bottle.  Nor can they tell the difference from free tap water and a $5 bottled water of Fiji.   But a sophisticated and highly emotional marketing and branding program can yield premium dollars for something which the buyer honestly can’t tell the difference. 

In the B2B world, it’s just the opposite.  While they may not know your specific offering, they usually know their industry better than those who supply it and how they will uniquely apply your product, solution or service.  They will scrutinize, compare, benchmark, test, and go to third parties and associations for references and validation. 

Think about the CIO who has worked in the financial services industry for 22 years. If you have IT solutions to serve this market, your company better know his needs, priorities, his environment and requirements…and most of all, you better have peers (fellow CIOs) he can talk to about working with your firm.  If you don’t have this, a well-designed logo, powerful tagline, slick campaign, elaborate brochure or PPT presentation will not overcome the lack of credibility to support a premium position.  Too much is at risk in his world: security of the bank assets, privacy issues, government compliance, the customer experience and the CIO’s reputation and career.   In fact, in a recent meeting, CIOs rated peer input as the #1 credible and trusted source for supplier selection.

In the B2B world, the most effective way to build or reposition a strong credible brand is through your current customers.  It’s how they describe their experience working with your company; it’s what they say you successfully delivered to them (or fell short of).  And the higher level they are, they more impact they will have.

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Is the Revenue Decline at Oracle a Blip or a Sign of Major Industry Shift?

What’s happening at Oracle isn’t isolated.  It is a symptom of what looms largely ahead for the information technology industry.

According to the Wall Street Journal's Don Clark and Steve D. Jones in WSJ's CIO Journal, Oracle blames its sales force for the decrease in sales…WOW!  But, it’s true. Oracle, and the other technology companies who have been kicking everyone else around, have made their bread and butter selling to IT leaders.  These IT leaders are also by definition, "leaders in IT."  As buyers, they understand and can translate the bits and bytes of technology offerings. They make the final purchase decisions and oversee implementation and support.  They also get to be their own judge and jury by defining their own success criteria, which are typically the factors most relevant to IT (uptime, response rates, etc.).

With technology solutions migrating from in-house applications which are purchased and managed by the IT department, to cloud and other delivery platforms outside the data center, purchase and evaluation decisions are being made by the business unit leaders the IT leaders have traditionally supported.  And also by definition, "leaders in business" have a completely different way of analyzing, managing, and buying the services that support their business.  My favorite quote so far which highlights the difference between IT and the new untraditional buyers of technology comes from Michael Hickins, the Editor of The Wall Street Journal's Morning Download, “Indeed, many of them are heads of marketing who used a credit card to pay for cloud based marketing automation or reputation management applications."  According to Nucleus Research Inc. analyst Rebecca Wettemann, "Among that customer set, 'there’s some trepidation' about dealing with Oracle."  Again, WOW!

Change of this magnitude and pace may rewrite the entire IT ecosystem and power structure.  Oracle out, Workday in?  Not yet sure where to place the bets, but the opportunity couldn’t be bigger for those who can translate the facts and figures of technology services into a vision that inspires the hearts, souls, and ROI targets of business (versus IT) buyers.  As such, I will be sure to use my AMEX to pay for our new IT system and make sure I get all my Delta Frequent Flier miles too.

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On-Line CABs Great for Users, Limited for Executives

Recently, a great question surfaced on LinkedIn about CABs: “Has anyone here implemented a successful online CAB group? If yes, how successful has it been?”

I find that online CABs can work well in certain areas, but have limited effectiveness in others.  For instance, with user groups and focus groups where you’re seeking incremental insight, online collaboration can be a great tool for getting input on feature/functionality or refining a product/service. 

On the other hand, if your CAB is more strategic in nature, and your members are the level of Senior Director or above, a face-to-face environment is more appropriate.  When seeking advice on your strategic direction, the conversations progress into deeper discussions – about business challenges and understanding your customers’ priorities, industry trends and sharing of market insights.  Face-to-face engagements build a certain degree of trust and provide a safe environment for sharing and networking, which we find results in a genuine “bonding” of the group.  Members appreciate the professional accomplishments and relish the personal relationships they develop.  Council meetings feel like “reunions” and customer members become advocates. 

Having said this, once these types of relationships and trust are built in a face to face meeting, online meetings can be effective supplement for small working groups between the face-to-face engagements. 

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Should Your B2B Organization Consumerize Marketing Efforts?

I recently read an article over on the Software Advice website that discussed whether or not B2B Organizations should Consumerize their Marketing Efforts.  While there are many practices that are transportable between B2B and B2C, (and some of these marketing tactics should be applied to the B2B world aggressively), the suggestions cited in this article are limited to simple and low price point offerings. For typical complex B2B offerings that require many stages of conversations and levels of signoff, these simply won’t work.

In addition, points and “gamification” may in fact represent a conflict of interest and forbidden by the purchasing organization. This is a strong case for why these two worlds must be approached so differently. All marketing isn’t the same. Some B2B marketing is similar to B2C especially when the user is the decision maker, but it can also be very different.

Business-to-business (B2B) companies are fundamentally different from business-to-consumer (B2C) companies. But far too often B2B leaders try to apply B2C strategies and tactics in their companies with disappointing, even disastrous results. B2B success requires a completely different playbook.

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