In reviewing the CEB Sales & Marketing Summit information — a summarized look at some of their important research findings from the past year — I was dumbfounded by the most common-sense accurate survey graphic I’ve seen a quite a while:
For anyone (like myself at CIENCE) managing a Customer Success Department, Account Management function, or Sales Team tasked with customer Expansion via upsells and cross-sells -- this graphic should smack you in the face, too.
What it says in the first column is that your Product or Service doing the job it was hired for shows zero correlation to account growth.
This may be dismaying to product and engineering teams, but it’s simply true.
Same, too, for aggressive sales tactics. It turns out that existing customers want to grow at their own pace and time, and not necessarily that of their sales rep. Even strategies like discounting and leveraging relationships won’t necessarily work here.
More encouragingly, confidence in the customer success team, represented in the third column, is positively correlated with growth. Customer Success can earn new business as team members become better at their jobs and develop deeper relationships with customers.
Yet, this likelihood is relatively small, and may even be disproportionate to the level of effort required to build confidence in the first place.
Let me be clear -- customer success management matters. Competent customer success managers who instill confidence will naturally see customer expansion. It will just pale in comparison to the one influencing factor that really matters most.
So, the opportunity for almost 50% growth comes primarily from customer improvement, represented in the fourth column.
Statistically, customer improvement represents a 4X greater likelihood of customer expansion than other aspects of your company’s actions.
Anyone spending time, money, and effort on customer expansion initiatives focused solely on the product, sales, or even customer teams’ tactics is wasting time and money.
What is customer improvement?
Customer improvement is the process of helping customers better and more effectively implement a company’s product or service in order to achieve more optimal results. And the adage that “customers buy better versions of themselves” couldn’t be truer in the case of customer expansion.
When a customer can truthfully say they’ve improved because of your product or service, they are likely to expand with more purchases. A key gauge of whether you have this monitored in your own organization is whether or not this is even part of your internal customer discourse -- let alone having KPIs to measure customer improvement.
How to Achieve Customer Improvement
The real question then becomes -- How can we as Marketing, Sales, and Service Organizations become better at engendering customer improvement.
As with any narrative, we must understand terms first. What does it mean for your customers to improve?
1. Ask for your customers’ feedback.
Customer improvement is probably best done in the initial sales cycle itself. If not, new customer onboarding may help with this too -- better late than never. Trying to ask this question well into the customer journey is usually too late, as any opportunities for customer improvement might already be lost to customer frustration.
And these opportunities for customer improvement may not be noticed unless you’re regularly soliciting customer feedback to identify those pain points that can cause your customers to churn.
As you read this, think about your own organization, and the common reasons customers stop buying from you.
- Issue tickets
- Response rates
- Resolution rates
- Cohort churn
- Cost per customer interaction
If there are metrics where you’re falling short, send out a customer survey to get feedback on how you could improve those moments in the customer journey.
2. Determine the right KPIs.
Problem tickets can be resolved, tracked, and scored. Response times can be measured, decreased, and even built into service-level agreements.
So, what would the equivalent customer improvement tracking and reporting even look like?
Honestly, there is a natural conundrum around which customers see improvements and their relative decision-making power in customer expansion.
It’s worth thinking through how to tackle customer improvement in some scalable, repeatable way. Startups are familiar with this line of thinking -- first, solve for any one individual customer before worry about scaling. Then, once you’ve solved for product/market fit, you can worry about tackling the problem effectively at scale.
I’d suggest starting with the customer success team.
You might begin a discussion on this topic by asking what customer improvement might look like to them. These improvements may be best grouped into tangible personal, personnel, or business outcomes. I’d also ask team members if there are other improvements they’d thought about but hadn’t had occasion to share with anyone. Use these insights from the front lines, along with customer feedback, to determine how to measure your team’s customer improvement initiatives
3. Measure changes on a regular basis.
Customer improvement can take all kinds of shapes and sizes, so make sure you’re measuring your customers’ journeys, from their start date, to see how their feedback, ratings, and experiences evolve over time.
If we assume that customers will always trust their own opinions on what is valuable, over and above what a company asserts, then we have a strong case for eliciting value directly from them.
Building relationships around customer improvement can bring more opportunities for customer expansion to the table, such as:
- Bringing a critical, fresh perspective to the current business
- Laying out or capturing a vision for improvement
- Shaping perspective on their own business
- Capturing meaningful ROI metrics
These are the areas customers care most about.
So the next step, then, would be to continue periodic surveys of your customer base. Even a “check-in” to see where the customer was in relation to the start of their journey with your company, and what improvements may have been achieved on those personal, personnel, or business outcomes levels, will offer a wealth of information.
These answers could literally be your sign-post to account expansion. Armed with first-hand data from customers about their own improvement would foster easy sales conversations and upsells and cross-sells.
The truth is, if you’re at all concerned with customer expansion by generating more revenue from the customers you’ve already won, there may not be a better use of strategic resources than focusing on customer improvement to help them get as much value as possible from what you’re offering.
To learn more, read about how to upsell next.