Once a big contract has been secured, there’s usually a collective sigh of relief across the sales team and the party starts. Then it’s on to the next sales lead. Customer service, meanwhile, deals with any issues as the contract unfolds, with sales getting involved again only as the renewal date approaches. Well, at least that’s how it used to be, says James Mollard…
Today, it’s increasingly being recognised that the customer journey and sales process don’t end with the purchase. As global competition intensifies, securing a renewal has grown in importance. Marketing and sales teams, once with their sights firmly trained on generating leads and closing out new business, are shifting their focus.
More and more, they are engaging with customers post purchase to stay front of mind by ensuring they are getting the most from their investment and are enjoying the best possible experience. Essentially, oiling the wheels that will drive contract renewal and, ideally, growth. This increasingly familiar phase of the sales cycle has become known as ‘customer success’ – and account-based marketing (ABM) plays a key role.
Driven by SaaS
You could say that this cultural shift started with the rise of software-as-a-service (SaaS), particularly in the technology sector. From demanding huge investment and being business-critical, suddenly technology also became a discretionary spend, involving shorter contracts. Along with the explosion of products onto the market, increasing choice, SaaS organisations were faced with growing customer churn, which they needed to reduce.
Ramping up customer service was not enough to achieve this. Reactively handling problems rather than proactively ensuring they were avoided meant once an issue occurred it was too late. Presented with plenty of alternatives, customers simply jumped to another supplier at the first hurdle.
To address the problem, SaaS businesses combined contract and purchase information with data on how much functionality customers were using, which was fed back directly from the products themselves. This established whether customers were enjoying the maximum benefit from their purchase and getting the most from their investment. Customer Success teams then engaged customers more fully with the product to optimise its business value with the aim of ensuring automatic contract renewal.
The enterprise experience
In contrast to SaaS, the business-critical nature of enterprise technology products means customers have tended to agree longer-term contracts spanning, say, five to 10 years. The enterprise team also play far more of an active role in tailoring their solution to meet the demands of the customer with respect to how it’s structured and implemented. These twin factors have resulted in enterprise vendors lacking the SaaS customer success mindset. Plus, often the scale and complexity of the installation can mean it’s a major challenge to deliver the level of interaction this requires.
However, the enterprise approach is changing. Increasingly intense competition, particularly from new distruptors, is building pressure on finances and resources, heightening the economic benefits of retaining business. Meanwhile, the influence of SaaS is driving the call for greater flexibility from a contract perspective, with increased choice and technical knowledge meaning customers are demanding more in terms of personal engagement, solution insight and ongoing innovation. The result? The growing emergence of enterprise-level customer success activity.
Cracking the code
The size, complexity and evolving nature of enterprise solution portfolios, compared to the more linear SaaS offerings with built-in customer activity capture, makes it a major challenge to assess usage trends at the enterprise level. However, those vendors that have cracked this code are discovering the benefits of mapping the customer experience. These include understanding what success looks like now so they can help customers get there, predicting future needs and staying ahead of trends.
This is where ABM comes into play, because it enables enterprise vendors to tailor customer success strategies to engage with different account segments depending on their value. For example, from a select number of elite high-spenders requiring highly personalised one-to-one engagement, to a larger group of lower-end SME buyers suitable for a one-to-few approach, to a long tail of smaller-scale purchasers reached through an automated one-to-many campaign.
The ABM approach
For the top end must-renew contracts, enterprise senior sales leaders will make contact with these accounts personally. They will work in conjunction with the customer success team to gain insight into what drives each customer’s key stakeholders and their view of the vendor and incumbent solution. Engagement will then be achieved through a targeted individual content and messaging campaign providing relevant knowledge to shift perceptions where necessary and drive renewal.
Mid-range accounts also demand a personalised approach, but using less tailored content. Customer insights can be analysed to identify key needs, challenges and perceptions around which a range of relevant materials, such as playbooks, infographics and case studies, can be created and shared, perhaps via a dedicated online portal. For the lower-value buyer, customer data can be used to identify patterns across the group, around which segments can be created. Relevant, engaging insight targeting each segment can then be sent automatically using an appropriate delivery platform to drive desired behaviours.
Continually connecting with all buyers in this way will strengthen customer relationships overall, not only encouraging contract renewal, but also opening doors to new opportunities. Meanwhile, the ongoing analysis of customer insight will guide product development, ensuring vendors stay relevant. And with SaaS solutions becoming more widespread across the business spectrum and reaching business-critical status, their vendors will also increasingly be using ABM to power their customer success initiatives.
- As global competition intensifies, securing a renewal has grown in importance. More and more, organisations are engaging with customers post purchase to drive this outcome.
- This increasingly familiar phase of the sales cycle has become known as ‘customer success’ – and account-based marketing (ABM) plays a key role, particularly for enterprise-level vendors.
- Intense competition is building pressure on finances and resources of enterprise vendors, heightening the economic benefits of retaining business, driving customer success activity.
- ABM enables enterprise vendors to tailor customer success strategies to engage with different account segments depending on their value.
- For example, from a select number of elite high-spenders requiring highly personalised one-to-one engagement, to a larger group of lower-end SME buyers suitable for a one-to-few approach, to smaller-scale purchasers reached through an automated one-to-many campaign.
- Using ABM to continually connect with all buyers in this way will strengthen customer relationships overall, not only encouraging contract renewal, but also opening doors to new opportunities and guiding product development.
For tips and tools to design a more strategic approach to stakeholder mapping and engagement, please get in touch…