The global COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis have caused B2B businesses to make major adjustments, with more to come. One major trend we see is an amped-up focus on retention — keeping customers and ensuring they achieve value. We’ve been pushing hard on retention as a growth strategy for quite some time. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve said, “You can’t grow what you can’t keep.” Focus on the post-sale customer lifecycle is the core principle on which we base our research, models, frameworks, and best practices.
Every year, our team lays out planning assumptions that customer marketing, customer success, and customer experience leaders and practitioners can take to build and solidify the ongoing customer relationship. We’re having lots of discussions with clients about what next year will look like, and the shift to balancing acquisition with existing customer engagement has never been more front and center.
This shift is wholesale — not just headcount and reporting structure, but the whole way of thinking about the business. We’re seeing the desire to engage, show value, leverage advocacy, and grow from the base permeate throughout organizations — data, process, metrics, KPIs, and resources are all shifting.
Just as demand marketers and sales teams have vastly improved their ability to assess likelihood to purchase during the buying process, their counterparts in post-sale customer engagement have improved the potential to predict churn and growth opportunities within the customer base thanks to technologies such as sales force automation systems, customer success management platforms, and predictive analytics. The increased insights created when these technologies combine with customer data and business intelligence tools — insights such as the ability to flag and act upon accounts in distress and to identify potential for cross-sell opportunities within the account base — also have the potential to empower, and confuse, customer engagement leaders in the early stages of adoption.
Avoid falling into the trap of throwing technology at a problem. More is not always more, especially as it applies to technology. For example, customer success teams not only must consider the time and effort required from their own people to leverage new technology, but also must plan for the substantial integration needs, which might require resources not readily available due to other priorities. Of course, if you’ve been in crawl mode for quite some time and are ready to leverage technology as you move to walk or even run, by all means, buy that new tech!
We are also seeing the evolution of customer marketing into a distinct sub-function as B2B organizations place more value on the post-sale experience. Whether originating as part of the demand team or growing out of customer success needs, customer marketing can play a critical role in identifying and developing customer advocates, deepening engagement with customers to improve and maintain retention, identifying and creating demand within the customer base, and gathering and disseminating the voice of the customer.
One illustration of this evolution is the recent inclusion of engagement programs into the Forrester Campaign Framework. Organizations creating campaign themes should consider how those themes inform engagement programs and how those engagement programs influence renewals, reviews, growth opportunities, survey scores and participation, account health, and a range of other output and impact metrics.
For 2021, customer marketing, customer success, and customer experience functions may not all live in the same reporting structure, but truly customer-obsessed B2B organizations nonetheless incent and encourage these teams and their colleagues in sales, services, support, channel, and product management to align on a unified view of the ideal post-sale customer experience, and work toward consistently delivering that experience. To not only survive this crisis but thrive coming out of it, the best organizations will lean in to understand what drives retention and what prevents it. Incenting the entire organization to support and excel in those activities, programs, and approaches will be the not-so-secret sauce we all need.