Sixteen Ventures has driven growth across the entire customer lifecycle for more than 500 companies around the world directly, and thousands through speaking and publishing. Know more about Marketing, Customer Acquisition, & Churn Reduction Consulting for SaaS providers.
Customer Success starts with acquiring customers that have Success Potential.
Customers that have Success Potential are said to be good fit customers. This is the opposite of bad-fit customers that cannot get value from a relationship with us now or in the near future.
If you knowingly allow bad-fit customers to be acquired, nothing else you do in Customer Success will have the result you’re hoping for as those customers – no matter what you do – will never achieve their Desired Outcome.
To help you better understand and implement the concept of Success Potential in your business, here are some resources I’ve published on the subject.
Overview of Success Potential
This video is just under 6-mins, but could completely change your business.
Overview of Success Potential - YouTube
Deep-dive on Success Potential
This article on Success Potential has evolved over the last few years and is the most comprehensive resource on this subject anywhere.
How to get Sales to Stop Closing Bad-Fit Customers
How can you expect Sales to not close Bad-fit Customers in a repeatable, sustainable way if you’ve never communicated to them what a Bad-fit Customer looks like? This video tackles this very common, yet avoidable, problem.
How to get Sales to Stop closing Bad-fit Customers - YouTube
Salespeople: Work Less and Make More Money by Focusing on Good-fit Prospects
I made a video for salespeople and leaders that says WHY working with Bad-fit Customers is making them work harder for less money. Watch it and tag your sales team so they see it:
Salespeople: Work Less and Make More Money by Focusing on Good-fit Prospects - YouTube
Getting your customers to buy more from you is awesome.
Remember, you’re in business here and getting customers you’ve already spent money to acquire and serve to then expand their relationship with you – giving you more revenue – just seems like a super-efficient way to grow.
And it is.
But if you think for one minute you’re going to build a sustainable growth engine off the backs of unsuccessful customers, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Stop trying to upsell unsuccessful customers.
Unsuccessful customers don’t need – or want – to buy more of your stuff.
Obviously, right? Maybe… let’s explore this together.
Trying to upsell unsuccessful customers can have a lot of results, but none will involve you actually making the sale (without excessive concessions, undue pressure, and other things that don’t actually help the situation long-term).
Rather, by trying to sell more stuff to an unsuccessful customer, you’ll see results that range from simply pissing off the customer since you clearly don’t care about them, to causing them to ignore you in the future because you just don’t get it, or even causing them to churn or not renew because you’re so out of touch with reality.
No matter how you slice it, it’s a pretty big negative impact that’s 100% avoidable.
All that negativity and you didn’t even get the upsell. Nice work!
So take the customers that are not successful out of the contact list for Expansion (until they’re successful again); you weren’t gonna get the sale anyway, and now the damage will be avoided.
Now, if a customer is unsuccessful and you know it, don’t try to upsell them. Cool. Got it.
But that doesn’t mean you should simply ignore them!
Now you need to intervene to get them back on the path toward success.
Remember, expansion is simply part of the customer’s journey toward success. The longer they stay, the more they evolve and grow, the more their relationship with you will grow and expand, too.
I mean, you’re in business here and getting customers you’ve already acquired to expand their relationship with you just seems like a super-efficient way to grow.
And it is.
So when you have customers that don’t expand their relationship with you, it’s obvious that this is less-than-ideal revenue-wise.
But it’s more than that.
So much more than that.
Let’s dig in, shall we?
First, you must understand that expansion is part of the customer’s journey toward success.
Think about this… what do you sell customers on initially?
It’s most likely “do business with us, and you’ll become a better version of yourself.” We’ve all seen the Mario==>Super Mario meme.
So your customers come in assuming, since they bought your product or service, that they’re going to make that transformation.
But… most companies drop the ball right there. They don’t follow-through on that promise to make the customer a better version of themselves.
So the company ends up with high churn and within the customers that stay, very little to zero growth.
Often there’s contraction!
But if you actually follow-through on the promise made during the initial sales process, at some point down the road, your customer changes. They evolve. They grow. The customer’s Desired Outcome changes.
This is by design (or should be!).
That means you need to evolve and grow your relationship with them to meet this new Desired Outcome.
In order to meet their new goals, they will likely need to consume more of your offering: add-ons, additional capacity, services, other products, bring in users from other parts of their company, etc.
This isn’t really an “upsell” in the traditional sense as much as it is simply giving them what they need to continue their journey toward success.
If customers aren’t buying more, it is a sign they aren’t truly successful.
This means 100% retention at the same level isn’t actually something to celebrate. Sorry.
If you want to grow fast, don’t do what most companies do!
When most companies want to eke out some quick incremental growth, they’ll often have their sales people turn to their existing customer base to make some sales.
After all, you have a captive audience that you can sell to with little to no real effort, right?
Yeah… and you’ll get little to no real results, too.
Look, your existing customer base IS incredibly valuable… assuming you leverage that asset the right way.
Most companies handle Account Expansion poorly and therefore experience very poor results.
If you don’t want to be like most companies and to actually grow fast, leaving incremental growth for the other guys, and doing so in a customer-centric (and therefore sustainable!) way, continue reading.
This post could change your business. Seriously.
Want to grow fast? Have one team dedicated to bringing in net new Good-fit customers and a different, separate team dedicated to growing the relationship with those successful customers.
Now you have a two-pronged growth engine.
This customer growth team could be your CSMs (Customer Success Managers), CSMs + AMs (Account Managers) for more complex situations, or for really complex situations it could be CSMs + ADRs (Account Dev Reps) + AMs.
If you don’t have sales or success teams and everything is self-service, cool… just think of new customer acquisition as something different from customer growth and operationalize, design, and develop each in their own appropriate way.
Anyway, if you have your “new business” salespeople also handle upsells in addition to bringing in new logos you can watch your business grow… slower than you’d like.
If you only have one team doing both new business and expansion sales, at best it divides their focus, resulting in slower growth.
But if that ONLY cut the time dedicated to both of those functions in half, while it would slow growth considerably (kinda the opposite of what we’re trying to do here), no further damage would be done and it wouldn’t be so bad.
That’s just not reality, though.
You see, one of the main reasons having “new business” salespeople handle expansion is bad is that it breeds laziness and teaches customers to ignore you.
Instead of having to go out and prospect (that’s hard, you know), the salesperson can just turn to existing customers to hit their numbers, which is much easier. The problem, of course, is that they treat them as if they’re prospects, not existing customers we already have an ongoing and oftentimes complex relationship with.
I’m sure some amazing, rockstar AEs that do both new logo and expansion sales can code switch from cold prospects to existing customers and do no harm, but the reality is most people can’t. Or won’t.
So you’ll end up with an existing customer being hit with overly-aggressive sales tactics, for offers that don’t resonate, all while not considering whether the customer is successful or not.
And in far too many cases, the original AE isn’t the one that totally “owns” the customer, so other teams will probably be trying to sell them stuff, too.
Now they’re over-communicated with in a negative way and just start to ignore all comms from you – not just sales and marketing, but those intended to help them move toward their goal – while cultivating hatred for your company in the process.
Is this all the fault of the Salesperson? No. I mean, yes, they should know better as professionals (or even just grown adult humans), but most of the time it’s a leadership issue.
Someone put a process in place that almost ensured your valuable customers would be treated in a very negative way in an effort to get more money from them.
So yeah, leadership is to blame. Pow!
If you want to grow FAST, focus one team on going after good-fit, net new customers, and have another team dedicated to growing the relationship with those successful customers.
I always say, “If you want to stay a small company, have the original AE also handle Upsells” and it’s almost always met with frustration and push back. From sales.
Why? For starters, it’s “easier” for the AE to tap into existing customers to hit their numbers like I said above. But it’s more than that.
The way AEs are measured, managed, and compensated would be negatively impacted (and might actually be short-term; take this into consideration because it’s real) by the changes I’m talking about here.
That doesn’t make what I’m saying less valid, it just means the knee-jerk reaction is to push back on it. Some leaders frankly don’t want to deal with that pushback even though they know it’s not what’s best for the business as a whole.
Those aren’t actually leaders, by the way.
So in order to make these changes – which often means changing org structures and process that are years- or decades-old – this takes leadership buy-in and a dedication to making it work. Sometimes you have to get messier to get out of a messy situation.
But the exponential growth possible from doing Expansion the right way vs. the incremental growth that comes with the status quo should be enough.
Now, forcing products or services on customers when they don’t need, aren’t ready for, can’t be successful with, or otherwise don’t want them is a great way to hurt trust with your customers.
This usually happens because someone came up with an Account Expansion goal the same way they come up with New Business (logo) sales goals – pull it out of thin air (or somewhere else) – and then trying to hit that number without giving any thought as to HOW you’ll hit it or if it’s even possible given the characteristics and Success Vector of your customers.
So then quotas are created for whoever is responsible for expansion: “we need $500k in new Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) from our existing customers in the next 6 months. There’s 5 of you, so that’s $100k/ARR each. Go.”
FML! Now what?
Blast. Spam. Pitch. Divert conversations to the (usually generic) offer. Spray and pray, baby.
This method has many side effects, from teaching your customers to ignore your messages and stop showing up for meetings with you because everything is always a commercial pitch, to causing them to full-on churn because they hate you now.
Oh… and when they ignore your sales pitches, they also end-up ignoring your important messages or skipping meetings that would actually help them be succeed… leading to a failure to achieve their Desired Outcome and then… churn.
There’s got to be a better way, right?
The way you avoid hurting trust with upsells is to remember this: as our customers evolve and grow, our relationship with them should evolve and grow, too.
Expansion is simply a PART of the customer’s journey toward their ever-evolving Desired Outcome. Understand the customer’s evolution and growth and figure out a way to put the right product or service in front of them at the right time.
Once you have that figured out, start planting the seeds for these Expansion opportunities with the customer early on so that the conversations that must take place to facilitate the expansion aren’t just expected… but anticipated!
Now it’s not a sales conversation but simply a discussion about the next logical step in their journey to success.
But, when it comes to operationalizing account growth, where do you draw the line between sales and expansion?
Good question, let’s dig in.
Well, if you want to remain a small company, have your New Business Sales team also handle Expansion (Upsells, Cross-sells, etc.) sales.
However, if you want to grow fast, sustainably, and predictably, you need to have people dedicated to bringing in new Good-fit customers and other, separate people dedicated to taking your successful, evolving customers and growing their relationship with your company.
And if you don’t have people handling sales or expansion but everything is done self-serve, great…. same rules apply; you must approach these two business processes differently.
There are many reasons for this, but the simplest is focus. Be deliberate in your growth.
But there’s more to it.
Those people dedicated to Expansion (I’ve talked about this before) must have a well-designed process created specifically for growing existing relationships. Companies that fail to realize this tend to stay small or when they grow, that growth is less than what it could be, slower than what it should be, and FAR more painful than it has to be.
Think about it… New Business sales is all about the unknown and is driven by made-up stretch goals. Salespeople need to go out there and literally pull revenue out of thin air to reach those made-up goals.
The things that are REQUIRED for New Business Sales to be successful – quotas, a pipeline with enough leads to hit your quota based on your close rate, aggressiveness, relentlessness, hustle, etc. – are the things that will absolutely KILL a real Expansion strategy.
I’m not saying anything negative about New Business sales here, it’s just that those things aren’t required for expansion and are potentially very harmful to your existing customer relationships.
In fact, putting a quota on Expansion often LIMITS growth potential while also HURTING the relationship with customers.
Rather than analyzing the customer base and uncovering real opportunities for expansion therein (I’ve talked about this before, but will elaborate in a future post), this quota-driven “New Business” approach to expansion almost always leads to mass email blasts and indiscriminate phone calls to all customers, or repurposing existing meetings already on the calendar to blindly pitch products they don’t need, when they don’t need them, and for some, when they’re not even successful as our customer!
And because expansion in this way is such a painful process, once the quota is hit – if that even happens – it’s over. We’re done here.
The reality is, we know so much about where our existing customers are on their journey with us, whether they’re successful or not, what their goals are, AND we have a relationship already, that expansion should be easy. If you’ll take advantage of this amazing position you have in your customer’s world and create an Expansion strategy that looks more like “Ascension” from their POV, it kind of is easy.
As our customers evolve and grow, their relationship with us should evolve and grow, too!
I’m tried of talking about churn and you should be, too.
I’m also very tired of consultants, software vendors, hackers, and hustlers talking about the latest “churn busting” gimmick.
You don’t need gimmicks to eliminate churn.
You can’t hack churn away.
Solving churn – truly eliminating churn at the source – is so simple I’m going to lay out exactly what you need to do.
And then I’m done talking about it… forever. It’s time to shift gears and exclusively focus on growth.
So, below are my last words on churn forever.
What I’m going to share with you is my “secret” formula for eliminating churn.
If it doesn’t eliminate churn 100%, this formula basically renders churn a non-issue.
Are you ready for this?
The better question is… will you act on what I’m about to tell you?
Why Churn Happens (and How to Eliminate it Forever)
Churn happens for one of two reasons:
your customer dies (or goes out of business) or
they just don’t achieve their Desired Outcome.
Customers dying or going out of business you obviously have less control over, though I’ve seen some customers go out of business and remain customers, so some of you can take that excuse off the table, too.
But the other reason – customers not achieving their Desired Outcome – you have SO much control over that it’s insane if you fail to recognize this amazing opportunity.
But how do you take control over churn and make it a non-issue?
To fix this, you need to first identify what a Bad-fit Customer is – what their characteristics are that would indicate they won’t be successful; use my framework to create your own checklist – and then communicate this to Sales and Marketing to stop the flow of customers without Success Potential. And keep communicating this as it evolves.
Now, some people will take what I’m saying here as “sell to fewer customers” which is complete bullshit. They only hear what they want to hear.
I’ve never said anything about acquiring fewer customers… and I wouldn’t say that. I’m all about growth.
I want you to sell more. Sell all you can. Beat your quotas. Reach for the stars.
Just do it by selling to good-fit customers that have Success Potential. Why is that so hard to understand?
If the only way you can hit your numbers is to bring in customers that are a bad-fit, you have some serious problems with your business and I won’t help you.
2. You have a Broken or Incomplete Product or Service
Dude, fix your product… WTF? Seriously.
If your product development roadmap is emphasizing shiny new features over fixing or adding things that will make your existing customers – or those new customers you’re trying to attract with the shiny new features – successful, you’re doing it wrong.
I don’t know what else to say on this. It’s SO obvious.
But I encounter this ALL THE TIME.
And most companies blame their customer for being stupid or asking too much of them.
If asking for a product to not fail and not cause data corruption or not result in excessive downtime or to not keep the customer from doing their job is asking too much, then…. I won’t help you.
You don’t deserve customers!
3. You are providing an Inappropriate Experience for your Customers
Maybe your product is great. It doesn’t break and it has all the features your customers need. That’s great. You’ve solved for the customer’s Required Outcome.
But there’s another piece to the Desired Outcome puzzle and that is Appropriate Experience (AX).
AX is how your customers need to achieve their Required Outcome to feel successful, and this includes all interactions across the customer’s lifecycle, from the buying process to onboarding, and yes, from within the product, to support, training, Professional Services, and beyond.
If you’re only thinking about the customer’s experience as a user in the product, you’re… doing it wrong.
The lack of an AX is why customers that are otherwise functionally “successful” with a product churn out, stop renewing, or at least fail to increase their investment with your company.
You have to look at the full Desired Outcome of the customer and solve for all of it – Required Outcome AND Appropriate Experience – if you want to make churn a non-issue. I can help you with this.
BTW, this is one reason there’s often a lot of churn in low-revenue customer segments.
Because these customers don’t pay very much, the vendor usually gives them a lesser experience, let’s say all self-service. But the experience that would be appropriate for them is maybe a higher-touch experience. But since they don’t pay very much they don’t “deserve” the higher-touch experience. And since the experience they’re given is inapporpriate, they churn.
And then the vendor says “there’s just a lot of churn in that segment.” It’s a vicious cycle.
What the vendors should say is “since we can’t give those customers in that segment an AX in a way that’s economically feasible for us, that customer segment is a Bad-fit and we’re going to stop working them until we can give them the AX that will keep them from churning.” This is a more virtuous cycle.
But they don’t do that… so churn continues and they continue to blame the customer, often further reducing the experience as punishment.
4. You have No Real Understanding of what “Success” is for your Customer
I can’t tell you how many times I start working with a client or just ask this question to a group in a workshop – “what does success look like for your customer?” – and they simply can’t answer that.
These are companies that often have full-blown Customer Success Management organizations or are themselves CSMs that are in my workshop.
Umm… if you don’t know what success is for your customer and you have a Customer Success Management organization, WTF are you doing?
What “success” are you managing? Clearly not your customer’s.
If you don’t know what success is for your customer – what their Desired Outcome or some other measure of success for them if you don’t want to follow my stuff – and you’re doing anything around “Customer Success” or “Customer Experience” … you’re… in need of my help.
5. You Have No Process to Make Customers Successful
Far too many companies don’t know what success for their customers actually looks like, as I talked about above.
But for those that do know what success is for their customers, they very often lack a well-defined process for helping their customer actually achieve that success.
When you acquire good-fit customers, all that means is you’re acquiring customers that have Success Potential.
Potential is the key word there.
Based on what we know about them, they can be successful as our customer. But that’s just potential… it’s not Success Guaranteed.
We need to actually have a process in place to unlock that potential within the customer.
While their Appropriate Experience will dictate to us what that process looks like – it could be 100% self-service or in-product, they do everything and we do nothing, or it could be operationalized, human-power heavy Customer Success Management (or some mix of the two), we need to be able to guide the customer from where they are to where they need to go.
I can help you with this, too.
Churn Isn’t Actually your Problem
Fix those 5 things and churn goes away… it becomes a non-issue. Simple.
Churn is 100% in your control.
You can spend time trying to calculate churn rates, figuring out the difference between logo and revenue churn… like polishing the brass on the Titanic. That’s a nice-looking Spreadsheet, Captain.
You can sign-up for “Churn Busting” courses. Ugh.
You can engage Churn Reduction Consultants selling churn-busting snake oil. Double ugh.
You can hire Retention Specialists to try to keep your customers from churning (generally creating a customer-negative experience and – at best – prolonging the inevitable. At least you got a couple months of extra revenue from them, right? Right??!?!?!?)
Yet churn persists.
Or you could actually fix your shit so you have a legit, strong business upon which to create a growth engine.
Yes, I realize that everything I mentioned might take a lot of work to implement, but that doesn’t make it less accurate or powerful.
Or any less freakin’ transformative.
This is, by the way, where people will try to find hacks or shortcuts… gimmicks or tactics that they can use to bypass all this hard work I just laid out.
That’s understandable, of course, but it doesn’t work. To get the results you desire, you have to put in the work.
I didn’t say I was going to make less work for you, but if you fix those 5 things, you will get the results you’re looking for.
Your “Customer Success Culture” is a LIE
If (any of) those five things I listed are your current truth – and you’re not actively working on fixing those things for real – then you cannot say with any amount of credibility that you have a Customer Success culture.
Customer Success is not in your DNA.
Customer Success is NOT your operating philosophy.
I’ve seen companies do quite well – thrive even – with very little operationalized Customer Success Management, but with a culture dedicated to the philosophy that they, as a company, exist in their market simply to ensure customers achieve their Desired Outcome through all of their interactions with them.
Conversely, I’ve seen companies with a very well-defined Customer Success Management operation – processes, systems (including expensive purpose-built CSM software), and talented, driven CSMs – fail miserably and even disband their CSM org entirely because Customer Success was NOT the company’s operating philosophy, there wasn’t buy-in at the highest levels, and the cross-functional cooperation required to make it work wasn’t there.
Living this lie is…
Investing in Failure
If the product is broken or incomplete or if the customers are a Bad-fit, CSMs can help, right?
Sometimes… but that “help” is often short-lived.
In my experience working directly with hundreds of companies around the world (I’ve seen things you can’t even begin to fathom), if those five things I listed above aren’t fixed, your CSM team is setup for failure long-term.
And let’s be clear… that “long-term” might be months. Or less.
But short-term, even if they are able to bridge the gaps in your product or otherwise make customers “happy enough” to stay another month, they’re definitely setup for a lot of stress and disappointment, ultimately affecting morale not just in the CSM org, but company-wide.
This will probably result in high turnover in your CSM org – from leadership to front-line employees – because they cannot work magic to make customers without Success Potential successful or can’t continually keep customers from churning when the product or experience is fundamentally broken.
Companies with a lot of customer churn very often have high employee churn.
Ultimately, I want you to think about this: if your company is investing in Customer Success Management (hiring team members, buying software, creating processes, etc.) but you’re not fixing the five things I listed, then you are investing in an initiative that will absolutely fail to deliver the results you’re looking for.
Whoever approved this investment should be fired because it’s bad business.
But I digress.
These are literally my last words on churn: the secret to eliminating churn once and for all is to fix the stuff that leads to churn in the first place.
Let’s talk about Customer Engagement, specifically one part of the Communication Model, which is my BEAST Message Framework for creating messages that actually engage customers.
It’s really interesting that we communicate all day long – with our friends, with our peers, with our customers – but when was the last time you actually thought about what goes into communication?
Most of the time, we simply never stop to consider what needs to go into communication… we just do it.
If we do spend any time at all thinking about communication, we only focus on the message itself. But it’s truly important – imperative, actually – that we spend time thinking about all of the components of the Communication Model.
Whenever we try to send an email, have a call with a customer, set up a meeting with a customer, etc., we need to be thinking about communication and what goes into it.
Briefly, the communication model is made up of six different pieces: Goal, Receiver, Method, Sender, Action, and Message.
There’s the goal. Why are you communicating?
There’s the receiver, who’s actually getting the communication – the message – from you. This is the person you’re setting up a meeting with or actually having a meeting with, or that individual you’re going to have a phone call with.
There’s the method, which refers to how you’re communicating. Is it in a meeting? Is it through an email? Is it a phone call or an in-app message?
The sender is the source of the message – who’s actually sending the message, setting up or hosting the meeting, etc.
The action is what you want them to do because of the communication. So, you have a goal, but then you also have a specific action you actually want them to take.
And then there is the message itself, a.k.a. the contents of the email, the content of the pop-up in the app, the actual content of the meeting or even the meeting request, what you’re going to talk about on the phone call, etc.
Of the six different elements of the Communication Model, the one that we tend to think about the most is the message. We really honestly don’t think about those other things that much, but even then, when we think about the message, we don’t really think about it – at least not in the right way.
That’s what I’m hopefully going to get you to do today – think about the message in the right way.
Introducing the BEAST Message Framework
I will talk about what I call the BEAST Message Framework, and it’s made up of five different things that start with letters that make up the word BEAST – like BEAST mode. These are brief, efficient, actionable, simple, and thoughtful.
Okay, so let’s go into each one.
BEAST Message Framework: Brief
Be brief. Something I have a hard time with is being brief. But you do want to make sure that your message is short and to the point.
That’s all relative, of course. The message doesn’t have to be one line, but you want to make sure that you’re being as brief as possible, which means we go back to what the communication framework is all about.
What’s your goal, and what’s the action that you want them to take? If you know those two things, it’s very simple to create a message that is brief.
However, if you don’t have a goal, and you don’t know what the action is that you want them to take, it’s very easy to go on rambling and/or just try to get them to do too many things.
Don’t have too many calls to action because then, instead of having one very simple thing that you’re trying to get them to do, there’s a whole bunch of different things, and they’re not going to do any of it.
How many times have you received an email or had a meeting with a whole bunch of takeaways but then nothing gets done? So don’t have too many calls to action. Keep it short and to the point.
I always say, “Look, instead of trying to boil the ocean – which is what we’re doing when we’re trying to get people to do a whole bunch of stuff at one time – just make little cups of tea along the way. Boil little cups of water.” I’m not sure if that’s the best analogy, but I think it fits. Don’t try to boil the ocean; just make little cups of tea along the way. Be brief.
BEAST Message Framework: Efficient
Just because you can write a lot or just because you can talk for a whole hour doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing, right? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Be very careful in the way that you choose what you’re going to talk about. Choose your words carefully. Edit. Always go back and say is this all necessary? In fact, one thing you could do right now is go audit your meetings – those you have scheduled those that you have to do that are part of your checklist – and your QBRs or Quarterly Business Reviews.
Look at the emails you’re sending and the calls you’re going to make. How many of these don’t have a goal or a one clear call to action (CTA) associated with them? Maybe they don’t even need to happen, right? So efficiency is also just asking does this need to even happen?
And if it does need to happen – if this message needs to be sent or if this meeting needs to happen – how can we make it as efficient as possible?
So editing is a really big deal.
BEAST Message Framework: Actionable
Be actionable. Have your call to action in mind, and build everything around that. If you can’t do that because you don’t have a CTA, then why are you attempting to engage with the customer?
Having customers read random, nonsensical emails from you is not engagement.
Customer Engagement is all about getting the customer to take action. Customer Engagement is about moving them in the right direction. That’s it.
So if you don’t have an action that’s associated with what you’re trying to do here, why are you even messaging them? Why are you even having a meeting? Why are you even having a call? Why are you popping something up in front of them in their app? It doesn’t make any sense.
So if you don’t have a CTA for receiver, and you don’t know what the goal of this communication is, why are you even doing it? If you do know, then you want to build everything around getting them to take that action. Be actionable.
BEAST Message Framework: Simple
Be simple. Tell them exactly what to do. Don’t make them think. This is not about customers being stupid, as some of you might think. It’s not about that.
It’s the fact that customers are busy. They’re distracted. You may not be the center of their universe like you think you are. It’s about just getting to the point.
Tell them exactly what you want them to do – what they need to do. Maybe justify it a little bit so they understand the reason why it’s happening. Get to the point, and get them to take action.
This idea of being simple is very easy to follow if you do the first thing – be brief – which goes back to having a goal and understanding what the action is that you want them to take.
BEAST Message Framework: Thoughtful
Last, but certainly not least, be thoughtful.
This applies to Customer Engagement.
This applies to communication, not only with your customers, but with your peers, with your family, with your friends.
Where do you fit into their world? Be honest about that. You may think you’re the center of their universe, but are you? Probably not – at least not initially, certainly, and maybe never.
And that’s okay. Also, when you’re asking them to do something, you might be asking them to do something inside of the product, but is it really only that? Are there things outside the product, – outside of the scope of your engagement – that they need to do?
So think about that. Be thoughtful. Be thoughtful with your words. Be thoughtful with your requests. Be thoughtful with their time. Be thoughtful in general.
That’s it. That’s the BEAST Message Framework.
I hope it helps you better engage with your customers.
Let’s talk about Customer Engagement, specifically the Communication Model.
We communicate every day, all day.
We communicate with friends, family, co-workers, industry peers, customers, vendors, celebrities, trolls, politicians, restaurants, airlines, etc., every day.
We communicate more today than we ever had in the history of the world, and tomorrow, we’ll do it even more.
Yet despite all this communication going on, we really know very little about how to communicate effectively.
We think, since we do it all the time, we must be good at it, but as with most things, frequency should not be confused with proficiency.
So let’s dive into this whole Communication Model thing and figure out how to more effectively engage our customers by simply communicating better. Join me, shall you?
Customer Engagement Basics: Communication Model - YouTube
The History of the Communication Model
Going back a long time – I think in the 1950s – there was the Shannon-Weaver model, created through the coming together of two different people.
Over time, the model evolved. David Berlo expanded on the Shannon-Weaver concept in the 1960s. But since then, the Communication Model hasn’t really changed a whole lot.
But communication – type, frequency, etc. – has changed in so many ways.
I didn’t invent the Communication Model. Obviously, people before me had modeled this out.
But what I’ve done is taken that and simplified it, made it easier to understand, and figured out a way to apply it to Customer Engagement.
So the Customer Engagement Communication Model, if you will, has six different pieces.
Communication Model: Goal
First of all is the goal. What is the goal of the communication that you’re doing, the message that you’re sending, and the meeting that you’re setting up? If you don’t have a goal, then why are you initiating this communication? Every customer interaction should have an associated goal.
I don’t care if it’s a pop-up inside the app. I don’t care if it’s an email that you send. I don’t care if it’s a meeting that you’re having in person, on site, with the client. It should have a goal. I will say that the more valuable this interaction would be from them investing their time in it, probably the more important it is to have a goal.
But also, we want to have a goal for everything we do because we don’t want to teach our customers to ignore us. When you communicate without having a goal, you’re basically teaching your customers to just delete the message, send the email to spam, and just to ignore you. And that’s the opposite of what you’re going for here.
So every customer interaction should have an associated goal. The question to ask yourself is, “What do I want out of this engagement,” or, “What do I want out of this interaction?” And if you can’t add value with this conversation – if you can’t add value with this piece of communication that you’re doing – then don’t do it. Right?
And so you might, just as a way to start out, audit all of your communication with your customers, and take out the pieces that don’t have a goal. If you can’t state the goal, if you can’t figure out why we’re doing this, then don’t do it.
So, how many of you have a QBR – a Quarterly Business Review – with a customer, and all it is, is a check-in, and you don’t really know why you’re even doing it? Maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.
Communication Model: Receiver
The receiver – the communication receiver – is the person – most likely a human person – who’s going to receive the communication from you. I mean, I suppose we could be talking app to app, but I’m not going to worry about that right now. We’re talking about humans.
So this is the person who’s going to be receiving the communication from you. You have to take into consideration that there are probably different personas within your customer’s company, right? So who is actually the receiver? You have to make sure that the right message goes to the right receiver. That’s really important.
And when you’re thinking about who’s going to be receiving this message or this piece of communication, or who you’re setting up the meeting with, you also have to think about who the message is coming from, because a receiver who is an executive may not – and whether or not this is a good thing isn’t the point – be moved to action by a message coming from somebody at a lower level at your company.
If you want to get an executive’s attention, you might need to have another executive be the sender or the source of the message you are sending.
So you have to think about how you match the sender and the receiver. The main thing is that you really have to take into consideration who is receiving the message: is it the end-user, a brand champion, a power user, an administrator, an account owner, or somebody in accounting? I don’t know. That’s what you have to think about.
So for every message that goes out, you have to really think about who’s going to be receiving it. Who are you going to be setting up the meeting with?
Communication Model: Method
Then there’s the method – the communication method. This is the modality. This is the channel – whatever you want to call it – this is a meeting, this is an email, this is Slack, this is in-app messaging, this is whatever you use to communicate. It’s the method.
If you think about what Customer Success is – and you know that Customer Success is when customers achieve their Desired Outcome through their interactions with your company – the Desired Outcome has two pieces: one is the Required Outcome, and the other is Appropriate Experience.
Appropriate Experience is what is going to dictate the method of communication that you use. It’s going to dictate the modality, the channel, or the method. It’s also going to dictate the ratios of those different modalities that make up that Appropriate Experience.
So sometimes, for one particular customer segment, it may be more high touch. It may be more human touch – phone calls, in-person meetings, that kind of thing – augmented, obviously, with technology. But for some customer segments, it may all be digital, right? It may be very little high-touch, very little synchronous communication.
And when you think about that digital aspect of this, you usually go into some sort of automation, of being able to leverage systems to scale humans. And that’s awesome, but what you need to be thinking about is the fact that automation isn’t something that’s really anything special; it’s just what you would do by hand, manually, if you had an unlimited amount of time and resources. But because you don’t, you have to figure out ways to scale that.
So the reason I say it like that is when you’re talking about automating messaging, it can be hard sometimes to sit down and say, “Okay, how do I write a blast email.” Well, the reality is you don’t. You’re just writing an email.
You’re just creating some content that’s going to pop up in the app as if you were talking specifically to a very specific person about a very specific thing, right? So automation is just what you would do manually if you could, right? So, you need to take that mentality and figure out ways to scale that. And that’s where automation comes in.
The other thing about method is that if you are having human interaction – if you are spending time in meetings or spending time on the phone with your customers, if that is the appropriate method, the appropriate modality, or the appropriate channel – then you want to make sure you’re not scripting that, and you only have an outline or a checklist of things that you need to cover, because if you script out what you’re going to say to a customer, that script goes out the window as soon as the customer gets on the phone with you or comes into a meeting with you, because customers have their own agenda.
You need to have a checklist of the things that you need to get through, and you need to make sure that you always keep your customers on the right track during that meeting or during that phone call, but scripts don’t work. Flexibility is key. Think of it more as improv.
So now, let’s talk about some things around the method. The method is going to be determined by what your customers want or need as part of their Appropriate Experience. And this is obviously a very important thing. What people tend to do – and the reason I say it this way is that it’s based on the customer’s Appropriate Experience – is that very often, people default to what’s comfortable for them. So you, for example, say you want to send an email.
Your customer wants you to pick up the phone and call them. Which is the appropriate method? The appropriate method is whatever your customer wants, and if you don’t want to do that, too bad. You shouldn’t do business with that customer because you can’t give them the Appropriate Experience if you can’t pick up the phone and call them.
And if you can’t do that at scale in an economically feasible way, then that means that this customer would be a not profitable customer, and you shouldn’t go with a different modality just because it would be economically feasible.
You just shouldn’t be doing business with that customer. But that’s outside the scope of what we’re talking about here. However, that’s where Appropriate Experience comes in.
Communication Model: Sender
Now, let’s talk about the communication sender. I also refer to that as the source. But the sender is important to understand because when you send messages to our customers, when you request meetings with them, when you message them in app – when you do all of these things – you are hitting your customer with lots of different messages coming from different people.
So maybe it’s the Customer Success Managers; maybe you have multiple CSMs on a particular account. Or maybe it’s the support system, maybe it’s the support team, maybe it’s the system itself, maybe your executives are sending them messages, maybe finance is sending them messages, sales is also coming in, maybe it’s your channel partners.
You have all these different senders that are hitting your customers – that are hitting the receivers. You have to make sure that the sender matches the receiver and that the receiver matches the sender so that the communication is working… so that it truly resonates.
But you also have to take into consideration that you have all of these different senders communicating with you customers and that, at some point, this can get confusing, if not just outright frustrating. So you have to take into consideration all of these things and figure out a way to make it work.
You also have to take into consideration – like I said earlier when we were talking about the receiver – that an appropriate sender needs to be the one who’s hitting the receiver. So if you want an executive to show up at a meeting – and again, whether this is fair or not doesn’t matter as this is just the reality – if a CSM emails the CEO or calls the CEO at a customer company, that might not go very far. However, if you want that CEO to show up at a meeting, two things.
You might call the meeting, instead of a Quarterly Business Review, an Executive Business Review, so now the executive feels like it’s actually meant for them, and you might have somebody from your executive team reach out to them to invite them, right? So the sender matches the receiver.
You have to think about that. It’s pretty critical, but it’s, again, something you don’t put a lot of thought into, but you should, when it comes to customer engagement and really when it comes to communication in general.
Communication Model: Action
Then there’s the action. We all know call to action. We all hear that from marketing, from sales, and a lot more, lately, in Customer Success. But when it comes to customer engagement, we want our customers to take a particular action.
And if you don’t have an action in mind, especially if you don’t have a goal in mind – goal was the first thing we talked about – it’s going to be very difficult for you to come up with an action that you want your customer to take.
But if you don’t have an action in mind, why are you communicating with your customer? Why are you setting up that meeting, why are you having that call, and why are you sending that email? If it’s not to move them in the right direction, should you be messaging them? Should you be sending that message? Should you be communicating with them?
You want to have a call to action, and then you definitely want to be specific in that call to action. Believe it or not, people actually do want to be told what to do. The call to action should also match the source or the sender.
In other words, if you are sending a message, if you’re a CSM, should you be asking an executive on the customer side to take a particular action? That might not work, right? You might have to have somebody else on your side – the source or the sender – that matches the receiver, and therefore, you can make the particular action request of them.
So some calls to action must come from a different source; it must come from a different sender. And it should be very specific. So one of the things we’ll talk about is what the message should be like.
You want to make sure that you have basically one call to action in your message or your meeting. There should be one very specific thing that you’re building towards. Otherwise, you’re just going to confuse people. How many of you have received – or probably actually even sent – an email with 17 different calls to action? How many of those 17 actions get done? What if you could boil it down to just one?
And then send more frequently, right? Send more of those messages. Have more of those meetings – shorter meetings, smaller meetings, smaller messages, shorter messages – that all have one particular call to action. So, whatever it is, have a goal for that meeting, and then have an action that’s going to come from that meeting.
Communication Model: Message
Now, I want to at least plant the seed when it comes to the message. The message is the thing that people tend to focus on when it comes to communication, whether you’re setting up a meeting or preparing the agenda. When you’re sending an email, you spend time writing the email.
But are you actually spending time thinking about the message, or are you just spending time making the message happen? You know what I mean? Are you actually thinking about it, or are you just doing it? Most of the time, frankly, you’re just doing it. And I’m guilty of this, too. I’m not preaching here. I’m saying these are things that we – including me – need to always keep top of mind.
But when it comes to the message, I have this framework that I call BEAST. It’s B-E-A-S-T: Brief, Efficient, Actionable, Simple, and Thoughtful. I cover the BEAST Message Framework in detail in another post, but the main thing is, if you don’t have a goal and you don’t know what the action is going to be, how can you actually even craft a message that’s going to help do what you need it to do?
And that goes back to understanding why are you even communicating, why are you even creating the message, and why are you setting up a meeting. So when it comes to the message, BEAST – BEAST mode: Brief, Efficient, Actionable, Simple, and Thoughtful.
So, that’s it – the Communication Model in a quick nutshell. Think about it. Apply logic to the way that you communicate with your customers – the way that you communicate with everybody essentially – but especially customers if you want to engage them.
Customer Success is when your customers achieve their Desired Outcome through their interactions with your company.
If you focus on Customer Success, churn will not be an issue. At least in theory.
To take that from a simple theory to your Operating Model, you need to put systems in place, be able to monitor their effectiveness, and routinely perform root cause analysis when things go wrong (and also when things go well so you can replicate, right?).
So while our goal is to live in a world where churn doesn’t happen, while you have it, you really need to understand it so you can avoid it in the future.
To that end, I put together this Churn Classification system (or matrix or quadrant or whatever) to help you do that.
All Churn is Bad
All churn is bad, but some churn is worse than other churn.
Churn is a symptom of an underlying disease (and I’m not sure there’s ever a case for “good symptoms”).
Even if you think it’s “good churn” (which doesn’t exist; see above), you still have to acquire one more customer to offset the loss of that customer, and two if you actually want to grow.
And customers that leave on anything less than positive terms only cause more problems from there.
If a customer is unprofitable or annoying, it might feel good to see them go (GTFO and don’t let the door hit’cha), but there is so much going on there that is the total antithesis of why you’re in business that your short-sighted glee at a “bad” customer leaving can have real, long-term ramifications.
It’s at least the antithesis of Customer Success-driven Growth, which is kinda what I’ve dedicated my life to (for some unknown reason), and why I can’t accept your misguided argument that churn is somehow good.
All that said, though, if we didn’t see that churn coming or if we failed to unlock the Success Potential in that customer and that’s why they churned, that’s really bad and we absolutely need to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future.
We can’t do that if we aren’t clear on what’s going on.
Which is why I created my…
Churn Classification for Customer Success Management
While I’ve talked about this stuff before, I’ve never actually shared my full classification system publicly until now. Only my clients have seen this.
But now, for the first time ever, you get access to my Churn Classification system (or matrix, quadrant, etc.) and you should definitely apply this to your Customer Success Management operation.
Green is good (but still bad; see above if you’re not clear why this is), and Red is really, really bad.
But for us to really understand what’s going on and to either operationalize from the start or optimize our in-place systems, we need to add another dimension to our view of churn.
And that’s where my Churn Classification system comes in.
First, let’s define the…
Avoidable means the customer had Success Potential (was a Good Fit) and they’re still in business, out there paying other vendors. You lost them but shouldn’t have.
Unavoidable means the customer didn’t have Success Potential or they did but they went out of business or otherwise disappeared.
A good rule of thumb is if the customer is still in business and paying other vendors, and they were a Good Fit (with Success Potential), that churn was definitely avoidable. That understanding should help eliminate many of the false-positive “unavoidable” declarations that people like to make.
Expected simply means your signaling is right… you saw it coming.
Be clear that “expected” doesn’t mean that you took action to try to stop the churn and get the customer back on track.
It only means that you saw it coming.
That said, if you’re at a point where you’re seeing the churn coming before it happens, you’re in a much better place than – IMHO – the vast majority of companies that are still shocked (shocked!) by every churn.
Unexpected means just that… you never saw it coming no you didn’t. That’s a problem.
Now, to put this into practice, let’s drill into each quadrant, shall we?
Churn Classifications: Deep Dive
Expected & Unavoidable
If you knew the churn (based on Success Vector, health score, or other methods) was going to happen – Expected – and you knew that there was nothing you could do (they were a Bad Fit, were going out of business, or even that they outgrew your solution) – Unavoidable – that’s the best case.
But that’s the best case when it comes to churn, which means it still sucks.
Look, if the customer left on positive terms (let’s say they outgrew your solution) after paying back acquisition costs and becoming profitable, they still took revenue with them, and that’s not good.
If you’re fairly managing your Customer Success Managers (CSM), you shouldn’t count this against them because it was unavoidable. No action on their part would have saved the customer.
However, you may count this against them if they saw it coming but didn’t report this to you before it happened.
Expected & Avoidable
If you new it was going to happen (Expected) but didn’t act in time or in the right way to help the Good Fit customer unlock their Success Potential (Avoidable), apply this classification to that customer.
While it’s great that we saw this coming – the instrumentation and monitoring is working well – this is really something that should be counted against the CSM because it was avoidable.
From an optimization standpoint, I would want to look at how early we were able to mark this churn as “expected” and whether or not that was early enough to intervene and try to get the customer back on track to success.
I don’t like trying to save customers that are at the point of churning out… but I’m all about recognizing something negative is happening, intervening, and ensuring we have a plan in place to get them back on the right path. That’s kind of the definition of Customer Success Management, actually.
Unexpected & Unavoidable
If you didn’t see this churn coming (Unexpected), but it was truly Unavoidable and kind of happened out of the blue (like they went out of business or were acquired all of the sudden), apply this classification.
That said, I always like to flag these for a deeper dive to make sure our signaling is good enough. Did we miss something that next time would give us a heads-up. Are there better questions we could ask? Are their external market or industry triggers that we could setup that would help avoid this in the future?
Only after that analysis would we figure out whether this was on the CSM or not; if it is, going forward that would count against them, but it’s not fair – unless it was SO obvious they should have known – to punish for something that no one understood.
Unexpected & Avoidable
If a Good Fit customer (Avoidable) actively cancels or fails to renew – but they’re still in business – and we didn’t see it coming (Unexpected), that’s the absolute worst case scenario for Customer Success Management.
That’s a fail.
It means our signaling is off AND we didn’t help unlock the Success Potential of our customer.
This is on the CSM for sure, but it’s also on the entire CSM org, ops, management, etc. because this was a systemic failure.
Okay, but what about…
Churn Classification Benchmarks
Inevitably someone will ask about benchmarks on the ideal amount of churn that should exist in each classification bucket.
I don’t have any definitive benchmarks, but in my experience doing this with a lot of companies, WAY too many customer churns are classified as Unexpected and Avoidable, with Unexpected and Unavoidable following a close second.
This is due to their Customer Success Management operations not actually being that – they’re more like simple Account Management – and that they won’t freakin’ stop acquiring Bad Fit customers with no Success Potential.
It’s also important to know that different companies in different markets at different stages will have different realities so even if you were to benchmark, unless you’re getting fairly granular on the characteristics you’re comparing, you’re comparing apples to a lego.
Forget benchmarks… wherever you are today, you should get to a point where you have as little churn in the Red and as much in the Green (though overall, still as little churn as possible).
So we need to look objectively at every customer that churned, classify them appropriately, and then…
Take Action to Reduce Churn
Ultimately, this churn classification method is all about understanding why churn happens so we can avoid it in the future to the greatest extent possible.
Classifying churn and not taking action on that makes no sense.
Churn happens for just two reasons, but why we allow it to happen – or why it happens in ways that seem to be out of our control – can be due to myriad reasons. This exercise helps us uncover those reasons.
I will repeat, however, that if you’re going to have your CSMs go back and classify past churned customers (from the trailing 3 or 6 months) to get a good idea on where things are in your CSM org, you should do it with 100% amnesty for your CSMs.
This will ensure that everyone gives their true view of whether they saw it coming and if it was expected or not. Going forward, however, there will be no amnesty! Everyone is accountable from now on.
Let’s work to make churn a non-issue, but while it is an issue, let’s work to understand it so we can do that first thing I mentioned in this extra-long final sentence of this website blog post.