Customer churn is a big problem for SaaS companies because it impacts so many different parts of the business.
And while it’s natural for a certain percentage of customers to churn during a specific period, a higher turnover rate can cause panic. You need a long-term strategy in place.
However, in this article we’ll highlight one of the most powerful, easy-to-implement methods for stopping churn in its tracks: An Executive Sponsorship Program.
We spoke with Sam Loveland, Salesloft’s Chief Customer Officer, on how she uses Salesloft to make sure that she has the right relationships with the right people in place to retain customers.
Read on to learn more about:
- Aligning the right stakeholders
- The common post-sales mistake
- Using Salesloft to build executive relationships
Aligning the right stakeholders
It’s common for companies to not have the right level of executive relationships within their customer base. One of the most important things you can do, is to first take a step back and understand the state of the business and how your executive team is engaging in deals, on-going relationships, and renewals. More importantly though, it is important to understand within the customer team who you are engaged with. Are you only engaged with one key executive, or are you multi-threaded within the account?
What often happens in deals is that you sell to a certain level, and the decision maker tends to be a financial buyer like a CRO, CMO or head of Revenue Operations. Two or three years ago, a single person would sign off on the deal, and you moved forward.
Now, we’re seeing three to five people who need to approve and sign off on vendors, even existing vendor relationships. Stakeholders, in addition to the financial buyer, often now include procurement, the CFO, and the CIO. This means that we need to make sure our executive team is empowered and resourced to have those conversations with their counterparts in the buying team.
More importantly, you don’t want to just bring in your executive team to have the renewal discussion. You need to ensure that the executive relationships are being fostered throughout the customer lifecycle. The relationships shouldn’t be transactional in nature, but should be long-lasting, with a business outcome orientation. Regular check-ins by executives on both sides is critical to ensure that proper alignment is happening and both are invested in the long term relationship.
I’ve had a couple of situations where we thought the renewal was locked in. Everybody from procurement to legal was involved in the conversation. And then the CIO came in and said, “We want to reduce our technology stack spend, we can’t proceed until my team has a chance to review our options.” So we had to go back to the drawing board to build the business case for the CIO. To prevent this from happening in your renewal discussions, you need to ask the right questions upfront: “Who else needs to approve? Who else needs to be involved in the decision making process? Let’s get in front of those people sooner and build a proper renewal timeline and framework.”
By having those relationships at the executive level —the people that we know are the buyers and influencers —they can tell us who the final authority will be in the renewal process. We need that level of visibility, and I think that’s what most SaaS vendors need to get better at. I think many people are too afraid to have those conversations and also struggle building the on-going executive relationships.
The common post-sales mistake
Once the deal is signed, it moves into the next critical stage:onboarding and implementation. Customer success teams often take over post-implementation, which means that vendors tend to get relegated down into teams that are responsible for the platform. You’re working with the administrators and managers —the people that are doing the day-to-day configuration and implementation. And that’s great, and necessary, but in the process many businesses diminish those hard-won executive relationships.
“If you aren’t being intentional and setting up those quarterly business reviews, establishing those relationships, and ensuring that the executive team is still engaged, then all of a sudden you’ve lost sight of the key person(s) that helped bring you in the door and more importantly that you are achieving the business outcomes that you defined in the business case.”
As a result, you might find yourself back in the renewal discussion, fighting to get back up to the executive level again. And especially when you’re talking about multi-year deals, guess what happens 18 to 24 months later, that executive you did the original deal with isn’t even there anymore. Then you’re trying to find your way to the new executive sponsor on the account, and you have to do all the engagement work over again.
I see this as a big challenge in reducing churn rate. It’s important for all customer-facing roles in the organization to ask themselves the following questions: “How should we expand our relationship within our accounts? How should we build more relationships across the C-level executives or senior level executives, so that if one leaves, we still have another person to go to for alignment?”
I’ve personally seen that not doing this properly leaves you ripe for the competition to just come in and win deals during the renewal cycle. Your competition is building those relationships that you’ve stopped building because you’ve rested on your laurels.
Using Salesloft to build executive relationships
I believe that the way to solve this is to implement an Executive Sponsorship Program, to ensure that you’re building the right relationships with our customers.
This is what we’re doing at Salesloft today. We want to truly understand what our customers’ objectives are: What are their pain points and business outcomes? How does Salesloft fit? What is the value they are getting from our platform? And how will our executive sponsorship framework align with those objectives?
I’ve found, personally, that using Salesloft’s platform to do this is quite beneficial for me as I’m building this Executive Sponsorship Program.
Using Salesloft, I can enter in those key moments that matter. We can record and listen back to conversations, we can leverage cadences to ensure that we’re not missing the beat on any of our customers, and we can install the right touch points and engage with them at the right time.
For example, I recently participated in an executive briefing with a customer at an in-person event. Instead of frantically searching for every email conversation between my team and this customer before the meeting happened,I could go straight into Salesloft and quickly get a handle on where we are in our conversations and learn more about them without bouncing between apps. Without Salesloft, I wouldn’t have had the kind of data and context I needed to create and build on that relationship.
The first thing I noticed when I got visibility on this account was there were some issues. The customer was frustrated and the relationship wasn’t where we wanted it to be. Because I came in fresh as an executive sponsor on this program, I’ve been able to see the past activities and log new ones to be able to have the right conversations with the executives on the account.
Now we’re on a path to rebuilding trust and the relationship. I’ve been able to set a precedent on how the team is going to engage and operate from now on:This is how we’re going to address your technical problems; this is how we’re going to work together. I’m now meeting with the customer once a month to see what’s working and what’s not, and what we need to course correct to get to the business outcomes.
That’s ultimately where we want to get to. We want them to talk about us at the next Salesloft event, and talk about the value that they’re getting from our product and where we will go together in the future. Using the Salesloft platform to build on the relationship with them is an opportunity for us to prove that we’re committed to a long-term relationship.
I worked with a leader who used to say: You earn trust in drops, but you can lose trust in buckets, if you’re not careful.
If we’re doing this right, we set up the Executive Sponsor Program from the very beginning of an account and build that relationship.
Ideally, you never get to that frustrated state because you’ve proactively addressed the issues. That’s what we’re trying to make part of our own muscle memory; this is the type of engagement that you have to have — these are the types of conversations and relationships you need to have with your customers.
The right executive alignment will demonstrate that you truly understand your customers’ business, and that you can talk their language. We’re in the very beginning of our efforts to operationalize that, but we’re seeing early indications of success and I’m very excited to see where we’re going to go.
For more information about how sellers can engage executives, take a look at our collaboration with 30 Minutes to President’s Club: Selling to power: Influencing decisionmakers to seal the deal