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Surviving a Champion Loss: A Playbook for Customer Success Managers!

In our preceding post, we urged the acceptance of the unavoidable reality: every account will, sooner or later, encounter changes in its key stakeholders. The crucial strategy here is readiness. Arm yourself with a well-structured playbook, always on hand, poised to spring into action the moment a shift in stakeholders becomes apparent. Below, we introduce a model that we’ve designed to address the challenges that arise from key stakeholder turnover in a strategic account. We’ve titled it the “DEFEAT” model, and it outlines the following detailed steps:

  • Discover: Turnover
  • Engage: The Stakeholders
  • Formulate: A Meaningful Touch
  • Elevate: Value
  • Aggregate: Alliances
  • Tune: In/It

While the first three steps specifically tackle the situation of losing a champion, the remaining steps represent fundamental best practices for customer success.

 
 
Discover (Turnover)

In sales, there’s a well-known adage: “Time Kills All Deals.” This maxim holds true in the realm of customer success as well. Detecting a change in the customer’s key stakeholder (or the champion) at the earliest possible time provides the team a fighting chance to save the account, which may otherwise drift away.

We recommend a few strategies to proactively identify potential customer staff changes.

Playbook Steps: Discover Turnover Early

CSM
Effort: Minimal
Impact: High
Add these calibrated questions to your regular customer touchpoint meeting:

  • Has there been any change within your organization recently? Are there any anticipated shifts in structure or staff?

  • Given our current standing, do you foresee any hurdles that might affect our renewal process?

CSM + Other functions
​Effort: Medium
Impact: High

Ongoing generic communication

It is ideal to make sure that the customers are getting an ongoing electronic touch. This could come in the form of an email newsletter, new release updates, or a general join us for a webinar invitation. Bonus, any email bounce-backs is your early warning system and cue to jump on the account.

Product/Engineering/CS Ops
Effort: Likely high
Impact: High
Collect usage data, and stream it into a platform where customer success can view it without needing to move mountains. Create a “users added/deleted” report. Bonus points to add risk notifications when certain usage thresholds are breached. Many customer success platforms (CSPs) make it easy to implement this.

Engage (The Stakeholders)

In many situations, when a customer fails to show up for a meeting, the CSM almost sighs in relief. This unexpected window offers a rare opportunity to take a bio-break, stretch their legs, or grab a quick snack. There may indeed be a valid reason for the champion’s absence, but the fact that CSMs – those meant to be on the front lines of customer retention – barely have time to catch their breath doesn’t bode well for sustained customer retention.

There are many challenges in maintaining a sustained dialog with the customers. The challenge becomes even more acute when a champion has just left without a decent handover. Time is of the essence in these situations. Having an ongoing cadence and if the new person starts showing up there, it makes it easier to sustain the dialog. That may not be the case in a number of accounts. So, here are a few tips to initiate the dialog.

Playbook Step: Initiate The Dialog

CSM
Effort: Medium
Impact: Mileage may vary
Initiate contact with the former champion or another crucial stakeholder. Investigate whether they’re open to or capable of facilitating an introduction or sharing the identity of their successor. Deliver a warm welcome or a complimentary message to the incoming stakeholder.

Tip: An engaging video or a captivating graphic can significantly enhance your outreach, allowing you to distinguish yourself amidst an ocean of emails.

CS Ops/CS Leadership
Effort: Medium
Impact: High
Design several template versions for the introductory emails. This empowers the CSMs to respond promptly upon learning of a key stakeholder’s departure. Delay often results as CSMs deliberate over crafting the ideal version of a high-impact email.

Formulate (A Meaningful Touch)

We have heard this question a few times, “What if the customer declines to ongoing meetings?”

Many times, CSMs schedule check-in meetings that offer no real benefit to the customer. Wouldn’t you reject sessions that lack value and consume your crucial time? Wouldn’t you devalue a project if you saw no potential for success, and viewed your time being frittered away in futile check-ins? We suggest that you develop an orchestration template (standardized agenda templates) that cater to the needs of your key customer stakeholders. Below is a suggestion to consider following a key stakeholder turnover.

Playbook Step: A Meaningful Touch

CSM
Effort: Medium

Impact: High

The first meeting with a new stakeholder after the turnover is crucial. We recommend drafting a concise, focused agenda and ensuring its distribution prior to the meeting. Below is a sample agenda:

  • Introduction

  • Current Status

  • Goal Alignment

  • Contextual Updates and Actions

  • Mutual Action Plan/Next Steps

Pre-Meeting Preparation

Decide The Participants: Identify the key attendees from both your team and the customer’s. Essential members on our end include: CSM + Optionals: a technical expert (depending on the company/product/CSM expertise), Account Executive, Sales Engineer, and another Customer Success Leader/Executive.

Ensure everyone understands their role in the meeting. For example, the CSM could kick off the session with introductions, exchange pleasantries (congratulations), segue to open-ended questions, and set the stage to have the technical expert deliver a concise, persuasive demo to reaffirm the value of your products/services.

Positioning

Anticipate potential discussions around unresolved technical or commercial issues, service incidents, and customer feature requests. Be prepared to confidently address these, providing clear next steps. This may also be an opportunity to re-emphasize your product’s unique value proposition to the customer. It’s possible that you may need to fully resell your products to the new stakeholder. Having a sales rep or sales engineer could be beneficial as they engage in these activities on a daily basis.

Calibrated Questions for Information Gathering

  • What’s your primary focus currently?

  • How informed are you about our current progress?

  • How familiar are you with our product(s)/service(s)?

  • Have you been briefed on our implementation strategy and unique value proposition?

  • Have you considered your objectives concerning our project in the coming days?

  • How does our project align with your strategic priorities?

It’s perfectly acceptable if the new stakeholder responds with “I don’t know” – they’re still getting acclimated to their role. They might also mention that your product doesn’t align with their strategic priorities. In such cases, be prepared with follow-up questions:

  • Understandable. So, what are your strategic priorities?

  • Looking at the upcoming timeline, is there a point at which you foresee our product becoming a priority?

  • Will any of these changes impact our renewal?

Propose Regular Interactions

The following days and weeks could be pivotal to ensuring a successful renewal. Capitalize on this chance to establish a regular meeting schedule. If feasible, arrange a suitable time during the call itself that accommodates the schedules of essential stakeholders.

Wrap Up the Meeting Concisely

Conclude the session with a brief summary, underscoring any notable points from the mutual action plan.

A Word of Caution

While it’s crucial for a CSM to maintain a positive vibe during customer interactions, they should avoid falling into the trap of excessive optimism. Rather than focusing solely on positive feedback, strive for a balanced viewpoint and aim to comprehend the circumstances as they truly exist.

After the Meeting

Circulate a succinct meeting summary emphasizing the critical aspects of the mutual action plan. Stay on top of the agreed actions and regularly update the relevant stakeholders leading up to the next session.

CSM/CS Ops Tips

Develop a standard set of session management templates (including the agenda) for customers at different stages of their journey and in different scenarios, such as the loss of a champion. Standard slide decks or documents can save time and expedite action.

Elevate (Value)

Step 4 (Elevating Value) and Step 5 (Aggregating Alliances) epitomize the best practices in Customer Success. While they become crucial following the loss of a champion, we advocate for these strategies to be consistently implemented across all high-value accounts as part of standard business practices.

A stakeholder shift within an account serves as a reminder to revisit the fundamentals. The customer initially purchased our product to achieve specific, valuable objectives. With the arrival of a new stakeholder, these defined needs may have evolved. Therefore, it’s essential to determine the objectives the new stakeholder aims to accomplish. They may not be fully aware of our capabilities, which would necessitate a shift towards a more educative approach that empowers the new stakeholder and clearly demonstrates the value of our product. This introduces the concept of perceived versus actual value delivered. Our goal is to ensure both are high. We strive to move customers from the left-hand side (the sweet spot) to the right-hand side (the magic zone) where customers perceive that all their key needs are met. While achieving this may not always be feasible or necessary, ensuring customers perceive exceptional service and value for their time and investment creates a protective barrier against external threats. Two key components of this process are product adoption and proactive planning. A comprehensive discussion on this topic is included in our adoption playbook, it’s worth mentioning here that customers should always have a clear understanding of how they’ll continue to derive escalating value over time.


Playbook Step: Elevate Value

CSM
Effort: Medium
Impact: High

The intent of the calibrated questions in the previous section was to gain insight into the customer’s key needs and the dynamics of the account. In collaboration with the customer, construct a visually appealing, easily understandable mutual action plan. This plan should be progressive, focusing on delivering remarkable value. If the desired results aren’t achieved, take a step back to review and modify your existing strategies.

Ideally, this plan should be housed in a system accessible to the customer, with capabilities for automatic reminders. However, if such a system isn’t available, don’t fret over it; the importance lies in the plan’s execution and impact, not its storage method.

Aggregate (Alliances)

Being single-threaded in accounts constitutes a significant risk. As we navigate the challenges of losing a key stakeholder, it’s an opportune time to foster multi-threaded relationships and alliances. These networks can provide stability even in turbulent times. Relying solely on the Customer Success Manager (CSM) or the Account Executive to maintain all connections is a risky approach, as turnover can occur on our side as well. Encourage multiple team members to build relationships with various stakeholders, reducing the risk and facilitating more robust communication.

Playbook Step: Aggregate Alliances

CSM and Account Executive
Effort: High

Impact: High

The human aspect of customer success is as important as the value delivered. Consider ways to enhance these relationships:

  • On-site visits: Plan regular on-site visits to understand their work environment better and demonstrate commitment.

  • Joint Recreational Events: Casual environments often foster deeper connections and shared experiences.

  • Educational Workshops: Conduct educational workshops, even on topics beyond our product’s scope. This positions you as a valuable partner and not just a vendor.

  • Networking Opportunities: Facilitate opportunities for customers to connect with each other. This could be through webinars, conferences, or social media groups.

  • Customer Advisory Board: Establish a customer advisory board to encourage dialogue and feedback. This demonstrates that you value their insights and are committed to improving their experience.

  • Recognition of Contributions: Acknowledge customers’ contributions publicly or privately, as permissible. This can boost their sense of value and investment in the relationship.

By implementing these steps, you can transform a single-threaded account into a multi-threaded partnership, significantly reducing risk and fostering deeper relationships with your customers.

Tune (In/It)

Tune In

The final stage of this process requires you to adapt and adopt this playbook according to your business realities. While the strategies and steps outlined here are particularly relevant for large or mid-size strategic accounts, they can be tweaked and applied even to accounts with lower Annual Contract Value (ACV).

Tune It

Regularly assess the “Loss of Champion” playbook and fine-tune it to ensure its alignment with your unique circumstances. It’s through persistent iteration and constant refinement that you will craft powerful plays that yield exceptional results. For any further questions or queries, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at [email protected].

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