When B2B marketers think “buyer,” they’re most often thinking about net-new buyers. But the biggest opportunity in an uncertain market is to focus on convincing customers to stay and customer expansion opportunities. Buyer-driven experiences (BDX) provide a framework that extends across the customer continuum from net-new to renew and expansion deals.
By Ardath Albee
I’ve been involved in helping clients create a slew of retention programs—more so in the last few years—and I’d like to clear up a few things when thinking about and planning them:
- Retention programs and onboarding programs are not the same things.
If your customers haven’t yet figured out how to create their first X in your platform, your chances of retaining them are slim. Let’s assume your customers have successfully onboarded and are using your product – now what?
- The psychology is different. Rather than breaking the status quo, you want to strengthen it. Corporate Visions did the seminal research on “Why Stay?” – Here’s what’s in a winning why stay story…
- Given the use case, what dimensions of value are important to your customer?
By renewal time your customer should have solved the problem they had before purchase. To what extent have they done so? What does that value look like now? And are your customers realizing all the types of value your solution provides? (Economic, Functional, Experiential, Symbolic) How can you help them gain more value?
- Who you’re talking to may be different.
Is the original buyer (group) the same as the renewal buyer (group)? If not, have you built those personas? Remember that knowledge is different from understanding. The better you know them, the better you can engage, serve, and delight them.
- Retention programs aren’t something you start 30 days before renewal.
There’s nothing like the 30-day press to make your customers feel like an afterthought. Taking customers for granted is the worst thing you can do—as SaaS providers have learned with the demise of long-term contracts and the (perceived) ease of switching providers. Just as your marketing programs nurture net-new buyers across lengthy buying cycles, retention programs must kick in after onboarding and continue across the customer lifecycle.
Considering only 18% of companies rate their customer experience as excellent (best in class), improving retention programs can help you transform your customer relationships—and your revenue growth.
This becomes even more important when you consider 73% of B2B tech companies have accelerated existing company revenue goals and 41% of them are decreasing their emphasis on net-new sales to focus on up- and cross-selling.
Another report finds improving CX is a top three objective as well as a top 3 challenge for B2B marketers. Executive marketing leaders cite increasing retention as their second most important objective showing they realize the precariousness of relying mostly on net-new business to drive revenue growth.
Shifting focus to retention is also a top priority for improving ABM performance. Toward the effort of improving customer experience, investing in new content and creative (42%) is a top priority.
As validation for expending the effort to improve customer experience, this same report finds B2B marketers who reported delivering the best CX are nearly 2X more likely to have seen a moderate or significant increase in revenue last year than all others (56% vs. 29%). And this includes prioritizing retention efforts for existing customers.
Get Started with Customer Retention and Expansion Programs
The guiding premise for retention programs is to help your customers gain more value and success by using your products and services. Gaining additional value includes expansion and cross-sell deals that add to the value your customers currently realize today.
Given the programs I’ve worked on recently, here are two ideas to get you started thinking about and strategizing your retention programs.
For enterprise (ABM) expansion programs – use existing advocates and power users to inform others within their organization of the value they’re reaping from using your products. Host a lunch and learn and invite execs or the appropriate personas from other departments/divisions with similar objectives to join a peer discussion about what’s working. Your account manager and SME are the moderators there to help draw out the value scenario and answer questions that may arise. You can do this successfully on-site or virtually.
You can also hold advocate roundtables on relevant discussion topics without an audience and use those to create videos and articles about value, user adoption, risk mitigation, and what’s next to use in expansion nurturing programs. Another benefit is you can also use these assets for net-new account content—with the participants’ permission.
For retention programs – combine a compelling customer-like-them story that showcases a relevant value scenario/use case with a how-to-do-this-yourself demo or course. Show them it’s possible and why it matters, and then show them how to get those results themselves.
This doesn’t mean your customer has to expose their internal processes as all companies are different. It may be that your “how-to” demo is a “generic” version with a CTA to reach out to their customer success manager for specific guidance and training. The important part is making a value they don’t yet have (or haven’t fully realized) attainable with the product they’ve invested in.
I’d also suggest revisiting your case studies and evaluating them for how helpful they are. Did you present a realistic story? Or did you gloss over the tough spots? Sharing those and how your expertise helped the customer power through them can be helpful if shared from the customer’s perspective.
One of my clients shares “experience profiles” written by end users of their solution about what it took for them to implement, adopt the solution, and onboard users. These are compelling and highly visited stories. Think of them as reviews on steroids. Their authenticity helps eliminate perceived risk, along with fear of messing up (FOMU).
I’ve attended a lot of user conferences where it’s great to hear from other customers about their success in using a vendor’s product. You walk away thinking, “yes! This is just what we should do.” But then you realize you don’t know where to start. By combining the success story with a “how-to” you help your customers eliminate risk and uncertainty by making it simple to move forward.
Elevated Customer Retention Programs Improve Customer Experience
The current market environment is helping companies re-evaluate what’s important if they want to achieve sustained growth. Your customers are a primary contributor to this goal. And it’s high time we paid as much attention to those who enable our company to thrive as we expend on trying to attract and convert those we hope will join them.
Customer retention and expansion are more profitable and efficient. Acquiring new customers can cost 4X more than upselling an existing customer. Existing customers are more willing to try new products and spend more (I’ve seen numbers from 31% to 67%) than new customers.
This is because you already have a relationship with them. They trust you. (Or they should) And, they also have expectations they can depend upon given their past experiences with you. These attributes all serve to reduce risk, friction, and time to decision.
But—and it’s a big one—this doesn’t mean you can shortchange them. This can’t mean you can treat them as an afterthought. The customer retention programs you design deserve great and relevant storytelling. There must be an even bigger reward for customer engagement than prospect engagement. After all, there’s more to lose…
And finally, you may be thinking this is the job of customer success. Customer success has their hands full onboarding and supporting your existing end users in using your products effectively. They may not always have relationships with decision makers—especially for expansion deals. And they have limited resources to create marketing programs to get the job done.
Marketers excel at storytelling and the more consistently the story builds across the entire continuum of the customer lifecycle—from net-new to advocacy—the higher you’ll see customer lifetime value (CLV) grow.
And finally, as RevOps adoption grows, alignment between marketing, sales, and customer success will only get stronger. B2B marketers who take the lead to drive customer retention initiatives as part of your organization’s GTM strategy will become hugely valuable as contributors to sustainable revenue growth.