Customer Success

Let’s Stop Calling Churn a Customer Success Problem

August 13, 2020

Sure, customer success (CS) teams are on the front lines of preventing churn. But CS can only do so much and they’re busy creating value in a number of other ways: ensuring satisfaction and referrals, collecting customer insight, catalyzing expansion opportunities and freeing up account executives (AEs) to focus on new business.

Ultimately, making customers succeed is a business-wide responsibility that requires contributions from each function. Here are 8 things that can really move the needle on churn:


1. Selling to the right customer

I’ve seen annual retention rates vary from 50% to 90% across different customer types for the same product. Target your sales and marketing to the right ideal customer profile (ICP) rather than attempt to sell to everyone and their brother. If you focus on where your product does best and then carefully expand from a position of strength, you’ll be much more successful in the long run.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should stop selling to customers outside of your ICP. It’s a question of resource prioritization and where you’re being proactive. Think about which conferences you’ll go to, who your SDR team is calling on, and where you put your paid advertising spend.

Taking the time to carefully define your ICPs means you’ll be unlocking serious value.

2. Not getting too greedy on the initial deal

Over promise, under deliver. That’s exactly what happens when your sales team captures so much extra stuff in the initial deal in an attempt to get every last dollar out of the customer. Doing too much at once can actually stop customers from being successful—and then they’ll start looking elsewhere for a solution.

Don’t get greedy—start smaller, give the customer some time to get to know the product, and you’ll be setting the stage for an easy growth opportunity in the future.

To keep sales reps from working too much into the deal too soon, incentivize them with renewal and upsell bonuses for deals that they closed in prior quarters.

3. Moving from monthly to annual plans

One portfolio company I work with spent years trying to improve churn. The most important lever was shifting 70% of new cohorts from monthly to annual plans.

This is controversial. Doesn’t this just make customers who want to churn feel trapped? While this could happen in certain instances, on the whole you’re usually better off because:

  • You’ll have more time to impress the customer
  • The customer will have more skin in the game, which will make them more motivated to implement the product

Moving customers to annual plans

4. Market to existing customers

Marketing and sales shouldn’t stop once someone becomes a customer. Customers need to know about new features (and feel excited about them), learn best practices, and understand how the product can be used and what makes it worth spending money on so they can defend the spend to their leadership team.

And they also need to feel like they’re connected to something bigger than just the product, like a supportive community that helps them learn and get better at their job. Keep this in mind when you’re creating marketing content: highlight your most successful customers in order to educate and inspire your not-yet-successful customers.

5. Nailing customer onboarding

Seeing value fast is critical for a customer staying engaged.

At the beginning of their time with the product, you have their greatest attention. They have a pain point that they’re looking to solve and this is your key window to impress them. Don’t mess it up.

Most SaaS companies guide users towards “activation”—the moment when your product has delivered on its promise to your users. This should happen as quickly as possible. The product team should be responsible for making sure a larger and larger share of your users reaches activation.

6. Integrations, integrations, integrations

The more your product is embedded in a customer’s workflow and systems of record, the harder you’ll be to rip out.

Three reasons why this is the case:

  • Data aspect: Data is connected across systems and lives in multiple places
  • Adoption aspect: It’s easier for people to use your product since it’s available inside the applications where they already spend time
  • Use cases: Your product solves more problems for a customer when it’s connected to other software vs. just playing in it’s own silo

7. Broadening the use cases for your product

The more problems you solve for your customer, the more champions you’ll have.

Ideally, your product should have layers like an onion. The outer layer is what brings people in. Take Zoom, for example. People may initially sign up because they need a video conferencing tool for remote work. But over time, they discover more and more layers for themselves and their teams: it’s a tool for brainstorming, meeting scheduling, group discussions, and even IT troubleshooting because of the remote desktop control.

8. Measuring product health indicators

Do you know what features are predictive of retention? Unless you’re Amazon, Instacart or Zoom, you need to assess your customers’ engagement with your product.

Since it’s not possible to speak with every customer to understand how they think about your product, you need your product to tell you whether your customers are truly seeing value—or if they want to leave.

OpenView’s Sam Richard created an in-depth guide for implementing a customer health assessment at your own organization. Once you have a score, you’ll want to get it into the hands of teammates who can fight churn ASAP.

What did I leave out?

Have you tried something that wound up moving the needle on churn, but it’s not listed here? Tell me on LinkedIn.

Kyle Poyar

Partner at OpenView

Kyle helps OpenView’s portfolio companies accelerate top-line growth through segmentation, value proposition, packaging & pricing, customer insights, channel partner programs, new market entry and go-to-market strategy.