Customers evaluate, buy, use and develop/maintain a degree of loyalty to your products or services. Customer lifecycle is the foundation of customer relationship management (CRM).
Where does customer success enter into this sales equation? Usually sales team consummation of new business focuses on using various customer relationship management (CRM) platforms.
Sales teams take their eyes off the “utilizing and maintaining a degree of loyalty to a product or service” part of the equation. When? Once the contract is signed and brought in house for implementation.
That is when you drop the ball.
Customer relationships are longer than the new customer acquisition sales cycle. Oh, and they also are collaborative.
Ask yourself three questions key to customer success:
- Who “owns” the customer relationship once a contract is signed?
- Who is responsible for re-establishing and maintaining customer loyalty?
- Is measuring customer loyalty the same as tracking customer success?
Customer success is the process of managing the technical as well as business relationships between a supplier/vendor/OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and its customers. Customer success managers manage client expectations. These managers create and optimize the value clients receive by utilizing purchased solutions. Customer success targets making clients productive and profitable based on the enduring value of the products, platforms and solutions placed within their business ecosystem.
Customer success involves collaboration throughout your own organization as well as your customer’s organization. How collaborative and cross-functional is your workplace?
Is there an organizational Black Hole after the contract is signed?
Does your contract enter an organizational abyss, an impenetrable Black Hole, once that contract is signed and comes in-house for design development and implementation? The only light emanating from the event horizon of that black hole may be full of business and sales mis-assumptions.
The sales rep and manager mis-assume that:
Mis-Assumption #1. The contract immediately is processed and fulfilled. Instead the Contracts department identifies glitches in execution and directly contacts the new customer. They leave the sales rep out of the communication loop. There is a lot of fine print that the client did not feel was necessary to adhere to, based on assurances from the rep that these aspects could be dealt with “later”.
Mis-Assumption #2. The contract is processed and scheduled for fulfillment or production. Instead the contract is sent to the Office of Project Management, where it is scored by engineering management and prioritized. The PMO prioritization is far lower than the priority assured to the client by the sales rep.
Mis-Assumption #3. The project is immediately fulfilled or produced. Instead the warehousing team experiences logistics and inventory glitches. Instead the engineering team rejects the design specifications as inconsistent and error-ridden and directly contacts the customers with feedback that execution of the contract is not possible. Plus the project is scheduled out into the future (which can be years for large complex manufacturing projects) due to a production backlog in your plant.
Mis-Assumption #4. The client is happy, satisfied and, of course, loyal due to their experience of working with your fabulous sales rep and, therefore your company. The duration of new customer relationships are set during the initial customer experience of working with your company, both pre- and post-sale. Clients may not be interested in developing an enduring relationship with your company if the initial success of that customer is hampered by people, process and systems flaws in executing that contract. In addition, contracts can be cancelled. Alternatively, how many times do customer success managers save your sales teams’ collective butts?
Savvy customer retention strategy connects customer sales lifecycle to post-sale customer success.
The majority of sales organizations focus on customer acquisition rather than customer retention. Isn’t it time to develop a more holistic perspective of the customer lifecycle?
How many variables are set in motion which impact customer success? Identify all the areas for variability in execution, depending on the products, services and platforms you sell. What are the quality and quantity of upgrades, upselling, modification, recall, backorders, lengthy production, rarity of raw materials, inadequate design specifications, you name it?
Does the back end of your sales cycle, the one you relegate to “Them” – your customer success management personnel – return to haunt your customer relationship efforts? If you, as a Salesperson of Worth, ignore communicating and collaborating with these individuals throughout the customer lifecycle, you are short-selling the business value of your offerings.
The initial, first sale sets the stage for customer lifecycle, customer success and customer retention. The first sale also sets the stage for creating enduring business value and outcomes for your customers.
Your real customer lifecycle team includes more folks than sales reps. How about connecting the dots for customer success?
Babette Ten Haken is the Founder and President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC. She has one of the most distinctive voices in today’s workforce, professional development and customer success communities. She traverses the interface between tech workforce hiring strategy and developing collaborative technical and business teams focused on customer success and customer retention. Babette’s playbook of technical / non-technical collaboration hacks, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon. Visit the Free Resources section of her website for more tools.
Image author: Dmitry. Image source: Fotolia