Answer These Four Questions to Establish your Crisis Customer Retention Strategy

Kate Hopkins By: Kate Hopkins   Phil SternPhil Stern

As stay-at-home orders extend and sales pipelines freeze up, a priority for SaaS businesses should be retaining current customers and revenue. Companies that identify and engage at-risk clients now will be set up to capture growth opportunities when things get back to normal.

To launch a crisis-specific retention strategy, ask yourself these four questions:

1.Who are your at-risk customers?

You may have already tiered your customers based on their size or ARR to help your CSMs know where to focus, but that fair-weather tiering is imperfect in the context of economic uncertainty.

To identify which customers are at highest risk of churn, think about the following:

  • Customers with monthly (non-annual) contracts
  • Customers who are still onboarding
  • Customers in heavily impacted industries (e.g. hospitality)
  • Customers up for renewal soon
  • Customers who have contractual “outs” (e.g. a contract that gives the client the ability to cancel with X days’ notice without penalty)

Once you’ve identified your high-risk customers, how can you make sure they’re getting the attention they need? A little proactive management could go a long way toward keeping your net revenue retention high.

2.What are your crisis customer metrics?

If you regularly track product usage and satisfaction, start monitoring all customer activity relative to “normal”. Additionally, add metrics that get at the underlying business health of your customers. For instance, are customers continuing to enter jobs or process payments in your system?

Metrics to track how your customer is using your product:

  • Daily/weekly/monthly usage events (clicks)
  • Daily/weekly/monthly active users
  • NPS
  • Usage of key product features

Metrics to track how your customer’s business is performing:

  • Customer new business metrics: bookings, orders, etc.
  • Customer continuing business metrics: revenue, jobs, projects, etc.
  • Usage volume metrics: payments volume, SMS messages, etc.

By tracking a couple of product usage metrics plus a couple of metrics around the health of your customer’s business, you can attain a holistic picture of both the health of your product and of your customers’ businesses.

3.Can you turn sellers into savers?

If you’re considering adding more customer touchpoints to retain more revenue, start by gauging the capacity of your customer success org (e.g. can they handle more workload?). If this team would benefit from additional capacity and if your at-risk customers need to be re-sold, consider establishing a “customer save team.”

By temporarily moving some of your sellers to proactive retention roles, you could save a lot of accounts. Additionally, since many sellers are having difficulty staying busy, re-allocating sales capacity can help keep them engaged.

Short term, you get immediate support retaining customers and revenue. Long-term, when demand picks back up, you won’t need to hire and train a new sales team. If you make this change, we recommend redrafting sales compensation plans to pay a portion of the sellers’ commission on saved revenue. Keep a close eye on demand and be sure to have your sellers back in position when demand picks up.

4.What’s your new talk track?

Your customer success org will face a completely new set of conversations and situations that your old talk tracks were never meant for. Write a new set of scripts so they can present a unified and sympathetic front, while at the same time helping your customers see the value in your product.

Your new talk tracks should include three principles:

  1. Empathy: Remind your team that your customers are confronting tough times, too. When your customer success rep answers the phone, it can be tempting to jump right into the customer’s need.
  2. Discovery: You need to get beyond the initial request so you can understand the “why” behind their need. Are they looking to cut costs? Were they going to cancel their agreement anyway? Are they not seeing value? Each customer will have a different reason for calling and different circumstances within their business. Encourage your team to politely ask questions before taking action.
  3. Education: Ensure your reps are prepared to educate customers not just on the value of your solution, but also on the options they have other than canceling. This might include pausing their agreement for a period of time, downgrading to a lower-cost package, or adjusting their payment terms to allow them to keep the service and pay over a longer period of time. The education and guidance your customer success rep provides should directly align with what they uncover during discovery.

Conducting discovery with a financially stressed client can be awkward. By equipping your customer success org with specific talk tracks, you pave the way for best-possible interactions.

Now — roll out your strategy across functions

Retention is a team sport. It requires you to first know your customers and how they use your product in detail, and then requires you to deploy your people to where they’ll have the greatest impact with messaging that will best support your customers’ needs. As you develop a plan to save clients and retain revenue, strong cross-functional coordination across customer success, sales and finance is necessary. Consider building a small team to lead this initiative and consider appointing one directly responsible individual (DRI) to lead the charge.

Once you’ve identified how much revenue is at risk, factor that into your forecasts and set goals to engage with your customers proactively. When engaged, create mutual plans that allow your customers to stay customers, and communicate the goals you set and all success stories back to your team members frequently. As you continue to engage with at-risk customers, these insights will benefit the entire customer-facing team.

Lastly, develop a culture of customer centricity and a language around your revenue retention plan and bring everyone in on that plan. The more your team clearly understands your goals and their role in supporting your business, the more likely they are to take ownership for supporting your customers and ultimately helping you retain revenue.


Kate Hopkins
Kate is Vice President at Mainsail Partners, working with portfolio companies to accelerate growth. Her focus is in product and market strategy.
More by Kate Hopkins
Phil Stern
Phil is a Vice President at Mainsail. He leads the firm’s Center of Excellence for Sales and is responsible for helping Mainsail’s portfolio companies optimize their growth strategies and deploy sales practices.
More by Phil Stern
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