New business is expensive and time-consuming to bring onboard, no matter what industry you’re in. For enterprise technology, the average sales cycle for a six-figure-plus deal can take six to twelve months, and even more if your markets include the federal government, which is notoriously slow-moving. Similarly, if your offering is highly specialized, you might be looking at a limited pool of prospects to choose from in the first place.
That’s why a strong customer retention strategy is critical to a business’s success. This is especially true for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies, which rely on a subscription-based model with a sales cycle that can vary dramatically, depending on a few factors – among these are target customers, price, payment terms and how broad the solution set is. Infolinks found that while 47% of businesses recommend a business if it provided good customer service and response, and 42% left a SaaS subscription due to poor customer service.
The dreaded “churn and burn”
Landing customers and forgetting about them is a quick way to lose them. Customers have high expectations for their relationship with your company, and if they feel their needs aren’t being met, they can easily jump ship for your competitor. With software, cloud platforms and the “-aaS” revolution replacing expensive, proprietary and on-premises solutions that customers traditionally had used, there are fewer obstacles to migrating services to a new vendor. Today, it’s as easy as cancelling a subscription. Technology vendors need to bend over backwards with creative, proactive ways to ensure their customers are getting the absolute maximum value out of their offering.
For stronger and more consistent growth metrics over time, the ideal is to “land and expand” with existing customers by making sure they are getting the promised value out of your solution. This avoids the dreaded “churn and burn” approach that sacrifices ongoing revenue stability for quick “number” wins for your sales metrics.
How marketing and PR contribute to your customer retention strategy
How can you make sure your customers know about all the great ROI your service provides? Marketing and PR play a core role.
There are three primary ways that PR and marketing support your desire to retain customers:
- Air cover: When customers see coverage about your solution, your company and your executives’ thought leadership, it provides third-party validation that can help them feel more secure about their decision.
- Launching a customer advisory board: This is a great way to give customers a voice within your own organization, offering feedback and suggestions on the solution and getting together with their fellow customers at dinners and other events to trade best practices. The more a customer identifies with your solution and feels heard and validated about how to make it better, the more likely they are to stick with it. As a side note, customer advisory boards are a great way to identify customer champions who would be willing to be references for prospects or candidates for media outreach campaigns.
- Joint opportunities: When you offer your customers joint PR and marketing opportunities through customer reference programs, you’re giving them free value. Find out what coverage your customer would like to get and then make them the focus of the story, showing how they implemented novel ways to help their business and their own users.
The voice of the customer
Retention of existing customers requires making sure they’re feeling heard. The sales and/or customer success teams need to constantly check in to hear customers’ feedback, concerns and suggestions. This feedback should be delivered to the marketing team so they can flow those messages and care-abouts into their overall external communications program as part of a closed-loop approach to messaging. By seeing company coverage and messaging that speaks to their concerns, customers know they are being listened to and taken seriously.
Another effective practice is to educate them on everything else they can do with your products or services via coverage and marketing, such as white papers and success stories. Illustrate the ways they can improve or grow their business with your company through features, methods or solutions they might not yet have considered. This is where it’s important to ensure that the sales team is sharing coverage and assets with customers.
What do your customers need?
Understanding customers’ business needs is an opportunity to make everyone happy. Every customer is different, but too many sales and marketing teams see customers only through the lens of their product and ignore the broader contours of the customer’s business goals beyond the IT stack.
Instead, understand what the customer is actually using your solution to accomplish – and the business pains of attempting alternatives. Then communicate through PR and marketing with success stories and use cases illustrating customers in similar industries and situations solving similar problems with your solution, demonstrating that you understand their market and their needs.
Your customer retention strategy: Leverage PR and marketing
As you think about how to increase customer retention, remember that the relationship doesn’t end when you land an account. Technology vendors are selling more services and fewer devices, meaning ongoing, high-touch relationship management is mission-critical for success and cannot be sidelined. A happy customer stays around and even refers you to new business. To maximize customer retention, corporate strategy should ensure that customer feedback is being solicited, circulated, responded to, and implemented in the solution. This can be executed with an integrated marketing and PR strategy that elevates the voice of the customer for everyone’s success.
Written by Peggy Tierney Galvin.
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