Eight Ways Customer Success Managers Can Prime Customers for Upsells When Sales Ultimately Owns Expansion Revenue

What are a few ways CSMs should approach priming their book of business for expansion?

The main goal of a CSM is to always drive and showcase value to their clients. By constantly reaching for this goal, you can simultaneously achieve the main business objectives of a CSM which are to maintain/increase retention so the company can grow and expand.

Nonetheless, many companies have different strategies and approaches when it comes to who should own/lead account expansion and how involved should the CSMs be. However, one thing is for certain—regardless of who will own the expansion of the account, this is impossible to achieve if the CSM hasn’t supported the customer in achieving their Desired Outcome, and helping them recognize the added value your product brings to their business.

Before jumping into who owns the revenue expansion and how CSMs can set up their customers for account expansion, it’s important to understand what are the different ways you can drive revenue growth.

Defining Expansion Revenue in B2B SaaS

There are two main ways that you can drive expansion within an account. We know them as upsells—offering an upgraded version of the product—and cross-sells—offering new products/features that will subsequently provide an upgraded stack of the product. Both of these can happen during the customer’s mid-life term, or during the renewal process. When an account is in the middle of a renewal, there’s a higher chance of success since the customer has already experienced a year or two of working with your product, and with the help of the CSM, the customer also has a complete and clear picture of the value that the product drives to their business. With that, let’s dive deeper into what upsells, cross-sells, and renewals entail and how they are relevant during the customer lifecycle.

Types of expansion revenue

Upsells

In my experience, an upsell happens when the customer is growing as a business and your product is an integral part of this growth so they feel/need an upgrade of the product. This means that if they have a plan with a limited usage they would increase that usage cap so your product will cover the growth needs of your customer. This can happen at any stage of the customer lifecycle, since at any moment your customer can experience growth in their business and they would need a product that can support this growth.

Cross-sells

These ones are a little bit trickier since this usually entails new features or extensions of the actual product. So, in order to succeed in cross-selling, CSMs need to make sure that the customers' perceived value of the feature they will eventually purchase is clear, and that the business use-case is something that will immediately improve the business outcome of the customer. Cross-sells are more common during the mid-term/late lifecycle of the customer journey since they already have good knowledge about your product and they clearly understand how a new feature/extension of the product can impact their business outcome.

Renewals

The ideal lifecycle stage to both upsell and cross-sell within an account. If the customer is, in fact, renewing, the customer has already experienced a full term working with your product and has agreed to trust you as their provider for the next term. That means the CSM has the opportunity to plan along with the customer for the next term and offer to add more value to their current product stack. Just like before, the features you want to cross-sell and the product you want to upsell must be mission critical to the customers' business objectives since this would not only drive revenue expansion but it will empower a healthy and trustworthy relationship between the CSM, the product, and the customer.

So, now that we’ve covered the ways we can drive expansion revenue, let’s discuss who should be leading and owning these initiatives within a company.

Who Can Own Expansion Revenue Within an Organization?

There are usually three departments/personas within a SaaS company that own and deal with customer revenue expansion—Customer Success, Sales, and Expansion/Account Management. Different companies have different approaches, and what may work for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. There are also many variables that we need to take into account: the size of the company, size of the customer, size of the revenue expansion, type of expansion, and so on. So, taking into account all of the variables I can think of and experiences I’ve had with different companies and customers, I’ll share my knowledge on how each of the personas is and should be involved in order to increase the chances of a successful expansion within an account.

Customer Success

A CSM should always be the one to identify the opportunity in the first place, and also be at the center of the expansion. When I say center, I don’t mean negotiating contract or dealing with tracking down the right people for signatures, but orchestrating and guiding the sales person or the account manager using their knowledge and understanding of how the product drives value to the customer. This empowers the sales person or the account manager with all of the context and information they need in order to complete the deal. On the other side, the CSM should have already done an amazing job in helping the customer achieve their desired outcome and understand the clear value the product adds to their business so when the opportunity for an upsell/cross-sell arises, the only question the customer has is “How much?”.

Some organizations like to leave the full expansion process to the CSMs, I find this to be counterproductive since the customer will view the CSM as their commercial POC instead of their strategic advisor, and this can have a negative impact on the relationship.

Sales

Before an account is handed to the CSM, the sales person owned the relationship. So, if the expansion opportunity arises during the early stages of the customer lifecycle, it makes sense for the sales person to jump in, along with the assistance of the CSM. In companies where there are no Expansion/Account Managers to drive upsells/cross-sells with existing clients, it also makes sense to involve the sales person that brought in the customer to the company.

Dedicated Expansion/Account Management Team or Role

The idea of having this role/department is to have a POC within the company that will deal with the expansion revenue deals with existing customers. Again, they should work closely with the CSMs to build the right approach and strategy in order to increase the chances of success.

The CSM should be the person inside the company to identify potential account growth opportunities, alert the sales person/Account Manager about the opportunity, and provide all the necessary information and context to them so they can make the negotiation and closing process much smoother.

SaaS companies shouldn’t push for upsells/cross-sells that are not aligned with the natural growth of the customer. This might lead to an increase in short-term revenue, but can eventually push a customer to churn or downgrade because the product is not fulfilling their business needs as expected.

So, how can CSMs prime customers for upsells/cross-sells, and how can companies incentivize CSMs to do so in a way that doesn’t hurt the relationship with the customer nor the long-term relationship?

Eight Ways CSMs Can Prime Customers for Upsells When Sales Owns Expansion 

CSMs are responsible for identifying growth opportunities in an account, and it is up to the CSM to understand if the expansion is the right one, and if the customer is ready to increase their investment with your product, and loop in sales when it makes sense to do so. Let's walk through a few ways CSMs can approach this.

Desired Outcome

CSMs should have a clear understanding of what their customers' Desired Outcome is. If you are achieving their Desired Outcome with them, then it’s time to broaden the horizons and propel your customers to new business growth opportunities. 

Success Plan

This will allow CSMs to build a clear and organized business plan with their customers. Success plans change according to the evolution of the customer, if the customer achieves specific milestones, then the new success plan will contain even more ambitious goals that will require the right solution for them.

Open Communication

CSMs should be on top of what their customer needs. What are their pain points? Do they have new challenges that can represent opportunities of expansion?

Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs)

QBRs are an excellent way to present the stakeholders at an account with what has been achieved with the CSMs guidance and their usage of your product. If you can relay the ROI of your product, then QBRs are perfect for sharing growth plans that will help the customer achieve their business goals quicker.

Product Trials/Beta Programs

As a CSM, you are the trusted advisor of your customer. The CSM should be able to identify a need/challenge that the customer has and offer the customer a solution to solve this challenge with a relevant feature or part of the product—perhaps it's a free trial of an existing feature, or enrollment in a beta program for a new product. If the feature addresses their need, then this expansion will simply come down to pricing.

Relevant Use-Cases

Knowing the industry your customer is in will empower the CSM to share similar solutions that have worked for other customers in the same industry.

Product Training

Customers that are well-trained and know the ins and outs of your product will have a clear idea of what other features can add value to their product stack, moreover, these customers will usually give you product feature ideas that can eventually lead to upsells/cross-sells.

Customer Advocacy Programs

CSMs can encourage their books of business to have a deeper relationship with a product/brand/company by presenting customer advocacy opportunities such as well-incentivized referral programs, beta testing programs, having them join customer advocacy groups, inviting them to speaking engagements i.e. webinars, conferences, etc. Creating and promoting these opportunities to your customers will help to deepen their relationship with your brand, and open them up to expanding their usage of your product.

How Organizations Can Incentivize Customer Success to Prime Accounts for Expansion

It is clear that CSMs are at the center of revenue expansion, but how can companies incentivize their Customer Success teams to drive further revenue growth that goes hand in hand with the growth of their customers?

The best approach, in my experience as a Customer Success Manager, is to offer incentives in the form of three different KPIs:

Rewards for Retention

At the end of the day, the most important objective for a CSM is to maintain/increase retention. Increased/maintained retention is the clearest sign that your customers trust you as their vendor and would like to continue having you as their business partner. So, having bonuses in place for different retention tiers is a fair way to reward the CSM for this type of KPI. One suggestion is to have this be a combination of net retention (retention in $) or logo retention (retention in # of customers).

Rewards for New ARR/TCV

Companies could also provide a bonus for any new annual recurring revenue (ARR) or total contract value (TCV) the CSM has achieved with their accounts. This KPI represents account revenue growth and expansion.

Spiffs

It’s nice to recognize CSMs for other KPIs that are not related to retention or expansion. Examples of KPIs not directly related to revenue are securing case studies, increasing feature adoption, high health scores, etc.

To avoid pushing CSMs to promote irrelevant upsells/cross-sells, the majority of the bonus compensation should be concentrated within retention. This will ensure that your CSMs always keep retention as their main KPI.

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