The current financial climate has companies cutting expenses wherever possible. This means the customer renewal process isn't just important — it's critical for your business's survival.
All this makes you wish you could sit down with a Customer Success renewal leader and pick their brain about what to do next, right? Well, we did it for you.
In this guide to B2B customer renewal, we’re taking a look at the insights that six leading CS experts have provided, as well as the action steps they believe are most important in the coming years. In addition to providing some ideas for best practices, our guest contributors offered their own modern techniques for getting your customer to renew their contract for your subscription-based SaaS product or service.
Without further ado, here’s what they are, why they matter, and how you can execute a successful customer renewal strategy:
1. Continuously Reinforce Value
Richard Lowenthal is the CEO of GoBrunch and has an excellent track record of Customer Success.The brand launched in 2022 and generated nearly 200 5-star ratings on across G2, GetApp, and other leading SaaS review platforms within the first year. We reached out to get his take on customer renewal. Here’s what he had to say:
“The number one biggest challenge is making sure we’re still providing value and the customer isn’t swallowed by a big player,” says Lowenthal. “The SaaS market is very dynamic and competitive. Companies tend to use global integrated services that already do what you’re doing. In order to keep your SaaS boutique on top, you need to reinforce your value all the time, and provide better customized support service than everyone in your field.”
Great advice but who doesn’t want to provide great service and become an asset to their clients, right? Here’s how Lowenthal suggests we actually execute it:
“There’s a big trend to build communities and make the customers feel as if they belong to it,” he explains. “By the time they are tempted to switch the platform, they will act as a guardian to protect the relationship. That’s what we’re doing here [by prioritizing face-to-face video chat and company cultures] to reduce the churn.” By making video calls the number one way the GoBrunch team communicates, co-works, and conducts their daily business, they’ve managed to regain the feeling of community that only quality face time can provide.
Creating relevant and impactful communities, as Lownethal mentioned, is one way of going about this.
And while we highly encourage building one, this strategy can take a long time. Think months and years rather than days or weeks. That isn’t immediately helpful for the short term.
“[You can] offer your product at a discounted rate in exchange for access to the customer's discounted product. Or you can feature them in your newsletter or other content space. Even better, you can collaborate on a shared webinar. All of this to say, you can make the relationship more of a partnership and less transactional,” she says.
Our takeaway: Community-oriented action is what truly adds value over and over again.
2. Ensure Strong Engagement
A Customer Success Manager turned Head of Customer Success and now CCO, Tatsenko knows a thing or two about understanding clients' priorities and delivering product demonstrations that strongly engage her audience. Her current focus is enhancing the customer experience, driving retention, and optimizing customer lifecycle management.
Here’s what she had to say about customer renewal based on her own personal experience with gathering and analyzing client feedback:
“The primary challenge in achieving a higher customer renewal rate in 2023 is the ongoing economic recession,” says Tatsenko. “In the past, retaining customers and securing subscription renewals involved incorporating exciting new features into your SaaS product, intensifying marketing efforts, and offering appealing supplementary components.”
“However,” she goes on to say, “the current scenario has seen many businesses prioritize cost-cutting and survival. As a result, the focus has shifted from flashy offerings to providing solutions that aid businesses in staying afloat and effectively managing their cash flow.”
That’s where engagement comes in.
As Tatsenko explains: “For Customer Success managers, the key lies in ensuring strong product engagement — transforming the product from a nice-to-have option to an essential one.”
How? “A deep understanding of your customers' processes is crucial. Encouraging them to utilize your solution for as many processes as possible is vital. This strategy positions your product as indispensable, making customers more inclined to renew their subscriptions, given they can't envision running their business without it.”
With a little foresight, this can be done practically and with measurable results.”To achieve this,” shares Tatsenko, “Customer Success Managers need to adopt a proactive approach in their interactions. This entails onboarding new clients from day one, scheduling catch-up calls, and functioning as genuine consultants to help clients achieve their business objectives.”
Setting up this workflow from the very beginning can ensure high customer renewal rates thanks to increased engagement. And if you’re past the onboarding part of the relationship, you can still reinvigorate your relationships with additional engagement.
3. Craft 'Hail Mary' Offers
Discounts aren’t the only way to improve customer engagement. But they can be highly effective as a last-ditch effort.
“Another responsive approach that Customer Success managers can adopt is providing discounts to customers displaying signs of potential churn,” Tatsenko says. “If a customer is struggling to afford your product or facing budgetary constraints, offering a discount can be beneficial.”
Still, the focus is less transactional and more collaborative. “To establish a mutually beneficial arrangement and maintain the perception of your product's value, you can propose exchanging this discount for a review, customer story, or referral to another business.”
And don’t think you have to stick with this lower price forever.
“Once your client's financial difficulties are resolved, they can revert to paying the full product price,” says Tatsenko. “Nonetheless, your acts of kindness will be remembered, leading them to become enthusiastic brand advocates.” Make sure you get this in writing up front and clearly define the period of time (one to two years is usually great) before the discount becomes active.
Even if you can’t offer a significant discount, a small gesture may be just enough to prove your own investment in their success.
“When thinking about how to mitigate churn, obviously if they need to save ten grand and you can give them a ten grand discount, then do that,” Marani adds. “I think what's more important is making it a mutually beneficial relationship.”
4. Educate Customers
Educating customers is an important defense against churn.
Because of Porter's experience working with clients on various types of revenue teams, he sees the whole picture within the sales cycle. He also has a higher-level view of how to prevent customer churn.
Here’s what he suggests brands do right away:
“Create conversations with customers that focus on value being realized,” Porter suggests. “Everything you do at this point needs to veer away from ‘how do you like the product?’ and go toward ‘what problems are being solved by this product?’ or ‘what problems could we help solve with this product?’”
But wait! Before you copy and paste those questions into an email, you have to do your homework first.
“These conversations need to have some research done ahead of time. Look at adoption and usage to understand why customers initially purchased your product and what they were looking to solve.”
And when in doubt, “start with value-creation conversations and you’ll inevitably get some good tips from your customers on how to deliver better value,” shares Porter. Value-creation conversations are, by definition, “the process of identifying customer needs, developing products or services that meet those needs, and creating a unique selling proposition for the business.”
So as Porter suggests, being curious about how you can support your customer based on the feedback they provide and the information you already have about their goals and/or experience with your product or service is crucial.
As Yang told us, customer renewal leaders need to “develop an in-depth understanding of customer needs and goals, not just at the time of initial sale but throughout their journey with your product.”
It doesn’t have to be overly complicated but it must be thorough. “This involves regular check-ins and understanding their evolving needs. This helps anticipate potential problems, identify opportunities to provide more value, and maintain a customer-centric approach.”
For more on this topic, watch our expert webinar "How to Measure Customer Education's Impact on Retention":
5. Strategically Target Your Engagement
Porter went on to share exactly how he strategically targets engagement to increase customer renewal. And it’s not as complex as you might think.
“Build targeted lists of customers to engage with,” Porter begins. He says these lists can be around:
- Low-ticket customers i.e. customers that haven’t submitted many support tickets over the last 6-9 months or so
- Renewals coming in the next six months
- New customers within the past three months — these are good times to revisit how their onboarding went and ensure they are on the right path to value so you can prevent churn next renewal
Once you have these three lists made, it’s time to put them to good use.
Porter says, “Engage with these customers and try to understand how their team is using your product today, and fill in any gaps to help drive value. Refer back to notes (if available) from their onboarding around pain points and problems then validate those are being solved.”
And if they’re not? “Create plans to work back into solving them.”
And last but not least, “if notes aren’t available, or they’ve been a customer for a while, ask if there are any other new pains or problems that are coming from their users,” he concludes.
6. Define and Map Customer Lifecycle Stages
“Renewals are not something that should only happen at the end of the relationship,” explains Marani. “It’s something that you need to be thinking about from the day that you onboard them."
"The reason that you’re onboarding them at all is so that they have a positive customer experience and then eventually renew with you. So if you only think of onboarding as the thing that happens at the end of that process, you’re probably going to set yourself up for failure.”
Porter agrees, noting “defining the customer lifecycle stages for each company and product is the biggest obstacle to overcome. Each of the stages needs defined entry/exit criteria along with proper support from both marketing and CSMs.”
“When done poorly,” Porter advises, “it puts all the emphasis on the customer to adopt the product. Failure to adopt is the most common reason for year one churn.”
Here is Ed Porter's five-step formula for onboarding that leads to customer renewal:
- Know what onboarding isn't. “Onboarding isn’t just about doing a demo for all the users. This requires a full onboarding plan with timelines and milestones,” says Porter.
- Reward effort with formal recognition. “For extra credit, add in user certifications to help augment learning. Doing this right significantly helps renewals, even if the other stages don’t get developed as well.”
- Make sure they’re actually using it. “After onboarding, adoption is next and often one of the hardest to define and execute. This is where users must be in the product, using it, realizing benefits, and becoming an everyday part of the business. Without adoption, value creation can’t happen, and without value creation, there’s no need for your product.”
- Help them realize value. “The next stage is validation and where value is realized and grown. Refer to the onboarding stage to understand the pain points and problems the customer was facing and find out how you are helping solve them. This is where customer KPIs are important to start tracking over time.”
- Engage, engage, and engage some more. “Now you focus on customer engagement. Work through the best avenues to integrate your customer into your company (user community, be a guest on a podcast or webinar, part of a user committee, etc.). You should also help CSMs integrate themselves into customer operations.”
How? “Offer to present at one of their team meetings regularly, even just for 5-10 minutes. Offer to help key decision-makers with presentation material as they present to their other teams or up the ladder. Be of value to the users and leaders as well as managing value inside the product.”
Marani adds: “Identifying what those customer lifecycles are and playing to their strengths is so important. I think having a bad onboarding can ruin the rest of the relationship, so get really clear on who are the players in the room, what do they care about, and if they have the pieces they need to be properly enabled for the relationship. Remember, you are in a position to make other people look great. And when other people look great they want to keep using your tool.”
And what’s the best way to do that? “Use your onboarding, use your adoption, use your product education to make them look like rock stars," Marani says. "Because they will then feel good about your product, realize its value, and preach it to other people.”
Ed Porter’s Lifecycle Stage, Goals, Onboarding, and Renewal Checklist
Porter also shared his exclusive checklist for defining and strategizing customer renewal at every lifecycle stage:
☑ Determine how the onboarding process will work internally (team members) and externally (customers/users). “This is the most important phase to get right to prevent churn,” Porter notes.
☑ Train/deliver services to segmented users (admin, support, users, etc)
☑ Determine exit criteria for this stage (customer signoff, certificate of completion, survey, etc)
☑ After completion of onboarding, build likely expectations for customers to use your product/service
☑ Get reporting in place to measure adoption and consumption
☑ Begin proactive and regular outreach to gain adoption and realize value quickly
☑ Validate from the customer that pain points and problems are being resolved
☑ Establish time-to-value metrics and customer business metrics (ROI, increased SLAs, decreased costs, etc.)
☑ Create avenues for interaction to engage customer into company operations and CS team into customer operations
☑ Set up business reviews and customer health scores
☑ Ensure customer renewal and identify opportunities for expansion efforts, if any
You can steal these action steps or use them as guiding posts to create your own internal system.
7. Keep Excellent Relationship Notes
Dan Hanley is a Customer Success Manager for Octane Accountants Limited. In his eyes, the issue with customer renewal for most companies isn’t a lack of customers. Quite the opposite.
“The major obstacle to achieving a high customer renewal rate in 2023 is the sheer number of customers a CSM is tasked with managing,” shares Hanley.
“With their time spread too thinly, a CSM is physically unable to allocate the necessary resources, critical thinking, and energy into providing every customer with an excellent level of service at all times. Consequently, CSMs are faced with having to answer an unenviable question; which customers do I prioritize? The resulting impact of this, is that a proportion of said customers feel increasingly undervalued, disengaged and eventually cast aside by their account manager, leaving their propensity to renew in serious doubt.”
But with budgets and teams shrinking in the face of a potential recession, how are CSMs supposed to overcome this major obstacle?
According to Hanley, “those working in CSM roles must become excellent diary management and pre-planning specialists.”
How? “Populate your diary with set allocations of time and analysis to each of your customers, and in doing so, become a pro-active advisor to all, rather than a couple! Ultimately, you can still prioritize your customers, allocating your time accordingly.”
Customer Success Platforms such as Vitally assist with organizing and keeping track of customer data through Docs. Making note-taking a more collaborative experience leaves more room for improved accuracy and strengthening the relationship. Whichever tool you use, Marani notes you should make sure it allows you to customize specific variables that matter most to your industry and individual clients.
At the very least, you need to have structure to how you receive and implement notes to get started. “The difference here is that through operating in this structured manner, all customers receive a share of your time,” says Hanley. “They no longer see you reactive and disinterested. Implement this approach and watch your renewals skyrocket.”
Marani agrees and adds a practical tip of her own. “When a customer has a product feedback or request, get in the habit of providing an update when/if their problem will be solved.” She also mentions that a little transparency can go a long way — if their problem hasn’t yet been solved, share whether or not a related feature is in development and what workarounds they currently have access to.
You Don’t Have to Be an Expert to Succeed at Customer Renewal
“Don’t set up your relationships in a way where you’re only talking about a transaction,” says Marani. Having a system in place for both short-term and long-term customer renewal success is crucial.
While every team’s customer renewal playbook is unique, following the expert-approved best practices outlined above will get you one step closer to lowering churn and turning customers into lifelong fans. And by the way, if you don't yet have a Customer Success Platform to help you define, manage, and automate your Customer Success renewal process, request a personalized demo of Vitally today!