How CS Teams Can Survive a Down Market and Keep Their Seat at the Table

“Well, my company did another round of layoffs last week.”

“The CFO just asked every department to audit spending and cut anything that’s not mission-critical.”

“Our Head of Ops is rolling out a vendor consolidation program next month.”

If you’re a Customer Success Manager (CSM), you’ve heard your customers say these things, and you know how hard these conversations are. Lots of businesses are struggling to stay afloat right now, and because of that, customer retention is not what it once was. 

On top of that, most quotas haven’t been right-sized for this bananas economy. In short, you can do everything “correctly” as a CSM and still end up with fewer customers and a missed quota, which puts your own job security into question. It’s brutal, and I feel for you.

However, not all hope is lost — it never is. This article is for those of you in the Customer Success space who want to better control what you can control to survive this down market and keep your seat at the table. 

I interviewed Scott Cook, a Senior Strategic CSM at Ambition (who, fun fact, is also a professional musician and former teammate of mine), and Kelvin Sims, a Tampa-based Sales Manager here at Vitally who managed Drift’s renewals for a while before he shifted into sales and then joined us.

There’s no time to waste — let’s dive into what Scott and Kelvin say so you can stop reading this and get back to saving your job.

Want to Keep Your Job? Save Your Accounts

There’s no perfect formula for surviving this economy, but here’s a time-tested strategy that I’ve based this article on: save the accounts you’re responsible for to prove your ROI as an employee. The more net recurring revenue (NRR) with your name on it, the better.

Here are seven things CSMs and revenue leaders are doing to make churn feel like an absolute last resort for their customers and prove their worth internally.

1. Consistently Communicate Your Product’s Value to Your Customers

“Value” is more than buzzword-y corporate speak. Customers need crystal clear, consistent reminders of your purpose in their organization. It’s up to you to prove both your product’s worth and your personal value as a consultative expert and thought partner. If your main point of contact doesn’t think you’re a secret weapon that helps them hit their goals, they’ll walk away.

So, What Can You Do? 

Clearly and frequently document the good stuff your product does for each customer and then share it with them often. Try setting a weekly, monthly, or quarterly communication cadence via email, Slack, or your collaborative Customer Success Platform of choice. This isn’t about bragging; it’s about shedding light on how you and your product help your customer do their job more effectively. 

(One caveat here: If you can’t clearly see and share how you’re helping a customer’s business thrive, it’s time to set some fresh goals with them.) 

To make this practical, Kelvin recommends documenting value for each customer in a Vitally Doc to see, in just one place, the following:

  • Customer engagement over time: What’s this customer’s Health Score? Has usage flatlined? Where’s CSAT at these days?
  • KPI tracking: Am I helping this customer make progress on their top priorities?
  • Future goal planning: What do they want to do next? Stagnacy kills renewals.

For reference, here’s what a Vitally Doc looks like.

Customer Success in a down market how CS teams can keep their jobs

Before I shift gears into the next survival strategy, here’s one final thought: Your customers often don’t have the time to dig into exactly how your solution is benefiting them. If you do this for them, you make them (and subsequently, your product that helps them) look great for their manager and leadership team. It’s an easy, “Boss, [Product] saved us from needing to bring on that extra headcount this year, and it was involved in bringing in $23k of new revenue just this month. Thank goodness for [Product]!”

This is how you evolve from a nice-to-have tool to a need-to-have solution.

For more on proving value and saving customers, check out The Vitally Guide to B2B Customer Renewal (+ CS Renewal Checklist).

2. Show Customers Personalized Use Cases

Customer success stories are radically helpful pre-sales collateral, but they’re not as popularly used on the post-sales side of the house. This is an area of opportunity for CSMs.

Take a look at your case study library or even other accounts you serve where your product is “sticky” and successful in their organization. Talk about them with relevant customers and share what they’re doing to hit their goals, especially if they’re in the same industry or use case. It’s not overrated to share best practices; it’s helpful.

This tactic is specifically helpful for would-be downgraders. Downgrades happen when either a customer realizes they’re paying for things they don’t use or when their budget’s been cut. You can’t do anything about the latter, but your job as a CSM is to prevent the former. Help your customers maximize every drop of functionality they’re paying for.

3. Look to Successful Accounts for Expansion Opportunities

Scott, the Strategic Senior CSM I chatted with, said it best: “With sales harder than ever, finding opportunities for expansion is super key. Figure out who’s doing well, and see if they want to do even better.”

As tempting as it is to “run to what’s on fire,” don’t neglect the thriving accounts in your book of business; there’s likely some undiscovered value for them and some hidden revenue to unlock for you. Here’s a blueprint to help you automatically identify expansion opportunities if you’re interested.

In Scott’s experience, giving customers who are doing well and growing with you ample resources and attention has paid off. He also recommends letting the needs of these healthy customers inform your product roadmap because it keeps them happy, invested, and growing — three things every CSM wants for their accounts.

RecastSuccess CEO and Co-Founder Annie Dean shares a similar tip at the beginning of our latest "One Vital Question" episode:

4. Know the Signs of Churn (and Act Quickly)

As a CSM, you likely know the big picture red flags that indicate churn is coming your way: less-than-successful onboarding, low product adoption, and spotty user engagement. But every organization is different, and sometimes, churn patterns go undetected because not every account is serviced by the same CSM or Customer Success leader.

Here's what Kelvin from Vitally said:

“Here at Vitally, we actually use our own product for [churn prevention]. When we think about impacting retention, we need to supply customers with proactive measures to get ahead of preventable churn. We send notifications and real-time indicators to act on negative or positive customer behaviors. This is critical in keeping our customers from churning (and critical in keeping our customers’ customers from churning, too).”

What Kelvin’s talking about is using Vitally to identify and then watch for key churn signs. With all-in-one-place Health Scores, you and your teammates can see who’s a flight risk and who’s not, and allocate your time accordingly.

Not done learning about Health Scores? Give us three minutes, and we’ll show you how to create reliable, indicative Health Scores using four metrics.

5. Push for Longer-Term Agreements

We’ll keep this one short and sweet because the header says it all. Renewal conversations aren’t a walk in the park, especially not now. So, when you’re having them, ask for longer terms to lock in more revenue and prevent the need for another renewal conversation anytime soon. You can frame these longer agreements as a win for your customer by offering a slightly discounted rate for that longer-term commitment.

The bottom line: The worst your customer can say is “no.” And the upside of them saying “yes” saves you from frequent, time-consuming renewals and secures more recurring revenue in the long run.

6. Be Radically Present

Being responsive and helpful is one thing — but being radically present with your clients is a whole other. Both Kelvin and Scott said that this is one of the best ways to save accounts, and subsequently, save your job as a CSM. 

Kelvin’s a huge advocate for this: “Get on the phone. Send personalized Looms or Drift Videos to answer questions or showcase your platform. Always have their success in mind.” 

Scott adds, “Get onsite and ensure your tool is a part of their long-term strategic vision.” Budgets are tight and in-person customer visits aren’t always an option; but if they are, or if you’ve got a customer who really prioritizes in-person connection, do what you can to make it happen. That face-to-face partnership is sometimes just what you need to become someone your customer will advocate for when vendors are on the chopping block.

One last thing here, and it feels like a no-brainer, but it’s easier said than done: Show up well-prepped for all meetings and customer interactions. Kelvin says, “One bad interaction can negatively impact your chances of ever hearing from them again and lose all trust your team has built up.” Go into your meetings with a plan and clear next steps to ensure that new strategies and builds are implemented in a timely fashion. 

7. Be Flexible and Communicative

Set your “It’s the way we’ve always done it” strategies aside. Right now, lots of customers need more time, flexibility, and help than normal because they’re short-staffed and struggling. Be empathetic and flexible. Scott says a really effective tactic for preventing the loss of a logo is to offer, as a last resort, a reduced rate or altered payment arrangement for a season.

Sometimes a little wiggle room is all a customer needs to make the math work on their end to stay a customer of yours.

Save Your Accounts and You Usually Save Your Job

My hope is that if you’ve made it this far, you don’t feel overwhelmed with to-dos, but rather empowered to try some new tactics to keep your favorite customers as customers.

I’ll leave you with this: I’m convinced after chatting with Kelvin and Scott that the best way to advocate for your job internally is to prove that customer retention is just as important as customer acquisition. 

If you can show your managers and leaders, in numbers, that your work keeps customers happy and brings in consistent revenue for your business, you’re more likely to survive this down market. (And spoiler, it’s infinitely easier to track quantitative and qualitative data, activities, and insights about each account with Vitally than it is to track your impact manually.)

We’d love to meet you. Think your team needs Vitally? Book your personalized demo today

‍One last thing: If there’s any CSM-focused content that would make you or your team more productive and efficient, email us at hello@vitally.io. We’d love to make something helpful for you.

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