Churn Avoidance and Customer Programs

Challenge: The Hard Dollar ROI for Customer Programs

Certainly in the early stages of growth for SaaS companies, acquiring new customers is the primary focus. However, a hidden value remains with your existing customers. ‘Land and Expand’ growth models fuel growth rates of the most successful B2B SaaS companies. But there is a hidden gem lurking within your customer base – churn avoidance. 

As we know, long term success is based on a negative net churn rate — which shows that the amount of revenue from existing customers grew, even with some customer revenue that churned. Here is a simple example.  Lets say a company has a negative net churn rate of 115%. At face value, this could mean that some customers expanded their revenues by 30% but another 15% of customer revenue was lost due to churn — leaving the total negative net churn rate of 115%.  While a very simple analysis, this shows the ‘tax’ that churn places on growth – namely 15%. Improving net retention improves company valuation in two ways – both in growth rate and net retention which are often multiplied to calculate company valuation. 

So it’s clear that if a company avoided churn, the growth rate would be higher. But how much can or should a company invest in churn avoidance? Well, here is some simple math.  If a growing company has 100 customers with a $40K ARR, they might experience a total customer churn of 10% of accounts annually (10 accounts churn completely for $400K in total ARR churn).  If 25% of this churn was avoidable through interventions, this would save $100K ARR annually.  If we think of investments with a 1 year payback or CAC, then we would be willing to spend another $100K on annual programs to avoid this unnecessary churn. Voila – budget for the programs! And these programs might help promote customer expand plays — so you could see a return even greater than just churn avoidance.

OK – so it’s clear that companies should invest in resources to avoid unnecessary churn. But where to place these investments? According to Carl Gold, Chief Data Scientist with Zuora, programs addressing customer churn fall into four categories:

  • Customer Marketing
  • Product Enhancement
  • Customer Success
  • Pricing & Packaging

More specifically, from my experience there are a number of more specific programs you might consider in each of these areas (there are likely many more):

  • Customer Data Analytics — Identify and measure key predictors of customer success and churn
  • Customer Conference — Great way to provide training and share success stories
  • Customer Workshops — Training for existing and new users
  • Product Features — Accelerate development of key features to prevent churn
  • Customer Success People & Tools – More resources for front line CSRs
  • Customer Community – Create a place for customers to answer questions and share success
  • Product Value Packaging – enrich value for customers most like to churn

Every company will have a unique product and market situation to guide their customer program investment decisions. This analysis is merely to draw awareness to the ROI of these programs, as I believe they are under-invested in the majority of companies. Strategically selecting customer program investments can improve your growth rates by both reducing churn and increasing expansion rates. 

Many of these programs require tight integration between marketing, sales, product and customer success. Creating cross-functional teams to identify, select and run these programs is likely the hardest part of the process. But for those companies who embed these programs from the start, they can increase growth rates and company valuation.

Lesson: Identifying and remediating avoidable churn can pay significant dividends in terms of company growth rates but requires careful cross-functional planning.

B2B SaaS Marketing in a Time of COVID

Challenge: With our new ‘COVID normal,’ how do we deliver against our increasing pipeline requirements?

[First, let me say that my heart goes out to all those impacted by the COVID pandemic. It impacts everyone in different ways – and to some whose lives have been tragically disrupted.]

OK – the pandemic has been with us for seven plus months. We have executed our initial fire-drill response programs to show our customers and prospects that ‘we are in this with you.’ We have adjusted our team operations to work remotely and be sensitive to the varying needs of our team members. We now have back to back Zoom calls that suck up all the time ‘gained’ from no commute. And we have even figured out how to manage our hair with little or no external help. Yes – we are now operating at our ‘new normal.’

But more importantly, we changed our marketing go-to-market. Let’s summarize these top level changes:

  • Shifted from in-person events to online events
  • Re-allocated funds to digital marketing
  • Optimized our landing pages for conversion
  • Improved our nurture programs

OK – now what? Quarterly revenue targets are increasing for sales and therefore so are our targets for marketing sourced pipeline. Unfortunately, reaching buyers on the phone is more difficult than ever because no one is in the office, which also makes mailing packages and ABM programs more difficult. So where do we turn next? How do we convert more MQL into Opportunities?

Before making recommendations, let’s first recognize that our prospects are facing the same issues we’re facing, namely:

  • A tsunami of Zoom calls
  • Stress about COVID
  • Stress with increased family responsibilities 
  • Feeling isolated

My recommendation – let’s make their life easier. I know this might be radical, but what if we:

  • Provide truly helpful content that helps them do their jobs
  • Educate them about things they don’t know that will actually help them
  • Make it easy for them to learn about how our products and services work
  • Simplify the process to successfully trial our product

Now more than ever our prospects need us to make their lives easier and we can do so by making the process of engaging with us simpler and more satisfying. Let’s give them what they crave most: a bit of time back in their day with informative and easy to consume content. And most importantly, a great experience to trial our product and see for themselves how their life improves with our company’s product.

Lesson: Focusing on our customer’s needs is more important now than ever in every step of the buyer’s journey.