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Is Your Customer at Risk of Churn? 5 Ways to Find Out.

It’s a key account manager’s worst nightmare: One day, out of nowhere, you lose a major customer.

Sometimes it’s completely outside your control. But most of the time, if it seems like it’s coming “out of nowhere,” chances are you weren’t watching closely enough—or you weren’t looking at the right indicators.

Customers are harder to engage and easier to lose than ever—and that was true before the recession hit. Now, it’s time to take a close look at your major accounts and see whether they’re at risk of churn. Ask yourself:

  1. Have you updated your SWOT and VOC? If the last time you did this was before March 2020, it’s time to revisit.
  2. Are you embedded vertically and horizontally in the organization? Do you have relationships with the C-suite? Cross-functional teams? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
  3. Do you have a long-term, customer-centric strategic plan? This can’t just be a plan to sell them more widgets. It has to be a plan that advances your customer’s goals, too.
  4. Do you have a framework for measuring success (and are you tracking)? The only way to demonstrate value is to track it.
  5. How healthy is the account? This is more than customer satisfaction—it’s customer engagement.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at each of these questions, establishing a framework to help you assess your accounts—and see who’s at risk of walking away.

1) Updating SWOT and VOC

Key account management is a bit like playing the card game Spades. Some things are the cards you’re dealt—they’re out of your control. Things like pandemics, recessions, mergers & acquisitions, and other disruptive forces, for good or for bad. Based on those cards, you have to make a projection around how much you can expect to win—and then set out to meet those projections. Along the way, you’re adjusting to plays by your partner and your competitors. The way you project, plan, and react is the part you can control.

If you’re a key account manager right now, and you’re managing large portfolios of business, it’s time to re-examine your cards. Two ways you can do that are (a) updating your SWOT analysis, and (b) updating your Voice of Customer (VOC). Your VOC will help you check in with customers—how have their goals and expectations changed this year? Your SWOT will give you a clear sense of internal and external forces working for and against you, so you can adjust your plan accordingly. You can also hop on a call with your customers to update their SWOT analysis. It’s a meaningful and engaging way to get some face time (even if it’s screen time) and demonstrate your commitment to constantly refining your shared strategic action plan (more on that below).

If you haven’t updated your SWOT and VOC, both internally and with your customers, you might be missing key signs your customers are at high risk of churn—and even if they’re not, you’re missing opportunities to grow the relationship.

2) Vertical and Horizontal Footprint

If your customer relationships are heavily reliant on one person’s goodwill, you’re sitting in a risky spot. People’s plans change—they switch companies, they shift gears, they change careers. So while one strong relationship might get you in the door, your goal should be to expand your footprint within the organization as a whole, both vertically (all the way up to the C-Suite) and horizontally (across departments and/or with cross-functional teams). In addition to cementing your relationships, and reducing the risk of churn, you’ll also set yourself up to be even more effective with the organization, because you’ll understand more about how things get done.

3) Long-Term, Customer-Centric, Strategic Plans

That’s a lot of qualifiers, but they’re all critical: Your plan can’t be “sell them more things.” Strong account plans are long-term: How will we grow this business over the next 1-3 years? They are customer-centric: How will we grow this business by helping our customers meet their own growth goals? And they are strategic: How does this plan address what we’ve seen in SWOT and VOC analyses?

If you don’t have a plan that meets all the requirements above, or if the plan isn’t well-documented and easy for cross-functional teams to reference, or if you think there’s a plan but you’re not sure what it is, we have bad news for you: Your customer might be at risk of churn.

4) Measuring Success

Customers need to see the value of their investment. That’s always true, but especially so in a recession, when people are watching their spend more closely. In order to demonstrate value, you have to track it—and that means establishing and monitoring meaningful KPIs for your customers.
Revenue is an obvious KPI, but it’s not the only one. Part of the work is thinking strategically and creatively about what matters and how to track it. Then there’s the actual work of tracking it, which, if you have a program like Kapta that’s set up to do so, should be automated. Finally, there’s the work of interpreting the data to tell a meaningful story to your customer.

If you’re doing all that, you’re lowering your risk of churn. If you’re not, you’re increasing your risk of churn. It’s that simple.

5) Account Health Scoring

Although everything above contributes to an account health assessment, it’s still worthwhile to call it out as a separate question. To fully understand your risk of churn, you should be conducting regular account health scoring exercises with your team.

Start by establishing a common vocabulary and framework around account health. Account health includes customer satisfaction, but it doesn’t stop there—after all, a customer can be satisfied without being actively engaged. Engagement means they’re picking up the phone to call you at every step of the journey; they’re saying great things about you to their colleagues within and outside of their organization. They’re talking to you about future initiatives.

There are 3 main ways to gauge account health, each with pros and cons. We cover those in depth in this post; we’ll summarize here:

  • Method 1: Ask your customer facing teams
  • Method 2: Method 1 plus track leading indicators
  • Method 3: Methods 1 and 2 plus track lagging indicators

However you do it, tracking account health scores regularly and comprehensively is perhaps THE best way to predict any given customer’s risk of churn.

Conclusion

The worst case scenario for any account manager is an unexpected end to a client relationship. To keep that from happening, you have to look for the right indicators—and you have to do it often. To see how Kapta can help you update your SWOT and VOC analyses, build customer-centric strategic plans, demonstrate value, and gauge account health, schedule a personal demo today.

Our KAM Process: Deep Dive into KNOW

Last week, we wrote a high-level summary of Our KAM ProcessTM, a proven methodology for building customer engagement and transforming customer relationships:

  • Know more, so you can plan better
  • Act strategically and effectively to drive meaningful change
  • Measure that change across multiple endpoints

The process is cyclical because engaged, satisfied, successful clients are going to want to keep working with you. Every time you start a new quarter, a new year, a new contract, scope, or initiative with a customer, you return to the beginning, asking what you know now, and how you can use what you’ve learned to act and measure even more effectively this time.

Now that we’ve outlined the process as a whole, we’re going to spend the next three weeks diving into each section in more detail. The spotlight this week is on getting to know your clients better than ever before, with practical emphasis on how and why we do it the way we do.

Understand the Overall Structure

We always start here, with the org chart. For one thing, it’s a straightforward first step: Just import your accounts and contacts from your existing CRM or other platforms. For another thing, it’s extremely helpful to visualize the overall reporting structure at your customer’s organization, even if you do the bulk of your work with a few key contacts. Here’s why:

Understanding reporting structure gives you a better sense of what your day-to-day contact is juggling in their job. In addition to meeting project goals, whom do they need to engage, convince, or impress to be successful in their organization? When you have the big picture in mind, you can be proactive about making sure you get buy-in from the right people at the right point in a project. You can build in time for stakeholder review and revisions as you create timelines, so they don’t blindside you late in the game. And you can help support your clients in a way that makes them not only successful in their endeavors, but also successful in the broader landscape of their job.

A good sense of overall structure and culture also helps strengthen the relationship between your organization as a whole and your client’s organization as a whole. This creates sustainable, long-term relationships at the organizational level that last, even when someone changes jobs or shifts roles. And it creates more opportunities for cross- and upselling, since your contact will be more willing to work with other people at your organization who offer unique perspective and services.

Get Personal

Now that you’ve established the overall structure, it’s time to dive deeper into the goals, motivations, and expectations of key individual clients. Kapta helps you do this with a template for building detailed client profiles. A key component of these are the Voice of Customer (VOC) tools, a series of questions designed to probe deeper into what your client is trying to accomplish, and how they expect you to help.

Start by customizing your questions. Because we’ve been doing Key Account Management for a long time, we’re able to provide a starting point for VOC questions. These are based on our experience and general best practices. However, they are just a starting point. As time goes on, it’s important to customize or expand on the original list of questions to continue the conversation you’re having with that client, and capture their specific needs.

Think about this on a personal level. You might start a new friendship asking the usual questions: “Where are you from? What do you do? Do you have siblings?” But as time goes on, your conversations get more unique, and your questions more relevant to that friend’s life. The same applies for customers. Make sure you’re using VOC tools to ask specific, relevant questions that relate to their industry, their company, their goals, and more.

In addition to customizing VOC tools, consider face or phone time to talk through questions with your client, rather than relying too heavily on emailed surveys. A well-placed email or text is sometimes the time-saver everyone needs, but it’s not the right way to tackle big questions.

Get Strategic

Now that you know what your client is trying to accomplish, it’s time to take a look at the internal and external factors that might support—or inhibit—their success. The best way to do this is the tried-and-true SWOT analysis.

A SWOT analysis consists of 4 components: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Strengths and weaknesses are internal; opportunities and threats are external. A SWOT analysis is often presented in a grid like this one.

 

Kapta SWOT

We find the best way to conduct a meaningful SWOT analysis is to conduct an in-person, interactive workshop with your client. Start by doing your research. You want to show up to the meeting already prepared with at least a few thought-starters in each category. This gets the conversation going so you can capture even more insights from people in the room. (Remember, as a rule, it’s always easier for your clients to react to something that already exists than to generate ideas out of thin air. Preparation helps prevent putting clients on the spot in an awkward way.)

In addition to thinking through the SWOT itself, think through who should be in the workshop. This can be a great chance to hear perspectives from across your customer’s organization, in order to build a truly comprehensive analysis. It’s also a chance to gain alignment among key players as you start to identify key priorities for action planning.

Once you’ve conducted your SWOT analysis workshop, capture the information in Kapta to keep it front and center for yourself and your team as you move forward with the next phase of Our KAM Process: Action planning.

Benefits of Customer Knowledge

In many ways, the benefits of customer knowledge should go without saying. But some are less obvious than others, and it’s useful to remember what customer knowledge can help you do—especially since, like any aspect of Key Account Management, it requires time, effort, and in-person meetings. With strong customer knowledge:

  1. You can be more proactive. When you know more about what your customer is trying to accomplish, you can be on the lookout for opportunities to make those things happen for them. For example, if you know they need approval from their boss to move forward with something, you can schedule an approval milestone into your timeline, and offer to facilitate the process. This not only makes your contact’s life easier, but also puts your company in front of their boss.
  2. You can upsell more effectively. When you understand your customer’s needs, upselling and cross-selling don’t even really feel like “selling.” Instead, they feel like offering welcome solutions to a challenge you know your client is facing. Bundling products and services improves your bottom line and makes it more attractive for your customer to work with you on multiple initiatives, thus strengthening the relationship between your organization and theirs.
  3. You make yourself harder to replace. The more you know about your customer, their company, their industry, and their challenges, the harder it would be to get a different vendor up to speed in the same way. Not that you want your customers to stick with you out of inertia alone, but it’s important to remember your knowledge is a competitive asset.
  4. You make it easier to move past mistakes. Everyone has bad days. In the course of a long-term relationship with a client, you will inevitably make mistakes, miss a deadline, or miscommunicate. If you have a strong personal relationship with your clients, they will often be willing to work through those errors. And when they have a bad day—miss a meeting, lose their temper, etc—you’ll be more likely to understand what’s stressing them out, and better able to move on quickly.
  5. You boost your satisfaction at work. The people you work with significantly influence your quality of life. When you spend all day, every day talking to your customers, it can add meaning and satisfaction to your job and your life to get to know them as people.

Conclusion

We believe very strongly that putting customers first can improve your company’s bottom line. And that starts with really knowing your customer: Who they are, what they want, how they work, what they’re good at, what frustrates them, and, above all, how you and your team can help them succeed.

For a deep dive into Kapta’s tools for generating and capturing customer knowledge, schedule a demo.