Champion Change: You Gotta Jump On It

One of the most subtly stressful parts of running a SaaS company, or any company with larger customers, is Champion Change.  When the key stakeholder at your customer who brought you in, shepparded the deal, baked you into their business process … leaves.

Your champions may on average stay ~24 months (I’m making this average tenure up, but it sounds about right).  Once you have 10 or 20 key customers, then every few months, you are going to be losing a top champion.  That can be tough.

But it’s worse than that:  many times, the moment a new stakeholder comes in to replace your champion — you’ve already lost the customer.  Why?  Well, especially if you are in a competitive space, that new Director / VP / CIO whatever may have another vendor she is already close to, that she wants to bring with her to her next role.  And she may then replace you no matter how high your NPS, no matter how much work has gone in to tailor your app to their workflow, almost no matter what.  Even if everyone at the company loves you.

So what can you do?  There are some limits, but chutzpah and common sense point you in the right direction:

  • First, get on a place or into a Lyft/Uber.  Go visit your new customer lead.  Now.  A phone call is not enough.  An email is not even close.  You have to go try to build a face-to-face relationship.  This won’t magically save or keep the deal.  But it almost always slows down any rip-and-replacement, at least a tiny bit, once a human connection is made.
  • Tell your new customer lead you want them as a customer — and you’ll do what it takes.  You gotta say it.  You may need to kiss the ring a bit, maybe even a lot.  But tell her/him you are there for them, appreciate the business, and want to keep it.  And the CEO should do this herself if at all possible.  Everyone likes to meet with the CEO.  Even of a 5-person start-up.
  • You may need to cut a painful discount.  I know the last thing you want to do is cut a deal in half that you just spend 2 years working on.  But sometimes, a new stakeholder at a big customer just wants a lower bill.  Whether it is to prove him/herself, or just because they want to use their leverage, it’s not uncommon to get this request in the first meeting.  I know in general you say no to these “unfair”, out-of-the-blue, inconsistent discount requests.  But it’s different here.  You haven’t built this relationship.  You haven’t earned this new stakeholder’s trust.  At least in this scenario, think about it.  Because it may well save the customer and the deal.  At least for now.
  • They may want to split the business.  You’ll hate this even more than a brand new discount.  If your new customer lead worked with a different competitor before, she may want to use you both.  And yes, this may make zero sense at a practical level.  But think about taking the deal.  Because you may lose 100% of the business otherwise.  And as long as you are still in the game, you have a shot at winning in the long run.  After all, champion change may occur again in a few years.  At least you’ll have a foot in the door if you keep part of the business.

This stuff isn’t fun, champion change.  There are no magic answers.  But do get on a jet.  Swallow your pride.  Think about bending your firm rules on discounts and other gates.  Because you may well have already lost the customer.  If you can save even part of the business, if it’s a good logo / deal … maybe you have to lick your wounds and just do it.  Otherwise, you may be left with nothing after years of hard work, super-high NPS, and super happy end users.

Published on July 3, 2018

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