A ways back I put together a series of SaaStr posts on how the customers I visited in person never churned. Some almost churned, but if I went out in person, and built a relationship, they never left. At least, not on my watch:
Of course, right now it’s tougher to visit customers in-person. But what you can do is Zoom with them. In fact, you can Zoom with a lot more of them. At least 6-10 a week or more. More on that here:
But why does this work? Why does spending real time, as CEO, with your top customer work in retaining them?
Looking back on all these meetings, and our experiences at SaaStr, the real reason with bigger customers is sometimes, maybe just often, they want to be heard.
- Your key stakeholder(s) at top customers have often invested their careers on your app. And there are always bumps. Will you be there for them? Can they rely on you as a long-term partner? Will you make them look good, or look bad?
- Bigger customers often are frustrated about feature gaps. But they often will wait, if they trust you, rather than switching. It can be tough to meet with bigger customers and feel like you are hearing a lot of complaints. But if they know a key gap will be solved in the coming quarters, it’s often not really worth the trouble to switch vendors. No matter how frustrating that gap might be at the time. A new vendor also involves a lot of risk and time.
- Tracking and following up on customer concerns well & for real often increases satisfaction. Even when you can’t fix the issue right now. Many vendors never really follow up with your concerns, nor properly track them. Just doing a proactive catch-up on concerns can reassure customers they’ve made the right choice.
- Big customers will buy from start-ups, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t nervous. They get that innovation comes from new vendors. But Big Customers want reassurances that startup is going to be the next big success story. Consistent innovation, and consistent dialogue, helps a lot here.
Your big customers often take a big risk on you, especially before you have a proven brand. They don’t really want to give up on you. But they do want to be heard when there are issues.
A few actionable ideas:
- Share your roadmap live quarterly or at least once a year 1-on1 with your largest customers. This always works. Just fire up your roadmap for the next few quarters and use that to create a dialogue and discussion. Customers love to be involved in planning the future of your app. And they’ll start thinking of uses for new features they didn’t realize were coming, or that they might benefit from. If you don’t know what else to do, just reach out to your Top 20 customers and ask if they want to catch up on the product roadmap for next year. Most will.
- Set up a customer advisory board. Invite all your largest customers. Some won’t come. But the 20% that do come to quarterly meetings, again will love it.
- As CEO, schedule a Check-In meeting 90 days after deployment of all the largest customers. Many of the best CEOs do this routinely in the enterprise. I learned this trick from Peter Gassner, CEO of Veeva. Set up a Zoom 90 days after Go Live and just as CEO hear the feedback.
- Do a customer conference (virtual is OK), and have a special VIP day or session for your largest customers. 1-on-1s are best, but a VIP half day with your largest customers is also great. It gives them a chance to be reassured by each other they’ve made the right choice. And another forum and venue to be heard.
Now when you solicit more feedback, be prepared for a lot of it to be critical. That’s sort of the point, really. To get the tough feedback. If you want kudos, you’ll be looking in the wrong place.
But when you solicit feedback the right way, and you at least follow-up on it … your customer is heard.
That alone might be enough.
I’ll give you a contra example. Recently, a top vendor we’ve used for years reached out to me and threatened to delete all our data. This is a vendor where we are a case study on their website, and I’ve referred them hundreds of thousands of dollars of business, including several of their top logos. The “threat” wasn’t 100% unfair in a sense — we haven’t been able to use the product since Covid.
But I shared back I felt threatened by them — during a time period where we couldn’t use their app. We still, at this time, plan to use their app again after we are through all this. Even with years of issues, a severe outage, and feature gaps.
All I really needed was to be heard. I shared back with the vendor that I was a superfan, but really felt threatened.
Instead, I was told “I’m sorry you feel that way. We can no longer help you the way we have in the past, since we’ve gotten so much bigger.”
I just needed to be heard.
I guess we’re not big enough to be heard anymore.