These 3 workflows drive our industry-leading retention rate

Posted March 2, 2021

This article is part of our Outreach on Outreach content series, in which we showcase our own revenue team’s use of the Outreach Sales Engagement Platform to help you drive success at your own company. We share workflows and strategies, backed by original research and data from the results of our own experiments and customer base.

Your SDRs hustled to open the opportunity.

Your AE kept grinding to close the deal.

Your AM worked hard to onboard the customer and drive adoption of the product.

Now what comes next?

For a lot of companies, that’s it; job’s done.

As a customer success leader, that’s painful to see, because existing customers are gold dust — not to mention the reason your business exists.

Existing customers buy more, refer more, and cost less to support. That’s why great companies are built on retention.

Businesses live or die on their retention rate; anything over a 5% annual churn can put you in a world of hurt. But keep your churn low and you’ll prepare your business for sustainable, long-term growth.

If you can build processes and systems to limit churn, you can drive significant growth.

Improving retention has 2x the impact of acquisition on growth.

Sure, businesses can grow by pouring resources into net new logo acquisition. But it’s only by achieving a low customer churn rate that they can sustain growth in the long term.

If you want to know how we do it...

Read on.

Our renewal philosophy

Our entire strategy focuses on being proactive and early. If we’re waiting until the last 30 days of a contract to start fixing problems, that’s simply not enough time. When a customer’s renewal comes around, we want to have all their issues identified, discussed, and resolved.

To achieve that, we built our renewal workflow around three customer lifecycle events: Risk Analysis, Pre-Renewal Account Planning, and Renewal.

At each event, we have a couple of different options, depending on context and customer behavior.

  1. Risk analysis: We proactively highlight at-risk accounts and drop them into a Risk sequence.
  2. Pre-Renewal Account Planning: Using information from our risk analysis, we segment our accounts and drop them into tailored sequences.
  3. Renewal: If an account requires an amended contract, we attach a Contract Followup sequence to keep it top of mind.

In the next few sections, I’ll dig into each stage, revealing how we use Outreach to supercharge our customer success managers (CSMs) and retain as many customers as possible.

Step 1: Risk Analysis

When an account hits three months until its renewal date, Salesforce automatically sends its CSM a task to perform a risk analysis. Our CSM runs through our standard workflow, assessing the account’s usage metrics (daily activity, seat usage), support activity (support requests, technical issues), and due diligence (account solvency, growth trajectory).

Although we have an automated version of this stage for smaller accounts, our team is hands-on for larger, high-touch accounts. They dig into the details to get a holistic view of the account and determine what kinds of risk—if any—are present.

If our CSM decides there’s something risky with the account, they’ll change the account status from “Customer — Engaged” to “Customer — At Risk” and place it into our At Risk sequence. Common risks include: low usage of Outreach, customers submitting dozens of support requests for basic functionality, and the company undergoing a major restructure.

The “At Risk” sequence informs the customer that we’ve detected an issue, and that we’d like to discuss it as soon as possible. If we don't get a response from them, the sequence automatically follows up with a few emails that send the message: "Hey, you've got renewal in 120 days. Things don't look super hot. Can we have a call?"

If we reach the end of the sequence without a response, there’s a manual task for the CSM to escalate the non-responsive customer to a manager for intervention.

That’s the high-level view of our risk analysis approach. There’s a lot more to it and we’re planning on diving into the details in an upcoming Outreach on Outreach—so stay tuned!

Step 2: Pre-Renewal Account Planning

If an account isn’t placed in the At Risk sequence, it keeps moving down the workflow.

With everything going well, our CSM may book an executive business review (EBR), where they recap the year and do some analysis on impact. After the EBR, we’ll drop accounts into the Notification sequence, which sends them regular alerts as they near their auto-renew date.

Alongside the high-touch workflow, we have a low-touch alternative for smaller accounts. We skip the EBR and jump straight to the automated Notification sequence. It drops the customer an email something like, "Hey, heads up, you've got this renewal coming up. If you need any changes, let us know." That allows them time and space to address any concerns but doesn’t eat up CSM resources.

Ideally, both high- and low-touch customers will confirm that everything is good and that they’re happy to renew. In that case, we have a pre-written template to acknowledge their renewal and kickstart next steps.

Unfortunately, some customers don’t want to continue. Due to cash flow issues, company restructures, or departing stakeholders, some request cancellations. While it’s unusual, we still want to be prepared as best we can.

As you can see, we segment accounts into high-touch and low-touch.

While we don’t want to see any account churn, we can’t devote CSM resources to small accounts when we have enormous enterprise clients waiting. When a low-touch account requests a cancellation, we drop them into a Cancellation sequence. The point of this sequence is to acknowledge receipt of their cancellation requests, process the request, and solicit feedback.

For high-touch accounts, on the other hand, we acknowledge receipt of their cancellation request, then request a meeting with our customer. Our CTAs are simple, direct and based entirely on wanting to hear more about our customers’ challenges. For example, including a link to our Outreach Calendar with the message: "We can help process this, but would love to learn more. Do any of the following times work for a call?"

Once they’ve secured that meeting, our CSMs work with customers to surface issues and discuss what’s pushing them away from Outreach. If they hit a common objection—say their customer is thinking about switching to a competitor—we have snippets and retention playbooks for them to use. Even though our CSMs personalize everything to individual customers, this tried-and-tested content gives them a foundation to build from, based on language and positioning that we know works.

Our goal here is to make our positive response the last communication with a customer. Instead of letting a customer sit and stew, we’re getting ahead of potential churn by scheduling time with them immediately.

Step 3: Renewal

Like I said, cancellation requests are rare. Usually, customers are near the end of their contract without any problems, and we’ll reach out with renewal reminders. Since our customers are on auto-renewal, they don’t have to do anything to maintain their service.

But some will want to make changes—upping their seats, adding new services, or something of that nature. In that case, we need a new contract.

When we send a contract, we’ll always add a Follow-Up sequence. That way, Outreach is creating reminder tasks or sending additional reminders automatically.

Consistent follow-ups mean that completing renewal paperwork stays at the top of our customer’s inbox. Removing low-value administrative tasks like chasing paperwork enables our CSMs to spend their time driving value and improving adoption.

Built for retention

Some customer churn is inevitable. Every business will lose some portion of its customer base to factors beyond its control: from cash flow crises to corporate restructures, departing stakeholders and more.

What matters is what you’re doing about avoidable churn.

By getting involved early, analyzing account risks, and reaching out to customers proactively, we’re owning that challenge. Instead of sitting back and waiting for customers to come to us, we’re taking the conversation to them. In this brutally competitive world, that customer-centric, proactive strategy is what it takes to push your churn rate below the industry-standard 5%.

Stay tuned for the next article in our Outreach on Outreach series. Follow us on LinkedIn to stay in the loop!


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