Imagine a world where at least once a month you have to change a flat tire. Annoying, right? Luckily, cars are incredibly reliable to the point where you can consistently drive without breaking down. In other words, your car has become a reliable and predictable companion for getting from point A to B.
But the world of sales is a different story. Research from the Bridge Group shows that, on average, 34% of salespeople aren’t hitting their targets consistently. Which means that it’s hard to rely on sales predictions and get your company from A to B.
That leaves most sales directors scrambling for a solution. Sometimes the go-to option is hiring and firing until a top performer is found. Alternatively, more resources are invested in training or in introducing new sales methodologies. But rarely do those expensive measures prove to be the “ultimate” solution.
In this ebook, we help you with some of the fundamental issues of retaining customers better. In short, the ebook outlines how to get better at predicting which accounts you can grow and retain and turn that under-performing 34% of your salespeople into top performers.
The missing link
If you think about your own customer base: How confident are you that your salespeople are taking full advantage of the potential of their accounts? Even if your sales team beats the average, it’s probably reasonable to assume that some of your customers are left with unspent budgets. Or worse, some might be on the verge of defecting to one of your competitors without anyone knowing.
Luckily, it doesn’t need to be that way. Looking at the research to find out what separates top performing salespeople from the rest, the best selling book “Insight Selling” uncovered the top five characteristics of the “sales winners”:
1. Educates buyers with new ideas or perspectives
3. Persuades buyers that they would achieve results
4. Listens to buyers
5. Understands buyers’ needs.
Note that these characteristics are not innate. They all revolve around focusing on the customer and hence, can be learned. And with the right processes in place, you don’t have to rely on training for everyone to embrace these characteristics.
Imagine the impact it would have on your targets if every salesperson uses a process
that forces them to exhibit the characteristics of the “top performers”. That’s exactly
what happens by following the ‘Account Success’ process.
The ‘Account Success’ process
A process to focus on better customer relationships, must focus on building trust. But trust, like strong relationships, takes time and effort to forge. So without regular contact with your customers, you can’t expect your relationships to become strong.
In B2B, a relationship with a customer isn’t just a relationship with one person. For every account there are multiple contacts, which means that building a relationship with the account requires building up a relationship with every contact.
This puts the account manager in a position where he needs to divide his time and focus between different stakeholders. And that begs the question of who is more important and who needs attention at what point in time?
The ‘Account Success’ process put forward in this ebook revolves around continuously keeping a finger on the pulse of each relationship, identifying the accounts that require attention, and pinpointing the accounts that have potential for expansion. Consider it a four-step blueprint for account managers to follow in order to maximize the likelihood of retaining customers longer and up/cross-selling.
The steps to follow:
Step 1: Identification of key stakeholders
Step 2: Get prompted feedback
Step 3: Plan before you act
Step 4: The Business Review
Step 1:Identification of Key Stakeholders
“Each level has a different influence on the buying and decision making process.”
Keeping track of customer relationships happens in your CRM system. And consequently, this first step starts by looking at how healthy the relationships of your account managers are. Remember: not only are good relationships necessary, but relationships with the right people are even more important.
Typically, there are three different kinds of stakeholders in any B2B account:
We see that ‘Decision makers’ are generally found at the strategical level (CxO’s, SVP and VP’s), ‘influencers’ sit at the tactical level (VP’s, directors and managers), while ‘users’ are at the operational level.
However, CRM systems are often filled with contacts whose roles are unknown. As each level has a different influence on the buying and decision-making process, the aim should be to have contacts at each level in the organization. Therefore, start with mapping out a hierarchy of contacts for each account.
The end goal in this step is to achieve a representative overview of each account. Depending on the current mapped-out hierarchy, a different plan of action can be devised. If, for example, there are only a few contacts at the user level and one influencer, then the first task at hand should be getting acquainted with the decision makers.
Tip 1: A helpful trick for identifying the decision makers and influencers is looking back
at the original opportunity, before the account became a customer, to see who was
Tip 2: Ask your key contact to help you identify the different key stakeholders at every
The 3 x 3 model
There is no magic number of contacts that works for everyone. The number of contacts required at each level ultimately depends on the nature of the account.
Logically, bigger accounts will have a larger number of contacts.
The number of known contacts at the user level, in most cases, far outweighs the number of known contacts at the other two levels. Since, for one thing, they’re more involved in the day-to-day of the product/service and seek out support more often, this isn’t a surprise. But at the end of the day, the influencers and decision makers make or break a deal. So a bias towards the higher level contacts is advised
As an indication for the number of contacts, we would aim for a 3 x 3 model, or three contacts at each level for a million dollar account. You can scale this up or down accordingly. Here is an example of what you can strive for:
Tip 1: The best way to ensure that account managers strive for well-developed accounts is by incentivizing them. So think about rewarding account managers on the quality
and depth of the CRM data. A few ideas:
- Set up rules to indicate how many people they should have at each level as a minimum, and measure them against that benchmark.
- Is there a political map in place for each account?
- Response rates on surveys (see next step) are often an indication of how actively in touch the contacts are with your company. So aim for 50% by email in the last 6 months.
Tip 2: Once you have a political map with all the right contacts, don’t settle down just yet.
As people switch jobs or companies regularly, you can be sure that contacts will not
stay relevant forever. We see that there is a straight line depreciation of 18 months.
In other words, your contact database is rotting at the rate of about 6% each month!
So constantly refresh the map to make sure you have the right people in there.
Does this then mean that the account manager should be in regular contact with each and every stakeholder uncovered in this mapping procedure? The answer is: not necessarily. The point of this process is not to collect a list of contacts that need to be followed up with every week or month. Especially for bigger accounts with a ton of contacts, that’s not feasible.
Although regular communication with the most important contacts is advised, this is more aimed at giving the account manager a full overview of the account. He can then engage other people inside the organization to help build that relationship further.
So it should be clear that the account manager is fully responsible and owns the relationship with each of his clients. This means that, ultimately, he needs to pick the optimal way of building the relationship. Luckily, with the help of the next step, keeping track of the current state of each of the contacts and prioritizing who to get in touch with is made a lot easier.
- Map out the current hierarchy for each account
- Identify at which level you need more contacts
- Identify those new contacts.
- Continuously update your hierarchy
Step 2: Get Prompted Feedback
“Picking up on signs of your customer’s loyalty and happiness is the start of everything.”
With all the contacts at the different levels ready, we arrive at the vital part of the ‘Account Success’ process. Asking each contact for feedback puts a finger on the pulse of every relationship. And to not lose that pulse, surveying customers twice a year typically has the best result.
Your feedback strategy: Survey the right way.
When picking what type of survey to use, we need to make sure it satisfies the right criteria. First, the overall goal of this prompted feedback is to look for indications of a customer’s loyalty. Secondly, to achieve and maintain a representative overview of each account you need something that is both short and easy to answer and that doesn’t cause “survey fatigue” when conducted with contacts two or more times a year. Lastly, you want to gain actionable insights into what caused the customer’s satisfaction - or irritation!
Enter Net Promoter® (NPS), the standard indicator for customer loyalty. Based on the question “How likely is it you would recommend us to a friend or family member?” The customer indicates this with a score between 0 and 10, and answers one follow-up free-text question where they are prompted to give the main reason why.
The benefit of a Net Promoter survey is that a customer gives an indication of his happiness and future loyalty in just two questions. This includes the main reasons of that (un)happiness. All this feedback then serves as the input needed to dictate
your course of action.
NPS is an excellent loyalty segmentation tool. Depending on the given score to the Net Promoter question, the customer can fall into one of three categories:
The score can range from -100 to +100, with the more positive the score, the better. Research from Fred Reichheld (the author of The Ultimate Question and originator of Net Promoter) also shows that there is a correlation between an NPS score growth and revenue growth. We’ve seen several examples of this, e.g. an NPS increase of 10% corresponded to 5% additional up/cross sales.
Because having a representative view of each account is key in this process, a response from as many contacts as possible is required. Although a 100% response rate is unlikely, the fact that these surveys are so short dramatically increases response rates. The book The Ultimate Question 2.0 recommends to aim for a response rate of 70%. In our experience, that is a little high. A minimum of 50% though is advised.
In the beginning, 50% will also seem impossible. But by doing this more often and making it clear to the customer why they should care (i.e., the agreement explained below), you’ll see an improvement of your response rates over time. And if the contacts are not answering the emails, you always have the option of picking up the phone and reminding them.
Ideally at the beginning of your business relationship, you sit down with your client and discuss your expectations of getting feedback from them regularly. Explain why the feedback is important to you, and explain how it will improve the relationship over time. Introducing a feedback loop from the start gives them an immediate good feeling about your professional way of handling things. It shows how seriously you take customer satisfaction. This sets you off on a path to a successful long-term relationship.
Letting them know of your plans beforehand will positively impact your response rates. When you have such an agreement in place, reaching the strongly encouraged response rate of 50% will be more within reach. If your customers are engaged and you’ve helped them understand how the feedback is important for their own sake, they should be happy to help. And if you can’t do it in a face-to-face context, make sure this message is given in sales contracts and your website.
Here is an example agreement to share with your client at the beginning of the relationship:
Your feedback is important to us.
We will solicit feedback on average two times a year.
We will respect your time – very short survey of 3 questions
max – will take less than 3 minutes.
Only a few people in your organization will be surveyed.
We will read and act on all of the feedback, board level if
We will be transparent with feedback and share the results with you at least once a year
Step 3: Plan before you act
“80% of your total revenue comes from 20% of your customers”
Once you’ve received the feedback from your customers, you have to prioritize the next steps. Provided that you’ve aggregated a representative view of each account discussed above, you can plot the loyalty value (NPS score) for each company paired with their revenue value in a graph, like this simplified example:
With such a graph, you receive an immediate indication about the current state of all your customer relationships at a glance. An important factor to note, though, is that a customer base in B2B is not equal in terms of revenue. It’s very likely that it follows Pareto’s rule, which states that 80% of your total revenue is represented by 20% of your customers. That’s why you want to make a distinction between the higher value group and the lower spenders.
One useful way of depicting a clear distinction between the two groups in the graph is by using the horizontal or x-axis as a divider between the two groups – the key accounts that make up 80% of your revenue and the rest. This, in effect, creates four different quadrants that can be used to prioritize the account manager’s efforts.
Each of the quadrants comes with its own focus and action plan, but it’s obvious that the customers in the top quadrants above the x-axis should be prioritized. In an ideal world, all your high-paying customers would be in the top right quadrant.
However, if they’re not, which is often the case, they can be rescued before it’s too late. Imagine if you didn’t know that the account was unhappy with your service at all. In that situation you would be unable to do anything to rescue it, as you wouldn’t even know they were dissatisfied in the first place!
How to turn the magic quadrant into an engine of referrals and extra revenue.
The “magic quadrant” is the top right quadrant on the graph. This group is filled with high revenue customers who are happy. So why not make more use out of them to grow your revenue even further?
- Referrals: Does the customer know any other company that might get use out of your product/service?
- Up/cross-sell opportunities: After further discussions with your most valuable customers, you can potentially get to new opportunities within those accounts.
- Reviews: Is the customer open to publicly endorsing you, either on your own website or a third party review website?
- Speaker at your customer event: If you have an annual event to bring your customers together, why not ask your most valuable customers to play ambassador and talk about how you’ve helped them.
- Testimonials: The customer might even be open to talking to new prospects of yours that need that extra nudge of confidence before signing the contract.
Step 4: The Account Review
“Each levels has their own set of needs, so address them accordingly"
The main goal of this whole approach is to change the focus of the relationship to the customer and his thoughts – and asking your customers for feedback twice a year is the first step of showing that commitment. However, it can only come to fruition with this last step: the ‘Account Review’, also known as the Quarterly Business Review (QBR).
Evaluating the relationship means both looking back and looking ahead. By openly discussing the good and bad of the past year during a formal meeting, a plan can be formulated for the year to come. And how do you think that openness makes a customer feel?
Even more importantly, this prevents account managers from being self-focused and forces them to listen more. Contrast that with the account manager who solely focuses on his sales targets, and you begin to see the benefit of this method. Which type of account manager is more likely to rescue at-risk customers? Which will be more observant to new opportunities?
The Ultimate Trust Building Solution - The Theory
There are two reasons why this process, and the Account Review in particular, builds trust with customers. In the book The Trusted Advisor, David H. Maister explains the trust equation:
Firstly, by openly discussing both positive and negative feedback during the review, honesty is portrayed, which in turn shows that you don’t have anything to hide. By taking ownership of possible mistakes in this way, you clearly show that your claims of having their best interests in mind aren’t just empty words. This enhances the ‘Intimacy’ factor of the equation. Although a very important factor, many people overlook its importance.
The factor ‘Self-Orientation’ is what a lot of salespeople struggle with the most. Many are trained to do this right, very few actually do it the right way. The benefit of framing the Account Review in the way proposed here is that salespeople are forced to discuss the customer’s needs and concerns, rather than focusing entirely on trying to sell. This obviously reduces the Self-Orientation factor and increases trust.
How It Works
At least once a year, a meeting with the customer should be planned to review
the relationship and keep both parties on the same page. During this meeting, the
most important contacts of the customer should be present. This is also a good
opportunity to involve your customer’s upper management. It’s rare to get access
to the C-suite, but even more difficult to maintain it. However, doing so becomes
easier with a tool like this that clearly shows that you are looking out for the customer’s value - their Return on Investment (ROI).
As an example, one of our clients who uses this system went into a review meeting
with this report. The CEO of their customer was surprised that they actually took
the feedback to heart, and said that he would have never expected the company
to do anything with it. He was able to understand the value that both parties had
from this formal review. And after noticing that some of his employees had not
responded to the survey, he insisted on getting everybody in the organization to
answer next time around.
On the other hand, the account manager can also choose to include other people from your company in the meeting. After all, the account manager owns the relationship, so it’s his call. If, for example, there were a lot of issues raised concerning customer support, it might be wise to bring the Head of Customer Support to the meeting to put power and credibility behind your promises of improvement.
The main benefit of having surveyed the stakeholders continuously is that you already know for the most part where everyone stands. The collected data is then the perfect ammunition to prove to your customer that you know what’s going on. So, rather than being surprised by unexpected issues or concerns, the account manager can actively discuss proposed solutions to the issues raised or dig deeper into the issues together with the customer.
It doesn’t need to be all negative of course. The received feedback can also indicate that everyone in the account is satisfied. This can then lead to discussions about what you can do to help solve their needs even further.
So additional needs can come to light here that might lead to an up/cross-sell. And even when there’s no real room for expansion, you can start thinking about how to leverage this happy customer with the tips from the magic quadrant side box on page 11.
The Foundation of the Account Review
Depending on the feedback, the conversation can go many different ways. However, there are a few things that always need to be discussed, regardless whether the feedback is positive or negative.
The first thing to have a look at is the distribution of feedback and satisfaction across the different levels of the organization. As each level has its own needs, it’s possible that not every level agrees with all the others about how happy they are with your service. This is something that should be ironed out during the meeting.
Secondly, since you’ve asked for the main drivers of satisfaction in your survey that should also be part of the discussion. You can tie this back to the discrepancy along the different levels if you notice a common pattern. This meeting is an excellent time to dig deeper into that high level feedback and really get to the bottom of things and without a formal meeting.
How often you should do such a review, be it annually or quarterly, depends on your resources and on the type of account. For smaller accounts with little potential for growth, it doesn’t make much sense to formalize the process like this. However, you can still go through with it, but just use a less resource intensive strategy.
Having a formalized process that includes the business review is most fitted for your highest spending customers (the top 20%) as well as the accounts that have the most potential to grow. For the ones that don’t show much potential, that don’t spend that much and aren’t happy, ask yourself whether it’s even worth it to go out of your way to keep them.
Following the ‘Account Success Process’ enforces a focus on building relationships and seeing things from the customer’s perspective. Regardless of natural relationship-building skills, this makes it impossible not to benefit from it.
The process starts with looking at the different contacts in the accounts to uncover potential dangers that lurk in the number of people the account manager is in touch with. To then identify which accounts need attention, you prompt all the contacts for feedback to get a feel of their loyalty and happiness. With the information at hand, you can strategize how to best
reach out to them.
By having your account managers put this process to use, they are forced to look at things from the customer’s perspective. And the customer will respond positively in return: you will see instant results in your retention and gain potential up/cross-sales.
CustomerGauge helps automatically collect, measure and analyze customer feedback to retain customers better and reduce churn. All based on the Net Promoter System, the industry standard.
Our software is designed to accommodate this ‘Account Success’ process. It will help your account managers to fully focus on what is most important with a software supporting them.
Want to see this platform in action?