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Seven customer marketing strategies to increase SaaS retention
Does your marketing often drop the L-bomb? You know the one: leads. They obsess over building perfect websites, landing pages, forms, content, and call-to-actions to have a modicum of a chance to catch a prospect’s eye and attract their interest. Entire marketing budgets are devoted to their infinite pursuit and persuasion.
But if you’re like most companies, when it comes to attracting your customers, the only thing your marketing’s dropping is the ball.
Sure, you won customers over to get the initial purchase, but what about your post-sale courting? Being a good partner and delivering outcomes is expected. That’s why they got into this relationship with you in the first place – and why customer success has become a non-negotiable. Adhering to defined relationship parameters is not enough to keep the flame alive in the years and decades to come. That’s where customer marketing comes in. Because if you want to stay together, you need to grow together.
Upskill your customers to up your retention game
It’s often said that the best leaders are great teachers. The same holds true for our vendors. The best relationships are the ones you learn and grow from – that continuously teach us something new. Just look at B2B behemoths like Salesforce, Moz, and HubSpot. These SaaS companies offer comprehensive training programs, resources, and events to their customers and even the larger professional community. They have loyal followings and student-customers who proudly display their certifications on LinkedIn to not only show off their product proficiency, but also their brand affiliation.
You want to create product enthusiasts who associate themselves with and admire what you stand for. To achieve this kind of vendor pride and sentiment, you need more than business results. If you are committed to truly helping your customers grow, you need to make them the best at what they do.
If you teach a customer how to use your product to fix a problem, you’re in the game.
If you teach a customer how to be better at their job, you’re playing for keeps.
Achieving this professional self-betterment is where customer success and customer marketing come together. While most marketing focuses on demand generation for potential customers, customer marketing focuses on demand continuation to keep the customer wanting your product after the first value, after the first year, and after the first time (and many thereafter) competition comes knocking on their door. Both customer functions are responsible for driving retention, growth, and advocacy in related but distinct capacities.
Even if you don’t have a dedicated customer marketing role yet, there are activities and strategies your customer success and marketing teams can work together to employ.
If your retention is on the rocks, and you’re wondering what else you can possibly do to save it, make sure you’re marketing to your customers. Because all relationships, even your strongest ones, take work – and some wooing.
With that said, here are seven customer marketing strategies you can employ to up your customer relationships and retention.
1. Nurture with networking events
Most companies’ event budget is allocated towards prospecting and brand awareness. But organizing and facilitating a forum for your customers and industry to connect over the pains and passions of a shared profession is one of the most organic and authentic ways to build loyalty.
“As human beings, we are social creatures hardwired to avoid loneliness. This means that brands who can make us feel like part of a group are more appealing than those that focus on individual success or existence,” writes smile.io in their article on which emotions make successful customer relationships.
Networking events paired with open discussions or learning sessions cultivate community and teachable moments – a strong combination to fortify your relationships.
The goal of ChurnZero RYGs, our (now virtual) networking events, is to create a lively space where customer success leaders can swap notes and talk shop amongst one another. To ensure the conversation covers what attendees actually care about, we go straight to the source. We send registrants a survey with a topic list and create the agenda using the highest-voted ideas. Then, based on their experience with a given topic, we ask customers if they’d like to moderate or speak at the event to showcase and share their expertise. Learning from others who are in the same field and position as you, resonates on a tactical and emotional level. Customers associate those positive feelings with your brand and its equity increases.
2. Spread wisdom with webinars
Webinars are often thought of for top-of-funnel lead generation and nurture, but they can be just as effective for customer marketing. Webinars offer an engaging platform for product training, tutorials, and updates, which could otherwise be a bit (or extremely) dry, wordy, and lengthy to consume as written material on your own. Measuring the impact of tactic-oriented webinars that show how to use functionality is rather straightforward with product usage data. After watching the webinar, did the customer’s feature or overall product adoption increase? Did they complete the intended task, or even attempt to?
You can also compile a series of product trainings into an online learning program. At ChurnZero, we created our Admin Academy – a series of live, recurring webinars – to give customers the knowledge and skills they need to configure ChurnZero. After each instruction-based webinar, customers have a 1:1 consultation with their Customer Success Manager (CSM). These personalized sessions focus on the customer’s strategy around using their newly learned functionality. This dual-channel approach makes better use of the CSM’s deep expertise and limited time (especially for scaling teams) as opposed to using the session to explain remedial how-tos and tactics.
Instead of the traditional webinar format that uses a sole presenter or one-way dialogue, experiment with hosting customer panel or ask me anything (AMA) webinars to encourage more interactive, dynamic discussions. For these types of less scripted presentations, having a moderator who is highly knowledgeable on the topic is a must. It’s hard for a speaker to be fully present in the discussion when they also must concentrate on webinar logistics and timing cues. Moderators keep their eyes on the road (and clock) to make sure speakers don’t veer the discussion too far off course, get stuck in a tangent, or miss a main point. Moderators also help reiterate significant takeaways and surface areas of intrigue or edification for the speaker to elaborate. For panel discussions, they assist with posing questions to participants to keep the conversation dispersed and smoothly flowing – without the awkward pauses or interruptions caused by speakers not knowing who should go first.
3. Celebrate (and capitalize on) your customers’ success with case studies
Case studies are a mutually beneficial way to promote your product and your customer among interested audiences – so long as your features know their place in the story. Because prospects don’t care about them, or your product for that matter. They care about solving their own challenges. That’s it. Make your customer’s struggles and triumphs the focal point so that others relate when they read it. Your features are the supporting role – not the star. If they outshine your customer, you’ll lose the reader. Although case studies primarily support bottom-of-funnel marketing, they can also benefit other customers by sharing new or unique ways of using the product.
How do you decide if a customer is the right fit? If your customer base expands, it’s helpful to develop a system of qualifications for determining case study candidates. At ChurnZero, aside from a customer’s overall health score, we collectively consider several criteria, including:
- Attitude – Is the customer excited about your partnership? Genuine excitement is palpable and infectious, which makes for compelling storytelling and inspiring soundbites.
- Demonstrated ROI – Does the customer have proven results? Your results are ideally backed by hard ROI metrics to validate success, but sometimes the strongest outcome is a “soft” ROI metric, such as process improvements and productivity increases.
- Customer tenure – Has the candidate been a customer for at least nine months to a year?
- Product usage – Is the account above 80% license utilization with high usage across all features?
- CSM sentiment – Does the customer have at least a 4 out of 5 sentiment score in ChurnZero?
4. Bolster customer benefits with educational resources
Content marketing is a powerful way to build trust among prospects and customers alike. Most companies build content that aligns with the marketing funnel. That’s no surprise. But for many that funnel ends a stage too early at conversion – giving retention no attention. Here are a few ways to consistently engage customers with retention-focused content:
- Customer newsletter – to hook customers on your content from the start (and when they’re most excited about your product), promote signing up for your newsletter as part of your onboarding process. You can include relevant blog content, as well as more customer-specific content, such as product updates and tip and tricks. At ChurnZero, we recently introduced a Q&A column featuring our own Chief Customer Officer that provides advice on common customer challenges. Here’s an example of a customer question:
- Customer spotlights or interviews – featuring customer interviews on your blog is an easy way to produce unique content while giving customers free publicity and industry authority. Plus, you can get your content in front of a wider audience since the interviewee will often want to cross-promote through their company site and accounts, as well as their own personal networks. First Round Review’s blog, The Review, has mastered the art of the interview by capturing in-depth expert discussions that inspire a slew of quotable takeaways that are original, relatable, and conversational – because the content, does in fact, come from an actual conversation and not a distorted figment of how we think people speak in the B2B world.
- Training and support resources – working with customer success, customer marketing helps craft and promote customer training resources, especially during the pivotal onboarding phase. They couple their visual communication and copy know-how with the product and customer expertise of customer success to create attractive and compelling materials that not only look good but also offer clear substance and value.
5. Increase advocacy with referrals, references, and reviews
According to Nielsen reports, 92% of consumers trust earned media, such as recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising, with online consumer reviews ranking as the second most trusted source.
Online reviews and word of mouth have become the beacon of consumer purchasing decisions. With more options becoming available to us each day, we look to these outlets to guide our frazzled and fatigued decision-making minds.
Here’s how we find and use these reputation-building sources at ChurnZero:
- Referral and review programs – if a customer gives us a positive NPS, we send them an automated Play asking for an online review and if they’re interested in referring a friend. We also include referral call-to-actions in our customer newsletter as an added reminder.
- Reference program – we handpick customers to participate in this program. We call upon them from time to time to share their experience with a ChurnZero prospect via the phone. Inquiries are restricted to a reasonable volume and are always coordinated and scheduled at the convenience of the customer.
Since these initiatives are aimed at attracting and closing new business (more so than benefiting an existing customer), it’s considerate to reward participants for their time and effort. We gift customers whenever they leave an online review, act as a reference for a potential customer, or refer a customer who connects with our sales team, as well as when the referred prospect becomes a customer.
6. Applaud accomplishments with awards
A little recognition goes a long way. We know this to be true in our own jobs, so why wouldn’t we want the same for our customers? Especially if your product facilitates most of their daily tasks and activity.
An awards program offers your customers recognition for their work and wins while helping to increase retention and improve engagement. At ChurnZero, we recently launched our ChurnHero Awards comprised of four categories – Onboarding Hero, Adoption Hero, Renewal/Expansion Hero, and Advocacy Hero – that reflect the solution areas our customers purchased ChurnZero to optimize. As part of the program’s launch, we laid out the tangible benefits for applying, which include:
- Extra PR – winning an award opens doors to new business and new contacts, as well as solidifies the choice for existing customers.
- Benchmarking – entering the arena to win an award provides the opportunity to compare your customer success team with others in the industry. The entire exercise of nominating your company could hold more value for your team than actually winning the award.
- Credibility – winning an award provides a credible third-party endorsement for your company.
- Employee motivation – awards help boost staff morale and improve motivation by acknowledging employees’ hard work and achievements.
- Recruiting – awards validate your hiring stature among new recruits. By pitching your customer success team as the best, you attract the talent you need to push your business forward.
As with any call-to-action, the potential gains should outweigh the perceived effort to enter.
7. Uncover opportunities with upsell campaigns
When customer success is armed with customer product usage and sentiment data, they can easily identify the right customers and the right time to target the account for an upsell or cross-sell. Customer marketing helps drive and close these upsells with supporting collateral and campaigns. They ensure the brand voice and image remain consistent and coordinated across product tiers and solutions. Typically, acquisition marketing enjoys the glory because it’s tied to won opportunities. But by contributing to account expansion with closed upsell opportunities, customer marketing can step up and stake claim in the revenue number.
Fulfill your customers to retain them
If you want to better predict your customer retention, you need to invest in it. That means investing in dedicated resources, tools, and strategies to facilitate your customers’ success and development. Focus not only on your customers’ achievements, but also their fulfillment. This is a combination of their success and their satisfaction working with you. You can have one without the other, but that’s not a strong foundation for a lasting relationship. Cultivating advocacy requires both.
How can customers use your product to excel in their job? What associated skills can you teach them? How can you create a sense of belonging and community among a shared profession? If retention is your top priority, ask yourself these questions and if you’ve written off customer marketing as optional. It’s true that people prioritize what they value. Do your business priorities today match the customer loyalty you seek?