Jun 2, 2023

Read Time 5 min

Did your customer champion leave? Use this five-step playbook to reduce churn risk


A Customer Success Manager at a Series-B stage SaaS company had just learned a key contact—their customer champion—was moving on to a new role. The risk of churn was high since the new point of contact indicated they wanted to make some changes.

“I just want you to know I’m probably going to replace you all with another tool,” the customer said.

The CSM didn’t panic because she knew exactly what to do next. Her team had just finished working together to build a Customer Success playbook that included managing the departure of a customer champion.

She ran the play, landed a meeting with the new customer contact and had a good conversation. When it was all over, the client decided to let the contract ride for six more months – and even added a feature upgrade.

That story comes courtesy of Ali Cudby, who is the founder and CEO of Alignmint Growth Strategies. She shared the anecdote on a recent webinar we hosted and below are some of the key points she discussed.

Chances of churn spike with customer champion turnover

People leave organizations for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes they are promoted or take on a new role elsewhere. Other times it could be an organizational restructuring, which is happening a lot these days.

Regardless of why it happens, the unmanaged key account change is the single greatest leading predictor of churn. That’s according to a data analysis presented by Sturdy CEO Joel Passen at the BIG RYG conference last year.

Sturdy found that when a customer champion leaves, there is a 51% chance that account churns within the next 12 months. Further, the research showed that the probability of churn is greater when it’s a senior leader who’s turning over: Nearly 7 in 10 (65%) of accounts with an executive change will not renew a SaaS contract.

If that sounds scary—and it should—there’s an upside too. Many of the signs Customer Success teams can observe warning of customer churn are lagging indicators. By contrast, a key customer contact change is an early indicator. You still have time to act and ward off possible churn.

A Customer Success play for key contact changes

The series B SaaS company in the anecdote above could have just relied on the ingenuity of their CSM to save the account. However, that doesn’t scale and even the highest-performing people need guidance from time to time.

A better approach is to have an easy-to-follow plan in place. Our internal research shows only about half of Customer Success organizations have such a play. To that end,  Ali recommends SaaS companies use this simple five-step play when a key customer contact leaves.

1. Systematically look for signs a key customer contact is leaving

The first step is to know when a customer is leaving. This is easier said than done for larger accounts than smaller accounts, but there are things you can do to be proactive:

  • Establish a regular cadence of check-in meetings with your customers
  • Send periodic and personalized communications to existing customer contacts
  • Monitor interactions with the company including email open rates, involvement in the online customer community, support calls, product usage and Net Promoter Scores
  • Watch LinkedIn for customer or job role changes
  • Set up news alerts for customer brand names and pay close attention to financial or executive new-hire announcements

ChurnZero customers have access to our ChurnScore feature. This aggregates many of these factors into a single customer health score based on behavior, satisfaction and engagement.

2. Send a personalized note to the new customer contact

As soon as you find out a customer champion is leaving, ask who their replacement is and send your new customer contact a note. The message should be personalized and centered on congratulating them on their new role. Offer to host a meeting—when they are ready—to help them settle into their new role and share data on how their team is using your product.

Every solution provider will be doing this too, but here’s the nuance: many of these notes will be focused on selling, while yours is focused on building trust.

It’s crucial too. According to research from Sturdy, when Customer Success teams act on an executive change signal within the first 48 hours, that customer is 33% more likely to renew. In other words, a timely and thoughtful message effectively cuts the risk of churn in half.

3. Review the customer’s full history and your contact’s background

The next step is to review the customer’s history. Take note of their product usage and how they are using the product along with how they could get more out of it. Read all of the support cases carefully noting the people involved, the problem encountered, and the resolution offered.

A good CSM should already be on top of this information, so while a review is helpful, here’s the twist: check out your new customer contact’s background as well. Some of the questions Ali suggests CSMs strive to answer include:

  • What companies have they worked for previously?
  • What roles have they held?
  • Where do you think they might be strong?
  • Where do you think they need support?

Be careful to avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. The goal here is to understand the person and be ready to partner with them in the areas where they request your help. As you go through the account history and contact’s background, jot down a list of questions you might ask.

4. Facilitate a “you, we, me” customer meeting

The previous three steps are all designed to help you prepare for this meeting. Ali recommends CSMs follow what she calls the “you, we, me” format.

  • “You” is all about the customer. Give them the space to tell you what’s on their mind. You want to learn about their job and their goals for their new role. This doubles as a trust-building exercise.
  • “We” is about the partnership you share. This is your chance to frame your company, product and processes in the words you just heard from your new customer contact. This could include features the customer is using (or isn’t using) to achieve the goals just shared with you.
  • “Me” is your chance to share, on a limited basis. This is where you convey the one thing you want the customer to know. It might be some information you need or help with an obstacle that is preventing you from helping the customer reach their goals. The delivery is important. Even when you ask for something, frame it in the context of helping them achieve the objectives the customer just shared with you.

The new customer contact is going to be inundated with calls and meetings, from many solution providers, often lined with lots of sales pressure. The “you, we, me” format comes at this from a different angle; it’s one of collaboration and partnership.

5. Follow up and follow through

The final step in this play is to follow up. Within 24 hours of your meeting, you should send a personalized note to the customer that does three things:

  • Reiterates what you heard during the meeting
  • Reminds them of any commitments, especially around deadlines
  • Resolves any issues brought up in the meeting or at least describe the steps you are taking to resolve those issues

Consistency is paramount when a key customer contact leaves

CSMs need to recognize they may not overcome the risk of churn every time a key customer contact moves on. That’s why having a champion departure play and being consistent about using it is so important. As Ali put it in the webinar, you don’t get in good physical shape with a single workout. You have to show up consistently.

As for the SaaS company described in the beginning? Ali says that key customer contact turnover happened a few years ago and the business relationship—after executing this five-step play—is still in place.

Watch the full recording of the webinar: “Your customer champion just left. Now do this” for Alli’s additional tips on navigating this key inflection point.

The webinar’s Q&A recap covers topics such as how to approach former champions after they’ve moved on to another company, hold on to an account post-layoffs, get airtime with new senior stakeholders, and much more.


Subscribe to the newsletter   

Empowering your customer success team through community

Has your customer community lost its spark? Teams are often eager to launch this new initiative, however, sustaining that same enthusiasm in the months ahead can be a challenge. “It's one thing to create excitement and another to keep people’s attention,” says Shauna...