This is a common question that is asked by everyone from CSM’s to VP’s. It’s common because at some point in our processes, we’ve failed in one or more areas to build a strong and trusted relationship with our customer executives.
There’s always going to be the small percentage of customers who are deeply engaged and who “get it”. These are the ones that will speak on your behalf, be references for potential customers and always take a call from anyone at your company.
However, that group is only a small percentage of your customer base, so how do you get executives at the rest of your customers to pay attention to you and your CS team?
While there is no one silver bullet that will perfectly handle every situation, I’m going to give you three approaches to try. Hopefully, one of these will work for you or give you an idea for a new direction.
How to do this - If you can’t say with 100% certainty that you understand your executive persona inside and out to the point where you know their job as well as they do, it’s time to do some research.
The marketing organization in every business spends an incredible amount of time and energy building buyer personas. These buyer personas go into an extreme level of detail about the buyer’s environment, challenges, objectives, buying triggers etc. They do this so that the messaging they use in communicating the value of the product will immediately speak to one or more problems they know the buyer needs to solve.
When this is done really well, it’s scary how accurate and effective it can be. Think about it, the marketing team’s job is to answer the question the prospect came up with or hasn’t even come up with yet. Have you ever signed up for a service/product after reading an ad/sales page and thinking “they must have bugged my office, I’ve literally said the same things.”
Ask the marketing team for the documents they have around buyer personas and use it to really understand your customer executives. I guarantee that when you look at the persona details and compare it with your communication to the executives that are ignoring you, you’ll immediately see a misalignment and come up with ideas for how to tweak your messaging to connect the way you really want to with the executive.
How to do this - The onboarding process is your opportunity to set the stage for not only how you will interact during the onboarding phase but also how you will interact throughout the year with the customer. I like to think of this time as a “blank slate” where you can script whatever you want because you’re the expert when it comes to getting a customer from zero to value and beyond. But, you have to set the their expectations first.
Take a look back at your engagement with the executive in the critical onboarding phase. What did you ask of them? What didn’t you ask of them? If you didn’t ask anything of them along the lines of their commitment to engaging with the CS team on a quarterly, semi-annual or annual basis, then redo your talk track and tell them what you want them to do and be clear on the value they will get by engaging in this manner.
If you set the expectation correctly in the beginning, people will feel bad if they do not deliver against what they said they would do. You can use this psychology to drive the actions and compel them subconsciously to follow-through. Most people will be consistent with what they say they will do.
This might be an easy solution for a new customer but what about existing customers? The next time you speak with them, it may be time to reset expectations and realign on what your partnership means to each other. If you haven’t been able to get in touch with them and you escalated the situation to your executive team internally, leverage your executive to help deliver that message.
How to do this - First, look at your communication attempts when trying to get in contact with the executive. Now, look at those communications through the lens of who you are really trying to benefit. Are you really telling them a story that can improve their business and help them meet their goals? Or are you really trying to check a box for yourself or your team so that you can say you have a relationship with the executive? My guess is may be a bit of both with the latter being heavier.
It is human nature to be self-serving. Even in a “Built to Serve” role as a Customer Success professional, let’s be honest, we are going to be primarily concerned with ourselves. After all, if you don’t make contact with your customer executive and something happens to the account or they churn, you know exactly where the blame is going to go and how it will feel. If your outreach is really driven to reduce the possibility of that blame and feeling coming your way, that’s fine, but change your approach.
In order to change your approach, you need to put that fear to the side first. Then, you need to look at your communication and find a way to tell the story you want from their perspective. What would they need to see from you to open an email, take a meeting, know that you had something so valuable to offer that they can’t resist?
Start with the personas outlined above and rework your communication to start with their perspective, not yours. When you do this, you’ll be amazed at the difference.
What have been the most effective approaches for you? I'd love to hear about them in the comments.