With economic uncertainty in the air, SaaS and Customer Success teams want to be more efficient and build durable businesses that withstand the market.
How? With a digital-led approach, of course.
For CS teams, efficiency means working smarter and doing more with less—accelerating the current drive toward digital strategies like community, self-service, and more.
Remco de Vries, VP of Global Demand Generation at Gainsight, sat down with a panel of CS experts, including…
- Kellie Capote, CCO, Gainsight
- Gemma Cipriani-Espineira, CCO, Chili Piper
- Rav Dhaliwal, Investor, Crane Venture Partners
- Jeff Heckler, Director of CS Solutions, MarketSource Inc.
… to discuss how businesses can become more efficient and fight uncertainty by leveraging digital strategy.
Let’s dive in.
Q: What efficiency trends are you seeing in SaaS and with customers?
So, what’s actually happening right now? These five industry thought leaders break down what they’re seeing in the field and with their customers.
Businesses Are More Prudent With Budget
Kellie Capote: Across the board, there’s a lot of uncertainty. We’re seeing our customers bringing more prudence and diligence to the table to get more efficient in terms of how they think about the three- to five-year plan for their businesses. We must figure out how to drive Net Revenue Retention (NRR) to build efficient growth where we balance those levers of profitability and growth.
Organizations have added another layer of inspection for business costs and budgets to determine what’s moving the needle regarding true business impact versus what’s not.
Jeff Heckler: The cadence of budgeting and forecasting has changed. Two years ago, we had a standard process of preliminary meetings and then launched into finalizing the budget for annual operating plans (AOPs). Now it’s much more collaborative across the board to ensure cross-functional alignment, especially with the revenue team.
Increased Investment in Third-Party Outsourcing
JH: Most recently, a trend we’ve seen with customers is that their backfills will not be filled. Those dollars are being moved to outsourcing services for 3-9 months and then reassessed at that time. We’re seeing them initiate conversations for third parties for outsourcing on a temporary basis with lower risk and a more direct impact on the bottom line and NRR.
Reduced Spending on Learning and Development
Gemma Cipriani-Espineira: Another interesting trend we’re seeing with our customers is less investment in research, learning, and development. So we found an opportunity to deliver that to our customers, to support them through their careers during this time when they may not have the budget from their HR teams to attend conferences or facilitate learning and development paths.
Q: What actions are you taking to respond to the current economic climate?
Let’s talk action. What immediate steps are businesses taking to respond to a potential economic downturn? The panelists discuss what they’re seeing externally and what actions they’re taking within their own organization.
Double Down on Existing Customers
Rav Dhaliwal: The critical question is: How do we make sure we are capitalized well enough? It could involve rejigging the plan, the forecast, or delaying pushing out key hires. However, the best source of funding is customer revenue. You should be doubling down not just on acquiring new customers but on the customers that you have—because they’re not only a source of new revenue, they’re going to help you at the top of the funnel.
KC: Your customer base is your business’s best revenue engine and growth engine. So if you focus on those things right now, those strategies should drive your business for a lifetime. They’re not a point-in-time strategy. That work will get that virtuous flywheel going around retention, expansion, and advocacy.
Partner With Businesses Cross-functionally Within Their Org
KC: Partner with companies to help them understand how they can 1) scale and do more with less and 2) partner cross-functionally within their organizations to ensure that they’re driving towards desired outcomes and are above the line when it comes to vendor decisions.
Focus on Improving Efficiencies and Performance
GCE: We need to ensure that we’re doing two things at all times: improving efficiencies and performance. The focus for us is constantly asking ourselves: are the outcomes that we’re delivering improving efficiencies and performance efficiencies for our customers? We know we’ll probably be in a good spot through this rough patch if we do that.
Focus on Digital CS to Scale
KC: We continue to focus on digital customer success and programs to help scale. It’s not just a segmentation strategy—it’s a program that can benefit the entire segmentation stack. We can mobilize our human capital and CSMs to focus on high-value activities and leverage Community and digital education programs and campaigns to help guide our customers to those outcomes.
Be Sympathetic and Proactive With Engagement
JH: This is the fourth economic downturn I’ve experienced in software. Through all that, I’ve realized the most important thing is empathetically and proactively moving toward your customers. We’ve been using pool CSM teams to proactively reach out to and engage with our customers and understand what is happening. During COVID, we built a matrix spend based on spend lifetime as a customer industry to see what kind of relief we can provide temporarily.
Amplify Risk Management and Renewal Management
KC: It’s like deja vu from when COVID and the pandemic first happened. The good news is we instituted processes during that time, back in 2020, to amplify processes around risk management and renewal management that have continued. We’ve continued to work on our value outcomes framework end-to-end across sales, implementation, and Customer Success because all conversations must be grounded in tangible ROI and business value.
Q: What digital strategies are helping your CS teams become more efficient?
We asked the panelists: How important is digital strategy right now? What actionable strategies are you currently implementing to be more efficient? They had a lot to say.
Digital CS Is a Must-have in Tough Times
GCE: Now, Digital CS is a must-have. You need to think digital-first before building your human programs around Customer Success.
As a result of the tough market, we’ve now got a lot more focus on cross-functionally in our business to power our digital strategy and DCS programs with stronger product insights. That connection wasn’t really made until the market got tougher because CS is so efficient. Now that it’s softening, we can see that for all the time and effort devoted to data insights for prospects. We should do twice as much for our existing customers, particularly product data insights.
Lean Into Automation and One-to-Many
KC: Look at your customer journey and identify the moments of truth or touch points. Find the areas to lean into more automation and one-to-many versus human-led and one-to-one. I would look across your customer base today. What are the CSMs doing? What is the journey? What are things that are repetitive and could be automated? Whether through email or in-app communications, are there things you can standardize around templates or EBRs that can be automated? If you want to get serious about digital-led Customer Success, think about it as a program, not a segmentation strategy, for low-spend customers.
Enable Self-Service and Customer Engagement with Community
RD: The power of peer-to-peer learning is being able to talk to 500 other people on the same journey or have already solved all the problems you are currently facing. So making that part of your digital program is what we should be doing to facilitate peer-to-peer learning, getting customers to help each other. That’s not only powerful from an efficiency point of view but also significant from a top-of-funnel point of view because customers who put their hands up to help other customers are champions in future case studies.
KC: Customers want to be able to self-serve and engage with your product development. So it’s critical to build a stronger community to meet the customers where they want to consume our product and software. One place for your best practices, your how-to documents, where they can engage with other people and share ideas. That’s certainly the way things are moving.
Leverage Digital Strategy for Inactive Customers
GCE: If we see dips in activity for enterprise customers, it will send a trigger for their dedicated CSM to reach out. For SMB customers, it will set a trigger for a digital CS group, like a pool CSM group, to reach out. But now, it’s not enough to tell someone to take action or to prompt a banner or an email campaign once the problem’s already occurred. So how can we get deeper insights that could result in risk even if the risk isn’t fully there yet? How do we prevent that? How do we see that coming before the customer sees it coming?
Be Great at Customer Discovery
RD: Efficiency, for me, is being able to answer the question: for every dollar I spend, what do I get back from it? And now, in uncertain times, it’s also: When do I get it back? One of the key patterns I’m seeing is that to do this well, you have to be great at customer discovery.
You have to do much more in uncertain times to understand their business, what they’re worried about, what projects are in flight, and who is involved. What is happening in their industry vertical? What does it say in their public filings? That is why customer discovery is critical.
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