It’s Not the Finish Line, It’s the Starting line

Breaking news……hunter’s hunt and their desire to manage accounts after they close should be met with skepticism. And honestly that is okay. Their job is to bring in new business; they’re compensated to do so and are heavily incentivized to close new business each month and quarter. As soon as the ink dries on the contract they’re back out in the wild sourcing, pitching, negotiating and closing. Good sales people are celebrated and compensated for their success. It’s what happens to the customer after the ink dries that is not always celebrated like a new big deal from the sales team.

Renewals aren’t sexy but they are required for a business to continue moving forward. But unlike sales persons who are heavily compensated based on their performance the upfront costs associated with post-sales management can be expensive. Depending on the overall strategy of post-sales these expenses can really start to pile on the Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) or General & Administrative (G&A) expenses (cost center oriented). But what if it falls under sales & marketing (revenue oriented)? Does the internal perception of post-sales management change (actual question, not rhetorical)?

As we start to see the end of the roaring days of free money and valuations about as realistic as an actual unicorn SaaS companies will have to evaluate how they manage their post-sales teams. Listen I’m just a guy fascinated with marketing & advertising SaaS technology, with a passion for post sales management and apparently the time to write blog posts on Linkedin. I’m no SaaS expert like @jasonLemkin or @Tomasztunguz but so far in 2016 you can simply look at any publicly traded SaaS company and more times than none you will see a stock price and market value that has been beaten down. And I don’t mean 10, 20 or 30%. I mean statistically punished. Private SaaS companies have some shelter behind the curtain of VC money until that curtain is pulled away anytime a public investor (a.k.a. mutual fund) has to mark their books and we all get a front page read of how their valuation was just chopped at the knees. Keep in mind by no means do either of these events reflect the overall health of a public or private company. But could it, could being the keyword, could it influence how these companies run their business and the associated costs. If growth is plateauing or at the very least slowing down does this increase the value of post-sales management?

What do I mean? I’ve been told that large SaaS companies can allocate 50% of their annual budget on post-sales management. So if post-sales is structured in a cost center manner and not revenue generating I would postulate there might be change in the future?

Each company, leader and individual will have their own plan on how to accomplish this. Here are my thoughts on post-sale management.

I believe post-sale management should always include a selling component even when there is nothing to be sold. We all know hunter’s hunt, they are committed for as long as it takes until the contract is signed and then they’re off to the next hunt. CRO’s, sales managers and sales people love to use the term “getting across the finish line” when discussing potential new business. I’m all aboard with the race analogy I just think they have the wrong end of the race. It’s not the finish line, it’s the starting line.

The hand-off between the sales cycle and post-sales (a.k.a. customer journey) is the starting line to renewals. Selling doesn’t end when the contract is signed. Post-sale management is relationship selling. The goal for the customer success managers, client success, platform manager, whichever title being used is to establish a relationship with the customer, understand their KPI’s, their objectives, the pain points that brought them to you and then accompany them on their journey with your product/service etc…

It starts with being proactive in educating the customer on the product/service. The constant goal for post-sale management is being proactive. Education can come in multiple channels and methods but should be the foundation of the relationship. Bombarding customers with emails, chats and phone calls is a very easy way for the customer to put up walls and prevent a healthy line of communication. To avoid this all communication should be strategic, scheduled and always be include “value add” information and details regarding the customers KPI’s, objectives and pain points. You want customers to welcome your communications not avoid them.

To be effective and efficient in post-sales management you need to be a quarterback, a communication lead who can organize and communicate pertinent details and issues internally as well as externally. Being able to harness and get the answers from product or engineers when an issue arises or get details from marketing to use when talking to the customer about product positioning. This requires individuals to be more than a simple conduit but rather a leader in making sure issues, questions and inquiries don’t get lost in the shuffle internally. Equally this will also require the confidence to take the lead when communicating externally with the customer. Identifying the right point of contact as well as knowing who the decision makers are. A communications lead has to be transparent and honest with customers. Reputation risk exists at every corner; setting realistic time expectations is required to keep the customer happy and lines of communication open. A customer might not like hearing it will take 3-days but it’s better than saying one more day, day after day after day.

Relationship selling isn’t just about taking a customer to a soul cycle class or a fancy dinner to thank them for their business. And it’s certainly not about being reactive and answering calls when there is an issue. I believe those in post-sale management require a risk underwriting mentality; how will the actions today play out tomorrow as well as a 3-, 6- and 12-months later. From education to product introductions a strategic approach and execution should be embedded in every action.

We all know the goal of post-sale management is to reduce churn and increase renewals. Through education post-sale management teams can increase activity and engagement hopefully leaving customers in a “how did I live without this product” state of mind. Along these lines an engaged customer should be an easy to renew or up-sell if the opportunity is available.

Though I personally believe data is a better companion than leader it’s the key to identifying value add situations and more importantly issues & problems requiring attention. Performance metrics provide an inside view to the relationship between the customer and the product or service. Whether providing an opportunity to show a customer how the product/service can help them or highlight when there is an issue requiring attention. In any event, data is the key to the door unlocking both situations.

The customer life-cycle starts with a cold call and ends with renewal. I look forward to joining a team and taking the customer from the starting line to a renewal. 

Thank you Laura Rasmussen for helping with my illustration