Why publishers need customer success teams to ensure great renewal rates

Speakers at a recent industry conference on b2b subscriptions highlighted the importance of customer success in engaging customers and driving higher subscription renewals

A recent study that identified the top emerging jobs using data gathered from LinkedIn found Customer Success roles to be the number one fastest growing role in 2019 and comfortably in the top ten in an identical 2020 study. Reflecting this emergence, we heard further evidence of the growing importance of customer success teams (CS for short), and the value they bring to customers and colleagues alike at the Substribe Summit, an industry conference organised to showcase the value and power of subscriptions.

Good customer success requires cultural change

Alex Farmer, VP of Customer Success at Cognite, a SaaS company supporting digital transformation in heavy-asset industries, and Kate Forgione, Co-Founder of the Customer Success Network, an online network for CS managers, led a conference session that emphasised the foundational approach required to incorporate CS teams into organisations. Rather than simply re-assigning job titles to pre-existing salespeople, CS teams must develop from structural personnel and procedural changes – starting with the company culture.

This cultural shift can only be delivered when there is a universal, company-wide buy-in and this shift must be reflected in the ways that all client-facing employees are measured and incentivised. In other words, shoe-horning in a new CS department or simply renaming existing job roles will not ensure a successful CS team.

Nick Blunden, President of fashion media company The Business of Fashion, translated this into practical terms and outlined the need for CS teams to have their ‘own reporting, KPI’s and focus’ to distinguish them from renewals and sales teams.

Success & sales teamwork

Despite the need for distinguishment between the teams, another recurring theme from the conference was the necessity for a close, but clearly defined relationship between sales and CS teams. Alix Fennoll-Wattinne, formerly the Head of Customer Success at recurring payments platform GoCardless, examined how both teams must clearly define how deals are handed over, so must know:

  • The role each contact plays within their company,
  • What to expect from each contact or persona, and;
  • What constitutes ‘success’ for the company and individuals within the company.

Farmer and Forgione went further still and emphasised that sales and CS teams must be ‘best friends’ as both teams, not just the CS team, will work together to meet their customer’s goals and ensure a long and successful working relationship.

Understand value to the customer and help them realise this

Speakers at the Substribe Summit also outlined the critical role CS teams play in helping customers realise the value of their organisation’s product. Nick Blunden discussed how The Business of Fashion organise webinars to demonstrate the value individual businesses gain from their content, build customised content programmes with bespoke content feeds, and run tailored workshops for customers.

All these initiatives can be spearheaded by CS teams to ensure customers are guided on a journey to maximise the value they receive from their purchase. These initiatives also lead to an improved TTV (time-to-value) rate, a term referenced by Alex Farmer during the conference to measure the time taken for customers to find success following the purchase of a product or service.

Map out desired outcomes

Helping your customers understand the value you provide must be a joint effort from both the purchaser and the seller said Richard Butterworth, Commercial Director of the market intelligence provider Chemical Watch. He explained how they produce a ‘customer value plan’ at the beginning of each relationship. This covers questions such as:

  • What are their desired outcomes?
  • What does success look like for their business?
  • What value are they receiving from our content?

This process is replicated during renewals and helps Chemical Watch track and monitor customer progress. Farmer and Forgione similarly covered this process by highlighting the importance of allowing key clients to take some ownership of the product roadmap by CS teams listening and onboarding their suggestions and ideas.

Kellie McMillan, Client Relationship Manager at Content Catalyst, agreed with these sentiments. “We organise regular catch-ups with all our clients not only to keep them up-to-date but to listen carefully how they use our software,” she said.

A signed customer contract and an arbitrary figure next to a salesperson’s name on an office whiteboard is not the end of the customer engagement process. The success of customers, and implicitly the publisher, depends on a reciprocal and continual partnership between publisher and customer.

The future of b2b subscriptions conference organised by Substribe was held over 5 days at the end of September and beginning of October 2020