Guest Column | September 24, 2020

The 5 Rules Of Customer Retention

By John Scola, SAP Global Channels Cloud & Strategy

Customer Retention

Many of the platitudes around customer experience, engagement, and retention revolve around a similar idea. You’ve probably heard it: A small increase in customer retention leads to a large increase in profits.

That’s all well and good — and true! But have you heard anyone talk about how you can go about doing it? About how you can give customers the experience and results they want, growing your relationship — and your business — every step of the way?

We can talk about technology and strategy and philosophy for days, but, ultimately, customers want one thing: outcomes. And in today’s ever-evolving market, that means you can’t get caught standing still. It’s innovate or die.

What it comes down to is this: Today’s customer success executives will be the sales leaders of tomorrow. A focus on customer engagement will help drive the empathy, know-how, and understanding necessary to foster long-term relationships and drive true customer success.

So, how can you build a strong customer success initiative and strategy at your company? I called up a few leading SAP partners to get the “success” story, if you will, from on the ground.

Here’s what they told me.

Rule #1: Hold Your Customer Tight

“Seriously,” says Jory Lamb, CEO and founder of VistaVu Solutions. “Get really, really close to your customer, wrap your arms around them, and serve the heck out of them. It’s all about the customer, always.”

VistaVu has helped provide SAP solutions to customers for two decades, and their foundational customer-focused approach has proved essential amidst COVID-19. During the pandemic, over 80 percent of its revenue has come from existing customers.

And they’re taking steps to ensure their customer focus only continues to intensify strategically.

“Since the inception of the company, we’ve been on a journey toward perfecting the customer experience,” Lamb said. “And we always will be. But we’re making strides every day in that direction.”

Rule #2: Find Your ‘Farmers’ And ‘Hunters’

At ECENTA, a global SAP consulting company with offices in Dallas and Phoenix, the modern concept of driving customer success is grounded in a much older one.

“We need to have farmers, and we need to have hunters,” says Bruce Petillo, the digital practice lead for customer experience strategy at ECENTA. “Building a separate customer success team enables them to concentrate on supporting the customer and looking for new ways to help, while the sales team can focus on ‘hunting’ for more business.”

This allows the company to continue growing and expanding, Petillo says, inside and out.

Speaking of…

Rule #3: Know Your Product

“We have to be very clear about this,” says Raghavan Lalapet, director of customer success at ECENTA. “We sell customer experiences. Period. And we have to continue delivering to customers the experience they want and need.”

In other words, anyone can sell SAP solutions. You have to show what makes your company different. Think of it this way: How can your customers provide the experience they want to deliver to their customers if you’re not delivering it to them?

“Going forward, we just have to continue building on what we’ve already laid out,” Lalapet said. “We have to expand into our customers while tracking business value and driving satisfaction. We need to educate them on what they can do, and on the potential of what they’ll be able to do in the future.”

Rule #4: Listen Close

Earlier this year, VistaVu took another formal step toward customer-centricity, forming a “Customer Council” made up of several key customers. Lamb says they come together every three to four weeks to discuss their best practices and processes as well as offer feedback, which VistaVu takes to SAP — so all three groups can work in tandem to solve problems.

“We’ve seen so much success from it already,” Lamb said. “Our customer engagement, retention, and satisfaction have only gone up since we put together the council.”

Lamb even said VistaVu has seen as much as 10 times the improvement in some SLAs as a direct result of engaging with customers.

Rule #5: There’s Always Room For Improvement

VistaVu is, naturally, devoted to keeping their success going. Lamb says they are continuing to look for ways to become increasingly customer-centric, across the organization.

“For us, it’s very important we have overlap between our net-new team, and our customer success team,” he said. “Each needs to be part of the journey, and we need familiar faces across each for our customers to feel safe.”

Currently, over half of VistaVu’s team is devoted to customer experience and success for existing clients. And that number’s not static.

“Our people are our most important element,” Lamb said. “We have to make sure we hire, train, and retain people focused on serving the customer above all else, with their characteristics, behaviors, and actions. With a team like that, life is just easier.”

In my job, the reason I wake up every morning is to make our partners at SAP more profitable in the cloud. Retention is a critical part of that battle.

And if there’s one thing VistaVu and ECENTA understand, it’s that every customer engagement — from Day 3 to Year 3 — is just as important as any other.

To hear more of my thoughts on driving cloud success, check out this Game Changers podcast I participated in earlier this summer, “Cloud Service Adoption: Hit-and-Run Never Works.” I talked to Dr. Nikolaus Krasser, CEO and cofounder of Pentos AG, and Linus Tabellion at the DRÄXLMAIER Group (along with host Bonnie D. Graham) about how partners can realize the benefits of customer retention today.

FTO John Scola, SAP Global Channels Cloud & Strategy 09.20About The Author

John Scola is global vice president, SAP Global Channels Cloud & Strategy. His unique blend of technology manufacturer and marketing agency background provides for a strategic perspective of the SAP indirect channel business.