Renewal Ownership in Customer Success

Allison Bantz
Allison Bantz Member Posts: 6 Contributor
Name Dropper First Comment First Anniversary
edited May 2021 in Strategy & Planning

Hi Everyone-

I've recently taken responsibility for renewals in the business due to organizational gaps in a growing startup.  While I've been in the customer space for 15 years, I have never run renewals as a core responsibility.  I have developed a journey to assist in the customer experience leading up to the renewal, which includes education, outcome-based conversations, business reviews, and product/service feedback, but the strategic conversations/sales conversations around this activity are a gap.  Does anyone have a solid, yet simple, process + tips/tricks to follow for renewals (most contracts are 1 year in length and <75k)?  The CS team typically has a relationship with the day-to-day users, less so on the buying side and we do not have an RM team (only hunters) that nurtures the buyer relationship.  I'm curious if others have this engagement model, and if you have implemented other tactics to get to the buyer or executive, who may not "know" the CSM.

Much appreciated!



  • Brooke Carrie
    Brooke Carrie Member Posts: 20 Thought Leader
    edited May 2021
    I am very curious to see what others have to say on this thread.

    I am also helping build up a CSM team in a growing startup. Right now, renewals are falling under my responsibilities but I feel strongly that CSM teams should not deal with that as it has the potential to taint the 'trusted advisor' role that we strive to build with our clients. I am pushing back on that but due to constraints around organizational gaps (I like that phrasing!) it looks like it is going to be on me for the foreseeable future. It is completely outside of my wheelhouse and knowledge base so I would love to see others engagement models on this topic too.
  • Shari Srebnick
    Shari Srebnick Member Posts: 110 Expert
    First Comment First Anniversary Name Dropper
    edited May 2021
    Hi Allison,

    We have a somewhat similar model though our differentiator is that we do have an Account Manager who handles the commercials.  However, CSM's are involved in some of the conversations, and often kick those off and then handover to the AM.

    That said, from what I'm reading in your post, it sounds as if you actually do have more around the strategic conversations than you think.  By that I mean, you have outcomes-based conversations and business reviews; those *are* strategic. Customers renew when they see value and ROI from their investment, and if you're delivering on those outcomes and can speak to that with quantifiable results, then that's your conversation.  The Business review is also part of that.

    As for Sales conversations, that goes back to value.  Can you show ROI?  A big part of this is also asking good questions and listening.  In my opinion, it's not so much "CS Conversations" vs "Sales Conversations", but more strategic conversations that discuss those outcomes and what value they brought to the business.  

    For the exec sponsors, does CS get involved in the Sales cycle?  If not, getting involved early is a way to mitigate that issue and avoid being single-threaded.

    Some other ideas to consider:

    1: Reach out to them via email sharing some tangible results of what has been accomplished, highlighting your champion's role, and asking for time to discuss further

    2: Google their company and see if there is any recent news that's relevant to what your company provides, and ask them about the impact it's having.  Execs like to talk.

    3: Instead of the CSM reaching out, reach out leader to leader.

    Those are just a few things we've used over the years that's worked for us.

  • Brian Hansen
    Brian Hansen Member Posts: 75 Expert
    5 Insightfuls First Anniversary Name Dropper
    edited May 2021
    I agree with all of this, Shari. Our account executives (that's the title that they have, but equates to CSMs) are responsible to understand the customers' needs/goals by asking questions about those things, deliver additional value to the product through sharing marketing materials and providing training, then must also present ROI conversations - show quantitative (usage) and qualitative (testimonials) data points. They also must ask and know who the decision makers are and track that in Salesforce.

    We're diligent about knowing renewal dates and being prepared with a clear understanding of fees paid and ROI realized. One important way to do this is through benchmarking - i.e. "customers like you see value in this way..." That leads to upsell discussions, too. 

    If a customer is engaged enough to be evaluating an upsell, one thing they're not doing is non-renewing! 

    I'm glad to expand more on any of this if it's what you're looking for!
  • Keishla Ceaser-Jones
    Keishla Ceaser-Jones Member Posts: 10 Contributor
    First Comment Photogenic First Anniversary
    edited May 2021
    In my org, our team managers all aspects of the lifecycle from the implementation to the renewal. However, our end user contact is managed via implementation leads that are closer to or are the buying influencers. We start the renewal conversations early usually at the mid-year point  to understand budgeting processes and expectations for processing the renewal. At this time we are executing mid-point business reviews as well as setting expectations for engagement and usage stimulation for the second half of the year. We have started using playbooks in our CSM software to manage milestones in securing renewals. I hope this helps.

    Keishla Ceaser-Jones

    Senior Director, Partner Success

    Digital Immersion Technologies, EAB

  • Allison Bantz
    Allison Bantz Member Posts: 6 Contributor
    Name Dropper First Comment First Anniversary
    edited May 2021
    Thanks, everyone for taking the time to share your insights.
  • Naomi Aiken
    Naomi Aiken Member Posts: 6 Contributor
    edited May 2021

    Hi Allison,

    Great topic and thanks for starting this discussion! At our user conference in October 2020, we actually held a fun and lively debate on this exact topic. I did my best to summarize the arguments from both sides below (but apologies that even the summary is quite long). Hope this helps as you navigate the best decision for your own organization. Personally, I really enjoy owning the renewal as a CSM, and hope others agree!

    If you want to listen to the full recording of the debate (the debate was delivered in a webinar-like format), you can find it here.


    Arguments FOR Customer Success owning the renewal:

    Argument #1: Respect the rule of reciprocity

    • The rule of reciprocity guides us as humans in every interaction. When applied to Customer Success, removing a price increase and getting a 5-star G2 review strike the right balance of a give and a get.
    • Customer goodwill is built over time and Customer Success, by nature, makes regular deposits in the customer relationship. Their ongoing customer investment uniquely positions them to make withdrawal requests while still driving meaningful and profitable performance.
    • To operationalize the "gives and gets" framework, brainstorm a list of the desired actions you want from customers and a list of desired actions your customers want from you. Then, force-rank the lists from the easiest to hardest and least valuable to most valuable. This creates a loose framework to help you balance your checkbook.

    Argument #2: Don't reinvent the car buying experience

    • Those in favor of Sales owning the business relationship often believe that money and strategy conversations should kept separate – and that asking for the renewal or negotiating discounts taints the relationship. But they are actually intertwined.
    • Imagine you're in a car dealership. The sales rep you work with finds the perfect car that meets your goals. It's actually a different car than you originally came in wanting to purchase. But inevitably the price is higher than you want to pay. Enter the Sales Manager. They sit down and start scribbling down payments and interest rates in a two-by-two square. How does that make you feel? Why would we replicate that awful and uncomfortable experience we have in the B2C world with our B2B buyers? Bringing in the 'closer' that doesn't have balanced goodwill built up muddies the relationship.

    Argument #3: Renewal separation dehumanizes the customer relationship

    • Renewal and expansion are directly linked to a customer's realized value during your relationship: "Renewal is them telling you 'I want to keepseeing this,' and expansion is them saying 'I want to see more of this.'"
    • Concerns about a CSM's objectivity and negotiation abilities are unfair: "Bringing in a 'ringer' from Sales makes the process awkward and undermines the CSM and how far we've come as a discipline. We aim to humanize the relationship, but don't confuse us with the old-handshake, slap-on-the-back relationship management approach."
    • Renewal and expansion are not checklist items or stand-alone events that should be handed off: "They're a part of the customer journey. Sales owning the functions in lieu of Customer Success does a disservice to your clients and your CSMs."
    • Acknowledge success and opportunities on both sides – customer and company – by making the conversations both back-looking and forward-facing. Together, plan what the next renewal cycle or addition will look like to continue strengthening the partnership.



    Arguments AGAINST Customer Success owning the renewal:

    Argument #1: Focus on the journey, not the destination

    • Customer Success should focus their efforts on what leads to the renewal, instead of starting at the end and looking backwards.
    • Customer Success exists to retain the customer but says that retention happens in the space between signatures.
    • CSMs exist to understand a customer's vision and make it a reality. They partner with customers to learn their business goals and obstacles, and strategically plan together for their success.
    • When a CSM fixates on the primary task of renewal, they spend their time chasing contracts instead of focusing on impactful activities
    • The customer experience can be solid, and the relationship between Sales and Customer Success really fruitful, if you define roles and communicate them properly. The best way to ensure you properly qualify and sell great-fit customers is to incentivize your salespeople on their renewal rate.

    Argument #2: Scaling Customer Success and driving performance demand specialization

    • Focusing Customer Success on what they're most passionate about and skilled at leads to happier, more productive teams, and thus happier customers.
    • Since SaaS businesses survive on Net Revenue Retention (renewals, expansion, and upsells), you need to maximize all these areas which typically exceed the scope of one person's talent. You need specialists.
    • While the skill set of a CSM and an Account Executive (AE) overlap, they're inherently different with distinct motivations, comp plans, and intentions at play.
    • By keeping the AE involved in the customer's long-term success, they're more motivated to close the right customers and stay engaged with them.

    Argument #3: Customer Success and Sales are more effective together than apart

    • The ultimate KPI every SaaS business has is to retain and grow our customers. When Sales and Customer Success partner, they unite the business to deliver an exceptional customer experience.
    • With SaaS businesses facing pressure to secure and lock in recurring revenue, it's paramount that Customer Success focus on product and customer engagement.
    • Every department has a role in delivering an exceptional customer experience. It is not just Sales or CSMs, we're a team. We succeed because we're in this together.