How to deal with "zombie" clients

Manuel Bernabeu
Manuel Bernabeu Member Posts: 1 Navigator
Hi all! 

I´ve been trying to wrap my head around how to deal with "zombie" clients: those who signed a contract and bought a product, but do not use it. 

I have noticed this is not due to a lack of understanding of the value the product can generate to them, but to undefined ownership: nobody really wants to take ownership of the product with all which that entails (regular meetings, QBRs, defining expectations, etc).

Also, some of our customers are airlines and their contracts are performance based- with the current global situation their performance isn´t great and therefore our product costs them a very marginal ammount, almost negligible, but they never churn. 

Have you encountered something similar? Any advice? 

Many thanks!


  • NickH
    NickH Member Posts: 9 Seeker
    Name Dropper Photogenic First Anniversary First Comment
    edited January 2022
    I have seen the exact same thing and I agree that it hasn't been due to a lack of understanding of value but issues trying to obtain ownership. I have seen a number of customers who parachute staff in and out of projects and as such, there has been no real ownership of the products and in some cases, senior management seem to be almost cut off from the value realisation. 
    I am new to the role of CSM and am finding that this causes a major challenge trying to get the response I am looking for.
  • Jeffrey Kushmerek
    Jeffrey Kushmerek Member Posts: 96 Expert
    Photogenic First Anniversary 5 Insightfuls Name Dropper
    edited January 2022
    I am suspecting that you are dealing with lots of sales that were closed at the end of the year, and that the onboarding and CSM teams are not in the loop during presales. Also, when onboarding is free, and no set expiration, the customer sees no value and no urgency. You will most likely need to get sales involved to contact their contract owners and get them involved
  • Rolie R
    Rolie R Member Posts: 3 Navigator
    edited January 2022

    There was someone or some people that were engaged with sales and initially decided to buy your product.  There should be a kick-off meeting where the ownership is defined on both sides along with a pile of other things.  If it is the people who purchased your product that is the owners and they are not part of the executive, you need to get in touch with the executive to solidify the value of your product.  So that when the owners get busy, forget, lose interest, you have an avenue to get things back on track through the Executive channel.  If it is the executive that is the owner, then you have to work your tail off to get them re-engaged, well you might have to work your tail off either way......

    On a different note, if you do not care about expansion and/or cross-selling, plus you do not get a good conversion rate on referrals and/or advocacy, then you should not worry about customers who pay, always renew but never use the product.  Just focus on new business and customers that are engaged.

    If you care about expansion, cross-sell, up-sell, referrals, case studies, advocacy, etc etc.....then you need to engage with the person and/or people who will take and/or drive ownership with your product relationship. 

  • Brian O'Keeffe
    Brian O'Keeffe Member Posts: 202 Expert
    First Anniversary Photogenic 5 Insightfuls First Comment
    edited February 2022

    This is tough. I have seen situations like this. A common one is the purchaser and the team or person who owns it are not the same. The purchase is made high up and then the ownership passed on to a subordinate. Often the subordinate had no say in the decision, or even knows a lot about why it was chosen, and sometimes have limited interest in the success of the deployment. 

    1) Work to engage the current owner and find ways to establish trust.

    2) Search for others that are involved who might have influence and see if you can create an ally or champion. Listening to all parties involved in the deployment gives you some clues: who responds and asks good questions? Who sounds excited or interested? Sometimes it is a person not that high up, but having one ally or champion can be the difference between success and failure. Sometimes it is reviewing the team members or stakeholders and reaching out to each member to "check in" and see what's up. I have even gone to LinkedIn and found employees who might be stakeholders and engaged them. If they were not, I was directed to who was. 

    3) Keep the decision maker involved if it is at all possible. It is not always possible, sometimes that person moves on or does not want any more to do with it. But if you can, provide a high level debrief and avoid anything negative about the zombie. Even if the zombie is a blocker. It is imperative that you are not viewed as an enemy. Let the high level stats speak for themselves and remain silent about why. Let them figure that out. I had an eight month deployment, six months of getting nowhere, when the decision maker replaced the entire deployment team. We had to replace our team too, after discovering the teams had a hostile history and it was far easier to replace our team to then try to weed out the negativity. 

    3) Be creative and be prepared to use non-traditional methods. It is a tough situation, but most can be overcome and getting that key stakeholder/champion engaged any way possible is how you solve it!