Business relationships are not this intuitive (though I contend they should be), but let me ask you this (if you’re in a long-term relationship, think back to when you were single).
When you started dating, you had opportunities to begin and pursue relationships. How did you make the choice of which woman/man to pursue? Was it the best looking? The smartest? Maybe the most accessible or one you thought would say yes? And if you were lucky enough to have several people from which to choose, into which relationships did you invest your effort? Was it with the cutest partner? The one who seemed most likely to succeed? The one most likely to commit to you?
I’d be willing to bet you made these decisions based on some form of intuition. You probably agonized, analyzed and got lots of advice from your friends and family, but some sense of the “right” choice probably made itself apparent, and off you went.
We don’t do the same with business relationships. We look at forecasts, financials and, if we’re smart about it, marketing and culture compatibility. Specifically, when we look at our customers, we have pretty much one measure of desirability: Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), which is essentially a net-present-value of expected future revenue from that customer.
But if you ask your sales people and customer service and support representatives, you might see a very different story. You’d hear endless anecdotes that go something like this: This customer may not produce much revenue for us, but they (pick one or more of these) helped us fix several critical bugs, showed us some new uses for our product, are really devoted to us, use only our products and never our competitors’, or have been our best reference customer and a big advocate in the market.
How much value do you place on any (or all!) of those things? My guess is that when it comes to making decisions on how much effort to put into the customer relationship or how hard to try to save them if they suggest they may not come back next year, you put not much value at all (or maybe a little, as an exception).
But you should. Companies that do have customers who keep coming back to them and not their less-successful competitors.
Here’s one example of why: Clayton Christensen’s (@ClayChristensen) “Innovator’s Dilemma” suggests (among other things) that as companies grow, they miss the customer doing something weird with their product. Smaller entrants see it, find the new market based on it and can disrupt the larger company’s market in doing so. But if you — I presume you are the larger, growing company — found the customer doing that weird thing and knew they were valuable, then worked to keep them, you would be able to see the new opportunity and capitalize on it.
There are similar examples for any number of the possible reasons noted above that customers can have value beyond CLV.
So what do you do about it? It’s a simple yet hard answer: Develop a model that can evaluate any given customer’s true value to you (building and helping you manage this model is one of my firm’s main services). That model must include revenue (CLV), but also must include the other dimensions that could make a customer useful and valuable to you. Not all possible dimensions will apply to all companies and, even among the subset that applies to you, not every customer will have much value in each one.
Once you have a model that can assign a quantitative value to each customer relationship, you not only know how valuable each customer is, but how to rank them and know who is genuinely more (or less) important to you. Then you can make well-conceived and well-informed investment decisions. You’ll also know why exactly you are making those decisions.
So when it comes time to allocate budget, time and people to ensure customers are happy, you’ll know who to make happiest. It’s not exactly intuition, and your friends may not have much to say about it, but it will ensure you are doing the best for your customers and for your company, and building relationships that last.
Over the four parts of this series, I’ve suggested a new way to approach improving and deepening customer relationships, which can reduce churn and ensure customers who walk in the front door this year don’t walk out the back door next year.
- Rethinking our business model to ensure we’re making the most of recurring revenue
- Building an effective and measurable sales and marketing process for renewal revenue, and why that’s just as important as your acquisition process
- Learning to understand the value our customers place on our services
- Valuing customer relationships and making better investment decisions
I hope this has helped you think about your business model a little differently and more clearly, and that it has helped you focus your efforts on maximizing the power of your recurring revenue model.
DS3 Consulting helps our clients make these transitions and take advantage of these opportunities. We’d love to hear your story about how you are making the most of your recurring revenue model. Tell us in the comments. And thanks for reading!