By: Andy Bell, Senior Consultant at Navint 

Customer lead management buy process slice

As the shift from a traditional, item-based economy to one of recurring revenue continues, the purview of marketing and sales organizations has expanded to address the Continuous Customer. It’s no longer enough to simply find new customers. They need to be retained and grown to maximize customer lifetime value. But expanding the scope of those organizations is not as simple as hiring more talented marketers and sales persons to target your install base.

The challenge lies in operations. The processes and systems used in sales and marketing are historically optimized for customer acquisition while customer retention and growth – which includes upsells, cross-sells, and renewals – are then shoehorned into acquisition-focused technologies and frameworks. It’s difficult to view your customers as ‘leads’ while continuing to provide these customers with a holistic experience that incorporates the abundance of data, digital/human touchpoints, and goodwill you have with this customer.

Consequently, defining an effective ‘customer lead’ management strategy requires an especially deliberate and nuanced approach. Here are three steps for bridging the operational gap in lead management for the Continuous Customer.

1. Define what constitutes a ‘lead’ and identify who within your customer base meets that criteria

Every one of your existing customers could technically be defined as a ‘customer lead.’ However, this approach makes it difficult to understand who truly has a need for additional products or services and is therefore worth targeting for upsell. A qualification process and model that incorporates customer data sources should be developed to tell you who is truly worth marketing dollars and sales team time.

The customer’s current entitlements and firmographic data are great initial qualifiers, but you must look beyond those static values for signals that a customer has true interest in your additional offerings. Data points like products or services that were quoted (or added to the basket) but never purchased are important buying intent criteria. Usage data and support requests can help you understand how and how often the customer is using your service and how happy they are with it. A customer with limited usage or many open support requests is likely uninterested in the ‘premium’ version, for example.

You know best what the important criteria are for your business and customers—use this information to help you differentiate between customer leads and customers.

2. Develop a Continuous Customer sales process

Defining a uniform process for your sales team creates a common language for marketing, sales, and management to discuss prospects and pipeline, develops more consistent data, and ultimately drives better sales results. These benefits of effective sales process are well understood, which is exactly why they should be applied to retaining and growing customers too.

Your customer sales process should borrow heavily from the framework you have instituted for acquiring new customers, as common sales language will be a benefit to the new process adoption success. However, don’t be afraid to modify that process to better align with your upsell, cross-sell, and renewal strategies. Customers have an inherent degree of qualification, so top-of-the-funnel sales qualification activities are likely unnecessary, and opportunities may come earlier in the sales cycle in contrast to acquisition sales.

With comprehensive sales processes that address both customer acquisition and customer sales, you’ve defined a sales process for the Continuous Customer.

3. Align your CRM and marketing automation systems to the process you define

Many companies have fragmented business systems, each the source of truth of customer data for that functional area. Finance holds customer account information such as contracts and billing, support holds interaction data for service tickets, and the product team holds usage information. To the extent that this data is part of your customer lead qualification process, it should be made accessible in the CRM in a scalable and sustainable way so that it can be leveraged by your marketing and sales teams. Using integrations to provide this data in real time is key to effective execution of the strategy.

Finally, CRM systems are not built to treat known customers as ‘leads’ out of the box. In Salesforce.com, for example, you can’t ‘unconvert’ a customer contact back into a lead record, and you can’t convert a contact into an opportunity. To provide you with insightful data and an unencumbering user experience, your CRM system will likely require customization (and creativity) to work with the processes you have defined. Similarly, marketing automation tools require a deliberate design to effectively differentiate between your prospects and customers. This separation allows key functionality such as lead scoring and routing to be tailored for prospect leads versus customer leads.

Thoughtful systems design and administration is a key aspect of a strong lead management strategy that becomes even more important when expanding that strategy to the Continuous Customer.

The Devil is in the Implementation

While these steps are straightforward, the implementation of them is not. We’ve seen lead definition debates, data discrepancies, process development delays, and force-fitting new methodology into the customer-acquisition workflow of the CRM—all problems that stall out the best customer retention intentions. Not to mention providing a sales organization with a new process, new data sources, and new sales expectations can be overwhelming.

At Navint, we can be your tactical operational team to help make sure your lead management strategies for Continuous Customers are planned and executed. From strategy to project management, process definition to customizing your CRM for the Continuous Customer, we can help.