How to Prepare for a Customer Executive Sponsor Change

For a SaaS company, an executive sponsor change can represent a red-level risk event.

Whether announced or unexpected, an executive sponsor change in a customer’s organization can significantly impact the scope or longevity of that relationship. In these situations, the customer success team needs to be skilled at implementing well defined processes to mitigate account churn and solution downgrades.

Recently, Joel Passen from Sturdy and Brian Hall of Carema Consulting co-hosted the inaugural Sturdy Signaller LinkedIn Live session. Passen and Hall talked about:

  • How Sturdy captures and reports on executive change signals
  • How customer success can best minimize the risk associated with executive change
  • What to do once a change occurs (along with best practices)

Here are highlights from that session:

An Executive Sponsor Change is Inevitable: Admit It, Expect It, and Be Ready for It

I’m reminded of how a GOAT — an athlete considered the “Greatest of All Time” — always expects their opponent to serve an ace to stave off a breakpoint or to hole a bunker shot when the opponent is seemingly out of the hole.

The most successful athletes never hope for their opponent’s double fault or missed putt. Just the opposite — they’re preparing for what they’ll do next in anticipation of their opponent rallying. And when that moment arises, a GOAT is able to lean into countless hours of practice and firsthand experience in order to deliver at the highest levels.

The same is true of the top-performing customer success organizations. These teams not only operate proactively to drive value for their customers, but they’re also ready to instigate their collective ‘muscle memory’ in order to execute the process or workflow that’s needed when a customer signal flashes. More on this below.

When Executive Change Happens, Consider That the Customer Has Put Their Account ‘On Review’

According to Sturdy, 65% of accounts with an executive sponsor change churn within 12 months. However, teams that act on executive change signals within the first 48 hours of discovery have a 33% higher chance of retention.

Top-performing customer success organizations are always ready to insulate and minimize themselves from churn during an executive change when it occurs.

A fundamental tenet of customer success is to entrench with your customers by clearly articulating the value and ROI that your product or solution provides.

In the event of a ‘champion churn,’ customer success leads with this value. While you still need to ‘sell’ to the new executive, you have a greater chance of retaining the customer by helping them to understand the outsized value that their team receives from their investment in your solution.

Before an executive sponsor change occurs, customer success organizations are gathering information from their customers in order to ameliorate the risks caused by an executive change. And once the executive change occurs, customer success has a well-rehearsed checklist or playbook to execute in order to minimize the likelihood of a customer churn.

Best Practices to Help You Proactively Prepare for an Executive Sponsor Change

  • Map your Key Contact Roles within your CRM. Make sure you have at least one name in each of the Key Contact Role categories, including those related to the ‘executive’ categories of Key Contact Roles.
  • For the executives involved with your account, have a conversation with them like this: “Given your success, I would expect that you’ll receive opportunities to take on new and bigger challenges within your company. Should that happen, who would you expect to step in as the champion for our solution?”
    • Whoever that executive suggests, make sure you are in communication with that person and, minimally, including them on the distribution of information about your solution that shows the value it’s driving for your customer.

Here are top best practices for an executive change checklist to implement once champion churn has been identified:

  • Consider the account being ‘at risk’ until you’ve had a chance to meet with the new executive.
  • If the current executive sponsor is still available to meet, schedule and hold a call with them and the new champion. Broker a conversation whereby the outgoing executive explains your solution/outcomes realized with the new executive, then communicate a 90-day plan with the new executive.
  • Otherwise, schedule and hold a call with the new executive and another Key Contact Role at the company in order to communicate the outcomes realized and the next 90-day plan.
    • Also make sure your commercials are understood by the new executive — licensing, renewal date, etc. — and don’t shy away from these in fear that it could lead to a tough discussion about renewal. If there are renewal doubts, then smoke them out as early as possible so that a plan can be created to address reasons for the doubt.
  • Report to the customer success leader that this change has occurred and what you’re doing about it. If the account is sufficiently strategic to the company, communicate the change and what you’re doing about it to senior leadership. Said another way, over communicate internally and reach out for assistance if desired. Said yet another way, never lose alone.

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