This is the time of year where many organizations rethink customer segmentation, tier their customer accounts and revisit territory designs. Correspondingly, changes trigger customers to move from one seller to another. While these changes are good for the business, most CSOs recognize that they pose risks to customer relationships.
To manage these risks, CSOs should:
1 – Develop Customer Personas
For all customers being transferred, CSOs should develop a set of personas with an accompanying transfer plan. Personas can include:
- High-risk relationships – customers that may negatively respond to a relationships transfer
- Later-stage Buyer – customers that have open, late-stage opportunities
- New Customer – customers that are in the first year of their customer tenure
- Core – customers that tend to be lower risk and should be resilient to relationship changes
Ultimately, the customer persona drives the messaging and transfer playbook. The goal is to contextualize and target strategies to meet the needs of those in each persona.
2 – Stage the Communications
While it’s tempting to message all customers at the same time, it is more prudent to stage communications over a few weeks. A common strategy is to divide communications across three tranches:
- Wave 1 is for most of your “core” customers and select “new” customers. CSOs should launch messages and learn from the incoming customer feedback. Commonly, incoming feedback helps fine-tune messaging and approaches for future waves.
- Wave 2 is for the remaining “core” customers, and most of the remaining “new” customers, plus a mix of “high-risk” and “later-stage buyers”. Again, CSOs must use incoming messaging to further refine messaging where needed.
- Wave 3 includes the remaining accounts and leverages pressure-tested messaging. At this point, sellers are well-versed in the changes and how to resolve customer worries.
Most CSOs recognize that using multiple waves allows for continuous improvement and workload balancing. Depending on the volume of customer account transfers, a singular, big-bang approach may overwhelm call centers and sellers.
3 – Manage Seller Expectations
Sellers are the linchpin to this customer account transfer success. Optimistically, they won’t have any concerns and can reassure customers about the transfer. Unfortunately, many sellers are concerned, especially about open opportunities related to customers being transferred.
Where possible, sellers should be allowed to close these deals and enjoy the rewards that follow. Administratively, it could be challenging to support this approach for all deals. CSOs should work with their heads of sales operations to identify specific opportunities that may be linked to the transfer process. Common criteria for opportunity selection include opportunity size, stage, and customer persona. Smaller or early-stage opportunities may still transfer. Conversely, CSOs should be more flexible with larger or later-stage opportunities.
Additionally, these opportunities should be timeboxed – i.e., the incumbent seller should be given a deadline on when the deals must be closed. Opportunities that breach the deadline can be transferred to or shared with the incoming seller.
4 – Transfer Accounts Over Time
As CSOs move beyond planning and communications, it’s time to take action. The approach and timeframe will vary by persona. For the more transactional, core customers, this transfer may occur over a short series of phone calls. In the first phone call, the incumbent seller informs the customer of the transfer. The next call is used for the incumbent to introduce the incoming seller. Then, subsequent calls can be led solely by the incoming seller.
For larger or higher risk relationships, this transfer process may occur more slowly using a mix of phone conversations and in-person meetings. The first meeting can be a mere introduction. Subsequent meetings will be supported by both the incumbent and incoming seller. Eventually, the incoming seller assumes more of the leadership role with the relationship. Finally, the incumbent seller recedes from the working relationship and the incoming seller assumes the sole accountability.
Customer account transfers may seem daunting but they are a necessary part of balancing sales efficiency and effectiveness. Ultimately, CSOs should take a methodical approach to manage the customer relationship risks and seller expectations.