Boosting Your Membership Retention: Renewal Starts On Day One

IMG_2329Planning your retention strategy is one of the most valuable and important things that anyone in a renewal-based business can do. You can take my word for it. I’ve been on the front lines.

Early in my career, when I was working in enterprise-level sales, one of the products I worked with was a subscription-based service. As a rep, my primary task was to hunt new business, but I was also responsible for maintaining a set of renewals.

Starting the year out, we would be given a list of 12-month type subscriptions to follow up on. When your primary job is focused on trying to bring on new customers, it’s inevitable that you would procrastinate a little with the renewals. For reps who are thoughtful and organized, this meant contacting the members who were up for renewal a few months before the end of their subscription.

A really great rep, however, would schedule meetings throughout the subscription period. I tried to schedule meetings with them on a quarterly basis, for instance, just to touch base. These meetings also gave me a chance to hear about the pain points our product wasn’t addressing, and to potentially upsell them if we offered another product that could help.

For those who weren’t quite so professional or well-organized, however, renewals were much more challenging. It meant trying to schedule a meeting with someone who hasn’t been talked to for perhaps 10 months, and who may well have concerns with your service that have gone unaddressed that entire time. Building a business case at the last minute like that is always going to be tricky, and the closer it it to the renewal date, the less runway you have.

That was more than 15 years ago, when subscription-based B2B services were relatively uncommon. Today, thanks to the rise of subscription-based companies, subscription-based sales are everywhere. This trend isn’t limited to the technology or online sales industries, either.

In the venture capital and private equity world, for instance, there are many subscription-based marketplace applications. These kinds of deal-flow platforms match investors and companies looking for investment, something that used to be a completely offline process only a few years ago. These services are very expensive, often hundreds of dollars per user, per month. It’s a huge investment, even for a large company.

For the companies that develop those platforms, failing to keep a single renewals current can mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars. This loss is called “churn” within the industry, and avoiding it is a high priority for every enterprise-level SAAS company. This means that their renewal strategy has to be built into their sales and customer strategy from day one.

One of the companies that I’ve worked with, for instance, had a specific role within the company called a “customer success manager.” That person’s job was to make sure that their client got the highest possible value out of their investment. They not only acted as a guide during the onboarding process, working closely with the client at every step, but also regularly checked in to make sure that the customer was getting a great ROI from the service. If there was any kind of problem, the customer success manager’s job was to solve it.

This is a brilliant play. From day one, the customer has a high level of support. Even more importantly, they have constant contact with the SAAS company throughout the entire term of the subscription. Even of the customer success manager is completely removed from the sales relationship, they have still provided a highly visible level of ongoing service that will definitely play a role when it comes time to renew the subscription.

Obviously, this level of customer attention isn’t possible for every business. If you’re charging $10 a month for your subscription, it probably doesn’t make financial sense to invest in that kind of sales support. But it might make sense to employ at least a few of those same strategies.

Perhaps you could create a user forum for questions and support would provide an increased level of value, or send out a regular check-in email to ask subscribers about their experience. You could reach out to those customers with specific problems, and then create a FAQ or troubleshooting page as a community resource.

The more visible your customer service and retention efforts are throughout the subscription period, the easier it will be to keep your renewal rates high.