Great news: This blog post isn’t an ad for Catalyst. It’s a real guide based on the real experiences of Shannon Jaritz, Dustin Amrhein, George Bains, and David Lillie. These four professionals work in CS, CX, and Account Management for four stand-out brands: SoSafe, Pendo, OpenAsset, and Alyce.
In the first month, they’d converted $42,500 of that new pipeline into revenue. One account renewed their contract 90 days before the deadline, expanded to a new plan, and signed on for an extra year.
In David’s words, it’s “kind of a cool win.”
With budgets tightening and “do more with less” reigning as the slogan of the year, companies need to focus on growing their existing accounts. Customers are your most valuable asset to revenue growth. Embracing customer retention, expansion, and advocacy is your #1 growth engine.
After all, expanding current customers costs four times less than chasing new business. But expansion isn’t easy. You need the right team structure, data, and processes to make it happen.
In this article, we walk you through how to build an expansion strategy to maximize the value from each customer account, keep your customers happy, and hit your revenue targets.
But first, we’ll look at how you could be getting in your own way.
You might accidentally be “anti-expansion” if…
Our four subject matter experts agree that three big challenges curb account growth:
1. You don’t know where to focus your limited bandwidth and budget
David’s team at Alyce struggled to hit their expansion quota because they didn’t have quick access to important data, specifically contract utilization. Data hygiene in Salesforce was also a growing issue. As account managers, David’s team constantly scoured their list of current customers to spot prime expansion targets.
Figuring that out involved the account management team combing through disparate data sets, in a tedious, exhaustive process that drove them all nuts.
“We’d go in, read the written agreement, go somewhere else and view their usage, compare the two, do a little math to figure out where they’re at in terms of timeline in their contract, and then decide on a one-by-one level if they’re ready for action or not,” David says.
It wasn’t just frustrating and clunky; it was a massive waste of time and money. AMs are highly skilled professionals, and the best use of their time is talking to prospects. If they spend time digging through Salesforce to find leads, they waste crucial selling time.
2. You’re still being reactive instead of proactive
George Bains, the VP of Customer Success at OpenAsset, used to get frustrated by the waiting game. Without the right data about which customers were ready to expand, he felt at the mercy of whatever decision they made on the renewal date each year.
“We were [measuring expansion signals] by renewal date. As each client came up for renewal, we would go in and have that conversation. It was a much less proactive approach,” says George. “You’re just taking orders.”
David’s team shared the same challenge when it came to contract usage and timelines: “We were only capitalizing on opportunities as we discovered them, not as they occurred.”
3. You’re letting important data live inside your CSMs’ heads
Does this sound familiar? Rather than a central, easy-to-navigate hub, all your most precious client info is stuck in the minds of your CSMs.
Too many teams still base their expansion outreach on the relationships their CSMs or AMs have built up with customers. That’s a good start, of course—your team has great insights into which customers are ripe for renewals—but it doesn’t go far enough. Basing a key growth strategy on human memory is a great way to leave money on the table.
The problem is that so much of your customer data lives in siloes. You have the information about your customers that lets you know when they’re ready for an expansion conversation—but it’s hard to access. Matching it up by hand is time-consuming and inaccurate.
5 key expansion tactics brought to you by CS revenue drivers
1. Make friends with your product team
The right expansion strategy depends on the product strategy. That’s why Shannon Jaritz, the VP of Customer Success at SoSafe, advocates for close ties between your Product Marketing and CS teams. As she puts it, “Growth is a team sport.”
Your expansion model will likely fall into one of the following camps:
Growth through product tiers
This is the most traditional SaaS growth model—your goal is to get your customer to the final tier and keep them there. Say you follow a tiered product strategy, where customers move from free to standard to premium tier. With this model, your biggest challenge is likely hitting the ceiling on your expansions. Shannon calls this “juicing a rock.”
You want to keep moving the client up the value chain—but you can’t do that if you don’t have an appealing next step. To address this challenge, you need a well-designed pricing strategy that ties into your customers' journey as they grow with your product.
“If you don't have a good way of naturally expanding the use cases for your core persona, you're inherently limited in what you can do.”
–Dustin Amrhein, the Global VP of Customer Experience at Pendo.
Growth through cross-selling
When you understand which customers can gain value from a cross-sell (and why) you can identify and reproduce expansion opportunities. If you base your business model on selling extra products to existing customers, close collaboration between Product and CS becomes even more important, explains Shannon from SoSafe.
The two teams need to decide if the new feature or application they’re building is big enough to be a standalone, separately-billed item—or something their customers should expect to get as part of their existing contract.
Product-client fit should be a priority here, too. Shannon’s team focuses on understanding each ICP and their needs to determine when to target a customer for cross-selling. Her advice is that CSMs should “know roughly where their customer sits on the maturity curve.”
Is your customer a novice user of your product, or do they take advantage of deeper, more nuanced use-cases and features? Are they an industry leader or a first-year startup?CSMs can then use that information to target the most mature and value-aware customers with new releases first.
Growth with consumption-based pricing
When you expand based on seats or usage, your goal is to drive adoption through customer education. The challenge is if a Sales team oversells a new customer, persuading them to buy more seats than they will likely use.
It’s tempting to try to sell your customers the biggest license possible. But it exposes you to an unnecessarily high churn risk when they realize you oversold them and look for a more affordable solution to suit their current needs. You’re better off selling them whatever contract size they know they need up front—and staying proactive about your expansion strategy as they grow.
2. Clean up your act (and your data)
If you have a neat, centralized, and easy-to-navigate data hub, everyone on your team will feel more confident about expansion. You can’t sell expansions to your customers until you see readiness signals. And readiness signals come from clear data.
You need to know what your customers bought, what value they get from your product, and when they should consider buying something else. And you need that information in real time—in one visible location, so your team isn't mucking around trying to find it.
That’s exactly why we built Signals. Signals lets you get your hands on the expansion data you need. You tell it what to watch out for, and it does the rest.
For example, say you want to target true-up opportunities and get customers to buy additional seats. You can use the query builder to automatically inform you whenever your customers are using 90% of their licenses.
Here’s an example of a true-up expansion signal in Signals:
Instead of waiting for them to exceed their license limits, you proactively target them for expansion first. For George at OpenAsset, the real value of this method is that it’s objective instead of subjective:
“We can now consistently look across the business and say, ‘OK, all of these clients are at 90% of their license utilization. Let's go have a strategic conversation with them.’”
This doesn’t just result in more sales; it also provides a better long-term relationship with your clients. That means you ditch the days of the last-minute scramble.
3. Drill down into the details
To determine what expansion signals to look for, Dustin from Pendo recommends drilling down into your customer data to find correlations between use cases and expansion needs. Use these patterns to create customer segments you can target with tried-and-true expansion approaches.
For instance, Dustin’s team focuses on a cohort of users that are constantly pulling data from the Pendo platform. Based on previous user behaviors, the team knows that users that pull data are imuch more likely to purchase integrations.
“We get very intentional around creating expansion cohorts based on this product usage data,” Dustin says. They target each cohort with a specific solution—in this case, integration add-ons.
Of course, not every product generates granular data on user behavior. But make sure you can at least segment your customers based on their product usage so you can begin to look for patterns.
4. Listen to your CSMs
Quantitative data often reveals valuable expansion signals—but remember to couple it with qualitative information from your Customer Success team.
“CSMs deeply understand their customers’ needs, so they can make intelligent recommendations as a kind of consultative partner to the customers.”
CSMs gather key information from their customer relationships that you need to refine your expansion outreach triggers:
- Listening to customer requests for features you offer in a higher tier
- Spotting customers using all of their licenses in a single department when other teams could also benefit from your product
Make sure you have systems to integrate this key information into your expansion strategy, so you always hit the right customer at the right moment.
5. Establish clarity around goals, roles, and responsibilities
While all the experts we spoke to advocated for a close relationship between Sales, CS, and Product, Dustin from Pendo recommends choosing a team framework or structure that clarifies exactly what everyone needs to do. At Pendo, salespeople are “hunters” handling logo acquisition, and CSMs are “farmers” who don’t carry a quota.
Regardless of how you carve up the roles, our experts agree you need well-defined objectives and responsibilities—or you risk damaging your relationship with the customer.
Boost the collaboration between Sales and CS with our template, “The Best Sales to CS Handoff.”
Get to the point faster with Catalyst
For David Lillie and his team at Alyce, the results are in: Using Signals in Catalyst has made it easier to have “better conversations, faster.”
With Catalyst, you can:
- Set up automatic alerts so you never miss an opportunity for customer growth
- Create expansion layouts for specific customer cohorts
- Centralize all customer growth data in a single accessible view
- Standardize and scale your expansion outreach plays to maximize every customer account