If your sales career involves renewing clients’ contracts, here are some easy tips to boost your renewal rate. While this is not applicable to every profession, it’s targeted toward those who sell products like media, SaaS, or recruiting packages to businesses. The key is providing great customer service throughout the contracted period and having the grit to ask the hard questions that elicit honest responses.
The model that’s used in many fine restaurants is a good one to keep in mind as an example of good customer service. The waitperson introduces themself and makes it clear that they are your server. They answer any questions that you may have and make informed recommendations. As soon as you get your food they make sure everything looks right, that you got the right order and nothing appears amiss. And then they check on you at appropriate times, leaving you alone when you are conversing but not vanishing when you have a request. After you finish your meal, they offer you coffee and dessert. To the restaurant, this is an upsell. To a customer, this is a nice way to extend their time talking with their dining companion. This is a great example of good customer service that most of us have experienced.
Using a similar model will lead to more customer renewals. If you make the original sale, make sure the customer fully understands what they are getting, what problems it will solve for them, how they will be billed, and who to contact if they have questions.
As they begin to adopt their products, call to see if they have any questions. Many complaints are due to not enough education about how to use the products. Offer to show the client yourself and send them materials explaining how to use them properly so they can use their preferred method to educate themselves. These early concerns can be a great way to educate your client more about how to get the most out of their products.
Once the client seems happy and up and running it seems like it’s time to move on to more pressing matters like making new sales or dealing with the squeakiest wheel that calls you all the time for help. DO NOT NEGLECT YOUR CLIENT. Whether you’re using a CRM or keeping track in Excel, make an agreement with your customer that you will be checking in on their results on a predetermined schedule. Monthly is appropriate for many products. Then, do not satisfy the “check in” by sending an email or leaving a voicemail.
Check how the client is using the product. If they aren’t using it, either they don’t understand how, they don’t see value in using it, or they have left the company entirely unbeknownst to you. Protect yourself from employee defections by triangulating. Know at least three people at each of your clients’ businesses. One way you can learn who else is involved is by asking, “If for some reason, there is an emergency and I can’t reach you, who should I call?”
Make sure to call in and find out what is going on. The earlier you address results and any dissatisfaction with the product or service, the easier it will be to fix the problem. Create a safe space for your client to vent about anything about the product that is not working for them and make appropriate suggestions to ameliorate the issue.
Finally, about a quarter of the way through the contract, start to ask some tough questions. Ask how the product is working and do not get defensive about any issues the client voices. Start asking what similar products they have seen in the marketplace and ask if they are trying any. Act as an advisor. Never get defensive or put another product down. If they are looking for a new tool for something, it may be a problem your company can solve, with a product the customer didn’t know that you offer.
Start subtly bringing up the renewal about halfway through the contract. Ask your customer if there are any changes that they would make in their current package were they to buy it again. If they have some, you may be able to resolve those issues then and there without them having to wait until they renew. Or you could lose the renewal.
In your monthly check-ins, make sure to mention any new, relevant products that might be of interest either now or when your client renews. Share industry news. And if your client is in the news, make sure to mention it and congratulate them on any positive developments.
Start to ask about their renewal process. The person your contact tells you is the decision maker may not be the ultimate financial decision maker. Encourage your client to share information about how their industry and business is going, and if they are expecting growth or a reduction next year. Be a subject matter expert who is helping them.
When it comes time to start the renewal process, try to get all the stakeholders in the same room or phone call to discuss all of the issues involved in their decision to renew with your company, and perhaps invest in some of your newer products. Make sure to ask what would keep them from moving forward. Present the evidence of the success that they have had with your product based on the data you have collected during your monthly calls. Have them tell you exactly what they want so that they have ownership in their new package.
If you have completed all of these steps, the renewal should be a formality. Unless there has been an internal issue at the company, such as a sale of the business or a radical change in how they do business, your renewal should go smoothly and free of surprises.
If you first try to address issues after the client has already decided not to renew your product, you will have a much more difficult time bringing them around, and even understanding what the true problem with your product was. Be a trusted consultant who helps your client solve problems throughout the year, and your renewals should be a natural part of your relationship with your client.
Jessica L. Benjamin writes about workplace culture, leadership, academia, tech & politics. Reed English BA, Loyola JD.