Customer Retention: Roles of the Product Development Team and Sales Department

Client Retention is the responsibility of all departments. Learn actionable steps the Product Development and Sales Department can take.


Bill Arnold

12/1/20237 min read

Customer Retention
Customer Retention

Welcome to part 4 of our How to Improve Customer Retention series. Today’s discussion is about the expanded role that the Product Development and Sales Department needs to take to help eliminate churn. Simply relying upon Customer Support will result in higher churn that translates to slower growth and decreased profitability.

Every department in your organization has a critical role to play in your client retention strategy.

Product Development Department

Not Breaking the Product – The cardinal rule for ANY Product Development Department is not to break the product. This is not a huge issue for manufacturing clients, but for SaaS clients, it can be impactful. I have seen B2B SaaS CEOs/Founders push their product updates to a weekly sprint before they have sufficiently quality-checked the code. The results were catastrophic. During the beta stage, you might get away with a few disruptions, due to failed code, but when your product is relied upon for the day-to-day operations, it is a very quick way to create massive churn. We reported in our early blog, Customer Churn the Struggle is Real, that 30% of the reason for churn is due to product quality. This is how it happens:

Product Updates – Product feature updates are necessary, and expected, in all industries. For SaaS companies, they are usually far more frequent. It is important that the cadence of those releases be done in a regular and reliable sequence. While the Product Development Team may see weekly updates as evidence you are a feature-driven company, customers prefer the benefits of a stable and reliable product. Every release can result in a disruption or change in your customer's business operations. At the very least, they need to train their staff on what to expect and how to use the new features. We found that the quickest pace that still is palatable for the client is an eight-week sprint. Take four weeks to develop, two weeks to properly quality-check the work, and two weeks to provide notice to the customers.

Give Sufficient Notice – Customers do not like any surprises that impact their business or the workflows they use in their operations. Often, product updates will necessitate the customer to adjust their workflows and retrain their employees. For major changes, they may need a month's lead time to properly acclimate their staff. Even minor changes can take a couple of weeks. It is incumbent that the Product Development Team provide the Marketing Department with detailed information about what each sprint will contain. This includes:

  • a written description of the changes

  • an explanation as to why the changes were made

  • the benefits that customers should see from these changes

  • screenshots of each new element

  • a video showing how the new features should be navigated

All of this information has to be provided to Marketing, so they can share it with the customer and update the website no later than two weeks before the features go live. For major updates, this period will be longer. We discussed in a previous blog, Client Retention – The Marketing Department’s Role, what the Marketing Department needs to create in the form of website updates and collateral for a number of departments.

Listen to Customers – CEOs/Founders often are the architects of product changes and updates. This can lead to a myopic view of what is important or relevant to the marketplace. While they might have done significant research at the outset of their company, the benefits will diminish after a while. Time, and having to focus on the operations of their organization, can lead to their no longer understanding the needs of the customer. While no company should be altering its product to meet the needs of a single client, the collective needs of clients need to be heard and prevail. While other departments are charged with finding out what customers will need and value, the Product Development Team needs to listen to avoid client churn.

Product Roadmap – The product development roadmap should not exist in a vacuum. Clients need to know what to expect in the next quarter and the next year. The Product Development Team needs to share with the Marketing Department who will inform internal stakeholders and customers. We understand that, occasionally, there will be proprietary updates that you don’t want to share until they are ready to be released. This should still be shared with Marketing who can begin to tease and excite both prospects and customers about “a major improvement is to be released in the second quarter.” This will help keep customers engaged with your brand.

The Sales Department

Traditionally, once the sale is complete, the Sales Department sticks around only long enough to pass the baton to the operations department which provides for the onboarding of the client. This practice often fails to provide the same level of care that the customer experienced during the sales process.

If consultative sales are done properly, the Sales Professional has created a sense of trust with the prospect. In fact, if you interview a company representative immediately after they committed to the sale, quite often, one of the primary reasons given, for why they made the selection they did, was due to the Sales Professional. They have built a relationship with that individual and feel they can trust what was said and promised.

Often, what the customer finds is that needs they communicated to the salesperson, or the promises made to them are not communicated to the Operations Team. When the salesperson only reemerges at contract renewal time, all that goodwill is gone. The salesperson is confused as to why they are greeted with skepticism and distrust.

The Sales Department is not dropping the ball, as most companies do not provide any financial incentive for the Sales Professional to remain in contact with the company’s representatives, once they become a customer. This is a waste of time, energy, and resources that have been extended to build trust with the client.

We are not suggesting that Sales have the primary role in client relations, but they do have an important one. The foundation of client retention begins with the first engagement point. There are a number of ways (some obvious) that the Sales Team can set the new engagement up for success and contribute to client retention.

Promises Made = Promises Kept - The salesperson must take care, that in their zeal to secure new business, they do not over-promise. The quickest way to lose a client is when a promise made by Sales cannot be made in a timely manner or at all. Be mindful of ALL the commitments, even those that seem insignificant. What may seem small to you, may be a major issue for the client.

While all promises need to be made on time, make sure the client's first impression is an extremely positive one. Deliver the promise ahead of schedule and seek ratification from the client that it was as promised and early. This will reinforce their original decision to select you as their vendor and will go a long way in creating a long-term relationship.

Onboarding – There are a number of onboarding best practices that will set the tone for the new relationship, and several are owned by the Sales Team.

Set Expectations - The salesperson, who secured the deal, should always be part of the initial onboarding session with a new client. The salesperson should introduce each company representative, share their background, and how they will interact with the client.

To ensure a proper transfer, the salesperson should review the contract terms and any commitments or promises made during the sales process. Once completed, get confirmation from the client’s representative that this embodies their understanding of the contract and any special commitments. This will ensure that all parties are operating with the same expectations.

Make the Client Feel Special – Let your client see, from day one, that they are important. One practice we found created a high degree of camaraderie with a new client and set the tone for the relationship was to surprise them at the onboarding with the following.

The day before the client was to be onboarded, we had a box of company swag sent to the client. Be sure to include enough for every person who will attend the onboarding and for those you had contact with during the sales process. This small action will translate into a client who is bonded to your brand.

Tip: We have often gone a step further for high-valued clients. We acquire shirts or hats that have the word “Team” followed by the client’s logo. We did a study on the value of this practice and learned that this onboarding effort was shared throughout the company. We started our new relationship on a very high note.

Periodic Check-ins – The salesperson, who secured the contract, needs to have periodic check-ins with the new customer. In the beginning, they should be checking in once a week to make sure the customer experience is going well. This should not be an automated email, but a personal phone call where you are building upon your already established relationship.

After the first month, these calls can be every 3-4 weeks. The client should never feel dropped or that he lost his connection to the company. Having these regular updates, where you are just asking about the well-being of the client and their experience working with your company, will make upselling and product renewal calls seem natural.

Referral Programs - The Sales Department is the natural group that should be seeking referrals from a customer because they will benefit the most. However, there is a client retention aspect of seeking referrals that should not be overlooked. One of the Laws of Influence, that was described by Dr. Robert Cialdini, is the Law of Commitment and Consistency. If a customer is willing to make a referral or provide a testimonial, they will feel compelled to be your advocate within their organization. For more information on how the Law of Commitment and Consistency works, see our blog, "The Laws of Influence: The Psychology of Getting to Yes."

CRM - Having a customer relationship management platform (e.g. HubSpot) is critical to client retention. While every department needs to record every interaction with the customer, the Sales Department owns this resource and should serve as the enforcer to make sure the information contained is current and complete.

Way too many companies are surprised when a client churns. If they had kept accurate information in a CRM, they could have identified the signs that the client was no longer happy.

By centralizing customer information, a CRM enables businesses to gain a holistic view of customer interactions and preferences. CRM systems assist in tracking customer behavior, identify where there might be a problem, and allow the organization to proactively engage with their customers, address their concerns, and foster long-term loyalty.

By now, you should appreciate that every department is required to do its part in keeping the customer educated, engaged, and happy with your product. In our next blog, we will discuss the new roles of Operations, Customer Support, and even the C-Suite needs to play.