Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Sometimes, stuff happens.
Unfortunately, in B2B SaaS companies, it can happen early enough in the client lifecycle that the teams are digging themselves out of relationship debt right from the start.
These client relationships can be improved but it won't be fast and it won't be easy.
If you're new to the team, you may have been assigned a client with misaligned expectations, utter miscommunications, and a lack of trust all of which impact your client's experiences. You may have to do uncomfortable things to get the relationship back to square. So, the first thing to do: listen and research the issue(s) without judgement. The client's perceptions are their reality and it is not your job at this moment to try to change minds but instead to understand. Let the client talk.
"I'm sorry" is over-used in every day society but after the client is finished speaking and when you have an opportunity to take ownership, it can be very helpful to say, 'I'm sorry that's been your experience. I am taking ownership of 'x' to make sure that we are better partners to you". Make sure "x" is something you yourself can do.
Just as you would dislike the Solutions team making Sales commitments, they too would dislike client-facing teams making Solution/Roadmap commitments.
As you continue listening, be sure you're acknowledging without agreeing. If the client wants to hammer you, let them until the opportunity for you to speak at which time you can say, "I see your point but let's focus today on the things that can be done to move forward." Clients first want to know that you care, then they want to know that you know how to listen, and lastly they want to know you have their back and will work on their behalf to make doing business with your company easier.
Take excellent notes. Make sure to publish them in your CRM and tag to the account.
One of the best actions you can take after taking the heat is to convene an internal cross-functional team to review the account. Sales, Marketing, Pro Services, Support, and Finance can put together a picture of what's going on with this client. Review history, review open and closed tickets, review marketing communications, invoices and professional service engagements. Confirm your client personas - Buyers, Influencers, Users, and Other StakeHolders then set a communication plan to address each persona throughout this relationship repair engagement.
After you've apologized for the situation and taken ownership, you'll want to present the plan to the client. This is a great time to ask the client to work with you. If their invoices are outstanding over 60 days, ask them to pay as per the contract. If the client has been unwilling to close tickets, ask them to sit down and prioritize with you. If the client hasn't seen a demo in three years, ask them for a demo to solicit their feedback on how the platform has changed. If you don't ask, you already know the answer is 'no'. Set up an action plan that itemized detailed items, owners, and expected dates.
Next, set up a weekly meeting to start plowing through the plan. Document EVERYTHING. You need the Client's specific consent and participation for the strategy to work but the most important thing here is that you have to execute. YOU. Yes, if you make the commitment, you have to do the thing you committed to. This is the art of building trust.
When you start knocking off the client's issues, you have opportunities to bring industry insights and thought leadership to the table. You earn the right to ask for references and white papers because the client is finally done dealing with the issues list and onto solving new industry problems.
When you get to the point where you are pro-actively managing the account because you know the client's business so well and they trust you, you can expect to raise the order of the client's complaint and they come to you to help them solve new problems.
That, my friends, is a beautiful thing.