Cultivating “Customers for Life” in an Industry Notorious for High Turnover


Share on LinkedIn


Second only to the service industry, the tech industry has one of the highest employee turnover rates, according to PayScale. With an average tenure of just five years, and the majority of employees only staying on the payroll for 2.5 years, establishing a “customer for life,” relationship presents challenges.

Of course, whenever a customer leaves their current employer there’s the fear that you’ll be replaced, followed by the hope that the existing customer will take you with them to their next company. The ideal scenario is to keep the current customer, win the new one, and continue to grow your business through existing customer relationships. Obviously, this is the goal but it’s not easy. With a focus on the tech industry, yet applicable to a variety of sectors, here’s how to cultivate customers for life.

First and foremost: Make sure you understand and can solve the customer’s problem before you say “yes.” There will be times when you’re presented with a customer problem that’s more than a stretch for your team to figure out. You also come across situations when a customer wants to take a course that doesn’t make sense for their business. Before you commit, know where you can win and how open the customer is to strategic advice, when to tap additional resources, and when to pull up stakes. Otherwise, the long-term effects on your reputation, team, and resources will far outweigh any short-term gains from signing that new customer.

Agree on measurable metrics and reporting methods at the onset of the engagement and capture them in writing. Oftentimes, at the start of a contract, excitement, good will and the flurry of startup activity pushes the metrics exercise to the back burner. Nod if that sounds familiar. Now ask yourself how many times you wished you had those metrics in place and results at your fingertips, especially when a new contact at the customer site came onboard or your contract was up for renewal. Avoid the last minute scramble and collectively agree on quarterly and annual goals that measure things like cost and productivity savings, and regularly monitor them to see that you’re on track.

Don’t fall for the false security of “no news is good news.” How often have you reported in a status meeting that things with the customer are going great because there haven’t been any recent fires to put out? High adoption or a lack of escalations don’t necessarily equate to happy customers. Silent customers can be the most at risk, even if they are actively utilizing your solution. Proactively engage multiple contacts within your customer account in order to really understand how things are going.

Always demonstrate your value instead of proving your worth. You might be thinking these are one in the same but there are subtle yet profound differences. If you’re consistently demonstrating your value by providing strategic advice that’s focused on your customer’s business, helping them eliminate obstacles, uncover new opportunities, and contributing to their bottom line, you become more than the sum total on an ROI formula or a budget line item. Conversely, when you’re always having to prove your worth, you’re forced into a situation where you’re analyzing and reporting on what happened as opposed to staying the course and moving forward to help your client reach their business goals.

Prioritize your client’s goals above your own organization. Sounds like a no brainer, right? But think for a minute how easy it is, even for the best vendors, to lose sight of their client’s goals. For example, a new product release, a special offer that coincides with quarter close, or a contract renewal sparks upsell conversations that might lean more toward the vendor’s best interests as opposed to the customer. Instead of thinking beyond your current quarter’s goals, think about your client’s bigger picture needs and the best time for them to take advantage of your latest offerings. In the long run, those clients will be more profitable in terms of engagement, referrals, and upgrades that happen according to their timelines, not yours.

Invest in customer success managers. Consider the traditional roles in the organization. Sales closes the deal and customer support is often the customer’s next touch point with the vendor — and that relationship is often initiated by the customer’s unanswered questions or frustrations. The glue between sales and customer support is the customer success manager, yet many companies still don’t invest in this critical role. If they don’t, it’s a missed opportunity to create more profitable customer relationships through deeper engagements. Not to mention the upside of having dedicated resources that fully understand the customer’s business and are tracking goals and results, which comes in handy when new contacts are introduced on the customer side.

Recognize that technology supports, not solves, complex business decisions. This is an acute challenge in the tech industry where customers are often directed to use technology to solve a particular business problem instead of the other way around. For example, a global company that makes an acquisition will be dealing with various issues such as headcount planning, currency conversion, business modeling, and financial forecasting. While technology can accelerate many of those processes, the effort needs to be directed by business leaders who can use technology to support business decisions as opposed to force fitting business problems into technology features and functions.

Commit to regular training. It’s critical that customers stay abreast of what is new in the solution so that they can leverage it to meet their ever changing needs. That means regular training, tips and tricks, best practices, recommendations from other customer deployments. Likewise, customers are faced with new challenges and problems in their businesses every day and they need to be able to consult with experts who can guide them to make the best choices based on their situation. That’s where customer success managers really shine: they guide customers to where they should to go.

Finally, listen and respond. If understanding is the first part of the equation, following through is the more crucial second part. Many companies fail at this because they don’t have a closed loop process. Some customers may be reluctant to provide feedback because they have done so with other vendors and it’s gone to a “black hole.” Because of this, timely communication back to the customer, whether it’s “yes,” “no” or “not now” is critical. Deliver your response with honesty and transparency. Do what you say you’re going to do and if something changes along the way, be proactive in saying so and explain why.

At the end of the day, if you can partner with your customers to solve their business problems and along the way establish and maintain trust, you will be building customers for life.

Alison Holmlund
Alison Holmlund provides strategy, guidance, and motivation to the Host Analytics Customers for Life team, charged with ensuring the ongoing success and satisfaction of all Host Analytics customers.During the last 15 years, Alison has helped fast-growing technology companies manage their customers' success. Before joining Host Analytics, Alison enabled Proofpoint to grow from its pre-revenue stage to $100M in annual bookings and achieve a subsequent IPO, as she built out the account management, sales development, and sales operations.


  1. This is a very enlightening blog. I thought the following was very interesting and dead on: “Always demonstrate your value instead of proving your worth”. It is easy to get behind on things which then forces you into proving your worth. It teaches me to always be engaged with what is going on in the present.

  2. “If understanding is the first part of the equation, following through is the more crucial second part.” I could not agree more!!!

  3. Spot On! “If understanding is the first part of the equation, following through is the more crucial second part.” This is crucial to maintaining a good customer relationship that many folks miss.

  4. Agree with Jamie above. Follow-through is a critical part of customer success. Successful go-live doesn’t mean success for life as business evolves and changes very quickly. Constantly in contact with customers to address their new requirements is one of the most important success factors in product improvements, customer satisfaction and continuing success for win-win.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here