When something isn't right in your company, who doesn't love to devolve into a good round of the blame game? Take, for example, when your CEO gets a report showing that your company has developed a ghastly churn rate

Fingers usually can't start pointing fast enough. One of the most readily blamed departments for anything customer-related is, obviously, the customer service department -- or maybe you call it "customer success," etc.

When a churn problem arises, those responsible for customers are the most attractive culprits--which seems sensible at first glance.

But not everything is always so linear. When you look at your products and your customers from a big picture perspective, the seed of churn is planted long before your customer team takes over. In fact, it all starts with marketing, and I'm about to tell you why. 

Don't make over-promising and under-delivering the norm.

We all want to sell, and we can get caught up in our own people-pleasing tendencies. Even though this sounds like it'd be a sales issue, it begins with marketing. What's the messaging we're taking to our prospects?

Let's say you conducted a survey of your customer base to find out what they value most in software (like yours) and they overwhelmingly responded with "ease of use." You have a brilliant a-ha moment and immediately start revising your marketing materials to showcase how intuitive and easy to use your software is.

...Except that it's not.

Like most SaaS products, your software likely requires training and practice to master. So, if you're selling the facade of quick implementation, you're setting expectations that cannot be met.

And what does this mean? This batch of customers that comes to you, banking on your "ease of use," will quickly get disenchanted, lose trust in you and jump ship when they realize your product is overwhelming to navigate and not at all "plug-and-play."

My agency has helped over three thousand customers implement marketing technology and we've found that it's rare to find a software that will deliver on all of your needs in one system. We recently had a customer migrate from Pardot to Marketo due to a lack of reporting functionality the CMO needed. 

As a result, the CMO was stuck in a $50,000 contract because his predecessor believed it would produce the results needed--when in actuality, the software was never intended to do it in the first place. Because of this mistake, they had to literally lose that $50k and spend another good chunk of money into software that would meet their needs. 

This may seem like a rare incident...it's not. 

Stop victimizing the customer and your brand.

Your customers are looking for an easy button. You want to give it to them because:

  1. You want the revenue.
  2. You want to be the hero.

This is a short-term solution. Selling the unicorn (and failing to mention and/or provide the training they're going to need to use your product properly) will only ever get you a temporary boost in revenue since the customer is likely to churn fast.

And you won't be the hero at all because the customer will fail. They end up being a victim of lazy and deceptive marketing, and your brand ends up damaged by the churn rate and fallout. Cue the violins.

Relay the reality; be the solution.

So, you want to sell your product honestly and prepare your customers for what it's going to take to succeed. But it can seem hard as hell to strike the balance between being forthcoming while avoiding doom and gloom messaging.

Here's how to do it:

First, it's your responsibility to convey how much time and resources it's likely to take to get your product up and running (and then see results). Don't sugarcoat it, set expectations early in your marketing materials so there's no room for misinterpretation.

Second, be just as clear in all of your collateral and conversations about how you will help them through the adoption and learning curve to realize success. If you offer training within your company (and you should), make sure every single prospect is aware of it and understands how accessible it is. If you don't, prepare a list of external resources and partners your customers can use.

Customer retention is being shaped, good or bad, from the first time a prospect hears about your product. Your marketing messages matter, and need to present an unadulterated view into your product's benefits and what life will really be like after the sale.

This is one of the best ways to get (and keep) loyal customers and build a trustworthy brand. Do this and, someday, you won't be playing the blame game, or games of any sort--because you chose to enable your customers with the truth right from the start.

Published on: Jan 31, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.