5 Reasons Why Customer Success Is Existential During A Downturn

5 Reasons Why Customer Success Is Existential During A Downturn

If you’ve spent any time on any social media these last few days, the responses to the current coronavirus crisis range from:

All the way to:

In response to these highly polar emotional reactions, many may believe the sensible path is cold reason—set aside feelings and take the rational path.

In defense of “emotional” decisions

I truly believe that emotions are completely valid signals, and any call to ignore them ignores not only a part of what connects us and makes us human, but it can also contribute to poor decision making.

The anxiety we feel about what the future holds can daunt us, but it also spurs us towards urgent and necessary action. We instinctively reach out to our communities for comfort and support out of emotion, but logic also tells us there’s strength in cooperation.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve watched Gainsight’s team share information and best practices back and forth with hundreds of other businesses around the world. I’ve seen vulnerable companies in the retail and service industries proactively suspend operations they can’t afford to lose for the sake of communal health. And I’ve seen others rally to support those companies in turn.

And through it all, our healthcare professionals are working around the clock to mitigate this pandemic—a deeply emotional calculus for each one of them and their loved ones.

These are decisions that are deeply rooted in emotion and logic. And the two aren’t in conflict, but complementary. 

Global disruptions force your company to focus on fundamentals. As you calmly and thoughtfully recalibrate your strategy, I encourage you to value your own feelings and the feelings of your teams as your north star.

What are the fundamentals of SaaS in a downturn?

In the SaaS business model specifically, the fundamentals are simple:

  • Land new customers
  • Get them to Adopt your product or service
  • Get them to Expand
  • Retain them

That model, originally pioneered by the organization TSIA, is the lifeblood of the cloud business model in the best of times. But in a economic dislocation, one of the four, Retention, ends up becoming the top priority for every company, for five simple reasons:

1. New (Land) sales will decline rapidly as fear slows new decisions

In times of worry and uncertainty, individuals and companies tend to gravitate toward the “status quo.” Keep doing what we’re doing—but not more.

Furthermore, companies that are cash-strapped—either because they require external funding (e.g., Venture Capital-backed startups) or because they are in high fixed costs, low margin businesses (e.g., retail, hospitality)—are going to freeze all spending (if they haven’t already).

That means increasingly, companies will shun new projects and new purchases. It’s a tough situation, but it’s the reality we can expect based on past downturns. Your well of new sales will run dry very quickly, so your existing customers will be your lifeblood.

2. Your existing customers need your help

Over the coming weeks, every one of us will need a helping hand in some way, large or small. Your clients are likely at least stressed and short-staffed as you are—if not more. But they still need to run their businesses. Whether your role is to help them send marketing communications, support their clients, close their books, or some other business process, the show must go on for these businesses. They will appreciate vendors that offer assistance proactively.

Make sure you are connecting with all of your clients in tough times—not just the biggest spenders.

3. Your existing customers will notice who is there for them

During a downturn, every CEO and CFO has the financial plan spreadsheet open at all times. (I’m currently glancing back and forth as I’m drafting this blog!) They’re triaging what spending they can keep and what they can cut. Every line item of spend is fair game.

What products or services are they going to cut first? Will it be the vendor who has been proactively reaching out to them through thick and thin? Or the one that they haven’t heard from in months?

4. Your existing customers will scrutinize outcomes and experiences

We’ve said for a long time that Customer Success is the combination of the Outcomes a client is receiving plus the Experience they have during the process (CS = CO + CX).

That means now is the time to help your champion at your customer quantify the ROI of your solution to their manager. Now is the time to make sure you are aligned to the company’s strategic objectives. Now is the time to verify the outcome.

In the same breath, if you have customers that have nagging experience issues, you must address them as soon as possible. Those little “straws” that weigh nothing in good times can break the proverbial camel’s back during a downturn.

5. Your existing customers will look to consolidate spend

Finally, let’s focus on the upside. Downturns force companies to reduce spending. One way is to purchase from fewer providers, thereby negotiating bigger discounts. You have an opportunity to expand successful relationships. If you have product lines that a client doesn’t use from you, this is a chance to grow your share within the client. You can help them save and they can help you grow.


This crisis isn’t just going to put individuals under stress, it’s going to put businesses under stress as well. The good news is that none of us are helpless against it. We can make a difference in our own lives and our teammates through positive action. And we can relieve stress on our businesses by relieving stress on our customers. That’s the promise of customer success when practiced right. The difference-maker for companies who will emerge from this mounting crisis and downturn stronger will be customer success.

Nick Mehta

As a huge sports fan, Nick thinks of his job as being like that of a head coach. His role is to help bring the right people together on the team and put them in the best position to win for our customers, partners, employees and their families. He’s a big believer in the Golden Rule and we try to apply it as much as we can to bring more compassion to our interactions with others. And he talks way too fast and overuses the word awesome like it’s going out of style. Before coming to Gainsight, Nick was the CEO of awesome leading Software-as-a-Service E-Discovery provider LiveOffice through its acquisition by Symantec and prior to that was a Vice President at VERITAS Software and Symantec Corporation.