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How to Budget for Effective Customer Visits

February 25, 2020 | Jamie Kirmess | No Comments |

Sales cycles provide many opportunities to spend money invest. Every industry benefits from investing in the customer relationship (supported by our recent research), but we’ve found the stakes are highest in hypergrowth B2B SaaS companies. In this niche, funding is often the lifeblood of outpacing the competition and growth. If you aren’t investing in your customers, investors won’t invest in you. With all the talk of Account-Based Marketing (ABM), you can find a wealth of information about investing to penetrate target accounts, but as we’ve worked with our SaaS clients to combat churn, we realized a gap in information about retaining those customers. Specifically, we’ve been working through the idea of how to effectively budget for in-person customer visits.

Here are some of the questions we’ve been considering:

  • Which budget should it come from?
  • How often should customer visits happen?
  • Who should attend?

But First, What’s Your Goal for Your Customer Visit?

Let’s rewind for a moment. Why are you interested in customer visits? Are you trying to upsell current customers, and you think strengthening your relational bond will help you do that? Perhaps you aim to introduce your customer to more members of your team, so their loyalty will deepen. Are you hoping to procure marketing materials while onsite (e.g. video testimonials, photos of the customer using your products, etc.)?

Each of these goals will require different planning, and will dictate different outcomes. So first, document your purpose.

Which Department’s Budget Pays for It?

Once you’ve nailed down the “why” behind your customer visit initiative, it’s time to have that awkward conversation that’s usually reserved for first dates or weird family dinners: who’s paying? In this context, the conversation is usually held between the sales and marketing departments, although companies with a dedicated customer success department will likely be having a three-way chat.

Sometimes, this dilemma is surprisingly straightforward. For example, if the customer onsite is clearly a way for your salespeople to introduce new products or upsell customers, the sales teams gets to pay the bills since they’ll receive the most benefit from the visit. But oftentimes customer visits are a joint endeavor with mutual upside, so the who’s-paying-for-what discussion can get complicated – and even ugly.

Again, by defining your purpose, you can alleviate this. With goals, you’ll have clarity around who from your team needs to be a part of the customer visit. If representatives from both teams are involved, then it’s safe to assume both teams stand to gain value from it. So what does that mean? Most teams are probably going to need to contribute budget for their fair share.

Carving Out Marketing Budget

If you lead the marketing department, it’s highly likely (and oh so unfair) that you don’t have a line item for customer marketing. So you might have to get creative. Do you have a line item for events? You could pull from there to cover your expenses when you take customers out to dinner. Do you have a line item for videography? Use some of that budget to pay for your time and money capturing video testimonials.

If you do have a customer marketing or customer success team, your budget allocations should be a lot easier. A dedicated team like this can use their funds for a customer onsite, since literally all of it counts as customer marketing. But, a demand gen team that doesn’t have budget carved out for customer marketing isn’t so lucky. These are some of the nuances you need to figure out well in advance of the actual onsite.

Think Beyond the Visit

Of course you need to carefully plan out what happens during your onsite customer visit, and consider all potential expenses. That’s detailed in the next section. Before we get there, consider the often overlooked activities surrounding the event. The customer visit is only as good as the preparation leading up to it, the quality during it and the follow-up after. It’s also greatly enhanced by what you do off-site while you’re visiting your customer. Think about how you can make the most of the experience while you’re proximal to them.

The magic happens when you get to spend face-to-face time with your customers, and watch them in their workflow as they use your product or ask for your collaboration in solving a problem. It also happens when you maximize the investment you’re already spending to be there. Can you take them out for an excursion and bond over the adventure? Enjoy a drinking tour with them one evening? Bring along members of the team who can capture customer stories or record your interactions for internal training purposes?

You’re already giving time and money to make this trip happen; it’s up to you to think bigger and get the most value from it while also delivering the most value to your customer.

Budget Components to Remember

So, what goes into your budget for this onsite visit you’re planning? Here are some of the expenses that need to be factored in:

  • Cost of travel (including airfare, rental cars, lodging and meals)
  • Customer experiences (meals you’re buying for your customer and your team, activities you’re funding, events you’re hosting, etc.)
  • Your team’s time (most people you bring will be salaried employees, but if not – or if you bring along someone else, like a videographer or an external PR partner – make sure you remember you’ll need to pay for their time and travel as well)
  • Materials for the onsite itself (collateral, equipment, supplies, etc.)
  • Time away – This isn’t necessarily quantifiable or a traditional budget line item, but you must make sure you’ve planned for key members of your team to be away from the office for this period of time. You can’t have the people who are onsite checking their inboxes or being distracted by other work; they need to be present with the customer in front of them for optimal impact. So, you may need to call on extra personnel to manage your home office while you’re away, or loop in others who can handle their projects in their absence.

Most of all, remember that the budget you allocate to your customer onsite visit should be aligned to the value you’re getting from it. If you’re getting great marketing material and increased selling opportunities out of the time, the onsite is worth a larger budget. But if your customer stands to receive the most value from the visit, you’ll likely want to stick to a leaner budget.

In Conclusion: Customer Visits

Onsite customer visits can be an incredibly worthwhile tool for increasing customer loyalty and improving retention, while simultaneously delivering additional value to your own company. But these rewards will only be the result when the visits are set up properly, planned for carefully and budgeted around intentionally. Check all those boxes, and you’re bound to get maximum returns on this important initiative.

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