Or, When and Why to Break the Rule of Threes
There’s something so clean, clear, and economical about grouping things in threes. See? I just did it there. A trio of something, whether adjectives or bullet points, seems like the perfect amount of information—thorough enough to have substance, digestible enough to recall. In fact, for these reasons, the “Rule of Threes” is a speechwriting technique that many great orators have learned and mastered. Now, whether you need to place a comma before the third item may be up for debate. But the rhetorical power of the Rule of Threes is not.
But alas, sometimes even the most sacred rules are meant to be broken. That’s my rationale for the short story about I’m about to tell…
A few years ago, when a team of co-authors and I published The Three Value Conversations, we turned our focus (naturally) to three inflection points in the deal cycle that we thought—and still think—are fundamental to creating sales opportunities, bringing those opportunities through your pipeline, and negotiating a profitable close. The book was really about three moments of truth that occur in every deal cycle—three moments in which reps must:
- -Create Value by breaking through status quo bias and creating differentiation
- -Elevate Value by delivering bulletproof business proposals that meet executive standards
- -Capture Value by driving consensus and negotiating effectively to close larger, more profitable deals
Together, the three value conversations spanned the entire customer acquisition side of marketing and sales. This side of the customer conversation demands provocation and disruptive insights. It calls for edgy, swashbuckling messaging and skills designed to overcome status quo bias and break down your prospects’ resistance to change. After all, that’s what our research revealed to be the message that’s most effective when you’re the outsider and trying to displace an incumbent and convince a prospect to change and choose you.
But once you closed the deal, that’s kind of where it stopped. We assumed that what worked for new customer acquisition would translate to the key moments after the deal closed, when you need to retain and expand with existing customers. Nevertheless, we started hearing a certain question from some of our customers.
The Why Change/Why You story (and the research supporting it) is great for when you’re trying to defeat the status quo, they would say. But what about when you are the status quo? What about when you need to protect your accounts and even expand with them?
A series of studies—summarized here—with academic partners revealed that the key customer retention and expansion scenarios you need to succeed in have a dramatically different buyer psychology than that of new customer acquisition. They therefore demand different—and in some cases, opposite—messaging and skills approaches. Where you need to disrupt the causes of status quo bias as the outsider, you need to reinforce them when you’re on the inside.
Cumulatively, the research reveals that the customer conversation isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. Different moments require different messaging, and trying to apply the same messaging framework across every decision in the customer conversation will likely set you back. What became clear from the research is that mastery of all the buying situations of the customer lifecycle requires a fourth value conversation that addresses customer retention and expansion and helps marketing, sales, and customer success teams apply a dedicated strategy and structure to these critical buying situations.
Enter “Expand Value,” for when you need to renew and expand existing customer revenue.
Customer success has emerged as a major growth engine—a separate messaging and selling discipline with its own unique pressures and demands. The key customer success scenarios you need to succeed in have a specific buyer psychology with specific messaging requirements and selling competencies. These scenarios include:
– Customer retention (Why Stay)
– Price increase communication (Why Pay More)
– Upsells and/or product migration (Why Evolve)
One thing is for sure: there is a huge opportunity to gain an edge in the areas above. A Corporate Visions industry survey found that nearly 60% of companies think they are fine applying the same provocation-based approach they use to acquire new customers as they do to expand business with existing ones. That flies in the face of the research, and it reflects precisely the one-size-fits-all mentality that Expand Value pushes back against. Because while research shows that challenging the customers works great with prospects, it also reveals that this approach will backfire with existing customers as you navigate the critical customer expansion situations.
I guess if you’re going to break a rule as compelling as the rule of threes, the decision should be guided by research rather than hunch. So with that said, here’s to letting the rigor of research—not the whimsy of feeling—dictate your response to the business challenges you face.
To dive deeper into how you can address your biggest customer retention and expansion challenges, check out this eBook: “Three Must-Win Moments in Customer Success Management”