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Podcast Recap: How a Hypergrowth SaaS Company Keeps Customers

Updated: Jan 31

If customer adoption and retention is on your mind, this is one workshop you don’t want to miss!

Hey everyone 👋, in this post, I’ll be recapping a workshop hosted by Forget the Funnel with Brian Reuter from Zendesk.

The details

Forget the Funnel has a long list of workshops and trainings (some FREE!) around SaaS Marketing. And on this episode, Claire and Gia invited Brian Reuter, the former Senior Manager of Lifecycle Marketing at Zendesk to chat a bit about what he’s doing over at Zendesk.

Brian started working on Zendesk’s sales team nearly 4 years ago, when they had 40k customers and Customer Marketing wasn’t even a thing! Fast forward through Zendesk’s hypergrowth stage, they are now over 100k customers and Brian has had a hand in that growth!

There were lots of things covered in this workshop so let’s dive into the 3 takeaways…

  1. Adoption, then expansion

  2. Expansion outreach

  3. Retention Outreach

Adoption, then expansion

To kick things off, Brian helped us understand the difference between “expansion” and “retention”.

When Brian chats about expansion, he refers to things like upgrading to a higher tier, adding more people/agents to use the product or adding a new product altogether (more info on this to come later on).

With retention, there’s a focus on three areas:

Customer education – Making sure customers are aware of how to use the product correctly and that they know how to use all the functionality available to them in their current plan.

Engagement – Constantly providing value and building relationships so that the customer isn’t wondering what the value is or seeking alternatives.

Save offers – Some customers will ultimately cancel. Offering them a training or a call with your team is an important part of the cancellation process.

So before we even consider expansion, we first need to make sure the customer is fully getting value from what they currently have.

7 Step adoption, then expansion journey

In this 7 step adoption then expansion journey, Brian breakdowns how to build your way up to expansion (hint, there are no shortcuts)!

  1. Analyze the existing customer – Learn as much as you can about your customers. Things like where are they located and how long they’ve been a customer, then dive into product usage to see which features they have enabled. Not every team has a data scientist so if that’s you, send out surveys to gather information.

  2. Identify key patterns of feature usage, then segment customers – if 50% are using it for A and 50% are using it for B, make sure you’re tailoring those messages according to their usage. Make each message count and don’t send out messages that aren’t relevant to their use case.

  3. Testing! a/b holdout for channel, messaging, timing, offers – Getting people to adopt features on what their current offering is (a.k.a, not selling them on other things) and conduct a lot of testing around the offer (e.g., a webinar or a two minute video). With messaging, test different positions like ROI or ease of use.

  4. Compare performance with holdout or benchmark performance – Comparing all the data ensures you make an educated decision.

  5. Build positive tests into automated outreach (or in-product) – this one is tricky! It’s about taking tests that work, and not forgetting about them. Sounds easy to say but Zendesk has a lot of data and that data doesn’t always talk to each other. Once you have all these tests and gathered all this data, you need to have a true next step that’s going to impact even more customers!

  6. Once the customer surpasses an adoption threshold, begin an expansion campaign – You don’t want to put the carriage before the horse so create a threshold like “once they’ve enabled X number of features, then they qualify for the expansion campaign”. You don’t want to talk to someone who’s only using 10% of your product and ask them to double their spend to get more out of it if they haven’t seen any value yet.

  7. Consider the experience after expansion – If they have one product and as part of the expansion they’ve added another product, don’t assume that because they are growing they are healthy. They could struggle with implementing the new product and could be a churn risk.

The first 5 steps are all about adoption and finally, in step 6, he introduces expansion. So what does expansion efforts look like at a company like Zendesk? That’s our second takeaway…

Expansion outreach

Brian conducted an analysis to understand what drew people to upgrade from the professional plan to their enterprise plan.

He looked at product usage data from two different groups, customers 60 days before they upgraded and customers 30 days after they upgraded.

After identifying the insights they needed, Brain and his team developed their expansion outreach

  1. Upgrade webinars – targeted to existing customers, they are already using the tool

  2. Blog posts – In-depth written explanation about the key features

  3. Landing page – The landing page serves as the home base for all assets.

  4. Key feature videos – videos have been Zendesk’s #1 asset! These are 1 to 2 min video about the feature. Anytime a customer who doesn’t use the feature but watches the video, they are significantly more likely to adopt that feature than someone who hasn’t.

  5. Email – They targeted “power users” and complimented them on being the cream of the crop while at the same time letting them know that there’s more they can achieve with the platform.

There are plenty of different channels to reach customers who are ready for expansion!

And lastly, we get to our third takeaway. Retention.

Retention Outreach

For context, Brain dove into some scary stats around retention which he pulled from Invesp

  1. 44% focus more on acquisition than retention

  2. 5X more expensive to acquire new customers than retain an existing one

  3. 5% increase in retention rates leads to a 25-95% increase in profits

To sum it up, we’re focusing more on getting customers through the door than we are keeping them around. If we focused more on keeping the customer, it would be good for business.

So how do we do that? Brain highlights three key principles of retention: analysis, onboarding and save offers.

And here’s what Onboarding and Save Offers look like in real life

  1. Optimize and extend onboarding flows – Back in the day, they only sent a few of these out but now sending them a bit more spread across several months

  2. Feature activation emails – idea came from grammarly, reached out to customers who already enabled key features and to complete the puzzle, need to enable the third

  3. Agent/user emails – giving them tips to be more successful with the product. Best practices in customers support (in this example)

  4. In-product upgrade experience – after they expand making sure that after they they know what they’re getting

  5. Upgrade enablement – white paper

  6. In-product messaging – nice way to deliver succinct message to customer


  1. Make sure the customer has fully adopted their current plan/product before starting your expansion efforts

  2. Your expansion outreach can come in many different forms, don’t limit yourself

  3. Keep your customers engaged throughout their journey not just at the begin and at the end

Shout outs

Thanks to Forget The Funnel for hosting Brian on their workshop! Go follow them on Twitter' And if you want to hear more from Brian, connect with him on LinkedIn


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