If every customer a small business earned in those early days of growth stayed forever, that business would be rosy indeed, but that is never the case. However, there is plenty you can do to ensure your business has the very best chance of holding on to customers, rather than allowing them to fall by the wayside. The most important step is to become familiar with the warning signs that they might be drifting away and taking action to reverse this.

Just like any business, we hope to avoid these signs existing in the first place. We provide customer service that we think is pretty darn spectacular, we put on brilliant live events, we create compelling content and how-to guides and ways of working to try to avoid it. But if they do exist, we want to know about it, and we want to know early.

Our ‘Early Warning System’ is based on data-driven and observational indicators that a customer is not fully utilising our systems, and therefore not fully benefiting from them and less likely to remain a client.  

Our data-driven indicators include:

  • Infrequent logins

  • Data that doesn’t match the way we would expect them to be using their systems

  • A discrepancy between number of licences and number of users

  • Not using practical, time-saving functionality, like reports or dashboards

The in-person or observational insights we track include:

  • Not having a proper administrator in-house who has been fully trained and really owns Salesforce

  • Nobody governing and documenting the process

  • A person governing the process who has no passion for it

  • No executive sponsorship

If these indicators reach a certain point, a red flag is raised and we take action. The data and our observations form the basis of a very positive conversation with our client. We want them to appreciate the full value of the system because we want to help them succeed and be part of their success.

We want to demonstrate value to the individuals within the organisation. We want to save an at-risk account. That conversation typically has excellent results – who would walk away from someone who is helping them succeed?

What are your early warnings?


The first step of bringing in a new way of doing things that will help you stop customers from walking away is to stop being satisfied with the status quo. Stop saying ‘you win some; you lose some’. Get annoyed. Be frustrated. And change the way you work.

If you have no early warning system, you are allowing customers to walk away. So make one. Develop a list of indicators – your own early warning system.

For a web-based retailer the early warning system might be as simple as a long period between visits. An accounting business might consider a lack of contact at certain times of the year a red flag. A business that sells machinery should monitor the regularity of complaints, breakdowns and other forms of negative feedback.

The simplest way to create your list is to look at your happiest customers – what are their habits? What do they all do or have? For us, it’s frequent logins, passionate administrators, executive-level buy-in. The absence or opposites of these hallmarks of happy customers are your indicators of risk.

Save that account


For the web-based retailer, a red flag could be raised whenever a regular customer has not visited for more than three months, triggering direct marketing to that customer with a special offer. We know personalised offers work and that consumers want them – they indicate a relationship and understanding.

That accounting firm could get in front of the problem quite simply, rather than waiting for a red flag. Knowing finer details about a customer’s investments and financial situation allows it to schedule specific times of the year to proactively make contact, at times that relate to important events in their investment cycle, for instance. In doing this, the accounting firm avoids its value ever being in question.

For the machinery supplier seeing a sharp increase in service calls means it is time to target resources towards fixing the problem. It’s also a good idea to proactively organise training sessions, in person or online, to ensure customers are using the product correctly – or making the most of it. This regular contact is also of great marketing value when new products are released.

Or your answer might be as simple as ours – have a conversation. Tell them you want to help them succeed. Suggest ways you can do this. Share content that will help them make the most of your offering and their business. Ask how you can help. Make sure they know the true value of what you could do for them.

However you do it, analysing the early warning signs among your clients, customers and accounts, and putting processes in place to deal with red flags, means you’ll shed fewer customers. And retention is a lot easier than attracting new customers, as well as being great for your reputation.

Managing a relationship intelligently is the key to retaining your customers. To find out more, download our free ebook 5 reasons you need smart relationship management.

Megan Petersen is a Senior Principal Success Manager at Salesforce. Find out more about Megan’s nine years with Salesforce here, and read more from her here.