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How to spot clients that are about to churn

James Leslie

Keeping churn rate low is vital for any business. Spotting the warning signs early on is crucial, and this is where intent data can give you a real advantage.


Written by James Leslie, Head of Customer Success at Cyance. James is experienced at creating, developing and implementing effective customer-centric teams and strategies to deliver organisational success.

Growing revenue is hard work, but it’s even harder if your existing customers and projects keep moving on to other providers. Every business needs a solid platform on which to build, and out-of-control churn rates will place you on very shaky foundations indeed. 

We’ll look at some tactics for managing this shortly. But there is enormous potential for intent data to transform the customer retention process. After all, imagine if you knew which of your customers are looking at your competitors or vendors of complementary products. That information would be incredibly powerful, right? 

With intent data, this is both possible and easily scalable. But before we get on to that, let’s look at the principles of reducing churn across your key accounts.   

Focus on the right customers

Let’s start off by saying that the ideal churn rate is zero. Of course, we don’t live in an ideal world, and there are all kinds of reasons why clients may decide that your services are no longer a good fit. Some projects have a natural lifespan, while internal priorities and budgets might change. Your internal cheerleaders may leave the business too, and be replaced by someone that wants to make their own mark and bring in their own team. 

In some cases these examples are avoidable, in others they are not. Regardless, there are a number of things that you can do to keep churn as low as possible.  

 It is worth saying that the first point of reducing churn starts with the sales process. In terms of projects that end due to issues with performance, this is undoubtedly the biggest factor. The reasons for this are clear – if you bring on customers that aren’t correctly aligned with your business, you won’t be able to service to the right standard, and no matter how much time and effort you put into the project, they will still be at risk of leaving. 

 Instead, make understanding your best-fit customers the priority. What is it about you that they like the best? What has kept them loyal, and why do they think you are a better option than the competition? Are you clear how your solutions help them achieve their desired outcomes – including a strong ROI? 

 Once you have a deep understanding of this you can adjust your sales activity accordingly, and make sure that each prospect is aligned with your business from the very beginning.

 Remember, the right customers renew. This is about understanding the lifetime value (LTV) of each project, rather than focusing on quick wins that won’t be around past the first break point. Given that costs of acquisition can be huge in the enterprise space, and that many businesses – particularly in the SAAS space – don’t make huge margins in their first year – this approach becomes all the more important.   

 “Many startups require 15 to 18 months to recoup the acquisition costs on a new customer, which puts an enormous strain on capital. Unless your investors are willing to keep pumping in cash, focus on keeping your CAC low enough to be recovered in a year.” – David Skok, General Partner at Matrix Partners

 The best fit customers though are those that understand your brand and are ready to buy. They don’t need selling to – they have an immediate need that you can fulfil. 

This is the real strength of intent data. This way,  you can build lists of businesses that are not only a great fit, but also are actively looking to buy at this moment.


For an overview of intent data and how it can revolutionise your sales and marketing activity, see the video below.


Spot the signs early on

Usually by the time a client signals that they are unhappy, it is too late. They will have been mulling over the situation for some time, and possibly started researching the competition and other options to see what is available. If their contract is up for renewal then this process may start much earlier than you think, especially if new stakeholders come on board and shift the focus of the project. 

 The problem is, by this point the client’s mind is usually made up. Sometimes it is possible to talk them round but often the damage is done. Once trust is lost, logic goes out of the window – no matter how eloquently you make your case, in most instances the answer will be “sorry, we’ve made up our mind”. 

 And even if you can convince them otherwise, it doesn’t mean things will carry on as they were. Expectations will change, and your future performance will be coloured in their mind by what has happened before.

 Instead, the best thing here is to know the signs of when a customer is dissatisfied and act quickly. Perhaps meetings are being missed, or it’s taking a little longer each time for them to respond to your emails or calls. Regardless, this requires a team-wide effort, and everyone involved in the project should be aware that any concerns over a client’s attitude to a project should be shared as quickly as possible. 

 Most customer success teams will be using health scoring metrics. However, these are often based on subjective views and don’t often reflect what is actually happening. For example, most people in the customer success industry will have a horror story about an account or contact that shows a positive Net Promoter Score and then cancels their contract at the next opportunity.  


Use intent data to move before it’s too late

But what if you could spot that a customer is starting to research alternatives, even before they mention that they are considering their options? Even better, how about if you could see exactly where they are in the buying cycle, from consideration to getting ready to enquire with your competitors? 

 This is all possible with Cyance’s intent data platform. With Cyance, you can not just identify good fit prospects that are ready to buy from businesses such as yours, but also monitor the research behaviour of your clients to see early warning signs that the account may be at risk of churn. 

 Our surging intent feature is particularly useful here. You can see changes in the activity of an account — its behaviour and intent signals — which show a heightened interest in the keywords and topics unique to your organisation, especially in comparison to its previous behaviour or historical benchmark.

 This ability to be precise with keywords can be invaluable. For example, if you are selling enterprise CRM solutions and you see a customer enter a research phase for this topic, you can pull your team’s efforts together to address any problem before it gets out of hand. 

 This could mean that your customer is searching for broad topics like “best enterprise CRM” for instance, or something more focused on their industry, such as “CRM for telecoms”. 

 There could be signs that they are further down the decision making process too. Imagine that in this scenario the customer is searching directly for competitors. This could be short-tail brand searches like “Salesforce” or “Freshdesk” for instance. In the screenshot below you can see examples of this in action, with tracked accounts surging against these specific keywords.

Cyance Dashboard data


However, we can also monitor more specific phrases that show a deeper level of consideration such as “Salesforce pricing” or “Salesforce SLAs” and “Salesforce reviews”. At the same time, you can spot how these searches are trending or surging. This time you can see these mapped against a specific account. We’ve used BT Group as an example here. 

Cyance dashboard data2

This approach is completely unique to Cyance. We use our own custom keyword scoring algorithm — one which factors the various ways in which accounts engage with keywords — to indicate this kind of surging intent. 

This is an important point to make. Many providers base their intent data on set topics or keyword groups. The signals that are used to build out the data here are fixed. This lack of flexibility is an issue, as every business is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to uncovering the right intent. They may not have enough data covering enterprise CRM solutions, for instance, so will use whatever data they have that is the closest fit. With Cyance, you have the ability to define your own intent so you can be sure that the results are as accurate as possible. When it comes to reducing churn, this is what really matters. 


To find out more about Cyance’s unique approach to accuracy and intent data, download our eBook.

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