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Apoorv Nandan
CTO & Co-founder
December 22, 2023
9 min read

If you look at discussions about churn prevention, especially in B2B SaaS circles, much attention is given to product metrics and user signals. While these are crucial for prediction, there's an often-overlooked dimension.

An internal hurdle we've identified is 'gatekeeping', a significant contributor to customer churn. While advanced customer data analytics tools and CRM software provide unprecedented access to insights, the challenge lies in how organizations utilize and act on these insights.

Churn indicators can emerge at any point in the customer journey, highlighting the need for timely access to these insights by the right individuals. This ensures the deployment of effective retention strategies to prevent user churn. Our goal today is to discuss how gatekeepers hinder access to crucial insights, the adverse impact of gatekeeping on customer retention, and some actionable steps to mitigate the gatekeeping of insights.

What is Gatekeeping Insights?

Gates serve to uphold work quality, operational stability, and coherence within organisations by serving as a distinct go/kill point for proposals. Gatekeepers, whether human or automated, rely on predefined set of rules and guidelines to approve or decline requests, facilitating streamlined operations and selective accessibility within an organization.

Originally designed to regulate proposals with substantial capital investments, gates have evolved as organizations expanded and workflows became more intricate. Organizations now deploy gates to oversee interdepartmental workflows, to avoid sensitive information leaks. In a traditional gatekeeping setup, multiple gatekeepers with extensive govern the flow of information and interactions within an organization.

The receptionist is the most common type of gatekeeping that individuals come acorss seeking access to specific contacts within an organisation. The lower you are on the corporate hierarchy, the more challenging it becomes to communicate with decision-makers and access high-value documents.

In the context of churn, the indicators garnered through customer data analytics tools usually stay with the product team and anyone outside must go through gatekeepers to access them. But, there’s a big issue with having interdepartmental gatekeeping when it comes to churn prevention.

Let’s say the churn prediction model at your organisation revealed that users that engage with the product newsletter for more than three months (initially) are less likely to churn for the next 9 months. Now, this data is vital for folks on the marketing team as they can use it to tweak the newsletter for better retention. However, for the product team, this is just good news and nothing to bother the marketing team with.

And when the marketing team does decide to access these insights to gauge the performance of their newsletter, they first need to create a proposal requesting this data and state a promising reason for this demand, wait for its approval, and then approach the product team for these insights, which makes things quite complicated.

This is a significant issue, and yet often overlooked. More on this a bit later, but first let’s weigh the pros and cons of having gatekeepers.

Gatekeepers: Help or Hindrance?

We have established that gatekeepers are quite problematic when it comes to churn prevention, but are they problematic in general?

Well, not necessarily.

Gatekeeping has undeniable benefits for organisations operating at scale. Think about it, as a senior executive of a multi-million dollar organisation, do you have the time or capacity to deal with hundreds, or probably thousands of lower executives, managers, and employee issues and address them personally?

No, and even if you had the time and grit, aren’t there more important things for you to take care of?

Similarly, someone from the marketing department has no use for the performance review of the accounting team, or the patents being filed by the company lawyers. Such information is highly sensitive and may foil an organisation’s expansion strategies.

Gatekeeping offers the operative scaffolding for hierarchies in an organisation.

However, rampant gatekeeping hinders growth, innovation, and inter departmental synergies. There are also instances where gatekeepers misuse their power for personal vendetta, or are not qualified to make the right decisions pertaining to the proposals.

According to a study by RSW, less than 13% of experienced sales people are able to get past gatekeepers and connect with senior executives, and the figure drops to 1% when it comes to new sales people. Moreover, the same study reveals that 90% of the first time calls made to senior executives through automated gatekeepers don’t get answered.

It’s not that gatekeeping itself is bad. Not all ideas are created equal. Occasionally, the person suggesting an initiative may lack the judgement, capability, or even credibility to execute it successfully. Even well-established organisations encounter individuals who disguise naked ambition and blatant power grabs as innovation.

Addressing potential issues with proposals from the beginning can prevent organisations from facing significant frustrations and conflicts later on, ultimately saving both time and money.

But the fact that gatekeeping restricts the flow of insights to the right people and prevents them from taking action at the right time, poses a severe threat.

Is There a Way Around Gatekeeping?

While it's possible to work your way around gatekeepers to access vital insights, the time capital required for implementing such strategies is often prohibitively high.

Let's reconsider the newsletter example mentioned earlier.

The marketing team has to go through all these steps to get their hands on churn insights, which disincentives proactive efforts made by the team to lower churn. If you had to craft a proposal each time you sought insights from the product team, wouldn't you be tempted to cut corners or skip the process altogether?

While it's possible to seek favors from colleagues in the product team or befriend the gatekeeper to bypass the process, these tactics are unethical and can attract trouble for both you and your connections.

By 'going around gatekeepers,' we mean finding ways to access insights without the time-consuming hurdles of gatekeeping. The key to achieving this is through high-impact gatekeeping and strategically placing gates to facilitate the seamless flow of pertinent insights across different verticals.

Why do companies struggle with gatekeeping insights?

Gatekeepers have two main concerns when it comes to insights:

1. Keeping the wrong people away from sensitive information

2. Facilitating easy access of insights for the right people

While the existing gatekeeping framework is extremely good at locking out the wrong people, it barely has any provisions for facilitating easy access of insights across verticals. This is primarily because the gates are placed at the wrong location.

Gates are usually placed at the centre, instead of the edges to avoid bias in decisions and this has several disadvantages.

  1. The gatekeeper may not be qualified to make decisions regarding all departments
  2. The stakeholders are far removed from these strategic decision points, offering monopolistic authority to gatekeepers.

There are other problems as well.

Since the gatekeeper (supervisor) is responsible for approving proposals and is held accountable for anything that goes wrong, it creates a bottleneck. The supervisor reviews every proposal thoroughly and is sceptical about approving them. While the people who create these proposals spend extra time chasing perfection. This affects service quality and is an inefficient way of managing accountability in an organisation.

Relying on a single individual to oversee crucial decision points inevitably leads to the abuse of power, as humans naturally seek to seize control and establish authority in social settings.

How to Solve this?

You can solve this by placing gates at the source of insights and assigning multiple gatekeepers to ensure that the decisions are made based on true competence and not on a whim.

There's also what we call reverse gatekeeping where the flow of control is reversed and the gatekeepers are expected to sort data based on its utility to a certain department in an organisation and transfer it to them, accelerating ground implementation of strategies.

An ideal gatekeeping framework would be one that uses reverse gates placed strategically at the source of insights with a representative gatekeeper from every department. This would allow stakeholders to analyse insights and identify churn signals that require immediate attention.

The best thing about this framework is the speed at which insights reach stakeholders. Rather than waiting for stakeholders to request these insights, gatekeepers proactively assume their significance and transfer them to the relevant department. Stakeholders, in turn, have immediate access to everything they need to design, test, and implement retention strategies, effectively reducing churn.

What does high-impact Gatekeeping look like?

High-impact gatekeeping is contingent on strategic alignment with the organisational objectives and efficient data access. Gatekeepers play an important role in streamlining access to churn prediction models, ensuring seamless flow of relevant insights across departments. Gatekeepers have a sharp focus on strategic objectives of the individual departments and tailor insights to meet their needs.

Imagine a setup where gatekeepers don't hold up the show. They don't wait for you to ask for insights, they assume it's important and send it to the right team right away. Stakeholders get what they need super fast to work on keeping customers happy and lowering churn. That's what we call smooth and optimal gatekeeping.

Promoting cross-functional collaboration is another hot feature of an effective gatekeeping model. Smart gatekeepers recognizes that different teams can collaborate and do awesome things together. So, they make sure everyone works together and makes smart choices to prevent problems before they happen.

Teams from different departments come together to talk about signals that customers might leave. This way, everyone gets a full picture of how to stop customers from leaving. Plus, the gatekeeping system makes sure that insights are shared openly and without any complicated rules. This openness means that everyone who needs to know something important can get the scoop right when they need it, making sure decisions are based on data.

In a perfect gatekeeping setup, bosses play a big role in always making churn prevention strategies better. They share insights and make sure everyone has a clear way to get the data they need. And the success of the whole system isn't just about controlling information, it's also about how well the insights help stop customers from leaving and how good the strategies are in action.

Security and compliance play a crucial role in effective gatekeeping as well. Protocols are established to protect sensitive customer data while offering key insights to stakeholder and decision makers from the onset. Educational initiatives further strenthen the gatekeeping structure, making it easier for people to identify churn indicators and act on them in time.

Everything an organization needs to predict and prevent churn is hidden in user data—insights, churn signals, and even the strategies to stop it. The challenge is sifting through tons of user data, picking out what matters, and processing it to find hidden patterns and signals in time to take action and keep a user from leaving.

It's no easy task as organizations gather user data from multiple sources (CRM and Sales tools, social media, website cookies) and in different formats (spreadsheets, images, videos, and text).

Crunch simplifies this through a smart query-based user data analytics platform, that uses a special proprietary ML algorithm to organise, process, and analyse user data based on human queries.

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