May 11, 2018

Read Time 5 min

Strategies for an Effective Partnership between Customer Success & Sales – Part 1


The handoff of a new customer between Sales and Customer Success is a critical moment in the customer lifecycle. But for many organizations, this transfer of customer knowledge is a disorganized mess, lacking clear requirements and fraught with tension or even downright distrust between the two teams involved. But it doesn’t need to be this way – and for the sake of your customers, it shouldn’t be this way.

The Importance of a Quality Handoff

Do any of these situations sound familiar?

  • “The customer was annoyed during kick-off because we asked them the same questions that the Sales team had asked them before.”
  • “This customer isn’t a great fit for us. There’s not a lot I can do to help them.”
  • “I didn’t know we made that commit to the customer. Sales never mentioned it.”
  • “No one scheduled the kick-off meeting yet. I thought that Sales was responsible for that.”

If these sounds familiar, you have an opportunity to improve the way that you work cross-functionally (and don’t worry you aren’t alone in this). The good news is that Customer Success is uniquely positioned within a company to drive cross-functional coordination. CS is accountable for customer retention and up-sell, which gives the team a mandate to advocate for cross-functional processes that support the customer’s well-being.

In the Customer Success world, the idea of handing-off a customer from one group to another is a big deal. Whether it’s from Sales to Onboarding or Onboarding to Customer Success, these handoffs can make or break the customer’s experience with you.

Purposefully Reset the Relationship

When CS thinks about Sales, they are often pictured as these care-free people, promising whatever the heck they want and getting away with it, probably making more money than their CS counterpart without having to face the consequences of their actions. And while it’s important to examine that sentiment (and we will later) let’s first focus on the reality of being in Sales.

The reality is that Sales is really hard. Sure, CS is aware that Sales is always trying to hit some number – but we frequently don’t stop and think about what that really means. On the CS side of things, we love to talk about how “80% of your revenue will come from just 20% of your existing customers” and “that it’s 5 to 25x more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep an existing customer”. But we have to remember – if Sales doesn’t sell in the first place, there won’t be any customers to retain.

It’s important to note that this misalignment is not always Sales fault either. Potential customers tend to only notice information in the sales process that supports their preconceived beliefs about your product/service, instead of listening to what can really be delivered. Or other times the customer’s needs have changed but only after they have already decided to sign on to become a customer. Or maybe the customer wasn’t even really prepared to make the purchase.

To help reset this relationship we need to understand that Customer Success begins with Sales. Customer Success is a culture, not just a department. The seeds of churn are planted early, so CS needs to accept that Sales is part of their team and that Customer Success begins at the first interaction with prospects by your Sales team. CS must invest in the relationship with Sales if they want things to change.

Changes to Align Sales and Customer Success

Now that we understand the disconnect between Sales and Customer Success, its time to do something about. Rather than setting separate and competing priorities for the two teams, you have to align Sales and Customer Success more closely. If the conflicts and sticking points between the two departments are overcome, the benefits to your business can be enormous. The first step is simple: align the goals of the two departments.

 1) Create an Ideal Customer Profile

Having a clear definition of your ideal customer is one of the most important things you can do for your business. Your ICP (ideal customer profile) dictates (or should dictate) everything from the features and functionality of the products you build to what makes up your service offering, to the words you use and the emotion you invoke or tap into in your marketing.

This is a whole company thing, but it’s particularly important for Sales and CS to agree on a definition, and actively re-visit it. You WILL sell outside of this ideal ICP, that is to be expected and is not Sales being irresponsible. But without any sort of definition around who they should be selling to, they are shooting blindfolded at a target they don’t even know exists.

 2) Identify a Stretch Fit vs. a Bad Fit

You’ll then want to make a clear distinction between the difference of a stretch fit and a bad fit customer. You should get your product team involved here to better understand the full scope of your product capabilities and functionality.

Bad Fit Stretch Fit
You cannot deliver immediate value You can definitely deliver initial value
Nor can you realistically deliver required future value in a reasonable timeframe You can honestly deliver required future value in a reasonable timeframe
Avoid these customers Often worth a chance

 3) Comp Sales on Renewals

Comp plans are a means to drive desired behavior. You should encourage Sales to seek customers with not only short-term potential but also with long-term growth potential. By tying Sale’s compensation to renewals, you are helping to make sure they have their skin in the game. In other words, they have a personal stake in a desired outcome – customer retention.

4) Involve CS Earlier in the Sales Process

A lot of time CS isn’t involved in the sales process until it’s too late and the customer (potentially bad fit) just winds up landing in their lap. By bringing in CS sooner in the process, they should be able to help clarify priorities and proactively identify potential gaps. It’s only in everyone’s best interest to properly set the customer’s expectations from the get-go. This involvement will also help lay the groundwork for a positive first experience, by demonstrating your company’s focus is on the customer and their needs.

5) Give Customer Success Veto Power

If CS teams can’t stop bad sales, it’s inevitable that those poor fits will churn and affect the CS team’s perceived performance. If you want veto power, your going to need data, so customer feedback is a powerfully ally here. When tied to revenue, it becomes indisputable evidence of where “leakage” (wasteful problems that cost the business money) is occurring.

Stay tuned for part two of this post that will cover the handoff process from sales to customer success and feedback loops.

Blog Author: Abby Hammer, VP Products, ChurnZero

Customer Success Around the Web


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