Nov 17, 2020

Read Time 5 min

How Customer Success Can Build a Relationship with Sales


This is a guest blog post by Kristen Hayer, Founder & CEO of The Success League

Oh, Sales and Customer Success, you are my two favorite disciplines! Where else can you experience the thrill of fishing and the warmth of a long-term relationship?

My career started in Sales, or rather, I was slowly talked into a Sales career by a string of managers who knew I had the drive to be a great salesperson. I was the first million-dollar producer in one of the companies I worked for, and led that organization to build several other top producing Sales reps. I thrived on the competition of it. There is nothing like closing a big deal with a new customer!

Well, almost nothing. Building a relationship with a customer is equally fulfilling, and although there isn’t often the big win, like there is in Sales, there are usually a lot of little wins while you’re getting your customer to fully use your solution, helping them see the value in a new offering, or winning a renewal against a competitor. This series of longer term wins is why I ultimately shifted my focus to Customer Success.

As a consultant, I often see Sales and Customer Success teams battling over little things. Who “owns” the customer, who should be handling up-sell and cross-sell, or who should be talking to whom. Both Sales and Customer Success are critical to an organization, so seeing this unnecessary friction in so many organizations is frustrating.

The following advice is directed at the leader of your Customer Success organization, and is intended to help you build a stronger relationship with your Sales team. This relationship will serve you personally, as a leader (who wouldn’t want the most persuasive leader in the organization on their side!?) as well as your team. Here is my step by step guide for driving a strong relationship with your Sales organization.

Step 1: Know what Drives Sales

I have a tremendous amount of respect for the work and effort it takes to bring in a new customer. Sales is typically responsible for taking leads and turning them into prospects, and then turning those prospects into new customers. A sales cycle (the length of time it takes for a Sales rep to turn a lead into a customer) can be as short as a few days or as long as a few years. Throughout the process, Sales reps are responsible for maintaining and reporting on their pipeline (the list of prospects they are working with). This helps company leadership plan for growth.

In most organizations, the effectiveness of the Sales team is measured by a few factors. First, they are measured on the length of the sales cycle. Shorter is better because the less time that a salesperson spends on one deal, the more time they have to work on other opportunities. Second, they are evaluated on their close ratio. This is the ratio of deals won to the total number of deals in the pipeline. The higher the close-ratio, the better. Finally, they are measured by the number of new customers they bring in and the revenue generated. Salespeople are typically measured individually, rather than as a group, and have a large percentage of their total income tied to their success through a commission plan. 

Sales is the one team that is always held accountable for hard numbers, and there is a lot of pressure that goes along with the role. If a salesperson has a bad month or quarter, they not only lose part of their compensation, but their job may be at risk.

Step 2: Understand the Intersection Between Sales and Success

Even though the role of a salesperson is very different from that of a success professional, there is common ground. First, Customer Success can provide access to customers who are willing to serve as references, and ensure that those customers are receiving value from the solution. This is a huge help to the Sales team, especially if the product is a significant purchase. However, providing references is also useful for the Customer Success team: If a customer is willing to recommend your solution to a colleague, you can generally consider them a healthy customer. 

Next, both teams benefit from setting the right expectations for what will happen once the prospect becomes a customer. Nobody wants to lose a customer right at the beginning of the relationship. Often, there are terms called “claw-back” clauses in Sales commission plans that take back any commission that was earned, if a customer departs toward the beginning of a relationship. On a personal level, it is really disheartening for a salesperson to find out that a customer they worked so hard to close ended up leaving. Customer Success benefits from correct expectations because they help get new customers off to a good start, and simplify the process of onboarding.

Finally, Sales and Customer Success share a connection to each customer’s desired business outcomes. Sales uses this information to identify messages and features that will resonate with a particular prospect, which helps them move toward an agreement. Customer Success needs to understand the reasons the customer purchased the solution so that they can set goals to achieve the customer’s desired outcomes and build a success plan.

Step 3: Build a Strong Relationship with Sales

Create a References Tracking System – Most Sales teams already use a CRM system, and if you can build something into the Sales team’s tool that tags a contact as a reference, it will make things easy. Also consider the process you want the reps to go through. Should they look up references on their own, or do you want them to check with the CSM before they provide a customer’s contact information to a prospect? Plan a system that works for both teams.

Share Information on Customer Expectations and Results – Ask Sales to document and share the reasons that a customer purchased your solution. Let the Sales team know that you’ll be using this information to set goals with the new customers. In return, offer to share the results your customers are seeing from the solution with your sales reps. These success stories are incredibly useful during the sales process and can help prospects understand the value of your solution.

Clearly Define Roles and Responsibilities – If you are in a situation where your Sales team is selling to existing customers, get together and discuss the roles and responsibilities of each group. While it is important to consider processes from an internal efficiency standpoint, also consider the customer journey you’re creating. If, from a customer’s perspective, things look choppy, discuss changes that will make the journey great.

If you’ve been struggling with the relationship between Sales and Customer Success, try one or several of these ideas, and then grow from there. Keep in mind that you can’t just expect another team to know what you need – you have to ask. It also helps to offer something useful in return. Good luck!


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