Oct 26, 2018

Read Time 10 min

Nailing the Customer Handoff Between Sales and Customer Success


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.

Earlier this week we hosted a well attended webinar on – “How to Nail the Customer Handoff between Sales and Customer Success”. If you missed it, no worries. You can view the webinar on-demand here.

In this session, Abby Hammer and Casey Altieri from ChurnZero shared tips to clarify and strengthen your knowledge transfers from Sales to CS. While working with Customer Success teams of all types and sizes, Casey and Abby have seen a lot of tactics that work – and a lot of tactics that don’t. They shared their top tips for consistently successful handoffs and building trust between your Sales and CS teams.

The audience also participated in a really informative Q&A session, that we wanted to re-share with you here.

Webinar Q&A Recap


  • Abby Hammer, VP of Products & Customer Success, ChurnZero
  • Casey Altieri, Lead Sales Executive, ChurnZero

Q: Should Sales reps be paired with individuals Customer Success reps for all their deals? On one hand, you may build relationships and teamwork between the Salesperson and the CSM. On the other hand, it may cause other issues. What are your thoughts on different pairing methods?

Abby: Yeah, you know this is interesting, because this is something we’ve actually talked about even here at ChurnZero. I think there is a lot of positive that can come from pairing because, you do get to build that relationship. You really do become a team. I think it gets challenging the more and more customers you have. So, I think it’s ideal in Enterprise situations, maybe some Mid-Market, but if you are dealing with a high volume of customers, it gets harder to match that up. It also means you’re going to have some challenges around making sure that – 1 or 2 CSMs, are maybe paired with more effective Sales members so they are not getting overrun from a workload perspective. So, I think it could be interesting to do with a subset of your customers. Maybe your higher paying customers because, those are the ones that you’re most interested in making sure have a very smooth experience.

Casey: I think it’s tricky to do in practice because some Sales reps are going to sell more than others and then next thing you know you have a Customer Success rep with 12 accounts versus the Customer Success rep with 35 accounts. Of course, it also gets to the point where the Customer Success rep can’t take on any more accounts and the Sales rep is going to continue to be selling. So, I think that’s tricky but what I think is good is, maybe assigning a Sales rep to a team of Customers Success Managers, a group of four or five. So, you’re taking a little bit of the variability out of it. Where before you don’t know if it’s the Sales rep or the CSM who’s at fault for that renewal, because It’s just one of each. But, if you start adding more and more people in and you say, okay every single one of this Sales agent’s deals are churning then, you know, it’s a Sales rep issue. Versus if you notice okay, these three Customer Success reps are easily renewing these deals and upselling them versus this fourth one isn’t. Then, you have a little bit clearer of a picture of success. So, I think maybe spread it out a little bit. But the concept of it I think makes a lot of sense so that you are actively tying that accountability back to a real person.

Abby: And if you can’t go one-to-one the other ideas is – if you have clear cuts on your customers like maybe support, or several clearly defined verticals, it can be interesting to have Salespeople and CS people to form around a single vertical. Because, then they get to know the use cases and the needs of that vertical well and that’s going to help the relationship between the Sales rep and the CSM.

Q: How early in the sales process should Customer Success get involved? Is there a certain opportunity stage? Or is it when the Sales rep starts hearing certain questions or objections? What are your thoughts?

Casey: It should be farther along in the Sales process. We don’t want Customer Success reps doing the entire job of the Sales reps. So, it should be the last call before close. This is something that’s going to move it across the line. Usually that’s at maybe the proposal stage or a little bit before the proposal stage, where we’re talking about the real-applications of actually getting them up and running.

Abby: Since we want to make sure that we don’t have CS people trying to do CS and Sales that’s why it’s really important to invest in those feedback loops we talked about. So that Sales can do all of that qualification, and can do it well, ad can do it consistently. So, by the time the CS rep is coming in, It’s not to solve major – is this even possible questions, it’s rather to just clear up some last details, build some of that relationship, as opposed to really actually closing the deal.

Q: What specific questions do you recommend asking or answering in handoffs notes?

Abby: Hmm so not to wiggle out of this one, I can offer a few things, but that is challenging to give very specific questions because, I think it’s going to vary a lot between the products that you support (or products), and the services that you offer. Broad strokes – I think the big things we need to be focused on are – Why did the customer buy? Why are they spending money? What do they hope to accomplish? Are there timelines associated with what they hope to accomplish? So, when we think about what is the outcome that they’re looking for, everything that we’re asking should be focused around that because, that’s what the Sales rep should be asking and that’s what CS is going to be gunning towards and focused on.

Casey: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. Define success in those handoff notes. And I also think it’s valuable to put in other information, like personality notes, so that you can understand – this person likes to be called or be emailed, they work these hours – you really focus on that sort of thing. So, that whenever you get on and you already know as a Customer Success rep that this person you’re going to be dealing with is a little bit more contentious and you can come in understanding that. We don’t want to just put in fact-based information about the customer and their size and their software and so forth.

Q: Would you be inclined to hold the Sales reps commission until the customer is on-boarded fully or like six months into their contract, or something like that?

Abby: Casey and I are laughing because he and I talk about this all the time. We have slightly different opinions on it, which is probably not surprising to anybody. You know, Casey certainly brought up that compensation is a way to influence behavior. At the risk of being too mean, Sales people are often coin-operated. So, in my experience, tying it to money, is a really meaningful way to influence behavior. Now whether that’s holding their commission, I think that’s hard because we don’t want to discourage a Sales rep from trying to close a deal. But maybe it comes more in the form of a bonus or maybe you get a good chunk of your commission, you don’t get all of it until you’re all the way through. The one caveat I put on that, is if you have any sort of pilot or opt-outs or anything like that – the Sales reps commission should be on the line in the same way, with that date, until the deal is really closed.

Casey: Yeah, I agree on the final part. I think it’s impossible to hold the Sales reps Commission back until somebody’s been fully on-boarded or implemented and that’s for a variety of reasons. One, is from a hiring perspective. It’s going to be mere impossible to hire with them understanding that compensation plan. So just growing the team is going to be difficult. But beyond that, it’s really difficult to say- Sales, you did a great job selling this deal, now it’s out of your hands and you have to wait six months to see if the Customer Success rep was successful in converting. Because, they could have been a great fit customer that was a layup that ended up just falling apart down the line. So, I think it’s a great idea to hold them responsible. I don’t know if withholding commission is something that would work in reality though.

Abby: in general, I think maybe the compromise is something like a bonus. You get your commission, but then if that customer stays, even better if they expand, then – okay let’s reward the rep for finding a good fit customer. Also reward the CS rep for getting them on-boarded well and making them successful.

Casey: Yeah, and I think that’s a great point. Maybe knock a point off of the commission immediately upon sell and then give an additional two points upon renewal. Something along those lines that would keep them involved all the way through.

Q: What strategies would you recommend using when customers will not “let go” of their Salesperson after the handoff?

Abby: That’s an interesting one. What I think can help there is again introducing CS earlier in the process. So, a lot of times, you see the instinct to cling to a Salesperson because, they know that person is the person they’ve heard yeses from. They like what they’re getting there. So, bringing in a Customer Success rep earlier, making sure that that customer feels comfortable before the Sales rep walks out is really important. Now on the other side of that there does have to be a cut-off. One of my biggest pet peeves is when a customer doesn’t get their way on something that then they go back and tattle to their Sales rep. As a CS leader of our team I’d like to step in – like hey, you’re working with us now. If you have problems, you escalate through our Customer Success. I’m happy to help with those things. But you know, once that transition is made the Sales rep no longer has the same influence that they had before.

Casey: Usually that means that there were mismanaged expectations and it really comes back to the Sales rep setting proper expectations. What that likely means is that during the entire sales process, the Sales rep was a yes man, or a yes woman, only ever saying yes, we can do this, yes, we can do that. And then they get to the Customer Success rep and they’re like, whoa slow down just a little bit. Then they’re going to come back to the Sales rep and start communicating with them because that’s where it was easy. And that’s where they were getting the answers that they wanted. So really, it all comes back to making sure that during that sales process the entire thing is transparent and you’re actually saying what you can be doing on the back end. So, we really need to align Sales and CS all the way through and then we’ll see those people clinging to the Sales are up a little bit less because, the Customer Success rep is going to be saying exactly thing that the Sales rep is saying.

Q: Should there ever be accounts categorized as “no expectations for renewal” where the CSM shouldn’t be held accountable for that account in their number?

Abby: I’m going to say yes. Now exactly how you go about that is a separate thing. It can’t just be you know, well, I raise my hand and say I shouldn’t be accountable for this. No, you must have rules and processes and procedures for what would qualify an account to even be consideration to not be included. But certainly, I think just about every Customer Success Manager has been in the scenario where, they’ve done the best that they can and for a lot of reasons things did not work out. And what we want to make sure is that especially if we’re not aligning Sales, you know It can be their crushing for CS to always feel that. It can have a little bit of a reprieve to have a means to at least vouch for the fact that something shouldn’t be on your plate. Now you certainly don’t want to make too heavy of a habit of that because that just encourages people to look for excuses as opposed to look for solutions. So, you have to be careful with the balance there. But I think it does make sense in certain scenarios, on a case-by-case basis, being able to pull things out of your book.

Casey: Yeah, and this is something that you just want to make sure doesn’t get out of hand. For example, you get into things like this company went out of business, this company was acquired, this was a bad fit customer, this was a stretch-fit customer that I’m pretending is a bad fit customer. You really need to make sure you have set processes in place. Otherwise next thing, you know out of the 20 accounts that you’re supposed to renew in that month, you have four that you actually have to and that just isn’t the way that you want to do it. So, the answer is there is going to be that systematic churn that you can’t avoid.  I think Abby and I agree on this that they should have the ability to mark some accounts that shouldn’t count against them. You just have to make sure it’s very process-oriented.

Abby: And remember, quite frankly there’s going to be a lot of customers that a CS person is like I don’t feel like it’s fair for me to have them and they’re still going to be in their book. That’s just the reality of the situation. But that’s part of the reason that when you comp your CS people they have some sort of goal that they’re trying to meet. So, maybe the goal isn’t 100 percent, it’s 95 percent or it’s 90 percent. And there’s going to be some recognition of the fact that perfection may not be possible. But, we certainly still want them, gunning as hard as they can towards it.

Stay turned more more ChurnZero webinars to come.


Customer Success Around the Web



Subscribe to the newsletter   

Empowering your customer success team through community

Has your customer community lost its spark? Teams are often eager to launch this new initiative, however, sustaining that same enthusiasm in the months ahead can be a challenge. “It's one thing to create excitement and another to keep people’s attention,” says Shauna...