Jul 22, 2021

Read Time 6 min

Rules of Engagement for Customer Success and Sales: Considerations and Examples


rules of engagement, customer success

Setting rules of engagement saves your team time, money, and energy. By creating healthy boundaries, Customer Success and Sales don’t have to spend their days assessing and arguing over every expansion situation. Laying ground rules for how teams work together leads to greater productivity and efficiency while reducing cross-functional friction. You can win more deals faster when teams stay in their operating lanes instead of causing undue congestion, territorial clashes, and destructive road rage.

Your rules of engagement should be built on which team is best positioned to gain sales momentum in any given scenario. In this article, we cover the top considerations for identifying that best fit, as well as examples of expansion scenarios for applying the rules.

As a final note before we dive in: You should expect to continually revisit and revise your rules of engagement as new situations arise. It’s unrealistic to think you can prepare for every possible expansion scenario.

6 Considerations for Creating Rules of Engagement

As you write your rules of engagement, you’ll want to keep these common considerations in mind. To understand the full context of a situation, you don’t want to weigh these factors independent of one another. Instead, consider all the factors together to ensure you make the most informed decisions possible.

1. Customer comfortability and experience

When creating internal rules and processes, teams have a habit of prioritizing their own needs above the needs of the customer. They think through the lens of efficiency – “How can I make this easier for myself?” – instead of approaching the situation from the customer’s point of view and what’s best for them. As you think through the buying experience, consider what interaction will make the most sense to the customer and what will make the customer feel most comfortable and entrusting.

2. Circle of influence

Building on the point above, when determining expansion ownership, you want to quantify the established relationships between a Customer Success Manager or salesperson and the customer. If a Customer Success Manager has been actively working with a customer team and is trying to introduce a new feature or product to within that same, they should own that expansion. Though complexity of the new feature or product should be factored into that decision. But if a new decision-maker is involved, that might align the opportunity closer with a new deal that Sales is better equipped to handle. Always factor in how far removed the seller is from the product or person being sold, as well as their circle of influence.

3. Product and process complexity

The complexity of your product, your sales process, and your customer’s buying process will likely be the biggest determinants of expansion ownership. Are your expansion pathways (cross-sells and upsells) more transactional or complex in nature? A transactional model has greater volume, fewer stakeholders, faster sales cycles, and less risk. Whereas a complex model is the total opposite and typically much more involved. For example, let’s say you offer two distinct products – Product A and Product B – that fall under the same Solution umbrella. Your customer already purchased and uses Product A, which qualifies them as a strong candidate for Product B. But selling Product B requires a whole net-new sales cycle. So, although the customer is staying within the same Solution offering and team for the purposes of the sale, given the arduous nature of the sales process and contract logistics, Sales may be the best fit. This type of expansion can quickly become a distraction for Customer Success, which is why their capacity must also be a top consideration.

4. Customer Success Manager capacity

Do your Customer Success Managers have the capacity or the desire to do the actual prospecting work required to expand further into the organization of their existing accounts? If not, it may make sense for Customer Success to own expansion that’s confined to customers who they have an existing relationship with and for Sales to own expansion that’s in effect a new deal within the same organization. When weighing these decisions, consider your Customer Success Manager’s full scope of work. For most Customer Success Managers, the majority of their daily responsibilities revolves around making the customer successful. So, if you want to tack new inside sales onto their job description, then something has to give. And usually, that means significantly reducing a Customer Success Manager’s book of business, which is not always a viable or desired alternative.

5. Visibility into buying signals

When establishing who should own expansion, you should examine and compare each team’s visibility into buying signals. Often, Customer Success teams interact with customers the most. Their elevated access and insight to customer behavior affords them a greater opportunity to identify buying signals. When that’s the case, Customer Success should own the expansion. But if Customer Success has no intel on or notion of interest from other groups within the customer organization, Sales might be the more appropriate choice. You always want to consider which team is best positioned to convey product value to the potential buyer. And sometimes, there are instances where both teams are equally fit to sell the customer, which brings us to our last point on finding opportunities for revenue-shares.

6. Revenue-shares

It’s inevitable that there will come a time when Customer Success and Sales are both equally suited to own expansion. When neither team has a clear advantage, this presents an opportunity for a revenue-share. For example, let’s say Sales is better suited to sell into a new department of an existing customer. But to get a foot in the door, the Sales rep needs the CSM to introduce them. A revenue-share would be warranted as both teams play a role in the selling process. Commission is based on the proportion of their involvement. So, you may give Sales 75% for their majority effort. The CSM then receives the remaining 25%, not only for making introductions, but also for their long-term work of building a trusted reputation and maintaining strong relationships that Sales is then able to heavily lean against.

Rules of Engagement Scenario Examples

Now that we’ve discussed broader considerations for creating your rules of engagement, here are a few examples of common use cases for applying your rules.

Churned Customers

Considerations: Duration of time since a customer churned

Example: Customer Success owns new deals for one year after a customer’s end date. Sales owns new deals after the customer’s one-year churn anniversary.

Opt-Out Customers

Considerations: Duration of time since a customer opts out

Example: Sales owns new deals after a customer’s opt-out date.

New Business from Customer Referrals or Moved Points of Contact (POCs)

Considerations: Customer referrals and moved POCs

Example: Sales owns new business from customer referrals or moved POCs; Customer Success must pass all referrals.

Acquisition (Acquiring or Acquired) Companies


  • New deals at the new company
    • Example: If there isn’t an existing opportunity at the new company, all expansion (new units, licenses, add-ons, etc.) is owned by Customer Success.
  • Existing sales-owned opportunities at the new company
    • Consider the opportunity’s stage and win probability
    • Example: New deals (i.e., new contracts) will be split between Customer Success and Sales based on the opportunity stage. If there’s no new deal within six months of the acquisition date, the opportunity transfers to Customer Success.
  • Length of rule adherence following a company acquisition
    • Example: 18 months after the acquisition date, all scenarios revert to standard rules.

Business Unit Deals

Considerations: Company size (SMB, MM, Enterprise) and solution portfolio (depth/breadth)

Example: For Enterprise customers, new deals will be split between Sales (75%) and Customer Success (25%).

Rule Under a United Front

Leadership plays the biggest role in determining the effectiveness and success of your rules of engagement. How leaders speak about and enforce the rules influences the team’s disposition to and adherence of them. As a leader, you need to present the rules as joint effort. The rules cannot show any bias or partiality; they should reflect an equal partnership. One in which both parties benefit from its existence.

To learn more about how to build stronger partnerships between Customer Success and Sales, check out these resources:


Customer Success Around the Web

Fighting Churn is a newsletter of inspiration, ideas and news on customer success, churn, renewal and other stuff and is curated by ChurnZero



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...