On our last Humans of Customer Success community hour, 100+ Customer Success and Sales leaders joined to discuss how we can all work together to turbocharge company growth.
Our discussion took place on the last day of both the month and the quarter, so the fact that we were talking about the interaction between Customer Success and Sales seemed particularly appropriate. At a time when the focus is metrics, metrics, and more metrics, we wanted to look at how the two teams work well together—and how to manage when the road is a little rough.
Our discussion leaders included:
- Chris Steele, VP of Sales at Pliant
- Courtney Camps, Director of Enterprise Customer Success at WHOOP
- James Newman, VP of Sales, Glint (part of LinkedIn)
- Sonciary Honnoll, Co-Founder and Head of Customer Success at Quala
There’s always something to learn, and there are always areas to improve, when it comes to strengthening the partnership between Sales and CS. Let’s dive into how CS leaders handle common pitfalls, how they foster effective communication, and what the Sales and CS can learn from each other.
When Your Goals Are Not the Same
In the best SaaS companies, all teams coexist, complement, and support one another to meet the shared goals of the company. But this takes conscious work, because it’s all too easy to let disconnects grow.
Sonci: My experience has been that Sales is razor-focused on new business, especially for earlier teams. Then, as you get into mid-stage teams, you see the emergence of an account team that handles renewals…so you end up with two different camps.
One camp (Sales or Account Management) is responsible for upsell, cross-sell, and renewal; they have a number they’re tracking, and they own that number. The other camp (Customer Success) is mostly focused on adoption and engagement, marrying the customer values with the business values to make sure everyone’s successful and growing.
James: Sometimes there’s a disconnect that does not set the customer up for long-term success. This can happen as early as Day 1: contracts are signed, the customer meets their CS representative, and as they chat it becomes clear that the customer thought they were getting X and all we can deliver is Y. So we’ve got an issue on the very first day.
These sorts of missed expectations can be unintentional—or, candidly, they can also be the result of a bad sales culture. In an organization where the focus is to win at any cost, where all business is good business, nothing matters but the win.
I think this is a bad thing. Training salespeople in a good discovery process that ensures strong customer alignment is a much better path to bringing in good business, and creating healthy and happy customers.
Chris: Culture is a huge thing early in the development of a company. For founders and cofounders, recognize that your first hires in Sales and Customer Success are going to drive the long-term behavior of what the relationship between the two looks like.
In my previous experience at Onshape our executive leadership, from the top down, was in full support of CS, Sales, and Marketing all being in alignment. That led to creating business that was not going to be a churn risk.
Sonci: One way to work with a sales team that is all about numbers is to have an honest conversation where you say, “Okay, we’re closing this business. Are they an Ideal Customer Profile? What are our expectations of success and lasting relationships with this business?” Talking it through gives us all the opportunity to take a deep breath and think about what’s realistic.
Courtney: Sometimes the CS team owns the renewal, and maybe even an expansion opportunity. Other teams are completely uninvolved, and they’re just focused on customer health. Either way, with both of those models, it must be collaborative. It does take a village. You want the customer to feel like they have a great support system around them.
The Successful Handoff from Sales to CS
It’s crucial to be sure goals are aligned during the turn-over of a new customer from Sales to CS. This handoff is key to the customer’s success—and the opportunity for a long-term relationship.
Chris: At Onshape we started with a basic sheet that we handed over to the CS team, based on the information that we gathered through the sales process. We grew this into a process that hardcoded every opportunity in Salesforce: growth potential, use cases, potential pitfalls. In this way, we created a well-documented, well-structured handoff plan for CS.
Courtney: Points of contact are a key part of the handoff because the person Sales is working with is not necessarily the person who’s going to be doing the implementation. It’s important to understand the personas and map that out early in the relationship.
Sonci: I think, too, that sometimes our handoffs are very clinical. We have a checklist that we go down, and we miss some of the important qualitative components of who this person is, what they’re personally hoping to achieve, what their family life looks like, and what got them excited about this opportunity. That information is so helpful when it’s passed along to the Customer Success team. It’s such a rich data source and we feel connected—which makes us more powerful advocates for the customer.
The Role of CS In Expansions, Upsells, and Renewals
The goals of CS and Sales are aligned, the handoff has gone off without a hitch, and the customer is happy. Depending on the organization, CS may now play a supporting role in expansion opportunities, upsells, and renewals—or may even have ownership in these processes.
Sonci: I love the way CS approaches opportunities because they’re so empathetic in their approach and so focused on customers first: “Is this going to be good for the customer? Are they going to love it? Okay, great…how do we get there together?”
Should CS be compensated for their efforts? I’ve done CS incentives before, and I think they’re very powerful. It created a better relationship between CS and Sales because it’s clear that we recognize the different levers we each use to contribute to the success of our combined goals and overall growth.
Courtney: The best thing a Customer Success Manager can do to support renewal and expansion opportunities—without necessarily being salesy—is to be an expert at using the product, and also be a product expert who’s tied into upcoming feature sets. How are they going to impact this customer? That will also naturally bring up opportunities.
How Sales Can Expand CS Capabilities
Many CS professionals have found that working closely with their Sales peers can give them skills and knowledge that help them with their primary goal of achieving customer success.
Sonci: What I learned from some of the amazing sales leaders I’ve had the privilege to work with is to be bold. I’ve appreciated learning how to position value in a way that made sense to the person sitting across the table.
Chris: You do whatever you can do, from a sales organization perspective, to make sure that both Customer Success and Marketing are aligned with you. Invite them to sales training, make sure that everybody feels that they’re one team. This is a critical step toward everybody being successful. Maintaining open lines of communication is the biggest thing you can do for a Sales-to-CS relationship.
Courtney: We always included CSMs in every sales training. It’s important to teach those skills so when a customer asks a CSM about pricing or another feature, they have the courage or skill to be able to say, “No, we can’t do that.” And they can answer something without necessarily having to bring someone else onto the call.
There was much, much more to this brilliant conversation; to learn more, watch the full call.
And if you’d like to join in on these conversations? We recently started a Customer Success Community called Humans of CS, and we’d love to have you there. Check us out and join at https://www.quala.io/community-hour.