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3 ideas to foster the best balance between Sales and Customer Success

The tough thing about bringing on Customer Success into your organization (aside from the hiring and figuring out customer success best practices) is trying to settle the friction that sometimes occurs between sales and customer success. How can you find the balance between sales and customer success while putting the customer at the center of it all?

Maybe you’ve experienced a couple of these scenarios before:

“Sales oversold!” when the customer is disappointed during the onboarding phase (and probably taking it out on the customer success manager).

“Customer Success is not doing their job!” when the renewal doesn’t happen.

Customer Success folks who get caught up in meeting upsell quota and almost forget their role as trusted advisor.

I don’t need to convince you that upsells and renewals are the outcome of a great customer success and sales pairing. Here are 3 ideas borrowed from the likes of Marketo and Angie’s List to help foster better Sales-Customer Success working relationship and processes:

The Handoff

In order to provide the right context of the customer for both Sales and Customer Success, ideally, both functions will be involved with the customer before the actual handoff. Sales should be in charge of sniffing out the customer’s skill set and understand their capabilities. With Customer Success tag teaming with Sales, they can help set actual expectations and commitments. This way, Sales and Customer share the same understanding of what the customer is looking to achieve, what was promised, and how to help the customer achieve these goals. A good way to match up offerings after the sale? Monitor how absorbed the customer is into the product within the first 3 months.

Safe Switch Process

Sometimes renewals are hindered because the original evangelist or power user leaves the customer’s company. Where can Sales and Customer Success partner up to make this switch a successful one? They can implement a “safe switch process”. Assuming you are already monitoring account usage and engagement, keep an eye out on decreasing usage or logins and have your team reach out to see what’s the reason behind this decline. It could be that they went on Sabbatical, changed departments, or straight up left the company! Being prepared for the last 2 situations with a cliff notes version of training on how to re-onboard the new person will demonstrate proactivity and potentially keep them from disengaging from your service.

Tag Team

Put Customer Success in charge of renewals, and with their expert opinion, if customers are ready for a upsell – flag down the Sales team! Customer Success can leverage their product expertise and help the customers find success with the product. A good way to identify this is to establish an in-between health and renewal metric.

What are some things you’re doing differently to make Sales and Customer Success complementary functions when it comes to upsells and renewals?

Interested in getting your business equipped for these processes? Get started here or email Ninon at ndemos@totango.com to learn more.

Ellis Luk

I'm the marketing and communications manager at Totango - but you can call me Chief Content Officer. When I'm not writing, you can find me obsessing over memes, debating grammatical usage or getting distracted by the latest Tumblr gif blogs. Customer love starts with a friendly hello!

  • Jeremy Malander

    My 2cents how strengthening the marriage between CSM and Success:
    *Executive Sponsorship- It’s really everything, you can build the greatest CRM design, have all the data points/analytics, clean process, etc. Without VP of Sales & VP of Success seing eye to eye on the value, it will always be fragmented. Especially VP of Sales in a 1-5 year old company (whom typically owns a sales model designed for land grab). The better programs I have been a part of (in SaaS start up) is CRO or CCustomerO, whom is responsible for net new and churn in the same breadth.

    *Unbreakable Early Stage Lifecycle Process- Lead to Deal is one thing, but it’s key that the transition/relationship between AE (Sales) and CSM is held accountable through some sort of system of record. One thing worked for me, is enforcement of knowledge transfer before a deal can be consider closed (they get their commission). As long as this process is well oiled, it should please both sides on a smooth introduction.

    * Define Churn in Comp Plan- The best way to enforce Sales to do things of course is through direct accountability of churn/upsell as shown in comp plans. Confusion on who owns what is a common growing pain I have seen with early stage start ups, because the Sales entity is so intent on driving Net New figures to the Board and cross sell/up sell option doesnt typically exist yet (or will come in year 2 of the lifecycle). If your business has upsell & repeat business component (SaaS), work in direct accountability for churn into your comp plans. Also, dont assume everyone knows how to sell SaaS.

    *Internal Education on the above- You have to make the car run right if you want to go 150mph. Dont ignore the small stuff. Small things lead to larger things… there is a reason why these sayings exist. Define rules on the above mentioned and make it clear… what happens when an AE leaves to an existing recurring contract? what happens when a CSM discovered an upsell? What happens in comp plan for a free extension or long contract re-negotiation? Who owns the ARR after the VP sales an executive deal? What incentivizes a customer that refers a new customer? What discounting can be done on the first year churn (68% of SaaS churn) vs. 2nd year? Always ensure the team understands accountability (how to work with each other) in specifics situations of the lifecycle. I am confident this can effect >5% of sales revenue in SaaS.

    • Ellen

      Great feedback Jeremy! I think it’s super important to have even the smallest processes defined as mentioned in your 4th point on internal education. I hope more companies will take the time to adopt this and stamp out future headaches and misunderstandings among the two teams.

  • Jeremy Malander

    My 2cents how strengthening the marriage between CSM and Success:
    *Executive Sponsorship- It’s really everything, you can build the greatest CRM design, have all the data points/analytics, clean process, etc. Without VP of Sales & VP of Success seing eye to eye on the value, it will always be fragmented. Especially VP of Sales in a 1-5 year old company (whom typically owns a sales model designed for land grab). The better programs I have been a part of (in SaaS start up) is CRO or CCustomerO, whom is responsible for net new and churn in the same breadth.

    *Unbreakable Early Stage Lifecycle Process- Lead to Deal is one thing, but it’s key that the transition/relationship between AE (Sales) and CSM is held accountable through some sort of system of record. One thing worked for me, is enforcement of knowledge transfer before a deal can be consider closed (they get their commission). As long as this process is well oiled, it should please both sides on a smooth introduction.

    * Define Churn in Comp Plan- The best way to enforce Sales to do things of course is through direct accountability of churn/upsell as shown in comp plans. Confusion on who owns what is a common growing pain I have seen with early stage start ups, because the Sales entity is so intent on driving Net New figures to the Board and cross sell/up sell option doesnt typically exist yet (or will come in year 2 of the lifecycle). If your business has upsell & repeat business component (SaaS), work in direct accountability for churn into your comp plans. Also, dont assume everyone knows how to sell SaaS.

    *Internal Education on the above- You have to make the car run right if you want to go 150mph. Dont ignore the small stuff. Small things lead to larger things… there is a reason why these sayings exist. Define rules on the above mentioned and make it clear… what happens when an AE leaves to an existing recurring contract? what happens when a CSM discovered an upsell? What happens in comp plan for a free extension or long contract re-negotiation? Who owns the ARR after the VP sales an executive deal? What incentivizes a customer that refers a new customer? What discounting can be done on the first year churn (68% of SaaS churn) vs. 2nd year? Always ensure the team understands accountability (how to work with each other) in specifics situations of the lifecycle. I am confident this can effect >5% of sales revenue in SaaS.

    • Ellis

      Great feedback Jeremy! I think it’s super important to have even the smallest processes defined as mentioned in your 4th point on internal education. I hope more companies will take the time to adopt this and stamp out future headaches and misunderstandings among the two teams.

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