The Bond Between Customer Success and Sales

Customer Success and Sales. Different skills, different personalities, SaaS companies hope these teams just get along.

This generalization is somewhat true; successful salespeople are usually more Wolf of Wall Street than happiness hero.

But the assumption is just not true.

First, just as different sales cycles require different sales skills – customer success roles vary widely and require different skills. For instance, ‘firefighter’ CSMs are focused on customer support where other CSMs focus on account expansion and quotas.

Secondly, customer success needs to be an accepted company philosophy for it be effective – deeming these roles incompatible undercuts that goal.


Once you’ve accepted that sales and success can and should work together, here’s how teams can strengthen their ultimate bond: revenue.


What Success Can Learn From Sales

Data tracking allows customer success teams to run similar campaigns. For instance, Mark Roberge explained how Hubspot identified three triggers during onboarding that indicated an upsell opportunity. Customers who performed these events were contacted, qualified, and pitched.

Tracking everything like a sales campaign allows for the effort to be reviewed and optimized.

It also allows managers to evaluate each reps performance and make adjustments, just as sales leaders have done for years.  

Mike Provenzano, VP of Customer Success at InsightSquared, believes there is strong connection between the roles,

“My opinion is that some of the best customer success people are former salespeople,” Provenzano said. “Customer success is selling, but it’s more selling ideas than selling a product…Customer success done right is far more similar to sales than most realize.”

And selling ideas has real value. The 2016 Pacific Crest SaaS Survey found the average CAC ratio per $1 of upsells is less than half of the CAC for new customers.


What Sales Can Learn From Success

Customer success would like sales to learn many things e.g. care about the customer, not the quota, don’t exaggerate expectations, value the customer handoff, etc.

Not possible.

Sales teams work on quotas and need to do what is in the best interest of themselves and their career. However, there is one principle that can be ingrained company-wide and championed by sales and success: Identifying bad fit customers.  


Customer success should identify bad fit customers


The key word is “identify.” Any guideline that sounds like “Don’t Sell” would be scoffed at by top sales reps and challenged by sales directors. But identifying bad fit customers is beneficial in a few ways.

  • Established collaboration – As bad fit customers are identified, sales and success teams can meet and determine the best solution. Maybe the CSM is confident that the prospect will be successful if they get special attention during onboarding. Or maybe it’s a lost cause.
  • Cross-department learnings – If the prospect is a lost cause, each team has a takeaway. Sales can review their pipeline for other bad fit candidates, marketing can look at messaging and audience personas, product teams can look at roadmap adjustments.  
  • Less churn, more revenue – Sales won’t be happy about losing a deal, but the result is less churn, more upsell opportunities and more revenue. All of which ends up putting money back in their pocket.  


Create A New Bond: Onboarding

The tough part about sales and success collaboration is how different each SaaS company is. Sales people might get commission right away or after 90 days. CSMs might own the upsell process or hand it off to a sales rep. The handoff process could be one email or non-existent.

Yet, there is one thing that every single SaaS company shares in common: onboarding.  

The importance of good onboarding for fighting churn is well documented. It’s the perfect opportunity to bring sales and success together as co-owners so they are equally invested.


Customer Success and Sales Collaborate on Onboarding


Here’s how sales can fit into a traditional onboarding workflow:

  • Welcome email – The sales rep should be notified when the welcome email will be sent.  
  • First login – The onboarding flow upon login will be designed by success or others, but this can be part of the sales process, sales can describe to prospects exactly what will happen when they log in.
  • Product tutorial / Documentation – Another benefit that can be promoted during the sales process, the quality and availability of help material.
  • Educational emails – Collaborate so the educational emails are not redundant and language resembles sales material.
  • Follow-ups/Check-ins – If a customer is unresponsive or resists onboarding steps, the salesperson should make sure expectations are set correctly. Especially if the customer says, “Well, I was told by sales…” The CSM is powerless without direct assistance from sales.
  • Aha! moment – The TTV moment should be well known and a KPI for both parties.
  • Swag – If you offer any customer appreciation swag or messaging, make it a team effort to show continuity.

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