The relationship between Sales and Customer Success is a lot like that of an old married couple: two teams with different needs and lots of opinions on what works best.
Almost every CS team has experienced some type of challenge when it comes to working with their sales counterparts. Even now, most Customer Success Managers still admit their number one obstacle is their relationship with sales, and specifically the handoff process from their Sales Executives.
I’m gonna address this issue from a different perspective - from the experience of a sales guy…
I know right?
What do salespeople know about the CS struggle? They don’t care about anything after their job is done, they just want to move on to the next deal and be done with it.
That’s... mostly true. I’ll admit, at times I’ve been the sales guy who leaves little to no insight for the CSM when handing off, who fails to leave notes in Salesforce and ultimately doesn’t set up the Customer Success team for, well, success.
And I often got away with it all because unfortunately sales gets all the glory. Our role is easily quantifiable, we generate revenue and are likely the largest source of revenue in the company. The things is….
Customer Success is the real MVP
When you take a step back and look at it from a high level, CS teams are the true heroes who don’t get the credit they deserve. Sales only owns a small portion of the relationship between a company and its customers - it’s customer success who really foster those relationships (not to mention turn them into long term revenue).
In fact, Adam O’Donnell, Co-founder and President at Successly.io has interviewed over 200 Customer Success leaders and found that customer onboarding is among the two biggest pain points for CS teams. He also makes a strong argument that Customer Success is the future of sales, and will become the most influential department in a company over the next five years and generate more new revenue than Sales.
However, sales and CS will continue to co-exist, and must find a way to work together, not against each other. As a sales guy who often sucked at elevating the success of my CS team, here is a breakdown of the areas where I could have been better, and where all CS teams can strengthen their relationship with sales.
When should CS get involved in a deal?
This is a big question and there are two schools of thought:
Option 1: CS should get involved after the SE closes the deal and it hits the 100% mark.
Option 2: CS should get involved before the close, some point between the 70 - 90% mark
So which one is it?
The answer is both - it really depends on the type of deal.
If your product or service has:
A small average deal size (less than $15K)
Quick sales cycles (avg. 30 - 60 days or less)
Quick implementations (self serve to less than a week)
Then Option 1 is your best friend. Smaller deals are all about volume, and SE’s often shift their immediate focus onto the next deal. They also have their own sales styles, and having CS involved can slow them down, lengthening the sales cycle (which in turn increases the cost of acquisition).
If it’s less than $15K, stay away.
But if your product or service has:
An average deal size of $15K+
Sales cycles of 90 days+
Implementations of 2-4 weeks or more
Then Option 2 is a better choice. These types of deals are often more consultative in the sales process, and having CS involved before the close can help the prospective customer feel more at ease.
The larger the deal, the sooner CS should join. Here’s a good rough goodline:
$15K deal - Join at 90%
$50-$99K - Join at 80%
$100K+ - Join at 70% mark
If you’re jumping in before the close, a great way to get involved is to put together a project plan outlining takeaways assigned to each stakeholder (SE, CS, client champion). This helps set solid expectations to hold each party accountable and can help solidify the deal for the customer and move it closer to closed won.
Let’s talk about handoffs...
The sales handoff is by far the biggest sticking point for CS teams. The problem with sales is that as soon a deal is closed and moved out of the pipeline, it’s like the moment you walk out of an exam after pulling an all night study session - you wipe it clean out of your mind.
But in order for the CSM to onboard and implement effectively (and to not look stupid in front of the customer), they need the right details about each deal to have a confident conversation about next steps.
There are two types of salespeople: those who take meticulous notes in their CRM for every deal, log every call, and track every email; and then there’s the rest of us 🙌.
At handoff time for the second group, the CSM does not have enough details and ends up chasing down the AE, often catching them off guard when they’re not mentally prepared to have a conversation about a specific deal.
And when the CSM finally does sit down with the AE, it’s a mad scramble to search the depths of our brains to recount details of the deal. In the end we can barely rub together two accurate details of the deal.
So rather than relying on perfect communication between Sales and CS, instilling some discipline in the process can help both teams focus on their own roles, and still ensure effective handoffs.
Here are some ways to help smoothen out this process:
This is an obvious one. Make a list of the important information that CS needs to know as they onboard a customer. Make sure both teams have a clarity on it. Keep it succinct and continuously refine it. You should have a good idea of what you need, but if not...
2. Choosing the right tools isn’t enough. You need to use them effectively
Salesforce is a powerful tool but if it’s not used properly it will fail you. If you have the ability, make the checklist fields in your CRM required before a deal can be moved to the Closed Won stage. That’s a great way to ensure the all the info needed is always detailed for the handoff before sales can mark their win (your sales team may hate this but they have to just suck it up). If you don’t have the ability to enforce this in your CRM, it’ll take more coaching on each deal to get the SE in this habit.
3. Hold bi-weekly Sales + CS Meetings
Use these meetings to go over challenges that have occurred in the handoff process. Have an agenda prior to meeting - have each team fill out a shared doc with their top concerns with one person presenting each concern. Simply opening up the meeting as a forum to share mishaps and mistakes will have both teams pointing fingers and running in circles without finding any real solutions.
Bi-weekly is the key here, not weekly. You need enough time to test your workflows to see what’s working and what’s not working, and weekly meetings happen too often for this.
It’s not you, it’s me. Wait, it is you…
Who should be in charge of communicating the handoff?
Should the AE send the handoff email to introduce the CSM? Should the CSM just step in and send the handoff to introduce themselves?
I’ve seen both situations, and flip flopped back and forth from them at different times in the same company.
From a sales perspective, we typically want the cleanest transition so we can continue on to the next deal. However it is necessary to be involved enough to show the customer they’re valued and now in good hands.
Other than specific one-off situations, I’m a firm believer in CS owning the handoff and kickoff call while keeping sales present simply for reference. At this stage the customer is signed and paying (or soon to be), and should have a vested interest in reading emails sent from anyone in the organization.
Having said that, it can still be challenging to get even newly acquired customers to open important emails that have details about scheduling the kickoff.
This gives them an opportunity to share their culture, and create a real human connection with their customer to surprise and delight them from the very first day.
Is this scalable?
Welcoming every new user or customer works well for certain teams and products, but can be harder for products that have hundreds or thousands of sign ups per day. In those situations, there is still room for a personalized approach by connecting with key accounts that are high in value.
For example, the team at Marvelapp use Bonjoro to send a video to enterprise customers as a more effective and efficient way to schedule kick off calls after a closed deal. Here’s how their process works:
When a deal hits the Closed Won stage in Salesforce, it triggers the new customer’s contact details to be sent directly into Bonjoro. From there a CSM selects the contact in Bonjoro, and easily records and sends a welcome video to personally introduce themselves and suggest booking a kickoff call At the end of the video there is a custom call to action button taking the customer to the CSM’s calendar where the customer can select a 15 minute time slot for the kickoff call.
This takes them only 30 seconds to record and is much quicker than crafting yet another tedious handoff email. Not to mention videos in emails get more opens, more views, and 3-4x more replies than text emails.
If it’s not broke, don’t fix it
There will be speed bumps and roadblocks on the journey to building a seamless relationship between Sales and CS. It’s important to keep in mind that if one deal didn’t hand off properly, you don’t need to revamp the entire system.
Think of it in terms of a sample size - take a step back and think about how often that particular problem or challenge occurs - there’s a good chance it’s a one off situation. Use these situations as training opportunities, but track them in a spreadsheet. When you come across problems that occur more frequently, then it’s time to think about how to implement a change to solve them.