Most people understand the individual goals of sales and customer success (CS) teams. But when it comes to how these two team’s operations intersect—it can quickly become confusing. Aligning sales and customer success is no easy task. More often than not, sales and customer success operate as two separate entities, each with different functions and goals. But when sales and customer success work together as one cohesive team everyone can benefit.
Many underestimate the important role customer success plays in generating revenue. In fact, venture capitalist and SaaS sales expert Jason Lemkin estimates that 90% of revenue is generated from customer success operations. And according to some models, only 5-30% of the total value of a deal comes from the initial sale, while 70-95% of the lifetime value comes after the initial sale. How does customer success generate revenues? By keeping churn low and mapping customer journeys to ensure maximum renewals, upsells, and expansions.
With the above in mind, it becomes clear that customer success plays a crucial role in generating revenue. The problem is, many sales teams aren’t conscious of the important role CS plays in maximizing the lifetime value of their clients. This leads to disconnect between the sales and CS teams. Sales and CS alignment can mean the difference between maximizing revenues and falling short.
In this guide I’ll explore the challenges of aligning sales and CS teams and provide strategies to overcome these obstacles. I’ll also provide four effective strategies for uniting your sales and CS teams under a common goal and list some ways sales and CS teams can help each other.
There are many benefits to aligning your sales and CS teams including:
When sales and CS work together customers have a better experience overall. This means happier customers. And happier customers leads to more brand advocates, sales references, and referrals.
When sales and CS work together onboarding new customers becomes a smoother process.
When sales and CS work together to map strategic buyer journeys CS can increase the LTV of customers through upsells, cross-sales, and expansions.
When sales and CS work together to attract, onboard, and grow best-fit customers, churn drops.
Lower churn + higher revenues = growth. When sales and CS work together, everyone wins.
Sales and CS benefit in many ways when they get along. But, there are some challenges getting in the way of true collaboration.
The foundation for the conflict between CS and sales is that each team has a completely different end goal. For sales, their number one concern is to hit quota, which they achieve by closing new business. On the contrary, CS’s ultimate goal is keep churn low, which they achieve by retaining current customers. At times, these goals can work against each other. The sales team may be under pressure to meet challenging quotas, so they close less-than-ideal customers to meet their numbers. This causes conflicts with CS when they have to commit additional resources to support customers who aren’t a great fit. This quickly devolves into a dysfunctional system.
Lack of Communication
Often a lack of communication can cause problems between Sales and CS teams. CS might become frustrated with the difficult customers sales sends them. On the flip side, sales might be unaware that the customers they’re sending aren’t the best fit. Other times, sales might pass customers onto CS without giving CS sufficient information to ensure a smooth onboarding process. Usually dysfunctional sales and CS teams do not have a clear system of communication or processes set up.
Another obstacle causing strain between sales and CS is misunderstanding the important role each team plays in the other’s success. Sales reps may be unaware of the important role CS plays in their ability to close upgrades/expansions and generate a higher LTV for clients. On the other hand, CS may be unaware that systemically collaborating with sales can result in a smoother onboarding process and happier customers.
What exactly does it mean to be “aligned”?
Teams that are “aligned” have a common purpose they’re working towards. Their ultimate goal is the same. Most sales and CS teams aren’t aligned because sale’s goal is to hit quota and CS’s goal is to keep churn low. However, uniting these two team under one common goal can be the ultimate remedy to align a disjointed team. When the teams are united under a common goal they’ll have the drive and incentive to work together to achieve that goal.
Steps You Can Take to Align Sales and CS
Develop a Customer-Centric Culture
A customer-centric approach is one that focuses on providing a positive customer experience both at the point of sale and post-sale. Uniting sales and CS under the common goal of providing a superior customer experience is a great way to overcome the opposing goals of these teams.
Establishing buy-in is an essential component of aligning your sales and CS teams. This includes buy-in at all levels of the organization. If upper management doesn’t understand the compelling benefits to aligning sales and CS, it’s less likely these changes will be implemented. All levels of the organization, including sales and CS leaders, must understand the benefits to aligning theirs teams toward a customer-centric culture. Corporate culture change is more likely to be accepted if it comes from the top down.
Create an Ideal Customer Profile
Having a clear ideal customer profile (ICP) is key to combating the communication breakdown between sales and CS. An ICP is a pre-defined set of demographic, technographic, and situational characterics which indicate a prospect will receive the maximum value from your product. Think of an ICP as a guide to who your best-fit customers would be. A clearly defined ICP can help sales target and sell to best-fit customers so CS can spend less time on support and more time on upsells/expansions.
When creating an ideal customer profile, CS and sales should decide on traits together since they both have valuable insight into the type of customers that succeed with the product. You should decide on:
- Demographic traits: industry, location, company size, revenue, or growth trends.
- Technographic traits: Marketo, CRM, Buffer, SEO optimization, Salesforce, HubSpot, etc.
- Sales triggers: company expansion, company relocation, new product, hiring, mergers/acquisitions, additional funding, press coverage, good or bad financial quarter, or increase in expenses.
Here is an example ICP:
Source: Hyde Park Angels Blog
When creating an ICP it’s also important to identify disqualifying traits. These type of traits indicate a customer is not a good fit, will struggle through onboarding, require extensive support, and most likely churn. CS should have a good feel for which traits would disqualify a potential customer. Deciding on disqualifying traits along with the ICP can lead to even smoother collaboration between sales and CS.
Once you’ve created a solid ICP and put it in writing, communicate it across the entire sales and CS teams. This ensures everyone is on the same page and understands the importance and benefits to having an ICP guide your sales and CS activities.
Open Up Lines of Communication
To avoid miscommunication between sales and CS it’s important to outline processes in detail. Consider asking your teams the following questions:
- At what point of the sales process should CS be brought into the conversation?
- What information does CS need from sales to ensure the smoothest onboarding possible?
- What information at the point of sale can CS use to determine a customer’s need for expansion/upgrades? How can sales help CS map a customer’s lifetime journey?
- At what point should sales be brought back into the conversation to handle upgrades, cross-sales, upsells, or expansions?
Here are some other systems to put in place to ensure smooth operations between sales and CS:
- Ensure sales is taking detailed notes throughout the sales process, not just the typical data points entered in the CRM.
- Require sales reps to evaluate a prospect’s chance for success.
- Have a regular set meeting between sales and CS.
- Have CS share a customer success story once per week during regular meetings.
How can CS help sales?
Here are some best practices CS professionals can keep in mind to facilitate the work of the sales team:
- Collect references/testimonials from successful customers
- Connect prospects with successful current customers
- Pass along key use case insights from discussions with users
- Share compelling customer success stories for sales reps to leverage
How can sales help CS?
Here are some best practices sales professionals can keep in mind to facilitate the work of the CS team:
- Identify and sell to prospects with a clear success case (and who match your ICP)
- Avoid signing customers who might be a bad fit
- Take detailed notes throughout the sales process, providing CS with key insights into what triggered the decision to buy
- Loop CS into the sales process at an appropriate point to ensure smooth onboarding
- Sales and CS teams are often at odds because they have different end goals.
- When sales and CS work together everyone benefits—churn rate drops, revenues increase, and customers are happier.
- In order to unite sales and CS instill a common goal like providing a superior customer experience.
- Establishing organizational buy-in, creating an ideal customer profile, and opening up clear lines are communication are all ways to break down barriers between sales and CS.
- CS can help sales by gathering references/testimonials, providing insightful feedback into product use-cases, and discussing customer success stories.
- Sales can help CS by only signing customers with a defined success case, filling them in on all the important details during the sales process, and handing off customers for a smooth onboarding process.
Aligning sales and CS teams isn’t an easy task, but by uniting them under the common goal of providing an exceptional customer experience, it’s possible.
About the Author
Carolyn Kick is the Marketing Manager at RepIQ. RepIQ’s prospect database and lead generation tools help salespeople discover the right customers for their business.