This article is part of our Perspectives in Customer Success series where top Success leaders share how they’re building, coaching, and scaling world-class teams.
It’s no secret: the Sales and Customer Success partnership is easy to botch.
Just look at the incentives—one team is held accountable for closing deals and making promises that can be backed up, and the other has to deliver on those promises. Problems between the two teams arise when Sales oversells the product or sets the wrong expectations with the customer, and Customer Success can’t deliver on it.
And while it’s easy to blame the Sales team, the fault isn’t all theirs. These problems tend to be symptoms of an underlying lack of communication and alignment between Sales and CS. And the onus is on the Customer Success team to repair and build a stronger partnership.
In theory, the Customer Success leader should only need to identify the main points of friction between Sales and Success and then work with their peers in Sales to resolve them. But in practice, it’s difficult to know where to start. So here are some of the most common “points” of friction I’ve seen or learned about, and my advice on how to fix them.
Point of Friction #1: Sales and Success aren’t aligned on the product’s benefits and use cases
You’ve heard this one before: Sales is either overselling the product or pitching use cases that don’t exist (at least not yet). The customer comes in with the wrong expectations.
The cause for this often comes down to differences in training. If Sales and CS have very different training programs, you’ll end up with two teams talking about the product in different ways. It ultimately creates a disjointed customer experience.
Fix this problem by first getting alignment at the top around what the product delivers for customers. Then you can ensure the training programs are hitting on the same points, and you can regularly reiterate those benefits and use cases in meetings and team channels.
To take this a step further, the CS leader can help get the two teams talking about the product in the same way by asking their own team members to attend the weekly Sales meetings, and vice versa. CSMs will get a better understanding of how Sales reps are selling the product; Sales reps will learn more about everything involved in delivering the product.
At different points in my career, I’ve made it a requirement that someone from CS go to Sales meetings. It’s a seemingly small move but it makes a difference. It builds trust from Sales reps by simply having someone from Success in the room, and it also helps CSMs understand how the product is sold so they know what matters to customers earlier in the process.
- Get alignment at the top on what exactly the product delivers for customers.
- Make sure those decisions are incorporated in Sales and CS training.
- Ask team members in CS to attend the Sales weekly meetings and vice versa. (And make sure it’s not always the same CSMs—don’t create single-threaded relationships between CS and Sales internally).
Point of Friction #2: There’s not a clear understanding of what it takes to onboard a customer
If Sales tells a customer it’ll take 30 days to get set up and it actually takes 60, you can imagine what the customer experience is like. Success needs to clearly share what is involved in implementing the product and onboarding the customer.
Here’s what to get clear on:
- The roles required to get customers setup (technical people, project managers, etc.)
- How long it typically takes for different product implementations,
- What level of effort the customer needs to put in to get fully set up,
- And anything else that’s specific to your product that the Success team repeatedly sees customers be surprised about.
Success should also prepare Sales to answer questions around Time to First Value, key milestones, and the types of roles the point of contact needs to bring in to have successful adoption of the product.
You can create a presentation slide or one-pager for Sales that includes this information, you can bring these points up in meetings, and you can listen to sales calls to make sure the Sales team is clear on what goes into onboarding a customer. Whatever you do, it’s important the CS leader does regular check-ins on this (it’s not one-and-done).
- Prepare Sales with messaging on what exactly is involved in implementing the product. Share this as a one-pager or as a slide for their decks.
Point of Friction #3: Customers aren’t aware of the effort they need to put in to be successful with the product
In almost every company I’ve worked for I’ve put together a one-pager that defines what the CSM is responsible for and what the client is responsible for. It’s important to provide this doc to Sales so they’re able to set clear expectations around how long it takes to implement the product, what type of help the customer can expect from your company, and what activities the customer needs to do on their own to be successful with the product.
Here are some other questions to answer in that doc that’ll help everyone get clear on what’s involved in getting set up and being successful with the product:
- Is the product actually turnkey? Does there need to be a technical person involved?
- What can customers expect from their CSM?
- What can the customer do for themselves to get up and running? Are there self-service resources?
- What all does the customer need to do to be able to get what they want out of the product?
- Create a one-pager that clearly outlines what the CSM is responsible for and what the customer is responsible for in order to get onboarded and be successful with the product.
- Create multiple versions of this for different customer segments if necessary.
Point of Friction #4: Sales isn’t setting customer expectations about how much CSM time customers get
Some customers are more time-consuming than others. Of course, Customer Success is responsible for segmenting the different experiences customers get which helps create some boundaries to help the team stay efficient. But they’re also responsible for making sure Sales is able to 1. understand how their deals map into the appropriate segments, and 2. communicate to the customer what type of support they will receive.
Like the other PoF’s I’ve named, this one takes regular communication to make sure Sales is in-tune with Customer Success’s engagement models. But one tactic I’d note that I’ve seen work is this: Do a session on this in the Sales team kick-off if your company has one. Map out the engagement models and explain the levels of support provided for each, and share that in a presentation to the entire Sales org—and do it again at every Sales summit.
- Train Sales on your customer segments and provide messaging to talk about the level of support customers get in each segment.
- Make sure CS is part of Sales kickoffs (always). And consider including “segmentation” as a session each year.
Point of Friction #5: There’s missing information about important people within customer accounts
By the time Success is introduced to a customer, Sales has probably built relationships with a handful of people within the organization that have helped them move the deal forward. Sales and Success need to communicate about who the executive sponsor is, and whether Sales has built relationships with the buyer, champions, or potential power users.
I’ve seen examples where Sales sold to an executive sponsor, and the CSM never speaks to that sponsor or invites them to important kickoff or milestone meetings. Beyond posing risk to that account by not engaging with important contacts, you can also end up with a product delivery that wasn’t what the executive sponsor wanted when the product was purchased.
It’s critical for the Sales leader and Success leader to collaborate on creating a customer journey that requires the sponsor to be part of the experience after they sign the dotted line. It’s also critical that Sales and Customer Success have a way of tracking and keeping tabs on important contacts within accounts.
- Create a customer journey with your peer in Sales that requires the executive sponsor (and any other important roles in the purchasing process) to be part of the experience post-sale.
- Create a system for tracking all contacts and their significance in the purchasing process.
Point of Friction #6: Success is brought in too late to the sales cycle
The industry is starting to normalize the practice of introducing Customer Success to the customer before the deal is closed. While there are different moments in the customer journey where it makes sense to bring on CS, there’s a range of benefits from bringing on CS earlier:
It helps the customer understand what the experience will be like post-sale, which can boost their confidence in buying the product.
It helps the CS team member better understand the customer’s existing processes and technology, and their goals with the product, so the customer isn’t repeating themselves post-sale and can get value out of the product faster.
It also reduces the level of communication required between Sales and CS about an account. That’s especially helpful for teams experiencing PoF #5.
With all of that said, here’s a note of caution for CS leaders: the practice of bringing in CSMs or sales engineers before the deal is done should be supplemental to the work Sales is doing to close the account. Your team should not be spending their time selling the product. So if you run into that issue, you’ll want to clearly define what Sales and CS are each responsible for and make sure Sales has the messaging they need to introduce the CS person and explain why they’re on the call.
- Map out the moments where CS should be brought into the sales cycle by customer segments. (High-touch customers should have CS brought in early in the sales cycle, for example.)
- Create messaging for Sales to position CS when they’re introduced.
- Check-in with CSMs to be sure they’re not spending too much time in the sales cycle.
A final note: Reporting to Sales won’t fix these issues
One of the justifications for having the Customer Success organization live within the Sales organization is to help reduce all the points of friction I’ve mentioned. But I have a problem with the head of CS reporting to the head of Sales. Here’s why: if you are a sales leader, where will you put the majority of your efforts each month?
My bet is it will be on landing new logos. Not retaining them, not making sure customers are successful with the product—ultimately the average Sales leader’s attention is going to go towards what they know how to do best, which is to acquire new business. It makes Customer Success a second-class citizen, and it signals that the CEO is not fully invested in protecting and growing its customer base.
What’s worse is that simply having the CS organization report in Sales doesn’t fix these problems by itself. These problems still exist, but without a CS leader advocating for their organization at the executive level, there’s a chance the problems will go unaddressed.
So, here’s a summary of my advice for strengthening the relationship between Sales and Customer Success:
- Make sure the training Sales and CS hires get aren’t completely different. The two training programs need to share the same messaging about how customers use the product, how the product works, what it takes to get the most out of the product, and more.
- Ask CS team members to attend the weekly Sales meetings and vice versa. This will instill a regular cadence of communication, and ideally, the teams will learn from each others’ experiences.
- Help Sales understand what it takes to implement the product with different types of customers—in terms of time from the customer, the technical details, and everyone that needs to be involved.
- Create a one-pager that defines what the CSM is responsible for and what the customer is responsible for in getting set up and being successful with the product.
- Host or Sponsor regular training and present at the Sales kickoff about your engagement models. The Sales team needs to understand where their accounts will fit, and they need to be able to talk about the type of support the customer will receive post-sale.
- Create a customer journey that requires important roles like the executive sponsor to be part of the experience after the deal is won. And make sure Sales and CS have a way of tracking and passing off important roles within each account.
- Bring CS into the sales cycle before the deal is closed, but be sure that it’s supplemental to the Sales reps’ work and doesn’t consume a significant amount of your team’s time.
Emilia D’Anzica is the Founder and CEO at GrowthMolecules, a consulting firm that helps companies build scalable customer success and customer marketing programs. Learn more about her consulting services here.
Prior to founding Growth Molecules, Emilia was the Chief Customer Officer at Copper and the VP - Customer Engagement at WalkMe.