Customer Success: Who Should Handle Upsells?

One of the great Customer Success questions – regardless of how many answers are given or by whom – that refuses to ever actually be answered is who should handle upsells… sales or Customer Success.

This is my attempt to definitively answer this question.

For context, on Friday, May 19, 2017, I did a Customer Success Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Facebook live. It was awesome. The video is embedded below and below that is the transcript (edited for better readability) that answers the question.

Should Sales or Customer Success handle Upsells?

I was pulled into a conversation on Twitter the other day. You can follow me on Twitter. I often rant there about Customer Success stuff. You can follow me @lincolnmurphy.

Somebody posted a video and said, “This company has their salespeople handle upsells and Lincoln Murphy says that you shouldn’t have your salespeople handle upsells.” I went and watched the video and I’m like … I didn’t really want to comment on anything, but because they pulled me into it, I thought I would.

The video made me sad, actually, made me feel bad for not only the person that was in the video, but the customers of the company this person works for. Because this person had a very, very antiquated view of Customer Success.

They said things like, “We don’t want our Customer Success people handling upsells, because they shouldn’t be hounding our customers for dollars. That’s sales job”. And I’m like, “No, that’s not anybody’s job!”

Nobody should be hounding your customers for money. That’s such a bad view.

And the reason I say this is antiquated is, we get this idea of Customer Success having this trusted relationship with the customer and that if we ask the customer to buy more, taking upsell, that somehow that’s gonna hurt trustworthy customers. And, because of that, you know, let’s go ahead and let the sales organization do that.

I don’t understand that.

Sales shouldn’t be doing things that hurt trust with customers. Asking the customer to buy more shouldn’t be something that hurts trust with customers because you have to understand that expansion – which includes upsells as well as renewal is part of the customer’s ever-evolving journey towards their Desired Outcome.

Our customers are always changing. They’re always growing. In order for our customers to achieve that Desired Outcome: their required outcome, the business outcome that they’re looking for, plus the way that is appropriate for them. In order to do that, they’re probably going to have to buy more from us right? They’re gonna have to add capacity. They’re gonna have to take add-ons. They’re gonna have to buy services. Just to sort of stay with them as they grow.

That’s Customer Success.

And if you have Customer Success Managers (CSM) that don’t want to sell, that’s a way to get them to buy into this concept. Because it’s true. If you want to make your customers successful, they’re gonna have to renew. They’re going to have to buy more. That’s part of the journey towards the Desired Outcome. You know, we think of a one year contract, we think of a month to month contract, really. A month to month subscription agreement.

We think of this as being somewhat meaningful to you know, between us and the customer. But the reality is, this is some arbitrary time box that we created. It’s just the financial relationship that says every year, you’re gonna pay us this much. And, you know, we’ll renew it and renegotiate the terms or whatever. Or every month we’re gonna charge your credit card this much.

That has absolutely nothing to do with success, right? So we need to stop thinking about success as being tied to this arbitrary time box. We need to think about success as being something that occurs really with the customer on their own cadence. Right? Customers achieve success on their own cadence on their own timeframe. And, that may or may not fit within this nice little contract or this nice little subscription that we have of you.

So, in order to get them to achieve their Desired Outcome, in order to achieve that required outcome that they have in the way they need to achieve it within their Appropriate Experience. They’re going to have to buy more over time. That’s just reality.

So, that’s what makes our customers successful. And if you’re thinking about it in some way of like, “Well, I don’t want to hound our customers for money,” because you’re thinking about trying, that upsells are really us shoving product and services onto our customers that really don’t need it. Well, you shouldn’t be doing that. That’s not what expansion should be in a Customer Success-driven company. Okay?

So I just kind of wanted to address that. Because they’re a lot of people out there that call themselves Customer Success leaders that have really old antiquated views of what Customer Success is. So, this discipline that they’re needing, they probably shouldn’t be until they can sort of change their understanding of Customer Success.

And yeah, Customer Success being something that really, you know, is five or six years old in terms of maturity. But even that, if you’re looking at it as what you learn five or six or three years ago, things have evolved. Things are changing. You gotta stay current on this stuff. And that’s why I’m doing this today.

About Lincoln Murphy

I am a Customer Success Consultant focused on Customer Success-driven Growth. I wrote the Customer Success book which you can buy at Amazon. If you need help applying Customer Success-driven Growth principles in your company or would like me to speak at your event, please contact me. Also, connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.


  1. Hello Licoln, many thanks for this article!
    But it seems that, in order to do upsells, the customer should first change his way of thinking regarding money, right?
    My fear, as a CSM, is not to discuss about how to get my clients to the next level, but to start speaking about negociation. It is not a “bad” role but it can break the relationship of trust.
    What is your opinion about it?

    • There may be cultural issues that require CSPs – or companies in general – in a certain region to approach upsells differently.

      That said, I’d challenge ever having transparent conversations as hurting trust. It may be uncomfortable for you, something you don’t want to do, etc. and you may be projecting those feelings onto the process or even onto your customers, but it’s unlikely (see cultural note above, though) being open and honest with customers will ever hurt trust.

  2. Hey Lincoln:

    Good stuff as always.

    IMHO, this question of Customer Success selling should be viewed from the customer’s perspective, not ours. Psychologists say a key trust factor is benevolence, defined as genuine caring and commitment to shared goals. Unfortunately, salespeople are not always benevolent. Customers know this, and many perceive a limit to a salesperson’s trustworthiness, whether it’s earned or not. At simPRO, we train CSMs to uncover leads and hand them to Sales unless the customer prefers otherwise. In that way we deliberately “separate church and state” in the minds of customers and in our own employees. We don’t see ourselves in the business of changing entrenched biases, only operating in anticipation of their existence. Just my $0.02.

    By the way, are you coming to Colorado anytime soon? It would be great to have you talk again at a Colorado Customer Success Meetup–your fans keep asking about you!

    • At Sixteen Ventures, we help companies grow efficiently and what I said in this post is how we make that work.

      I’m at least as well versed in consumer psychology as anyone else who has read books on the subject, and in my opinion it’s not who handles the sale, but how it’s handled that hurts trust.

  3. Mrinal Srivastava says:

    Hi Lincoln,
    Another great article. My doubt is what is right time to pitch for upsell. I work in service industry(IT) and being working as CSL I am more involved in day to day activities and working towards timely deliveries with quality and all. I am new in this role and learning lot from you. My challenge is should I wait to show some good results (big milestones) and talk about new things or in day to day interactions or weekly interactions as well I can talk about new services and opportunities.

    This confusion is mainly because my primary role is to achieve Desired Outcome for customer but when to overlap it with sells. So it don’t give an impression of over selling.

    Mrinal Srivastava

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