Customer-centric Growth by Lincoln Murphy

Orchestrating Sales and Customer Success Alignment

orchestrating-sales-and-customer-success-alignmentIf you aren’t familiar with the concept of Customer Success yet, it’s when your customers achieve their Desired Outcome (what they need to achieve, the way they need to achieve it) through their interactions with your company.

Customer Success begins at the first interaction with prospects by your sales team, and continues across their entire lifecycle, and is required for scalable, repeatable Account Expansion.

Very often, Customer Success and Sales are thought to be on two different sides of the company, almost at odds.

But the best companies have Customer Success as their Operating Philosophy (the best of the best have Customer Success as their Operating Model), and they see that the Customer Success Management org and Sales are more similar than different, and when they bring them together, magical things (read: exponential growth) happen.

Let’s dig into this, shall we?

Sharing Sales-Accelerating Customer Intelligence

What’s the best way to understand the “voice of the customer?” Probably from the customer directly?

What part of the company interacts directly with the customer and can be their “voice” inside the company? Yep, Customer Success Management.

The best companies recognize that Customer Success Practitioners (CSPs) – those working directly with customers to proactively ensure their success – have a direct line into how their customers think and talk about their goals, and how customers are using their product to reach those goals.

In fact, they even have insights into the language they use and other aspects of customers’ culture, all of which can be invaluable in accelerating the sales process and positioning the prospects for success once they become customers.

The best companies also realize that during the sales cycle with a prospect, from first interaction by a Sales Development Rep (SDR) to when the Account Exec (AE) closes the sale, the customer is sharing information that can not only be useful in ensuring the customer is successful but in mapping out the account for expansion later on.

Beyond the identified Desired Outcome for their customer segment, understanding why they’re buying, what the catalyst was for them that made them seek out your solution, etc., the intel gathered during the sales cycle can be used to grow the customer over time.

The initial catalyst – the reason the customer decided they need your solution – doesn’t go away once they buy; in fact, it actually gets stronger once they’ve made that commitment. And sales communicating that catalyst to Customer Success not only sets the customer up for success but the company as well.

So it’s critical that you remember both Sales and the Customer Success Management organizations hold a treasure trove of useful intel on your customers that you can tap into grow new business sales and drive in-account expansion.

But you can’t just hope it happens. Introducing…

Enrichment: Orchestrated Intelligence Sharing

The best companies don’t just hope this type of alignment happens (because they know it won’t), so they work to orchestrate and operationalize the intel sharing between Sales and Customer Success Management (and marketing, product, execs, etc., too).

I call this process Enrichment because, well, we’re enriching the other parts of the company with the treasure that is customer intel. Calling it Enrichment instead of feedback or some other low-value term positions this as the super-valuable activity it is.

Sales, Marketing, Product, and Executives can all learn from Customer Success Management, but they won’t come to you asking for customer intel. If you’re in Customer Success Management, you need to proactively share this with the rest of the organization; probably on a more aggressive cadence than you’re initially comfortable with. I’d suggeaskinging for forgiveness rather than permission when it comes to Enriching the rest of the company.

Customer Success Management might ask Sales for better turnover of sales context, but without leadership intervention to ensure this happens – from education on why this is important to incentives/disincentives to motivate behavior – AEs may be less willing to do this than they should be.

But if you truly understand the value in Enrichment, you’ll make sure it happens, since…

We’re All In This Together

Now, on the surface, telling sales to NOT go after a specific type of customer would fly in the face of what drives a sales organization, but by giving sales a list of the characteristics of good and bad fit customers, we’re giving sales the intelligence they need to find customers who are ready, willing, and able to take action immediately, reducing the length of the sales cycle and allowing sales to hit their number this quarter.

And what’s great is that we’re hitting those short-term numbers in a way that – because they’re bringing in more customers with success potential – sets the company up for consistent victories in the long-term, which is often at odds with optimizing for short-term sales goals.


So let’s first explore…

How Customer Success can help Sales

Like I said above, the reality is, Sales is going to be less likely to help Customer Success Management at first, so those in the CSM org will have to take the first step.

These are not all of the ways Customer Success can help Sales, but, hopefully, this gets your brain moving in the right direction.

1. Help Sales close more deals this month or quarter

If you want Sales to trust you, don’t start the Enrichment process with all of the ways they screw things up for you! Gather good-fit Customer characteristics, successful use cases, terms and language the customers use and pass that to them on a consistent, frequent basis.

If you can help salespeople close more deals, and they’ll trust you forever.

2. Help them avoid signing bad-fit customers

Once salespeople trust that Customer Success Management is actually operating in their best interest, too, CSM can start getting sales to avoid signing bad fit customers

Gather bad-fit Customer characteristics, explain why they’re a bad fit, and explain the acute pain associated with closing bad-fit customers.

3. Tee-up future Account Expansion

In companies where the sales org – or even the initial salesperson – handles account expansion, this is critical.

“oh, and when you [achieve this success milestone] we’ll talk about [this add-on] as you’ll be ready for it then. You don’t need it now, but [“we’ll talk about it” or “I’ll introduce you to our {upsell person}, Susan”] when you’re ready.

When they hit that milestone, either talk to them about it or introduce them to the person responsible for upselling (dedicated account manager / expansion resource or the original salesperson).

4. Orchestrate Advocacy

References are a critical part of the sales process, but always asking the same customer for a reference is less-than-ideal

Asking customers to be references when they are on a positive Success Vector and have just hit a logical Success Milestone can drive a steady supply of super-valuable references for sales to leverage

But this isn’t a one-way street… time for a little quid pro quo.

How Sales can help Customer Success

Once Customer Success Management has the trust of Sales – or if the company actually has a strong CEO that has introduced Customer Success as the Operating Philosophy of the company and Sales trusts Customer Success organically – you can actually operationalize Enrichment from Sales to Customer Success, too.

Just like I said before, these are not all of the ways Sales can help Customer Success, but, hopefully, this gets your brain moving in the right direction.

1. Don’t Acquire Bad-fit Customers!

Acquiring customers that cannot achieve success in their relationship with you is the antithesis of Customer Success.

Bad-fit customers are a drain on resources, morale, and reputation in the market.

Bad-fit customers make it harder to acquire good-fit customers; the friction from negative market sentiment can dramatically increase sales cycles.

I actually have some pretty strong beliefs around this, including if you’re a CEO that allows your sales people to sign customers without Success Potential – those “bad fit customers” – you should fire your Customer Success Management org because you’re just setting them up for failure anyway!

(but probably don’t do that… just stop signing bad-fit customers!)

2. Manage expectations properly

Lay out clearly with the prospect what will happen in their first 30/60/90-days as a customer so they know what to expect.

Introduce the concept of Joint Accountability; “to be successful, this is what we’ll do to ensure your success, but this is what you’ll need to do.”

The seeds of churn are planted early … but so are the seeds of massive success. It’s up to you which you sow.

3. Introduce CSP during sales cycle

The Customer Success Practitioner (CSP) is the person (or type of person) the customer is going to be working with across their lifecycle; it’s good to get them acquainted early.

CSPs can usually ask questions salespeople (even sales engineers) can’t and the customer will answer

For high-value accounts, introduce a second CSP (“if Sam is out, you’ll talk to another highly-qualified Customer Success Executive like Mary.”)

In many cases – especially vertical-specific companies where a CSP may have domain experience – introducing the CSP earlier in the sales cycle can reduce time to close.

And of course, once the sale closes, the AE should be the one to set up the transition from Sales to the CSM org; even if they just set up the call, join for the first 10 minutes, say thank you, set expectations, make intros, and then jump off the call.

4. Transfer discovery (Enrichment!)

Don’t ring the “new sale” gong just to celebrate the new sale; use it as a signal for BDAs/SDRs, AEs, CSPs, ONBs (Onboarders), SIs (System Integrators), PS (Professional Services), etc. to gather to learn why the customer signed.

It’s easy to update the account in the CRM with the common data points; it’s another to transfer actual context learned by the AE during discovery to those handling the customer immediately post-sale.

The real catalyst for making the purchase is discovered during the sales cycle, and even though it doesn’t’ change (and may even get stronger!) once the prospect becomes a customer, yet it is very often not recorded or communicated by the AE to those taking over immediately post-sale.

The transition (here’s what I think about the term “handoff”) from Sales to Customer Success Management is a place to totally drop the ball with the customer, kill excitement, and hurt trust with the customer by having to ask the same questions again… don’t let this happen by transferring full discovery

Remember, the best companies have Customer Success as their Operating Philosophy (the best of the best have Customer Success as their Operating Model), and they see that the Customer Success Management org and Sales need to be aligned, ensuring our customers achieve their Desired Outcome and that as they evolve and grow, their relationship with us grows and evolves as well.

That’s Customer Success-driven Growth.

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