ArticleNovember 16, 2016
CSQLs: A Sneaky-Good Way to Team Up with Sales and Get a ‘Seat at the Table’ Image

CSQLs: A Sneaky-Good Way to Team Up with Sales and Get a ‘Seat at the Table’

By Romeo Leon

No department is an island, certainly not Customer Success. It’s essential to find ways to add value to all parts of the organization whether it be Product, Sales, or Marketing in order to truly become a customer-centric organization. So how do you ensure the transferability of value across your organizations without giving up operational control?

Making allies in Sales

In a recent Gainsight CCO event, I heard people wanting “veto power,” or a “seat at the table” when it comes to Sales. But is this really the best option? This approach makes the relationship with Sales unnecessarily combative rather than collaborative. Which, if collaboration is your goal, could kill any chances of having an ally in Sales.


So how can you make Sales an ally? You do it by finding ways to create leads that are highly qualified. It’s true, in the SaaS world this usually falls on Marketing’s shoulders as a demand generation function. In a mature organization however, this function should be expanded to the Customer Success team. Customer Success should formalize a process to identify highly qualified leads that Sales can close from an upsell/cross-sell perspective.

At CrowdFlower, while Customer Success doesn’t own upsells, we inherently believe that when customers experience success, it leads to good results when it comes to renewal outcomes and expansion through upsell or cross-sell. Therefore, Customer Success Managers have a heck of a lot to do with an upsell, no question.

We’ve had a tremendous success working with Sales on expanding accounts. Upsells have generated a significant amount of net new revenue. They’ve also had a very high close rate—80% and above—which is tremendous. If you’re an Account Executive, why wouldn’t you want to work on upsells?

CSQLs for the win

We’ve also developed a process around identifying upsell opportunities for Sales. These are known as a Customer Success Qualified Leads (CSQLs).

Simply put, a CSQL is similar to a Marketing organization’s Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). It is a vetted lead that CSMs introduce to AEs on the Sales team. CSQLs can be:

  • Expansion opportunities to existing customers.
  • Expansion opportunities to other teams introed by existing customers.
  • Referrals from former customers. These are new sales deals from customers that leave and join other companies. Typically we’ve seen these customers contact their original CSM to re-engage.


CSQLs are uniquely valuable in that they deliver four main pieces of added information that help raise the close rate and can speed the process:

  • Usage Data: These data points identify customers with high utilization of their subscription. At CrowdFlower, we track this by the amount of rows or units run through our platform that collect human judgements or machine predictions.
  • Strong Customer Champions: CSQLs provide critical insight into the state of your relationship with key customer stakeholders and decision makers.
  • Customer is Deriving Significant Value: During EBRs, your CSMs are able validate that customers are getting value from your solution. They know how the customer quantifies this value and whether they are on track to achieve their goals. For example, if an e-commerce customer is using CrowdFlower for search relevance tuning, we can understand and communicate how we helped them achieve more conversions, and therefore increased revenue for their business.
  • Expressed Need for Additional Use Cases: How do you know if a customer is hungry for more products, services, or licenses? They’ll tell you! During EBRs or check ins, has the customer expressed interest in using your platform for other use cases? If they don’t bring it up themselves, you should ask.

Swim lanes

It’s important that roles and responsibilities are well defined between Customer Success and Sales when it comes to CSQLs to prevent stepping over each other’s toes. This needs to have the support of the Sales leadership.

Once a CSQL is identified, discuss specifics with the AE to ensure you are doing a handoff. Ideally, you’ll have a governance process around this. At CrowdFlower, we have bi-weekly syncs with Sales to discuss new deals to expect, the status of customers being onboarded, renewal strategy for high value customers, and, of course, upsell opportunities.

The CSM should not be in a position to identify the value for the upsell or cross-sell opportunity. However, it is the CSMs responsibility to ensure the AE has all the information required to close the opportunity and drive it.

Track your results

Just as important as infusing actionable data into your processes is vigorously benchmarking the data coming out of them. Do cross-functional quarterly retrospectives. Track actuals against goals. Assess the results and iterate as necessary. Oh, and one more thing: celebrate wins publicly! In most companies, Customer Success doesn’t have the same competitive tradition as Sales. CSMs that facilitate expansion should get just as many accolades as AEs who close.

There you have it. Leveraging CSQLs could be an assured path to building a strong partnership with Sales, and they’re vital to the success of any company. Create an environment of collaboration and not conflict. It all starts with building out an effective process to track CSQLs tailored to your Business Operations and Customer Success team goals. Define cross-functional roles and responsibilities by defining and sticking to your swim lanes. That way, you’ll reduce the possibility of “stepping over” each other.

And if you find yourself continually battling with Sales and wanting to veto a deal, you need to find a different approach. The key is to continually add value and more importantly, demonstrate it. If you do, I believe you’ll get what you ultimately want: a seat at the table and even veto power. How about that?!

Picture of Romeo Leon
Romeo Leon VP of Customer Success, CrowdFlower VP of Customer Success, CrowdFlower
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  1. Jessica
    Sep 20th, 2017Reply

    Are your CSMs incented on CSQLs? For example, are they expected to create a certain number based on their book of business? How have you ensured adoption of this process?