According to Bill Thrash, SVP of Customer Success at Critical Start, customer success has grown from a niche practice to a culture driver in organizations.
Critical to that culture, and the effectiveness of customer success, is the CS team’s relationship with sales. For SaaS-modeled businesses, sales and customer success have become two things organizations can’t live without. It’s become essential for those two teams to work together to deliver a seamless customer experience for those individuals moving from prospect status to customer status.
Operationalizing the sales to customers success handoff was a topic Tim Van Lew from Gainsight recently tackled with Bill in a recent session of the Catapult webinar series. They highlighted two big benefits to operationalizing that process.
Automated Success Plans That Scale
The most beneficial thing to a customer success team in the sales to CS handoff is when all the technologies at play enrich data to give the customer success team the total picture of the customer. And, the data breadcrumbs offering customer insight begin during the pre-sales process.
From the first point of contact with a prospect, there is data created that can help drive the sales process, and eventually customer success interactions. The highest priority piece of information is to understand the buyer’s objective(s) in buying your product or service. That insight needs to be captured and confirmed by sales development reps and account executives. That becomes a key focus of how you will eventually support them with customer success.
Even before that first sales call, data about the content a customer touches and webinars they join, provides foundational visibility into what the prospective customer is interested in achieving with your solution. Sales and CS teams can compare that to input received during the buying process. While a buyer may show interest in a certain module or feature set, it may not have ended up in their initial contract. And, moving the customer toward and into that feature can be a goal over time between internal teams.
Technology systems need to be set up to capture all this insight and interaction into organized attributes which can then get pushed automatically into a specific success plan for a particular customer. Success plans tie all customer team members into one place to promote collaboration and alignment. Over time, they allow everyone involved to monitor progress and deliver a successful customer experience.
The success plan, formed by accurate data, should use the primary business objective to identify other areas of value that reinforce achieving that business objective. For sales that can mean referenceable customers and renewals. For CSMs, it means they are able to drive value conversations instead of issue escalations.
While technology and automation create efficiency and scale, it’s also important to limit tool sprawl. Tools and technology are part of the solution, but you’ll find greater success maximizing fewer tools at the start.
Maintaining a Human Experience For The Customer
While technology plays an important role in the collaboration between sales and customer success, companies also need to work to keep the human touch in their hand-off and digital touch steps. Human intervention, by the right people and at the right moment, will create an experience for the customer that quickly connects them to the outcomes they want to achieve with your solution.
The customer success team plays three crucial roles in the customer experience. Each of those roles comes into play during the sales to customer success hand-off:
- Voice of the Customer: At times, it can make sense to pull customer success into the sales process. Some prospects want to know what their experience as a customer will be like. Customer success can help sales record these areas of interest (or concern) and then cater the customer success motions to the needs of that customer. How custom or configured that high-touch experience gets will vary by business. But, when CS is brought into the process, it can help determine what insight is meaningful to bridging the experience between sales, implementation, and beyond.
- Chaperone: Customer success teams should focus on helping customers stay oriented to their business objective with your product. Having the right visibility to accurate information enables that to be accomplished. For example, if a CSM sees a task or project creeping outside a set threshold, they can proactively work with your customer and bring them solutions to get them back on track.
- Advocate: Properly aggregated data can give you a view into customer risk. Regardless of how organized the hand-off between sales and CS can be, unknowns crop up. Being able to identify them quickly, and knowing what to do as a result helps everyone involved in the customer on your internal team know exactly what to do. For example, if there is emerging negative sentiment among an executive sponsor, everyone will be in the know, and CTAs can be triggered to create action while avoiding a bunch of pre-calls and communication threads about what is going on. Direct escalation paths to management can also be created, depending on the severity of the risk.
Getting Started With The Sales To Customer Success Handoff
There are a lot of important factors when considering how to streamline the internal flow of information that creates an effective experience in the early days of the customer lifecycle. Bill’s number one piece of advice when creating an MVP version of the process? Know where your sources of truth are and stick to them.
For many organizations, the most important source of truth is CRM. The first step in partnering with sales is understanding when, where, and how they are inputting pertinent customer data into that system. It’s also important to know where that information will live beyond the sales process.
Getting CSMs out of email and Excel and into a system that can scale is the technology that resides on the other side of that handoff. Most importantly, with such a program using standardized technology, you can measure its efficacy and iterate as necessary. Remarkable things happen when those systems can push and pull data to keep everyone informed, focused, and rallying around the success of your customers.