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Nail the Handoffs

By Lincoln Murphy

In the Customer Success world, the idea of handing-off a customer from one group to another is a big deal. Whether it’s from Sales to Onboarding or Onboarding to Customer Success, these handoffs can make or break the customer’s experience with you.

I’ve even written about the less-often-discussed nailing of handoffs between Customer Success Managers (CSMs) during transitional periods.

No matter what handoff we’re talking about, it is critical you nail it so your customers don’t fall through the cracks.

That said, what I’m going to cover here is a little bit tactical, but it’s really, really important. In a recurring revenue business, most companies do a lot of handoffs.

There’s almost no way to avoid it. Many have tried by assigning a quarterback – usually a CSM – to be the main point-of-contact for the customer throughout their lifecycle. This is a logical idea on the surface but it does not scale very well.

And, as your product line gets broader and your products get more complex, the quarterback is forced to become a generalist and will end up not being very valuable to the customer. Customers will often even find a way around this person to get to someone who can provide immediate assistance.

If you think about the lifecycle of a customer, they could have easily seven or eight or nine people from your company touching them in the first year.

They start off obviously with a Sales Rep and a Sales Engineer who they learned to trust. Then, when they buy, the Sales Rep tends to disappear at least for some period of time, if not permanently.

Then, the Services team takes over so there’s a person assigned to help the customer through the onboarding process. At the end of onboarding there’s usually a CSM who takes over if they haven’t been involved all along.

Somewhere along the way the customer is going to have to call Customer Support. Again, farther down the road someone is likely to have to execute the renewal and, if there are other Sales opportunities uncovered along the way, a Sales person may have to reenter the picture, too.

There are all of these transitions that happen in the lifecycle of a customer. Every one of them is important because customers are people, too, the last time I checked. By nature, they have buyer’s remorse lying in wait and ready to pounce if they feel like the ball is getting dropped.

Think about being a customer. When you go through the sales process you ultimately buy a product from somebody that you’ve decided to trust. Now, you may decide the product is better, the company is better, whatever, but you will not buy a product from a Salesperson that you don’t trust. A good Sales guy knows this and will build that trust.

So the purchase takes place and the next thing that happens is the Sales guy says good-bye. And here’s your onboarding rep. There’s a real question as a human being at that point wondering if the next person is going to be trustworthy. Is this the time when this company drops me in a black hole and never calls me back?

Every one of these handoffs has the potential to eat away at the trust that’s been developed during the sales cycle. There is also a lot of information that needs to transition from one group to the next in order for the customer’s experience to be what you want it to be.

One of the things that customers hate more than anything else is having to answer the same question after the sales deal is done that they answered two to three times during the sales process. You’ve got to transition all of that information in order to sustain the momentum you’ve gained during the sales cycle.

Nailing the handoffs is critical to keeping the trust of that customer. Once you do two or three of those really well then the customer feels like this company knows what they’re doing and rekindles that trust.

If you don’t do the first few really well or the first year really well, you run the risk of losing that customer or, at a minimum, reducing the value that could have been achieved.


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  1. Joanne DeLangie
    Jun 3rd, 2015Reply

    We are not a SaaS company we are IaaS and we have had healthy debates about whether to make the handoff when we sign the initial contract prior to onboarding or after the onboarding experience. In our situation we have Implementation Managers project managing the onboaridng process into a colocation or cloud services platform. Today it is after the onboarding but I want to move it to before for 2 reasons. 1) I believe that in IaaS industry customer success is a differentiator so I want to introduce the CSM before we sign, and 2) I want the cutomer to know they have someone taking care of them throughout the lifecycle.

  2. Luke
    Jun 3rd, 2015Reply

    Lincoln, I feel like you’ve done a great job stating the importance of nailing the handoff, as well as mapping the customer’s path through the typical CS org with all the handoffs, therein. What I would love to see to compliment this are practical suggestions for HOW to nail the handoff.

    For instance: you had mentioned the importance of relaying all of the details, so the customer doesn’t have to answer the questions all over again. Have people had success using an order form that gets passed to the next person during handoff? Comments on the account in the CRM? Including the party you’re eventually handing off to in meetings with customer early on in the engagement to reduce need for knowledge transfer? Periodic account team meetings?

    Our CS org is young. The cement is still wet, and while it feels like we’re doing a lot right, I’d love to hear some thoughts from others on their successes with handoff strategies.

    Thanks for teeing up the discussion!


  3. Anna
    Jul 13th, 2015Reply

    Great post!

    I second Luke here. Would love to hear more on “How” do you suggest the Handoff be done. It would be brilliant if you could share some tips.

    Love all your posts, BTW!