4 barriers to sales and success working together – and how to fix them!

In recent discussions with a number of businesses, the thorny topic of the relationship between sales and success has been raised.  In a flawless model, both teams work in unison to discover a prospect, identify their need, propose a solution, close the deal and drive product adoption through to customer advocacy.  All too often, conflicting agendas get in the way, and, in some cases, have these two team (publicly) working against each other.  I’m proud of the progress we have made at Workshare, where sales and success teams understand the value that each brings.  So this week, I thought I’d drill into 4 areas where I have seen conflict, and how you can fix them.

  • Poor management alignment: One of the most common areas of conflict is between the respective heads of each department.  Frankly, this is more to do with egos than business problems.  This may be driven by poorly defined goals for each function, or worse, may be a result of conflicting objectives.  For example, who owns the responsibility on account management tasks, renewals or nurture activities.  Sales and success leaders need to regularly align, and re-allign whenever business change occurs to make sure that the customer journey continues to have seamless delivery.  In turn, this gives the teams clarity and avoids the ultimate horror of public squabbling in front of customers.
  • Role and/or procedure definition: Whilst sales models are well defined and long in existence, customer success, as a newer function, is very prone to scope creep.  What might seem logical for success to own may well be a long-standing preserve of sales colleagues.  If the functional leaders are not clear on who owns which aspects of service delivery, conflict is inevitable.  Does your sales team have a “hunter” model, seeking out exclusively new customers?  If so, customer success should not be expecting any engagement in existing accounts.  If, however, your sales colleagues have joint responsibility for renewal numbers, a clear flow of task ownership must be defined if both teams are to drive renewal – sales owning the early & closing engagement, success owning the “fixing” of issues that may stall the renewal.
  • Commissions & bonuses: Sales have a long-established practice of driving revenue growth through the achievement of sales targets. I’ve seen many different success models in place for achieving targets or KPIs – target-driven commission versus performance-related bonus, team versus individual goals, renewal versus expansion revenue.  There must be clear distinction between which team earns for any associated new revenue or existing renewal.  This will invariably result in changes for sales (for example, many organisations are still paying sales commission for renewals that sales are not involved in) and this needs to be handled firmly but fairly.  Things can quickly become complicated when a renewing customers buys more of the same product (expansion revenue), and a new product at the same time.  Sales & success leaders need to review all permutations and agree how commissions and bonuses are paid and to whom before any re-launch of compensation plans.  My preference for success leans heavily towards team performance bonus for renewal and expansion revenue, whilst sales are commissioned on new customers won and new products sold. Of course, each business needs to consider all factors in carving up the spoils of revenue.
  • Skills deficit: It’s easy to spot an underperforming salesperson – they are disorganised, lacklustre presenters who miss their target.  Spotting the skills gap for your success team is not so easy.  The breadth of success teams’ roles is much more varied – pre-sales, technical project management, adoption, retention, re-engagement, training, cross-sell & up-sell.  If it’s anything like my own team, what they did a couple of years ago has dramatically changed.  In Workshare, sales & success work hand-in-hand with the customer throughout the sales cycle.  The success team are experts at understanding customer needs and demonstrating how Workshare products and services address the customer pain points.  Sales understand their colleagues’ value and this creates a harmonious sales cycle.  The added bonus is that the operational relationship that started in the sales cycle continues as the success team member takes the customer through deployment to adoption.  Do you maintain a skills matrix of the skills you need and how each team member rates against that list?  Are you putting the team members through formal or informal training to raise the overall competency level and ensure each member is at the required level?

If you roll your eyes at the mention of your sales or success colleagues, it’s probably time to make a list of what is causing the issues and sit down with your counterpart to fix them.  After all, your customers and prospects are watching!

2 thoughts on “4 barriers to sales and success working together – and how to fix them!

  1. In my opinion, as a consumer/customer I only want one point of contact with the supplier – at the point of sale be it in person, by phone or online.

    Providing that the supplier provides the service that they have promised at the point of sale – I don’t want to have, or don’t see any justification of having any contact with them from that point onwards unless there is a failure in the service they provide, or unless I want to upgrade my service plan.

    Providing a customer service experience to satisfy a customer who ‘does not want to contact you’ unless they are unhappy with the service that the supplier has contractually agreed to provide is a failure in the agreed terms of their service contract.

    ‘Companies’ should not be allowed to ‘big up’ the way in which they try to service unhappy customers, and them pat themselves on their own back to justify how they failed in the first place


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