The Sales – Customer Success Dynamic, and 5 ways to fix it!

When I started my career, many moons ago, I was in sales.  I had a bolshy boss from London who typified the late 90s in attitude and behaviour.  His approach was to get the deal done, then let others sort out any issues.  My next job was in customer service, dealing with unhappy customers and their complaints.  Over time, I started to develop a negative bias towards sales, because “they expected everyone else to sort out their mess.”  This isn’t an altogether uncommon attitude amongst servicing folks, and together with feeling undervalued by their sales colleagues, many silos occur across the globe between sales and service.

With the dawn of customer success, creating a more proactive relationship with customers, and a commercial focus through accountability for retention, up-sell and cross-sell, one might assume that the old silos would break down, given the more common focus.  And yet many businesses still find a less-than-healthy vibe between their sales and customer success functions.  If you’re facing such a situation, here’s five fixes to get things working for the business and the customer.

Set a shared common goal: The irony is that both sales and customer success share one common goal – increase customer value through growth.  That is to say, by selling to more customers, and selling more to existing customers, the business grows, and everyone reaps rewards.  The key here is to align HOW the teams do this to ensure that customer value is part of the equation.  This might mean fixing product, improving implementation, or engaging post-sales colleagues earlier in the process to better manage the customer.

Acknowledge ying-yang personality types: Whilst the sales people are generally the “hunters”, over time, account manager and customer service functions have evolved into the “gatherer”.  So whilst sales go and find new business (discovery), customer success deepen the relationship and support the ongoing delivery of customer value (nurture.)  It’s two very different personality types required to deliver these distinct tasks.  But both are essential in the overall delivery mechanism.  Managers should seek to educate their teams on the respective value of their counterparts, and share the responsibility of bringing in and growing the revenue.

On-boarding is the biggest pitfall: Since modern business begun, the hand-off from sales to service has always been problematic.  Organisations like Virgin specifically focus on getting that part right, because a highly engaged customer is much more likely to stay loyal, spend more and recommend your business.  On-boarding is the first hand-off and a flashpoint for conflict.  Ensure clarity of responsibility and accountability for actions to reduce friction and keep internal clunky processes out of customer sight.

Greatest risk is conflict: Every function should be clear on  their purpose, and how they are measured.  But sometimes, headstrong colleagues and managers can become belligerent, creating friction internally, and disharmony in front of the customer.  Nobody likes finger pointing, it’s unprofessional, so ensure you have a way to address conflict quickly and discreetly.  Collaboration generates respect and clarifies responsibilities, and that starts with the managers’ behaviour, and how they talk about the other teams.  The team will follow the managers’ lead, so think carefully what you say about your counterparts!

Win-win: unite around purpose:  The ultimate road to success is unite around a purpose, which is to grow the business by providing customer and client with the right solutions.  When sales have their kick-off meetings, customer success should be there to hear the plan and feel part of the solution.  Likewise, when customer success are setting KPIs and reviewing barriers in the Voice of the Customer, sales need to be present  and participating to understand how they can make subtle changes to improve the customer experience.

As always, whilst it may not be rocket science to fix this age old issue, it does take regular focus and effort to get things on track and keep them there.  Communication is the key, so if you sense a gap in the flow within your organisation, it’s time to set up a coffee and get talking!

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