5 Tips for a Successful Sales to Customer Success Handoff

A good Sales to Customer Success handoff doesn’t have gaps. It uses effective communication and planning to eliminate any doubt in your customer’s mind that their decision to buy your product was a wise one.

If there are gaps in your Sales to Customer Success handoff, you can be sure your customer will be the one who suffers. They'll be left wondering whether the salesperson was making empty promises during the buying process, leaving buyer’s remorse to creep in. Even worse, the product champion — the person who took the most direct risk by investing in your solution — will start to worry about the negative implications of their decision.

Here are five tips that will help you close the gaps in your Sales to Customer Success handoff, ensuring that each new customer is sped smoothly along the path from purchase to value.

Handoff Tip #1: Create a Sales to Customer Success handoff RACI matrix

Most failed projects have one attribute in common: the people involved weren’t clear on their roles. Use the RACI responsibility matrix to establish everyone’s role in the Sales to Customer Success handoff so nothing falls through the cracks. It'll help you keep track of the several steps and multiple stakeholders who are often involved in the process.

What is a RACI matrix?

The RACI model employs a matrix of responsibilities for tasks in a project. What’s nice about this method of assigning roles is that it takes into account stakeholders who need to be informed and accountable, not just the people doing each task. Plus, it’s visual, so you can keep track of things quickly.

The RACI model breaks down each project into four roles:

  • Responsible = the person who will actually complete a task
  • Accountable = the person whose head will roll if the task doesn’t get done
  • Consulted = the person who can provide input on how to do the task
  • Informed = the person who needs to be kept up to date on the progress of the task

How to use the RACI model in your Sales to Customer Success Handoff

The Sales-to-CS-handoff RACI matrix should list all the tasks and stakeholders that will be a part of the handoff. For each task, someone, or multiple someones, will be assigned as an R, A, C, or I.

A simple handoff process might include:

  • Presales Customer Success introduction call
  • Sales to Customer Success information transfer
  • Internal kickoff call
  • Postsale kickoff call with the customer
  • Customer success plan creation
An example RACI matrix. The model tells the AE to make their customer information available to the Customer Success Manager, the Product team, the VP of Sales, and the VP of Customer Success

This matrix makes it easy to see who needs to be involved in each task and in what capacity. That way, the person responsible for each task knows whom to inform and whom to ask for advice.

Determining who fills each role in your company is up to you, as long as those roles are defined and visible.

Get everyone on-board by creating accountability for the people in your RACI model

More often than not, cross-functional teams fail without high-level oversight. Because the handoff is a cross-functional effort between at least CS and Sales, but potentially Product and Implementation teams as well, it will pay to have buy-in from the C-suite. That way, any confusion about who does what during a handoff can be quickly addressed by department heads.

Accountability can also happen systemically. For example, the new sale should be switched to “closed/won” in your CRM, and full commission paid to the AE, only after all steps of the handoff are completed. That will help get busy AE’s to buy into the process.

Bonus: Create a RACI model for each customer type

High-touch customers require phone calls, meetings, and white-glove treatment during handoff. For low-touch customers, a series of automated emails will do the trick.

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Handoff Tip #2: Create a process for the information handoff from Sales to Customer Success

It shouldn’t be the customer’s job to update the CSM on what was discussed. Build a formal process to transfer all of Sales’ insights, both for your sake and for the customer’s.

Create a worksheet for Sales to complete for each customer

The sales cycle can last for months. Prospects share bits and pieces of information with their AE throughout that time. It’s unlikely an AE will be able to recall all of it when the sale closes. You can help your Sales team by giving them a worksheet that lists all the information you want them to gather. Instead of trying to recall a dozen conversations at the end of the sales cycle, the AE can fill out the worksheet as new information is shared, and then hand it over to the CSM at handoff. It’s a much lower lift for the Sales team and a more complete picture of the customer for your CSMs.

The worksheet can take whatever form works best for both CS and Sales. It can be a simple list of questions in a Word doc or a list of fields in your CRM.

Hold an internal kickoff call

If the worksheet is how Sales and Success transfer broad knowledge, then the kickoff call is how they exchange intricacies about clients, particularly high-touch clients.

The call should be led by Customer Success and held only after they’ve had a chance to read through the handoff worksheet from Sales. That will reduce the number of redundant questions CS asks on the call and help them focus only on what information is missing.

Related — Triptease Chief Customer Officer Katie Bugas describes how she aligned her CS and Sales teams into a collaborative "Growth Squad":

Handoff Tip #3: Introduce Customer Success during the sales process

Meeting new people can be awkward, but introducing a CSM early makes it less so

Meeting new people is awkward, and it’s no different for the first onboarding call between a CSM and a customer. Introducing your CSM in a presale call gives them an opportunity to build a rapport with the customer in a low-stakes environment. By the time the Sales–CS handoff is complete, the customer feels they’re being greeted by a familiar person.

Another benefit of introducing the CSM early? Closing more complex deals becomes easier. The fear of a complicated implantation process is a significant obstacle for some prospects to overcome. CSMs have been through it all and can explain to the potential customer, with firsthand knowledge, what the implementation will look like.

Handoff Tip #4: Create a customer success plan

A customer success plan puts a framework and guidelines around the customer’s goals. It is a balance between two things: the customer’s initial perception of success and the achievable value your product can deliver. Does the customer frame success as saving resources or increasing profit? The customer success plan expresses what the product can do for the customer in that frame.

It’s the CSM’s job to guide the discussion of value and to create the success plan. However, they shouldn’t do it in a silo. Sales should have buy-in on it before it’s considered complete. That gives the AE one last chance to share any knowledge about the customer. It also helps inform future changes to the ideal customer profile.

Handoff Tip #5: Keep customers well informed during the Sales to Customer Success handoff

“Doubt leads to fear. Fear leads to buyer’s remorse. Buyer’s remorse leads to churn.”

- Yoda (Well, if he had been a Customer Success Manager)

Never leave your customer in doubt about what will happen next. Have a communication plan that keeps them comfortably informed every step of the way.

Start before the sale closes by laying out a clear list of steps that will happen as soon the customer signs on. Your CSM can deliver that list during the closing call, or, if your onboarding process is the same for all customers, it can be a reusable help document. Either way, your customer won’t be in doubt about what will happen after they decide to buy.

It’s not enough, though, to provide that information one time. Make sure each touch point throughout the handoff includes a summary of what to expect next. It’s OK if it’s been said before. This is the time to default to over-communication.

The seeds of expansion are sown at the Sales to Customer Success handoff

A customer doesn’t stop evaluating your product once they buy. The Sales to Customer Success handoff is the first opportunity you have to prove that they made a good decision.

The effect of that impression goes way beyond onboarding. If the handoff is bumpy, it will delay the chance to upsell. If, however, the shift from prospect to customer is a smooth ride, you’ll find a customer who is excited to learn what else your product can do for them.

Related: How Sales Teams Can Use Customer Success Software to Drive Revenue

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