Resolving Common Misalignments Between Customer Success and Sales Teams

Learn how CS and Sales teams in B2B SaaS can overcome misalignment and effectively work together to become revenue-generating machines.

Net ARR factors in various business metrics, new sales, expansion revenue, down-sells, and churn. But what is so important about these metrics? Are they all connected in some way? Why are they related to Net ARR? Well, to many businesses, these metrics are a delicate combo, easily affected by changes in your product, customer experience, pricing, and even the growing or shrinking of your customer base. Since Sales and Customer Success departments work with customers and potential customers daily, it is a no-brainer that these departments have a direct influence on net ARR. 

So if your Sales and Customer Success departments can directly impact the net ARR of the company, it’s clear that they must operate harmoniously. To achieve such harmony, department leaders should establish clear communication and invest in project management tools that will help raise cross-departmental productivity and collaboration levels. Yet, in many SaaS companies, creating such collaboration and ensuring productivity across departments is not always the first step. There are many ways these departments can be misaligned, potentially leading to loss of revenue and opportunities for your business.

Throughout this blog, we’ll chat about common misalignments among Sales and CS teams in the SaaS space and some tips on how to overcome those challenges. That way, by the time you finish reading, you’ll see how both departments can work together to overcome unproductivity and misalignment to build a well-oiled growth machine (hopefully).

Common Points of Misalignment for Sales and Customer Success Departments

Let’s talk through some common points of misalignment between sales and customer success departments, and the not-so-positive (but worth mentioning) effects that can occur with each: 

1. What does your Sales to CS handoff look like?

An inadequate handover or handoff can hurt the customer relationship and all of the work that has gone into the account and project. An unfortunate and common occurrence is that a CSM is introduced as a support agent rather than a strategic POC within the company. CSMs are not technical support agents, so this introduction creates a false expectation for the customer right off the bat. As we all know, first impressions are everything, and coming back from a bad introduction and having to resolve such misconceptions is hard to come back from. 

Carly Bennet, Sales Manager and Founding Account Executive at Vitally, recalls in episode 1 of the Scale or Fail webinar series explains how “[Vitally believes] the most critical part of the customer experience is the customer onboarding experience and the sales to CS handoff.” Carly goes on to say that the handoff is “the most important part of our [department] collaboration as well…” because lacking a handoff or handover process between departments creates a major communication and productivity gap that is best to avoid at all costs. 

2. What about chemistry?

In many SaaS organizations, there’s this animosity and lack of chemistry between the Sales and CS departments because each party wants to be considered the top dog and the most significant revenue growth factor within the organization. While these departments are looking to showcase which side scored the most wins, they’re missing the big picture: winning and growing as a team and a company. Without those team processes and communication practices, teams are missing the opportunity to form the strong, productive cross-department relationship they could have. 

3. Eyes on the prize: Expansions and Renewals 

Some organizations push for the sales team to handle anything regarding expansion or renewals. Other organizations tend to leave these responsibilities with the CS team. It’s an “to each their own” kind of world when it comes to expansions and renewals in B2B SaaS. 

When sales and CSMs are involved, the most common misalignment is a lack of information flow between both parties. For example, suppose the CSM identifies an opportunity or knows there’s a renewal coming up. In that case, the CSM should be responsible for providing all the relevant information to the salesperson so they can use that to grow or renew the account. CSMs sharing little to no details creates a communication gap that makes the negotiation process much more complicated for the sales team. 

4. It’s not you, it’s me

‍How often have you seen customers churn because they were just a bad fit for the company's solution? Or simply because the company sold them a solution that wasn't available? These are some reasons why customers churn and they ultimately tie back to how an organization works and the consequences of setting a false precedent. 

Discovery calls are key to understanding if a customer is a good fit, which is why webinar panelist Tom Maxwell, Head of Customer Experience at Ignition, advises his team to ask certain questions in these calls to gauge how the company will fit with the customer. “What is your growth mindset? What is the tech stack you’re currently using? These questions help us figure out how well they will adopt our cloud software, what challenges we may come up against, plus understanding the level of experience they have with cloud technology.” Finding answers to questions like these help uncover customer expectations and mentality that can help you figure out if your product is the right fit. 

Avoid the bad review, don’t waste your time or the customer’s time, and don’t put your CS teams in an uncomfortable position trying to force a customer relationship. The truth can be a hard pill to swallow, but sometimes, “it’s not you [the customer], it’s me [the company product].” 

Tips on Forging a Successful Partnership Between Sales & Customer Success

The departmental misalignments we just went through can be detrimental to your revenue growth efforts. Everyone knows it isn’t a company’s goal to fail or not grow, so let’s see how both Sales and CS teams can collaborate and work together to overcome challenges and become revenue-generating machines (because that’s really the goal, isn’t it?).

1. Crystal clear role expectations and responsibilities 

Defining roles and responsibilities for each team is vital for accountability and will also set clear guidelines on what falls under each department. These guidelines can create that ideal, harmonious team that effectively collaborates and communicates. 

In the Scale or Fail webinar, Joe Peters, Global Head of Customer Success at Duco, describes the importance of “taking the time to build out a clearly defined and detailed expectations and responsibilities for each role involved with the customer. Those role responsibilities should then be clearly communicated to the customer during kickoff” so the customer knows who they can talk to for certain questions or issues. Joe also mentions that more times than not, the customer has too many touch points of contact and is not sure who to contact, so clearly communicating “who is best for what” helps your team and your customers stay on track. 

2. Dive into Customer Success plans

Customer Success plans should be built and defined at the initial touch point, so in this case, the discovery call when the salesperson has met with the customer. These plans are formed by gathering essential information defining the customer’s goals, why they want to purchase your solution, potential use cases, etc. All of this information helps the CSM personalize the customer journey based on what the customer needs. CSMs can help set themselves, and the customer, up for success, guiding the customer to achieve their desired outcome. The CSM then has a clear record of all the key milestones achieved with the customer, tying it back to their initial goals, that can be shared with the salesperson, so they can feel confident when it’s time to ask, “Do you want to renew? And add X number of seats?”

Ultimately, CS plans can help CSMs and Sales work together to quickly grow, and then renew accounts, creating a productive and continuous cycle that keeps generating revenue for the business. Note that Vitally projects can also be an excellent resource for creating customized CS plans, helping teams stay in the loop with all team tasks and customer milestones.

3. Hey team, what’s your game plan?

Communication is key. We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again! Be sure to communicate what each department will need from one another from the beginning of the customer journey. This initial communication can ensure both teams have a strategy ready for any scenario with the customer. 

In episode 1 of the “Scale or Fail” webinar series from Vitally, Syed Asad Hussain, VP of Sales and Success at Hubstaff, talks about encouraging collaboration and communication cross-departmentally, and with a customer, through incentivization. “Sales has an interest in seeing that customer grow in the first 30 days, and if they do, they are compensated for that. As soon as the sale is made, they want to push that to the CS rep to set up the users, accounts and see results from the product quickly… Both teams have a vested interest in getting that account up and running as fast as possible.” Having clear communication and defined roles on each team helps them to grow the customer more efficiently (and incentives to do so don’t hurt either) which in turn contributes to high NPS scores and greater net ARR. 

Once a company has a great game plan, it’s time to put it in the playbook. Vitally playbooks optimize CS operations and workload productivity at scale through workflow automation—think automatically triggered NPS surveys and customer health alerts. By implementing such automation, companies will experience enhanced internal productivity and delighted customers that grow net ARR.‍

4. Teamwork makes the dream work

Sales and CS teams should strive to improve the work between them and identify the ways they can combine their strengths and put them into everyday practice. Perfecting those strategies will enable both teams to work productively as a single unit that is fully synchronized rather than two dysfunctional and disconnected entities.‍

One way to form this team collaboration is by utilizing the Notes and Projects features with the Vitally platform. With notes, teams can document ongoing account information, keeping all teams up to date with any customer documents, calls, meetings, on-site gatherings, and more. On the other hand, projects in the Vitally platform maximize on effective project management skills, allowing users to designate tasks to teammates and close any communication gaps between teams. These features can ultimately improve team productivity and performance throughout the customer lifecycle.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know how Sales and CS departments can be misaligned, it is easy to see why it is so important for organizations to define how these departments should collaborate and work together. Department and organization leaders should create a structure from the get-go. That way, their teams are working in an environment that encourages productivity and team collaboration. Defined processes and clear communication between both parties will reward companies with happy customers that drive value-led revenue expansion and Net ARR growth (whoo hoo!). 

A company can hire the best CSM and the best salesperson on the market, but if they’re not collaborating and working together, dysfunction and opportunity loss will be the result (and that’s the tea). However, suppose organizations take the time to pinpoint the strengths and skills of both Sales and CS teams. In that case, they will achieve new levels of productivity and collaboration that will establish your organization as an industry leader and skyrocket their net ARR. Interested in learning more about cross-department productivity and collaboration? Well, if we haven’t linked it enough throughout, be sure to watch episode 1 of Vitally’s “Scale or Fail” webinar series. Plus, there is extra credit involved if you look into Vitally’s CS platform and schedule a custom demo today!

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