Common Points of Sales <> Customer Success Misalignment ( + Tips for a Successful Partnership)

About the Author: Enrique is a passionate advocate of the Customer Success practice. He has more than 7 years in the SaaS industry and has been part of leading companies such as AppsFlyer, Appsee (acquired by ServiceNow), and Yotpo. He has worked with all types of clients, ranging from SMBs all the way to Fortune 500 companies. Enrique's expertise in CS has helped him lead customer retention and growth by focusing on one thing—constantly delivering value to the customer. He enjoys traveling, scuba diving, skiing, playing/watching sports, reading books, and learning new things.

When it comes to SaaS business models, net ARR is a key, if not the key, metric that indicates if the company is actually growing and scaling, or if its clients are churning and it’s losing revenue.

Net ARR is the combination of new sales, expansion revenue, down-sells, and churn. All of these items can be affected to the product, the customer experience, pricing, and growth/shrinking of your customers. but what it is certain is that both Sales and Customer Success departments have a direct impact on the company’s ability to increase the net ARR and continue to grow.

So if Sales and Customer Success go hand-in-hand with the net ARR the company generates it is clear that both departments need to operate like Swiss watch machinery, nonetheless, in many SaaS companies this is not always the case and in fact there are many mis-alignments between both of the departments that ultimately lead to revenue and opportunity loss. 

In this post we will learn about the most common mis-alignments between Sales and CS in SaaS and how both of these departments can work together to overcome these communication gaps and misconceptions in order to build a well-oiled growth machine.

Common Points of Sales and Customer Success Misalignment

When it comes to mis-alignments between both departments, these are usually the most common ones:

The handover/handoff

This one is super critical and a bad handover/handoff can severely hurt the relationship and work with the customer. In many cases, also from personal experience, I’ve seen the sales person introduce the CSM as some kind of “glorified support agent” rather than the customer’s strategic POC within the company, this creates false expectations from the customer and misconceptions by thinking the CSM is in charge of only solving technical issues. Another common mis-alignment, is when sales only gives the CSM the POC without any strategic information that would enable the CSM to provide a much more strategic and personalized approach, this usually happens in organizations that don’t put an emphasis on professional handovers/handoffs and consider the work of the salesperson is over the moment the account has passed on to the CS team.

Bad customer fits

How many times have we seen customers churn because they were just a bad fit for the solution the company offers or simply because they were sold a solution that wasn’t available. Again, this is related to how organizations work and by how organizations set a negative precedent. Organizations should make the sales team accountable for a “bad sale” since this can cause bad reputation, waste of time and resources on customers that were never the right fit and demotivation within your CS team because CSMs struggle to achieve your customer’s desired outcomes. Sales people should NEVER handoff an account that is a bad customer fit, it’s always better to refund the money immediately than to have a forced relationship with a customer that is not happy because your solution doesn’t address their needs.

Expansions & renewals

This one is a bit trickier, some organizations push for the sales team to handle the commercials when it comes to expansion and/or renewals and other organizations tend to leave these responsibilities with the CS team. Since it’s in the first scenario that both sales and CSMs are involved, the most common mis-alignment here is when the is a lack of information flow and chemistry between both of the parties involved, if the CSM identifies an opportunity or knows there’s a renewal coming up, the CSM is responsible for providing all the relevant information to the sales person so they can use that to grow/renew the account, many times I’ve seen CSMs share little to no details at all, making the negotiation process much more complicated.

Missing the common denominator

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 as the main revenue growth factor within the organization and while they’re looking to showcase which side scored more touchdowns/runs/goals, they’re missing the strongest common denominator which is winning and growing as a team and a company.

Tips for Forging a Successful Partnership Between Sales & Customer Success

This kind of mis-alignments can be detrimental to your revenue growth efforts, so let’s see how both Sales and CS teams can collaborate and work together to overcome these issues and become a revenue-generating machine.

Building chemistry

There’s a saying “practice makes perfect '', well the real saying should be “perfect practice makes perfect”. 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 practice every day in order to perfect those strategies and enable them to work as a single unit that is fully synchronized rather than two dysfunctional and disconnected entities.

Customer success plans

Success plans should begin to be built and defined from the initial touch point the sales person has with the customer, by gathering the key information on what made the customer purchase your solution will help the CSM personalize the customer journey according to what the customer needs and guide the customer to achieve their desired outcome, so when the expansion/renewal time comes, the CSM has a clear record of all the key milestones they were able to achieve with their customer so the salesperson can then use that to easily grow/renew the account, the ideal scenario is where this becomes a continuous cycle that keeps on giving and generating revenue to the business.

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

Define and create game plans

Communicate what each party will need from one another from the beginning of the customer journey so you can be ready for any scenario, and have a strategy in place that will ultimately lead to highly satisfied customers helping you grow your net ARR.

Clearly defining roles and responsibilities of each team

This is important not only for accountability, but it will also set clear boundaries on what falls under the domain of each party, thus creating a collaboration based on respect while maximizing the strengths of each party. Personally, I’ve always liked to take the responsibility of driving value, so when the time for expansion/renewal comes, the salesperson can focus on the contract without the actual need of convincing the customer about the value they can get with us.

Define the right blueprint

Organizations are ultimately responsible for how Sales and CS teams collaborate and work together. Department and organization leaders should create a structure that not only encourages collaboration and teamwork between the parties, but also rewards them for driving value-led-revenue expansion.

You can have the best sales person and the best CSM in your organization, but if they’re not collaborating and their work together is dysfunctional, this will ultimately lead to opportunity loss. However, by combining the strengths of both parties and putting all of their skills to work, this will lead your organization to achieve unimaginable results that will put you ahead of the competition and position you as strategic leaders in your respective industry.  

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” - Michael Jordan

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