align sales and customer success

5 Benefits and 5 Tips for Aligning Sales and Customer Success

In a typical company with a customer success program, the lead’s journey is straightforward. First they’re in the hands of Marketing; then they’re given to Sales; finally, they’re onboarded and introduced to Customer Success. But for many companies, there’s often very little communication, much less alignment, between these departments.

Communication between these teams is key to finding, serving, and delighting your ideal customers – all while ensuring they achieve their ideal outcomes. In my experience, when Sales and Customer Success do work together, customers are happier, retention rates rise, sales improve, and referrals abound.

The secret is to align everyone’s interests.

A Word About Alignment

“Aligned” has become a loaded word, stepping dangerously close to becoming corporate jargon. Before we start talking about it, let’s strip it bare of those associations. When people align, it means they have a common purpose they’re all equally passionate about, which gives them a reason (deeper than management alone could ever instill) to work together and achieve the goal that is in line with that purpose.

However, purpose can be a bone of contention between Sales and Customer Success. Sales teams tend to have quotas, numbers that must be reached, by any means necessary. It’s the job of Customer Success to suggest products and expansions based on best fit. Therein lies the problem.

My best friend experienced this tension just last week.

She called her cell phone carrier to ask about trading in her four-year-old phone for a new one, and after a charming conversation with a truly engaged, customer success-oriented agent, he warned her: “If you go into the store, don’t let the sales rep talk you into the ‘free’ iPad. It’s not free. They give you the device, but they charge you for the service, and if you want to cancel it, they charge you more!” Clearly, this company is not aligned if Customer Service is warning customers about Sales.

Here’s where this is going:

In order for the following benefits to happen, and the tips to work, you’ll first need to identify a common rallying point that serves the interests of all parties – not just Sales and Customer Success, but for your company as a whole.

Net Promoter Score as Rallying Point

Companies use Net Promoter Score (NPS) to optimize for customer experience, which has been linked to better revenue growth and higher profits (compared with companies that don’t prioritize customer experience).

Net Promoter Score is based on a one-question survey:

“On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend this product to a friend or co-worker?”

This question may be followed by an open response field for gathering qualitative data about the score, but that’s it. Simple.

Although there are other purposes you could use to align your teams, I suggest using the Net Promoter Score metric as your rallying point for three reasons.

  1. It’s not a static ideal or a pleasingly vague dictum, it’s a measurable statistic your actions directly affect.
  2. It’s tied to both Sales and Customer Success. Net Promoter Score measures not only how well you’re serving your customers and how happy they are with your product, but also how willing they are to recommend you to their friends – which leads to more sales.
  3. It’s one of those metrics management, boards, and CEOs love. Drive this number up, and they’ll take notice.

Give it a try.

The 5 Best Things That Happen When Sales and Customer Success are Aligned

1. More successful customers (and fewer clawbacks)

For many companies, the Marketing team is first in line when it comes to sifting through prospects to find and attract the most promising leads. When Marketing targets only clients likely to achieve their desired outcomes, the quality of prospects rises, and Sales has a much easier job. If the same way, the Success team has an easier time when you hand off ideal customers that are already poised to succeed, with appropriate expectations and even with a game plan in place for reaching their goals.

Essentially, when all three teams align, it’s a much smoother ride for everyone involved – and the customer’s experience is made all the better for it.

“From first interaction to closing the sale, the customer is sharing information that can not only be useful in ensuring the customer is successful, but in mapping out the account for expansion later on.  Why they’re buying, what their Desired Outcome is, what the catalyst was for them that made them seek out your solution; the intel gathered during the sales cycle can be used to grow the customer over time.” – Lincoln Murphy, Sixteen Ventures

Tip: Successful customers are way less likely to churn. Investing some effort in aligning with Marketing & Success will make clawbacks a rarity.  Customers that are achieving their goals are customers that want to stick around.

2. More upsells

Customer Success can be a driver of significant account expansion.

Once Customer Success determines the client’s desired outcome, the CSM can suggest ways to reach it faster, often (but not always) through upsells. Depending on the company, the CSM can handle upsells directly, or pitch the client back over to Sales to hammer out the details. In many cases, Sales reps rely on CSMs to notify them of opportunities to upsell an account. Either way, when a customer is already seeing positive results, they are much easier to sell to again and again.

RJ Metrics found that the most successful new companies in Shopify’s 2015 Ecommerce Growth Benchmark report all had one thing in common: 20% of their revenue came from repeat purchases in their very first month of business. By the end of their first three years, the majority of their revenue came from repeat buyers.

“Customer success is where 90% of the revenue is.” – Jason Lemkin, Venture Capitalist

Tip: Upsells don’t work as well if you try to use traditional account management or sales principles that aren’t grounded in your customer achieving their ideal outcomes. Anything that feels pushy, or like a hard sell, or remotely manipulative won’t just fail, it will undermine the customer’s trust in you, the Customer Success department and your company.

3. Higher lifetime value

Lifetime Value is a fascinating metric. It encompasses the entire value of a customer from the moment they sign on to the moment they leave, which includes the first time purchase, renewals, upsells, cross-sells, and value of their referrals. Companies may even see their Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) metric fall since referrals don’t require any additional marketing spend.

But here’s the secret of Lifetime Value: It’s a low effort way to  boost your commission check. Old customers are the ones who bring in the most revenue for the least amount of time and money. Increasing Lifetime Value isn’t just about keeping old clients around, it’s about expanding their business.

Tip: Start the ball rolling by reinforcing the successes they’ve experienced with your product. Work with Success  to agree on milestones in the customer journey that warrant acknowledgement. Celebrating successes serves as a reminder that they are, in fact, reaching their goals (and it’s fun).

4. More referrals

Bill Macaitis, CMO of Slack, former CMO of Zendesk, former SVP of Online Marketing and Operations at Salesforce, polishes every interaction prospects and customers have with Slack, taking a holistic view of UX that includes not just Customer Success and Sales, but also online ads and their legal terms of service. He says he’s not satisfied by prospects signing up for Slack, or becoming paying customers – the bar is set at whether they recommend it.

Tip: When Customer Success and Sales align to support your customers’ goals, they’ll support yours. A tight relationship with Success can mean ready access to referral sources.  Loni Spratt, Director of Customer Success at Entelo, uses a Net Promoter Score program to identify customers who are brand promoters and ready to recommend your company to others. She immediately gives her sales team a head’s up so account managers can reach out for referrals.

5. Growth

McKinsey & Co. found that “Optimizing the Customer Experience typically achieve[s] revenue growth of 5-10% . . . in just two to three years.” The reasons why are many: lower Customer Acquisition Cost, more referrals and upsells, and increased Lifetime Value. With those in play, growth results.

Good customer experience starts with signing good clients. Clients that are a bad fit for what you are selling will help you hit quota in the short term, but actually can hurt the company in the long term by tying up Customer Success resources and being unprofitable. Bad customers can sink a ship, but good customers can help a company grow for the long term. If Sales signs customers who can’t achieve their goals with your company, they will have a poor experience and you could be putting your company’s long term trajectory at risk.

So, the path to growth isn’t lined with the number of prospects you can bring in, or the sales you can make. The path, really, lies with the right customer. Will the customer you are about to hand off to Success be able to get what they need out of your product?

Tip: Partner with Customer Success to define your ideal customer. Then you will be seeking and signing customers that are a great fit for the rest of their journey. To deliver positive experiences, you can’t go off on your own direction, pursuing your own, very separate, interests. Alignment around the customer is crucial. Put them first, and sales and success follow.

Jessica Pfeifer is Cofounder and Chief Customer Officer at Wootric, and the author of “ The Modern Guide to Winning Customers with Net Promoter Score.”  Jessica has onboarded and advised hundreds of companies on effective use of customer feedback. An expert on online business success, Jessica holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.

image via L Church.