Have you ever seen Finding Nemo? The little clownfish lives in the sea anemone in what is a classic example of a symbiotic relationship. It’s beautiful. I’m now going to make a simile about how sales and success teams can achieve the same kind of beautiful harmony, supporting each other for the betterment of the company. Get ready: the sales and success teams are like that clownfish and sea anemone.

Really though, sales and success can actually live in harmony for the benefit of the company. By working together they can ensure customers achieve success and create that lifetime loyalty every company hopes to achieve. In this post, we’ll cover why sales and CS team alignment matters, how the relationship can improve each team, and where User Success fits in.

What is Customer Success?

Customer Success (CS) is all about ensuring customers reach their desired outcomes using your product. A Customer Success strategy lays out the definition of success for your customers and how you’ll help them achieve that success.

It’s the big picture—the organization philosophy that companies use to operate and should extent to all areas and impact all teams in a business. Cross-functional collaboration between teams is the backbone for achieving a well-defined Customer Success strategy.

How do CSMs come into play?

While Customer Success is an idea and goal for companies, most organizations place the actual responsibility on Customer Success Managers, whose main goal is to provide support for customers as they transition from the sales pipeline (prospects) to the support pipeline (active users). Which makes sense! CSMs are typically responsible for maintaining customer loyalty, upselling existing customers to new features within the product, fostering long-term relationships with their customers, and ensuring that their customers are achieving the goals they were looking to achieve when purchasing your product. They carry out the day-to-day work to ensure the guiding principles of a Customer Success strategy are realized.

How does Sales come into play?

The reason CSM roles are growing so rapidly within the SaaS space is simple; engaged, happier customers lead to less churn and lifetime customer loyalty. Creating a strong CS team to improve a customer’s experience and ensure their success in the product pays off in the long run.

However, it’s not enough to just have proactive CSMs, you need to streamline your customer journey. Think about it. The sales team is one of the first touchpoints potential customers will have with your product. They’re the ones gathering information on prospects—who they are, what their pain points are, what they hope your product will solve, etc. All of that information is essential for understanding the experience a customer hopes to have and the desired outcome they want to achieve.

Desired outcome: what customers want to achieve, the way they want to achieve it. That main tenant of Customer Success that CSMs are so often held solely responsible for.

But we just established that sales teams are the first ones to hear a customer’s desired outcome for your product, right? So we need to transfer that powerful knowledge over to those CSMs for customer onboarding. Let’s break down how these two teams impact and help each other support your customers’ experiences throughout their journey.

How Sales Improves CSMs

This not an exhaustive list, but enough to highlight some key benefits of actually aligning teams around the idea of Customer Success. When done right, the sales and success teams can become a beautiful symbiotic relationship driving the growth of your company.

Customer Acquisition

With sales, you want to make sure you’re targeting the minimum viable segment that you’re building for—the good fit customers for your business—that way you can properly support them and make sure that they’re going to get value from the product.

Avoid bad-fit customers: the ones you know aren’t going to find immediate and long-term value from your product. They extend the sales cycle and cause internal friction around prioritization of needs. Although some might advocate that any customer is a good customer, you’re really just setting your CSMs and company up for failure. Don’t do it. Target potential customer that will find immediate and future value from your product and can become collaborators along the process. It helps CSMs guide them through their customer journey, which in turn creates upsell opportunities and advocates that can be leveraged by the sales team later.

Information Enrichment

All that nuanced information gathered along the sales cycle needs to go somewhere. Just updating account fields in your tools isn’t enough to properly convey a customer’s desired outcome for your product. Sales and the assigned onboarding CSM need to communicate the customer’s paint points, goals, and desired moving forward.

By transferring this knowledge, CSMs can plan and address customer needs as they move through the lifecycle stages. This keep the momentum and positive impression that sales has been building to close the deal moving throughout onboarding to become an active, engaged customer.

Manage Expectations

Even before purchasing your product, customers should know what to expect. What should the expect from the contract? Who will they be working with after signing the contract? What realistic value can they expect from your product in the first 30/60/90 days?

And more than that, you should aim to fully understand who your customers are and what they want from your product. That carries right on into the onboarding process as you continue to reiterate and demonstrate the value of your product. This provides measurable milestones that customers can use to track their progress, reinforcing the value that your product is providing for them.

Taking a customer-centric approach to goals lets your customers define their own version of success, but also should be used to set internal expectations of each team. For example, achieving success means it’s the responsibility of the sales rep to clearly outline and introduce key customer insights to the assigned CSM prior to onboarding. After which, it’s the responsibility of the CSM to determine goals for customer success. This provides expectations for internal teams.

How CSMs Improve Sales

While sales provides a lot of essential information that the success team can utilize fairly immediately, the relationship isn’t one sides. CSM are constantly gathering new information from customers, both successful and unsuccessful in the product, that should be shared with sales to improve their outreach strategy. Let’s get into couple examples of this below.

Identify Ideal Customers

Building a strong relationship between Sales and CS is especially useful when determine ideal customer profiles (ICP). As companies grow and the product develops, certain customers and industries become a better fit for using your product. A good CS team will track which customers are achieving high success and provide that information to the Sales team so they can better target prospectives customers that fit the latest ICP.

However, what may be even more important for both teams in the long-run is when CSMs identify bad-fit indicators from existing customers. This may include companies that are too small or too large, sub-industries that require custom integrations but are low engagement, or even customers whose main interest was one section of your product functionality who feel underserved. With this information, sales can better direct their outreach, qualify leads, and bring on new customers that have a higher potential for success and loyalty—with the help of the CS team, of course.

Expansion Opportunities

Upsell and expansion opportunities are critical for company growth. As customers move through their journey you should always be on the lookout for where customers can experience new value. CSMs can set customer achievement milestones and use them as a sales interaction. Let customers know, “Hey you’re not ready for this yet, but once you reach this milestone we can set you up with (sales) to chat through how this functionality when you’re ready”. It sets expectations for customers and internal teams around long-term growth.

Customer Advocacy

References, case studies, testimonials are all an essential part of the sales process. However, fostering customer relationships to the level where engaged customers feel the value of your product enough to advocate for your company relies heavily on CSMs. Once customers have achieved loyalty status, reach out to them for reviews and testimonials that can be shared with the sales team who can leverage them with new leads. Prospective customers want to hear value from your actual customers who are loving their experience.

User Success

Okay, so we understand how CSMs help the sales team and vice versa, but there’s a perspective missing. How are you supposed to understand your users’ behaviors & activities if you’re only viewing them at the account level? That’s where User Success (US) comes in. US is all about understanding users that are similar to each other in the ways that matter to you and your business. With User Success, you can focus on driving engagement, retention, and lifetime loyalty by creating personalized customer experiences through targeted user behavior trends, rather than account association.

How does User Success fit with CS and Sales?

US is all about deeply understanding users, and leverages segments of users that have similar characteristics into what we call personas. By tracking and reporting on targeted user behavior in the form of personas, you can better understand how users with similar behavior patterns or characteristics are engaging with your product throughout their customer journey.

While CSMs and sales folks both look at users from an account level—which is all well and good—US adds a new perspective that can benefit both teams. For CSMs, a better understanding of users through personas allows additional context surrounding their feedback and behaviors because you gather data around key user traits. This provides a deeper level of reporting on engagement and can highlight high-level trends for decision makers, users in onboarding—any demographic of your user base that you want more insight into. From there, CSMs can become more proactive and ensure a higher level of customer success and loyalty.

For sales, understanding which user personas are most successful in the product can help them predict which types of people to prospect. Personas can also help sales understand which areas of the product resonate most with decision makers and VIP users, so you can have a better understanding of which aspects of the product to promote and advertise to prospects.

Conclusion

CS has been one of the biggest proponents of your customer’s growth strategy. When you’re able to keep customers happy, make sure they’re renewing, and that a few people are trying to emphasize churn reduction, you’re supporting long term growth. The best way to do this is through aligning your sales and success teams so they can share critical user insights and support the customer journey. And now, US provides a new, additional level of understanding of users and democratizes information across all teams to drive company growth.