The ongoing struggle to align marketing and sales is well documented and often discussed. However, for SaaS companies specifically, another key departmental alignment hasn’t gotten enough attention: sales and customer success.
These two teams are just as closely linked as sales and marketing, but are even less likely to cooperate fully. Unfortunately, this breakage can lead to unhappy customers, fewer upsells, and worst of all — higher churn rates.
We spoke to panelists to understand the common misconceptions and miscommunications standing in the way of sales and customer success harmony, and what your business can do to drive improvements. Find out how better aligning customer success and sales will not only improve customer experiences, but also increase revenue at every turn.
Selfish Sales Goals
The disconnect that often occurs between sales and customer success is at it’s root caused by differing definitions of success. The sales team’s goal is simple: hit the number. However, these goals can sometimes directly oppose customer success, according to Steve McKenzie, VP of Sales at InsightSquared.
“If you are encouraged to hit your number by any means possible, you may have reps throwing bad deals over the fence, which can cause friction between sales and customer success,” McKenzie noted.
If sales sold to the wrong customer, customer success is on their heels.
Whether that customer is promised impossible results or isn’t a good technical fit, sales reps may try to close the deal anyway. This can create tension between the two departments, Paul Slakey, VP of Client Services at BrightEdge, explained.
“If a sales rep has sold to the wrong customer, the customer success team is on their heels as soon as they start, and they may have a hard time meeting their metrics,” he said. “However, I have seen challenging situations like this turn out well, which highlights the value of customer success.”
While sales reps may work hard to close any deal they can, they’re actually hurting the business in the long term. Sales is wasting the time and resources of the CSM team on difficult customers who may eventually churn — putting the business at risk.
Cautious Customer Success
For customer success, the only real metric that matters is churn. Churn is a real and serious threat to the survival of a SaaS business, and CSMs are the first line of defense in keeping customers happy and engaged. This means that many CSMs have a tendency to be protective of their customers. However, customer success is also closely tied to sales revenue in SaaS, according to Sherrod Patching, VP of Customer Success at Leadspace.
“Like many SaaS companies, we have a sales team that is very involved in all our accounts because we have a land and expand model,” Patching said. “Net MRR is vital for us.”
Sales reps often rely on CSMs to notify them when there’s a an opportunity to upsell within that account, Patching explained. However, customer success doesn’t always have incentives to help push upsells, according to Kathleen Lord, SVP of Sales and Customer Success at Intacct.
“A lot of times with CSMs, it’s less risky to keep the account small,” she noted. “The smaller it is, the less it hits their bottom line if it doesn’t renew.”
Because of this, sales may be hurting themselves by ignoring the needs of CSMs. In addition to upsells, reps are also missing out on vital help from customer success to close deals. Happy customers can be a huge asset to sales reps, according to Carter Perez, the VP of Sales and Customer Success at Cogniance.
“Keeping the customer happy really sets up the referral ecosystem,” he explained. “The referenceability piece is huge. We work with customers who are now huge advocates for our company.”
Keeping the customer happy sets up the referral ecosystem.
Bringing a happy customer on a call with a prospect could be the difference between Closed-Lost and Closed-Won. However, CSMs who are struggling with a huge number of unhappy customers can’t always offer that assistance. Without those references and upsells, reps could be missing out on easy revenue wins.