Like it or not, there is far more that unites sales and customer success teams than divides them.
Jessica McDonald is the Sales Manager of the Financial Services team at Salesforce. She believes that a strong relationship between sales and customer success is a must for any business that wants to thrive and provide an outstanding customer experience. “Our customers are leaning on us as trusted advisers to help guide them through strategic initiatives, complex implementations and digital transformations – no single function can provide this,” she says.
When sales and customer success clash
Unfortunately, in many organisations, sales and customer success haven’t always acted in concert.
Competing goals have often put the two teams at odds. Sales teams are typically under a great deal of pressure to meet targets. A culture that prioritises short-term gain over long-term customer satisfaction can result in deals that are unsuitable for the client, which then becomes a problem later on for customer success.
Customer teams, on the other hand, can be too cautious in mitigating risk to reduce churn. They might refrain from pushing upsells in order to keep customers onside.
“Friction arises when sales teams’ and customer success teams’ goals aren’t aligned – if this is the case, they may not be focused on the customers’ needs, and they may be working at cross purposes,” says McDonald.
But it doesn’t need to be that way. Far from being adversaries, sales and customer success share many common goals. “It’s important to remember that behind every product or account is a customer – we are here to partner with them and find the right solution to help them provide the best experiences possible to their customers too,” says McDonald.
Where customer success fits in the sales pipeline
Once the sale has been finalised, it’s in the interests of the entire business to ensure customers are satisfied.
Customer success can provide valuable feedback to sales teams about client relationships that can help boost the impact of future sales campaigns. “Proactively obtain feedback from customers — from specific buyers within accounts — and then fold that information into account planning discussions,” advises Mark Kovac, the global leader of Bain’s B2B Commercial Excellence group, writing in the Harvard Business Review.
Happy customers are not just a good source of revenue: they can become ‘promoters’ on behalf of a business and act as valuable lead-generators for inside sales.
“Promoters buy more, stay longer, often cost less to serve, and are more likely to recommend your company to colleagues and friends,” writes Kovac. “They become promoters because they’re delighted with your products or service, and maybe the entire experience surrounding the product. You have earned the right to ask them for another sale.”
When sales and customer success strive towards a shared purpose, the entire organisation wins. Aligning goals, such as rewarding sales teams for renewals or establishing customer satisfaction as an organisation-wide KPI, can help put everyone on the same page.
At Salesforce, customer success is built into the organisation’s DNA, forming one of its four core values. “It’s central to the business, so every one of us feels the positive effects as a prospect converts into a happy customer and then an advocate,” says McDonald. “Both sales and customer success teams would feel the pain and consequences of an unhappy customer.”
Building teams that are better at communication and collaboration
Sales and customer success must share clear channels of communication to work in harmony.
“Our Salesforce tools, such as Quip and the AI built into our platforms, allow us to streamline communication processes to work seamlessly across the sales team and collaborate across functions,” says McDonald. “AI has put us ahead, not only allowing us to predict and proactively address customers’ needs, but to spend less time on mundane admin and more time building valuable relationships.”
Strong communication skills, particularly a knack for storytelling, can help sales personnel establish strong relationships with clients. Storytelling is hardwired into our psyche, says Cameron Kahler, Director of Sales at Flare HR. “We first learn to read and bond with our parents through stories, and they speak to the deepest part of our brain where facts, figures and datasheets never will.
“For salespeople this skill is critical – you are trying to get a person or group of people to implement sometimes extremely expensive and complex solutions, and you will need as much buy-in and motivation as possible for that to come through – stories are a great way to break through wall after wall.”
Assembling a team with the capacity for collaboration is another crucial component of the equation. Sales is a team sport, says Kahler. “The ability to bring people together towards a common goal…is a big plus. Salespeople must be able to collaborate with different stakeholders, both internally and externally, to take them on a journey to a mutually beneficial outcome and do so in a way where people feel heard and valued. Selling is no longer something you do to someone – it is something you help groups of people to achieve.”
The sales landscape, including its products and buyers, is constantly changing. In this environment, resilience is critical. Sales personnel must be able to roll with the punches, says Kahler. “Your wins and losses are, sometimes quite literally, on display to all. Having the ability to acknowledge, accept, and carry on can at times be difficult.”
It’s why Kahler also looks for candidates with a high EQ who possess humility, a historically undervalued trait in sales teams. “Salespeople are typically great at celebrating wins, but all too often fail to review the losses and tend to absolve as much of the responsibility as possible, instead blaming the product, the customer, the price, the market – anything but themselves,” he says. “The ability to openly and humbly review your performance and pivot next time is so important.”
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