Every sales team deserves to celebrate after getting a new customer on board. But closing the deal is just the beginning.
A customer’s journey doesn’t stop after they buy your product. Someone needs to guide them on how to leverage your product to its maximum potential. That someone is your customer success (CS) team. The sales to customer success handoff is the first opportunity to show your customer that choosing to do business with your company was the right decision. This transition can make or break your relationship, before they’ve even begun using your product.
When done correctly, this handoff makes for a customer that is excited and well-prepared to use your solution to fulfill their goals. When done carelessly, however, your customer can be left disoriented about the next steps. An ineffective handoff often leaves your customers lacking the support and structure they need to realize product value. An implementation process that is too complex or lengthy can frustrate them and make them lose interest. Depending on the flexibility of their contract, they may even opt out entirely before it ends.
Offering customers a smooth transitional experience requires clear communication between sales and customer success. Unfortunately for many organizations, this handoff doesn’t always go smoothly. Lack of transparency, conflicting perspectives, and poor knowledge transfer are some of the issues that can occur during this transition. But it doesn’t need to be this way—and shouldn’t be this way, for the sake of your customers.
Here are six tips for a smooth sales to CS handoff:
- Align on the ideal customer profile. In order to have a successful handoff experience, there needs to be alignment, internally and externally, right from the start. Make sure that the sales and customer success teams agree on the meaning of what an “ideal customer” is. Developing an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and identifying the traits of your most successful customers helps avoid low-fit prospects from the start. While it is possible to close the deal with low-fit customers, the chances of renewal or expansion are quite rare. Once an ICP has been determined, everyone involved on the sales and CS teams should know what the ideal customer will be looking for and what will be offered to them. Likewise, your customer should properly understand the product offering, next steps and other specifics about their onboarding process. Managing these expectations and avoiding unrealistic ones are a must. After all, customers with unrealistic expectations are the ones who are most likely to churn.
- Understand how your customer defines success. Every customer has a different end goal. What qualifies as “success” to one customer may not be the ideal outcome to another. Determine what each customer’s ideal outcome is by asking them directly and digging into the details to include for when you’re handing them off to CS. This includes understanding the varied goals of each influencer involved in the decision-making process as well as the obstacles they may experience. While this definition of success could change over time, a consistent pulse must be kept to ensure that you and your customer are always on the same page. Only by keeping this information top-of-mind will you be able to guide your customers to their desired outcome. Losing sight of your customer’s definition of success can mean the difference between renewal and churn. Properly understanding this will also help improve customer experience and retention.
- Introduce CS at the right time. Good timing is absolutely crucial when introducing CS to a new customer. A delayed introduction may increase the risk of customers losing sight of how their new investment will solve their problems and their end goals. The AE (Account Executive) working on the opportunity should bring in the CSM (Customer Success Manager) as soon as they’re confident that the deal will close, so they can fill them in on the details of the deal. By making an early introduction, you give the prospect a clear picture of how the CS team will assist them, as well as how they’ve assisted similar customers. This will keep the speed of the transition high and the time to ROI for the customer low. During this initial call, the CSM’s goal isn’t to close the deal or dive into the details of onboarding itself, but rather to paint a picture surrounding CS’s role moving forward in the onboarding process, while amplifying the excitement between signing and onboarding.
- Proper documentation and knowledge transfer. According to this report by Zendesk, more than 70% of customers expect companies to collaborate on their behalf, so that they don’t have to repeat information to different representatives. That’s right: Your customer should never have to repeat their story. Nothing feels more frustrating and impersonal than being transferred from one team member to another and having to repeat oneself again and again. AEs must transfer any and all information they’ve gathered about the customer to the CS team. It’s common for mistakes to creep in at this point, especially if your communication is subpar. A common way to carry out this process is by using a questionnaire or “required fields” in the CRM. However, it’s also crucial that part of the internal handoff be done in an in-person meeting or over the phone for remote teams—especially for complex solutions where a custom plan is required for each customer.
- Clear external handover. Once the deal is closed, AEs should make a clean break with the customer and let the CS team take over. This transition marks an important step in your relationship with the customer. A successful external handover shows that you are committed to working with your customer towards achieving their goals. By this time, the CSM should hit the ground running to get training sessions on the calendar as quickly as possible. It’s important for them to demonstrate that they’ve fully done their homework, and that they know how to get the customer to where they want to go. Moving quickly and being proactive during the onboarding process can help increase the likelihood of renewal and customer adoption rate—the faster they can master your product the better.
And, last but not least,
- Confirm successful handoff. After your CS team has successfully onboarded the new customer, they need to confirm that the process is complete, so no customer falls through the cracks. This also serves as an excellent opportunity for both the sales and CS teams to sit together and talk about what went right, what went wrong, what needs to be improved for the next handoff and onboarding, and even plans around retention, upsell, and expansion efforts.
How does your organization ensure a successful sales to CS handoff? Do you have any other tips? If yes, share them with your peers by joining Systematic!