Winning a new customer is a significant milestone for any B2B company. Hit the gong, send win notices, and let the AE bask in the glory. But behind the scenes, a lot of work around helping the customer realize value would have already started. Your sales team has filled that 2-3 page long handoff document, the assigned CSM or professional services person has listened to the gong.io call recordings to get familiar with the account and the first kickoff call is set. If you are like most SaaS companies, the sales to customer success handoff is considered complete by this time.
But what if I say that the linear customer engagement model is fundamentally flawed and is inspired by the manufacturing industry productivity innovations (The Toyota Way), which involves a significant upfront sale and very limited ongoing maintenance.
SaaS is different. For most SaaS businesses, winning a new customer is only half the battle. There is always an upsell opportunity, irrespective of whether the customer is SMB, MM, Enterprise, or a Key Account. Besides, churn is considered a holy sin. The new customer onboarding experience is the most critical aspect of growing or retaining customers.
In an ideal world, your customer should feel like the onboarding experience is a continuation of the sales experience, and nothing has changed. This is where we need to rethink the handoff experience.
#1 Deliver a connected customer experience
Your sales team has spent several weeks or months (or years) understanding and delivering a highly personalized experience to win the customers. It is unfair to expect them to hand over critical customer context and knowledge through 1-2 handoff documents and 1-2 internal calls.
Also, expecting your assigned customer success manager (or professional services lead) to pick up the reigns and continue where sales left is not a reasonable expectation. This invariably causes a breakdown in the experience during the first few calls with the post-sales team where the same things are being asked of the customer again.
One of the more effective approaches to solving this problem is to make the Customer Success Person an integral part of the new logo land experience right after the vendor of choice. The CSM will get to shadow the salesperson, meet key customer contacts, go over several of the notes around customer goals, key milestones, and key stakeholders and also validate a lot of what the seller has captured.
It’s not that companies don’t do this. Most enterprise-type or bigger deals do have the customer success team being part of the back half of the sales process. The change really is about making it part of your playbook and not limiting it to mandating it for bigger deals.
Doing this has dual benefits, 1. It helps the CSM be productive faster 2. More importantly, it builds confidence with the customer that you are working towards accelerating the time to first value and success.
#2 Use Mutual Success Plans
Unlike a Mutual Action Plan or Close Plan, which is used mostly internally and the usage of which ends at contract signature, a mutual success plan is designed to help drive engagement and collaboration with the customer across the lifecycle of the relationship.
For a salesperson, Mutual Success Plans to help them continuously validate business needs, next steps, and key milestones. It also automates handoff to post-sales and since most of the deal information is already captured in a structured manner, it makes it extremely easy for the CSM to get most of their questions answered.
From a customer perspective, Mutual Succes Plans is the system they will continue to use as they collaborate with the post-sales team. This means no context is lost in transition and it is extremely easy to look back at the engagement history with the pre-sales team.
For the CSM, this should feel like magic since all information they need to understand the account is available in a structured way along with customers’ inputs and it is easier to continue customer collaboration in the same experience.
#3 Go beyond the salesperson
When we think sales to customer success handoff, we only think about the salesperson as the source of information. But there is a wealth of information with other pre-sales team members - from the SDR to sales engineer or value consultant or whoever else touched the account (including the executive). Consider having the handoff process involve each of these members to learn from their perspectives.
It is also beneficial to get the customer to participate in the handoff process to further understand their perspectives before implementation. Using Mutual Success Plans helps not just collaborate with the customer during their journey but also bring them into the handoff process.
Streamlining the handoff process and taking advantage of digital and automation will be critical in making the handoff seamless and accelerating the time to value for any new customer. The key is transparency and collaboration.
#4 Learn how the customer defines success
Selling involves high-level messaging, positioning, and transformation storytelling with product demos, workshops, value definition to help validate the hypothesis of change. Whereas customer success involves the nuts and bolts of deployment, value realization, and ongoing collaboration and feedback. Having a shared understanding of the customer’s desired outcomes, key milestones, and stakeholders that the buyer validates during the handoff process is critical to accelerating the first time to value.
The way to do that is by having all go-to-market teams talk the same language. This involves aspects of sales enablement and, more importantly, defining mutual success plan templates that can serve as starting points for all the GTM teams to define a shared understanding of the customer’s priorities.
Mastering the handoff process takes careful planning of strategy, collaborative relationship between the head of sales and customer success, and also a culture of mutual respect and empathy between the frontline sales and customer success teams. Doing this well will pay rich dividends to your customer relationships, expansions, and reducing churn.
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