Abstract graphic of circles, dots, triangles, and lines on a blue background

Sales to Customer Success handoff: Best practices

You’ve just closed a sale and your new customer is excited to try out the new product? Well, they need the support of your customer success team to make the most out of your product’s features. Let’s see why this handoff is a crucial point in the relationship with your client and what are the most common challenges Sales and CS teams experience during the handoff.

Why is it challenging to have a smooth handoff?

The handoff from sales to customer success is a critical moment in a customer’s journey. However, businesses often struggle with this process because there are different challenges they need to face.

Misalignment between departments

One of the most common challenges when moving from one department to another is the alignment of those teams. This misalignment can happen due to the company culture that is not focused on collaboration. Also, oftentimes, customer success and sales have different goals and objectives set out. Of course, each team is going to be focused on reaching their goals or increasing their focus metrics, without knowing what the other team is doing. 

“If your company is not one of collaboration and cooperation, there will be issues. Or if there are differences in how the reporting structure is set up organizationally. Customer Success quite often falls underneath Sales, and if a leader is focused on, or their background is heavily weighted and skewed towards new top-of-funnel activities and leading with sales, then that’s what you’re gonna get.

 [….] The goals of Sales and Customer Success are different. Sales is about bringing in the Net New Customer. Their goals are aligned in one way, and the goals of Customer Success are aligned in another way.” Jeff Heckler, Director of Customer Success at MarketSource

Poor communication

Another problem that many businesses face is the lack of, or poor communication across the organization. If Marketing is not communicating with Sales, and Sales is not communicating with Customer Success, then the experience is negatively impacted at every step of the customer journey. 

Every client is different. Even if they are meeting your ICP, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have certain goals or needs. When those details are omitted by the Sales team, the Customer Success department is already starting on the wrong foot. Clear communication and data sharing between departments can be the difference between success and failure in the handoff process. 

“Communication is key to any successful handoff. Regular check-ins, emails, or meetings between sales and CS teams will help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and can anticipate any potential issues before they arise. It’s important to have a designated point person for each team to manage the handoff and ensure that any critical information is shared.” David Reid, Sales Director at VEM

Client's understanding of your product

Sometimes, clients might have a hard time understanding exactly what your product does and how it can help them grow their business. While Sales provides information regarding the benefits of using the product, oftentimes the client has different expectations. For a seamless handoff, both the Sales and CS teams need to make sure that they set out clear expectations and encourage the client to make the most of the product and its features. 

How to do a successful Sales to Customer Success handoff

The handoff is an important moment in the business-client relationship. Now that we know the main challenges, let’s see how you can solve them.

1. Document everything

This goes without saying: You need to document everything. When you take notes about your client, it is easier for your customer success team to review the notes and understand the needs of the client. While you might think that some details are not relevant, those might be important for the CS team. 

“As a sales professional, I’ve discovered that open and honest communication is crucial for a successful handoff to the customer success (CS) team. Establishing a clear understanding of the customer’s needs and expectations is essential to enable effective communication with the CS team. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, such as keeping detailed notes in the CRM system, participating in internal meetings with the CS team, or even having a joint call with the customer. 

From the perspective of a customer success professional, it is vital to have a deep understanding of the customer’s objectives and obstacles. This understanding can be obtained by reviewing notes from the sales team, conducting a discovery call with the customer, or analyzing the customer’s online presence.” Kimberly Shaw, Sales at MoreGameslike

2. Customer-centric mentality

The customer must come first. Actually, 66% of customers expect companies to understand their needs. When you are making the needs and goals of your users your top priority, it’s easier for both departments to look at the handoff process from a different perspective. So, instead of focusing on moving clients from one department to another, let’s focus on meeting the needs of the users at every point in their journey with the help of each department. 

“The most important thing to remember is that your customers should always be at the center of every process. Prioritizing customer satisfaction above all else is key for any successful sales-to-customer success transition.” David Zhang, CEO of Kate Backdrop

3. Comprehensive onboarding strategy

We all know that the onboarding process is vital for the success of your customer. Why? It is the part that set outs the relationship between your customer and your product. A poor onboarding experience can lead to a higher risk of churn and this is something every Customer success professional tries to avoid. Statistics show that poor onboarding is the third most important reason for customers to churn, right after wrong product fit and lack of engagement.

Building a solid relationship with the customer is critical from the outset, and offering them comprehensive support and guidance throughout the onboarding process will go a long way. 

One best practice for a seamless handoff is to create a comprehensive onboarding strategy for the customer. This plan should lay out specific objectives, timelines, and milestones, as well as provide clear communication about what the customer can anticipate at each stage of the process. It is critical to remain proactive in reaching out to customers and regularly update them on their progress.”  Kimberly Shaw, Sales at MoreGameslike

4. Make sure everybody knows their responsibilities

If there’s no set-in-stone matrix for your sales and customer success team, they might get confused and end up doing the same task or omitting to perform an important step in the process. 

For the handoff process, it’s recommended to have a RACI chart that clearly shows the responsibilities and roles of both sales and customer success. The chart should also show if the department needs to be informed regarding a step of the process or if they need to consult with other departments before performing a certain task. 

“You should have a complete matrix built out across the organization. It should start at the highest level of the organization: Sales, Support, Professional Services, Customer Success, how those line up, and who’s responsible for your main methods of delivery, both for revenue and for services to the customer.

Further down from there, break those out across your company: Customer Success Ops, Customer Success Managers, Technical Account Managers, and Project Managers. The thing with RACI is that it needs to be visible, it needs to exist in Confluence or as a living document, and your organization that everybody is aligned with, and responsible and accountable to.

So, you have a checks and balances system to fall back on. If I’m a Customer Success Leader, my Sales Leader, my Support Leader, Finance, and everyone else in the company knows the chain of command and knows where the responsible parties are for the things that we’re trying to do in-house and deliver to our customers.” Jeff Heckler, Director of Customer Success at MarketSource

5. Shared KPIs between Sales and CS

When different teams share KPIs or milestones, then they need to focus on collaborating and helping each other. This will allow different departments to “fight” for the same goal and move in the same direction. While it is crucial for each team to keep track of specific metrics, everybody has a part in the overall performance of the business. 

“There need to be shared goals across an organization so that we’re all moving in the same direction. And that starts with the leaders of the functions themselves. As a Customer Success leader, I’ve built quarterly compensation and bonus structures for my CS Ops teams and individuals simply to keep all of us focused on what’s important.” Jeff Heckler, Director of Customer Success at MarketSource

6. Establish a clear workflow

If you want to have an effective handoff process, you need to make sure that you have a clear workflow that can be replicated with every new client that you acquire. Depending on your product, the needs of your customers, and your internal processes, you need to implement a workflow that works for the sales department, the CS team, and each customer. Here’s what the handoff workflow should look like: 

“Creating a seamless sales-to-success workflow can be daunting, but it’s critical to building a successful customer experience. There are six essential steps you can follow to establish a smooth process. 

Firstly, it’s essential to gather key customer information, such as their company size, industry, and objectives for using the product. This data is crucial for providing a personalized experience. Secondly, the sales team should document their findings in a clear, readable format and store them in a shared space for easy access.

The third step is the first internal handoff, where the salesperson introduces the customer success representative to the account. All materials and ongoing conversations should be shared internally. The fourth step is to set expectations with the customer before the sales handoff, with a customer success plan that outlines measurable milestones and a realistic timeline.

The fifth step involves the external sales-to-support handoff, where the sales rep introduces the customer to the support rep and reiterates the next steps and expectations. Finally, initiate the onboarding process, monitor the success journey, and report back to sales.” Susan Anderson, Founder & Lead Editor, The Worthy Goods

7. Use better tools

Nowadays, there are various technologies that can have a positive impact on the handoff process. There’s no need to collect data in an Excel spreadsheet and share it with the CS team. It’s recommended to have a CRM to collect all of the data. This will make it easier for the CS team to review the data and grasp a better understanding of the customer’s needs. 

Also, a project management tool can help you implement workflows and make sure that everybody is doing their part in the process. Better yet, the CS team can have a dedicated customer success platform where they can tend to the client’s needs. 

8. Constantly collect customer data and feedback

It’s impossible to establish a perfect Sales to Customer success handoff process. This is why you should constantly collect customer data and feedback. As you know, data is crucial for any SaaS business and your customers can offer valuable insights you might not spot on your own. 

With those insights, you can see what needs to change and what you need to keep during handoff. Also, encourage your customers to provide feedback all through their journey, from onboarding until referral. 

“Once goals are established, data collection is essential. This includes understanding the current customer experience, tracking sales performance, and having a well-defined process for transferring customer information from one team to another. By collecting data in this way, you can gain a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t when switching from sales to success.” Geoff Cudd, Founder at Don’t Do It Yourself

Moving seamlessly from one department to another

When it comes to the handoff from sales to customer success, transparency and communication across functions are essential. In order to provide customers with a positive experience and reduce churn, cross-functional collaboration is key. This means that sales and customer success teams must work together to ensure a smooth transition, with open and honest communication throughout the process.

To achieve this, it’s important for both teams to come together and create a plan for the handoff. This plan should outline the responsibilities of each team and provide a clear timeline for when the handoff will occur.