Face it: The account handoff from sales to customer success is often broken. Here's how to fix it

If you are in SaaS, you already know that the cost of acquiring a new customer is much higher than retaining an existing customer. If you want customers to stay longer with you and increase the revenue per customer, you have to set the right expectations with your customers from day one and have smooth sales-to-customer success account handoffs.

Often the culprit contributing to a bad customer experience and thereby churn is the lack of visibility and a clearly defined account transition process between sales and customer success.

Why is account handoff from sales to customer success so critical?

In absence of a proper transition from sales to customer success, customers can often feel like they are ignored or neglected. And when customers are not fully engaged with your brand, they don’t stick around for too long—hurting your customer lifetime value (CLV) and other key retention metrics.

Here are a few reasons why sales-to-customer success handoff is important.

1. It sets the tone

A seamless handoff between sales and customer success often results in improved customer retention. The opposite  is true too.  One of the top reasons for high customer churn is the disjointed onboarding process between sales and customer success. For instance, it feels like customers go through a contrasting onboarding experience that is not in sync with the expectations set during the deal closure.

On the other hand, a tight collaboration between both teams can help you manage customer expectations from the get-go. Therefore, a seamless handoff to customer success and setting the right expectations set the tone for customer retention.

2. It speeds up the time to ROI

For most subscription businesses, the real ROI of customer acquisition is dependent on the customer renewing their subscription regularly. Good communication and seamless transition go a long way in accelerating the time to ROI for your customer accounts.

3. It helps you build trust

New customers are often excited to see your product in action to solve their current pain points. They come in with a feeling that they’re onto something. But —the excitement is fragile and highly subject to change based on their experience with your organization in the first few weeks.

A smooth handoff between the two teams creates  an opportunity for you to build rapport and trust with your customers. And that’s exactly where a seamless handoff to customer success with enough intelligence on the customer’s objectives and pain points can be of great help.

Related read: Building rapport in remote sales

Reasons for broken customer success experience

A Customer Success Manager (CSM) is always trying to ensure that their customers are getting the most value out of their product and identifying opportunities for upselling and cross-selling. But it all starts with a fundamental understanding of the goals of the customer, what their key pain points are, their use case for your product, etc.

Sadly in most cases, not enough context about the customer is shared with customer success when an account handover happens from sales to the customer success team. And it’s not just about information sharing, but a whole lot of factors that contribute to a broken customer experience.

1. Not setting the right expectations

Your brand is as good as your worst customer testimonial. B2B customers jump through several hoops to buy your product. Then, they discard an equally potent suite of alternatives to do business with you.

Sales is often the first point of contact for your customers. They do a pretty good job of building excitement in customers during the deal negotiation stage, giving them a high of your brand’s promises and product capabilities.

Related read: Guide to running an effective discovery call

But when your customer success team doesn’t give them the experience they perceived during the sales stage (often because of lack of context)—they will soon fall back to their earlier options. And rest assured, they will leave scathing reviews about your brand on all public forums, which can dampen your reputation.

Besides customers, the broken process between sales and customer success also increases friction, leads to accountability issues, and instigates a vicious cycle of blame culture between the two teams.

2. Lack of documentation

Sales teams are primarily focused on closing deals. Based on our analysis at Avoma, the average number of meetings to close a deal is between 4 and 6. And each of these meetings tends to average between 30 minutes and 1 hour. Despite several conversations, very little information is captured as notes and updated into a central system such as a CRM.

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How AI- assisted notes in Avoma automatically getting synced to the CRM

And because there are no centralized notes or access to the history of conversations over the 4-6 meetings before the deal was closed, the customer success teams don’t have enough context about the customer.

3. Misalignment between sales and customer success KPIs

Sales is responsible for prospecting the leads, demoing the product features, and converting prospects into paying customers. Sales teams are often measured on KPIs (key performance indicators) such as sales revenue, achieving quota, potential revenue pipeline, average order value, and so on.

The core metrics on which a customer success team is measured typically include customer lifetime value (CLV), churn rate, number of upsell/cross-sell, etc.

Since sales and customer success goals are in opposite directions, there is often misalignment between the customer expectations set by sales teams and how customer success teams handle the account, starting with onboarding. And that broken experience ultimately results in customer churn.

customer success

To give you an insight into how it impacts revenue—if you lose 5% of your paying subscription customers each month, you are looking at a close to 50% annual customer churn rate. And after just one year, you are looking at a ~30% divergence in customers and revenue!

The blueprint to fix the sales and customer success gap

Sales is like the ground staff at the airport that ushers us inside the plane. Once onboard, a different set of professionals from the same airline brand greet us, help us settle in, offer us drinks (usually through an upselling tactic), and help us make the most out of our in-flight experience.

The job of customer success begins where sales end—and customers expect nothing short of a royal treatment once they are on board with your brand. A good sales-to-customer success handoff process doesn’t happen by accident. It takes both teams working together—and developing a well thought out process.

Here’s a blueprint to set up the sales-customer success handoff process and offer a seamless experience. It falls into five stages namely:

  1. Build visibility before closing a deal
  2. Create an internal handover process
  3. Create an external customer success handover journey
  4. Customer success onboarding
  5. Frequently check in and ensure the ongoing success

1. Build visibility before closing a deal

In highly process-oriented organizations, the sales reps and AEs start building their account handoff document when they believe they are likely to close a deal. The document gets shared with the CSMs after the deal is closed.

But it makes more sense to bring the CSMs proactively into context much before the deal closure happens. Since we are in an era of instant gratification, most customers want to use your product as soon as they sign up or make a purchase. And if a CSM comes in only after the deal is closed, you’re already on the back foot.

Also, mapping accounts to CSMs during the negotiation stages helps increase the transition speed between sales and customer success. It ensures there’s no confusion about who in customer success will be taking up an account.

customer success
Deal stage visibility in Avoma

From a customer perspective, it clarifies who is their point of contact for setting up the product.

And from the CSM’s perspective—they know what’s happening with an account assigned to them, much before the onboarding stages.

2. Create an internal handover process

There are two primary steps to fine tune the alignment between sales and customer success. One is internal handoff—conducting internal meetings to share account information, knowledge transfers, answering questionnaires, etc.

Another is external handoff—introducing the CSM and setting expectations with the customer on the further processes.

As part of the internal handover the common practice is to have the AE or sales rep fill up a questionnaire that covers key information such as:

  • Annual contract value
  • Potential contract value (in case of monthly renewals)
  • Number of licences/seats
  • Negotiated price if applicable
  • Use case/objectives
  • Pain points
  • Key stakeholders
  • Internal champion at the customer account
  • Blockers and decision-makers, etc.

That said, a much easier way to handle this is using conversation intelligence software to give your CSM access to the entire notes and conversation history, starting from the SDR reach out upto the deal closing conversations between the AE and the customer.

That way, the CSM gets to know every minute detail of how the sale went down. So, for example, if the customer was originally planning to buy ten licenses of your product —but then discovered some internal issues and then finally decided to start with five licenses, the CSMs will be able to weave those points into their post-handoff upsell conversations at a later period.

Also, using a tool like Avoma, CSMs can choose to listen to specific parts of the conversation based on topics of interest such as objections raised, customer pain points, etc.

handoff

And when the CSMs are handling multiple customer accounts, they can save time by quickly skimming through the AI-generated notes (call summary as seen in the left, in the screenshot below) without having to listen to conversations.

customer success

In short, one of the simplest dipsticks to a seamless handoff process is that the customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves to customer success if they have already discussed a given topic with your AE.

3. Create an external customer success handover journey

As discussed under ‘building visibility’, the mapping of CSM to a customer account needs to happen much before a prospect turns into a customer. Therefore, at this stage, the introduction of the CSM to the customer is more of a formality and yet an important step to show that you are committed to the continued success of your customer.

The introduction typically happens over a Zoom meeting or via email—ideally within 24-48 hours of the deal sign off.  

A key aspect to remember during the external handoff is—customers don’t necessarily know or care much about it. For them, the experience is always between them and your brand.

So regardless of whether they are being handed off from marketing to sales or from sales to customer success—they expect a uniform experience across all stages of their buyer journey.

Once the external handover is properly done, the AE can also get out of the way to focus on closing the next deal, ensuring that they didn’t leave their customers in a lurch.

4. Customer success onboarding

At this stage, the account is officially handed over to the CSM, and they begin helping the customer set up the product based on their use case. This step is of utmost importance to your customer and is their moment of truth towards solving their pain points.

In cases where it’s mostly self-serve, the CSMs need to do the following:

  • Initiate the onboarding email sequence and in-product sequences using chat tools such as Intercom along with FAQs
  • Share collaterals and videos related to product set-up and specific use cases
  • Provide them with contacts and resources for any further questions

And in cases where products need initial set up based on customer’s use case:

  • The CSMs need to schedule onboarding sessions where they invite key stakeholders from the accounts and help them set up the product based on their specific needs, objectives, and pain points

5. Frequently check-in and ensure ongoing success

The final stage is to confirm that the handover is complete. Depending on the history gathered about the customer using conversation intelligence tools, the CSMs need to do periodic check-ins to ensure that the customers can achieve their objectives using the product.

Both the AE and the CSM need to analyze what went well and what could have been improved during the handoff. From time to time, the CSMs also need to analyze trends of product issues, adoption friction, or feature requests mentioned across several conversations and share it with the product teams to ensure the issues are solved holistically and not just offering workarounds for the time being.

The intelligence from these conversations can also be used to train the new CSMs and ramp them up quickly to deliver the same level of frictionless customer experience.

Finally, the CSMs can curate playlists of their conversations that feature objections or specific customer requests to feed in as inputs to the marketing and product teams.

Finally, ensure sales - customer success process adherence!

Wrapping up—it’s not just about setting up a process for account handoff but ensuring that the process setup is being adhered to. While the above process is a decent ballpark, you can structure your handoff in a thousand different ways depending on your industry and the kind of product.

The key is transparency and communication across functions. Cross-functional collaboration is one of the keys to a successful customer experience and reduced churn. So get together, create a plan, and democratize customer intelligence. Pretty soon, you’ll begin to see the improvements and impact compounding.