Sales and Customer Success – Vital Bedfellows

Let’s jump straight to the punchline for those of you with ADD.  If you are considering purchasing a software platform – strongly consider the relationship between the vendor’s sales and services teams.  That relationship is the canary in the coal mine for future dysfunction.

Why the Sales and Customer Success Relationship Matters Most

Let’s start with why a healthy relationship between a vendor’s sales and customer success team matters to you – the purchaser of software.  Healthy, growing software sales teams know more than anything else that over the past 10 years how you buy software has fundamentally changed.  You have learned to not rely on the vendor to educate you on the market, the software, the business processes.  When you spot a problem and get that nagging feeling that maybe there is a better way, your first place to start is Google, not the vendor.

In fact, by some studies 75% of the buying process is conducted before any vendor even knows you are considering a solution.  But the process isn’t entirely conducted online and in the comforts of your own office.  There are two sets of people you call – vendor clients (past and present).  And you learn.

By the time you get in touch with the vendor’s salesperson – you already know the success rate of the software.  You already know who canceled because of defects and who exceeded their business objectives.   There’s no wizard behind the curtain anymore.

This is where Customer Success comes into play.  A successful sales person NEVER throws the frontline team under the bus.  In contrast, the successful sales person goes out of their way to make the front line team happy.  Consider this, you go to a restaurant and the cheeseburger you ordered is cold when it arrives to your table.  You complain to the waiter and he in turn blasts the cook.  No accountability; no ownership.  Just visible dysfunction.  The odds of you going back to that place just dropped to near zero. 

In sales, the hardest sale to make is the first.  And when that client is successful, they will serve as a positive reference forever.  Great sales people know that every client is a potential reference and it’s the Customer Success team that ensures that occurs.  Likewise, great Customer Success teams are involved in the sales process because they want to make sure that the future client is one they can excel at making successful.

But problems in the sales cycle can come home to roost during the client’s onboarding process.  Insinuations made that the software can achieve the stated goal might have been true but are more difficult to accomplish and require a Frankenstein approach to the setup.  The end result is a less than happy client and that is going to impact those who are responsible for making happy clients in the first place. So resentment sets in to all of those impacted and fingers get pointed in unhealthy organizations but it’s the customer success team that has to deal with and attempt to correct the imbalance.

So the resentment that can occur between sales and customer success is more often than not a direct reflection of a misalignment between sales and customer success.  The end result is a very negative client impact that needs to be understood by YOU prior to purchasing the software.

How can you flush out possible dysfunction prior to purchase?

There are questions that need to be asked during the sales process of client references to understand the relationship.  Some examples are as follows:

  • Was there an issue during the setup process that led you to believe that something was oversold?
  • When that occurred, how did the vendor resolve it?  Who got involved?  Who actually resolved it?
  • How much involvement was the sales person after the sale was complete?  Were they educated on the issues, timeline and business processes?  Did they follow up to ensure your objectives were met?
  • During the sales process, did you interview those responsible for the implementation of the software prior to getting started?  Was the sales team involved in that process?  What was their interaction together?
  • How did the customer success team refer to their colleagues in sales?

You get the idea.  It’s important to ask these questions prior to purchase of multiple references to triangulate on the issue.  It can yield great insight into future dealings.

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