Combining Sales and Customer Success Into One

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Jeff Heckler
Jeff Heckler Member, CS Leader Posts: 80 Expert
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edited April 8 in CS Conversations

Recently, there has been more discussion around combining the roles of account management and customer success.

One of the supporting statements is that no one is better to buy from (sales, AM/AE) than a trusted advisor (customer success, CSM).

This runs counter to the historical argument that CS needs to stay ambivalent to revenue gains because doing so clouds CS judgment and action, and the customer's trust - which I've never agreed with.

Most likely, this combined initiative would reside with a CRO or CCO.

And, of course, the validity for, and effectiveness of, this role would depend on company, stage, product(s), GTM...

Below is a short list of the benefits and risks I see.

Combining the roles of Account Managers (AMs) and Customer Success Managers (CSMs) into one:

Benefits:

  1. Streamlined communication with clients, offering a single point of contact.
  2. Improved understanding of customer needs and challenges.
  3. Enhanced ability to identify upsell and cross-sell opportunities.
  4. Unified focus on customer success and revenue growth.
  5. Reduction in operational costs by consolidating roles.

Risks:

  1. Potential overload for the combined role, impacting service quality.
  2. Confusion about prioritizing between sales and customer success activities.
  3. Risk of diluting the specialized skills unique to each role.
  4. Possible conflict of interest, prioritizing revenue over customer success.

What are your thoughts? Where do CS teams fit into the sales/expansion cycle for you, and where should they fit?

Comments

  • Ed Powers
    Ed Powers Member Posts: 186 Expert
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    Having run Customer Success teams and having six years of sales experience myself, I see these roles as being very different, @Jeff Heckler.

    First, everyone isn't a salesperson, nor should they be. In my experience, very few full-time salespeople are any good to begin with. While the sales process on the surface is pretty simple, it takes years to master. Asking a CSM to be an expert at it in addition to everything else they are required to do is too much to ask, in my view. That said, under certain circumstances there's nothing wrong with CSMs doing an "assumptive close" on a renewal, adding seats for expansions, closing very simple add-ons, or identifying and passing along leads to salespeople. But business development, competitive selling, and strategic selling, in my view, are best left to the experts.

    Second, when companies spend millions of dollars each year tinkering with sales compensation plans to incentivize behaviors of salespeople, it's naive to think that assigning quotas to CSMs won't also change their behaviors. There's 40 years of fascinating research by Richard M. Ryan and Edward Deci on human motivation that shows extrinsic rewards are effective for extrinsically motivated people, but backfire for those more intrinsically motivated. In that case, experiments have shown people become less engaged, persistent, proactive, curious, creative, flexible, and cooperative. In extreme cases, they act with less integrity (which lowers trustworthiness), acting with intention to get the reward, not to do the things that lead to it. So if people like the CSM role because the work personally satisfies them, then treating them like salespeople is counterproductive.

    The shift for CSMs to act more like salespeople is understandable. In nearly all cases I've seen, senior CS leaders have done a poor job of connecting the clear and compelling benefits of building trust and helping customers plan and achieve their expected value to revenue and cost. With the right statistical approaches, this is easily done. Absent that, CS leaders and their bosses reach for things that are easier to quantify, such as quota performance. However, I expect they will eventually learn the hard way that customers don't need more salespeople calling on them. Instead, they will choose providers who help them more successfully change their processes and people, in addition to their technology, to achieve their desired business results.

    My $0.02.

    Ed

  • Pam Micznik
    Pam Micznik Member Posts: 50 Expert
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    If it's a complicated product and a complicated sales process, CS and sales are 2 different jobs.

    In this case, customers need post-sales "coaches" who guide clients and keep them on track. Of course, CS professionals must be trusted advisors who believe in their products enough to introduce customers to new features and show enough value that customers will want to buy more. Then, Account Managers can do the challenging work of closing the deals and completing contracts.

  • Brian O'Keeffe
    Brian O'Keeffe Member Posts: 209 Expert
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    Sales people are motived by money. Mostly what can they close by the end of this quarter. Period. Everything else is secondary and why not? When commission is how you get paid that is going to be your focus and what drives EVERY decision.

    CSMs are focused on the relationship and building/preserving that is the focus. That intro call where they mention that we will be supporting Linux and that is 90% of what the team is using? The disaster of a deployment that needs to be reopened and restarted from scratch (and delays initial payment that drives that sales person's commission)? The expectation that the support team will be on the hook for every phase post deployment to help configure and set up additional modules or updates? The CSM is going to tell the truth in each of these examples, no matter how hard it is or what the impact will be.

    The Linux support? Not having that on the roadmap meant the end of that contract from a high profile brand name and the sales person leaving the company. Many deployments in my time have had to be reopened / restarted and some took months to get right, meanwhile billing could not begin and the sales person did not get paid. Support helping with phase 2 or beyond? No, they are on a break/fix model and will not be available to help with additional configuration/updates over time. We can offer professional services, for a fee, to work with you on each for phase 2, 3 etc...

    All three of those examples are pulled from memory and there are many more. Sales and CSMs should always remain separate with CSMs sniffing out opportunities and providing hot leads in partnership with sales. But the roles can and should conflict at times.

  • Meg Valentine
    Meg Valentine Member Posts: 7 Navigator
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    Thanks everyone. I was approached last week by a potential employer hiring CSM's to upsell, cross-sell, perform contract negotiation, and handle every step of renewal, including Deal Desk interactions. As a former award-winning sales person with a strong sales track record, I'm not going to shrink at these types of opportunities, but I do see this as a very risky approach for most companies.

    I've proven myself effective in the areas of sales, negotiation, up-sell/cross-sell and identifying opportunities for expansion and growth, but I do see great risks to this model. And I do think it could really harm the overall customer relationship to include sales in the roles and responsibilities of CSM's. The value that customers continue to associate with CSM work that is mostly about driving adoption, capturing value, and maximizing value of what they have already purchased, has proven to the foundation on which expansion is made even more possible and that greater growth is made real. At least in my experience that's the case.

    The value proposition of CSM's when do not upsell or grow revenue is that they truly can be the voice of the customer internally and advocate for their needs without having to pressure an account to buy anything additional. And I've found that it does indeed create credibility with customers as to your desire to solve their problems and remove obstacles from their path to adoption and eventually expansion is not only appreciated but considered highly valuable and even worth paying additional FEES to have. Most of the companies I've worked for in the Enterprise space are having customers pay a large fee to have a CSM and other product resources help their accounts with adoption and value realization. As someone who didn't have the luxury of a CSM working with them on accounts when I was in Sales, I see this as a less effective and more complicated way to delight customers and maximize revenue - at least at the Strategic Enterprise level.

  • Carmit Proper
    Carmit Proper Member Posts: 6 Navigator
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    I recently came across an even more extreme approach, combining pre-sale and CS, which I think is not having customer success at all...

    But on this specific discussion, I agree with the risks and opportunities listed and what I see working very well is a combination of that approach: CS are doing upsell and renewal, so they are working as trusted advisors with current users and champions, it is only natural that they will present to them new features or services within the product that can benefit them. It should be part of their conversation and based on value. If they drive adoption, they can also increase usage which for some products, is a form of upsell. I see renewal as part of the CSM role as a given.

    Cross-sale is different and requires cold reaching in some cases and following a new sales cycle. It should be with Sales. However, CSMs can and should help with identifying those opportunities, from their discussions with their champions.