Sales & Customer Success Alignment: A collaboration guide

The Dock Team
January 23, 2024
March 4, 2024

There are few better revenue growth strategies than getting the teams responsible for acquiring and retaining customers on the same page.

When Sales and Customer Success teams collaborate, great things happen. Customers have more success with your product or service. Small accounts become big accounts. Renewals are mere formalities rather than open-ended existential questions.

But the road to working better together is never smooth — especially when you’re in scale mode.

Misaligned incentives, competing priorities, working in silos, and friction between leaders hinder alignment. You end up with bad-fit customers who inevitably churn.

In this product-led world where the boundaries between Sales and Customer Success get blurrier, teams that prioritize and foster collaboration are poised to win.

This article presents strategies to help Sales and Customer Success better align and successfully collaborate with each other to win, onboard, and retain customers.

What is Sales and Customer Success alignment?

Alignment between Sales and Customer Success (CS) revolves around getting these revenue-critical teams driving toward the same goal: earning new customers that stick around for a long time.

At organizations with mid- to high-ACV products or services—SaaS businesses or agencies, for example—the tactics used to acquire customers can sometimes be at odds with those used to make those customers successful with your product or service.

“When companies are under a lot of pressure to grow, Sales feels like they have to do whatever they can to win customers,” said Conor Cox, VP of Revenue at Trolley, a SaaS payment platform.

“But for CS, who are measured and compensated on retention and upsell, and generally how happy customers are, that get-as-much-revenue-in-the-door approach can create a challenging situation because they have to ultimately service that revenue and make those customers happy.”

The challenge, therefore, lies in designing processes, templates, and strategies that incentivize both Sales and Customer Success teams to prioritize the right kind of customers with a high lifetime value (LTV).

This is exactly what Sales and Customer Success alignment is designed to do—and why it’s so important.

Why Sales & CS alignment has never been this mission-critical

It’s getting harder to acquire new customers.

Unpredictable markets have caused many revenue teams to switch from a growth-at-all-costs mindset to prioritizing existing customer retention and expansion.

The rise of PLG has also created many entry points to your product and a non-linear path to buying. This has blurred the lines between Sales and CS, making the context of how a customer came to your product and their history with it critical in efforts to retain, upsell, cross-sell, and expand accounts.

Not only is it getting harder to sell. It’s getting harder to buy, too.

Buying committees are growing, deals are facing increased scrutiny from finance and legal stakeholders, and lingering economic uncertainty means there’s less budget for new tools.

Buyer behavior is also changing. Buyers have more power and will do far more research solo before speaking with a salesperson.

All of this means that by the time the sale finally goes through, buyer expectations are sky-high. 

CS teams have to hard to help customers avoid post-purchase remorse or the “trough of disillusionment”, a concept Gillian Heltai, Chief Customer Officer at Lattice, explains in this episode of Grow and Tell.

“[Customers] get so excited when they're buying. We're selling them the dream. If you don't deliver a great onboarding, it's like this trough of disillusionment where it's like, ‘Oh, I thought it was going to be this. And now this is so sad.

So you need to do a great job with getting time to value and keeping the level the same as they experience in the sales process. So that takes a lot of effort.”

These factors have created an environment where collaboration between Sales and Customer Success is no longer just a nice-to-have—it’s essential for the survival of an organization.

To accommodate, fast-growing companies are shifting to revenue enablement—a more holistic approach to growing revenue that puts as much emphasis on retaining and growing existing customers as acquiring new ones.

Yet this approach isn’t without its challenges when it comes to collaboration between sales and customer success.

📖 For more collaboration guides, check out Sales Collaboration Guide: How to create cross-team alignment

Top challenges preventing Sales & CS collaboration

Factors stemming all the way from the top of the org structure down to how individuals on different teams communicate and work together can hinder effective collaboration.

Some of the most common include:

Poor Sales-to-Success handoff

A lackluster handoff process is the most commonly cited source of friction between Sales and Customer Success. 

Part of it is poor communication. Sales either don’t have enough time to properly brief a CS rep on a new customer, or they’re not sure what information needs to be communicated.

Part of it is a lack of shared tools. Sales work in the CRM and communicate with prospective customers via long email threads that don’t get shared with CS. CS, working in their customer platform, often miss the context of these presale conversations.

No matter the cause, a disorganized transition lengthens the time to value (TTV) and creates a poor customer experience. Long TTV periods can cause the initial interest and excitement for your product to wane into frustration that they’ll never see the value promised in the sales cycle.

Sales does poor discovery

Inadequate discovery during the sales process, or poor handoff of information uncovered during discovery, can lead to implementation issues—both with customers and between teams.

“Before a successful implementation can be implemented, you have to dig down deep enough to get to the root of the customer’s problem and pain points,” says Conor.

“If it doesn’t happen in the sales process, it will happen in the onboarding process. If CS constantly finds themselves doing this discovery process—which is typically the Sales’ responsibility—it can create friction.”

Not all problems sit at the team level, though. Some trickle down from the top.

The business prioritizes net-new acquisition over retention

When companies focus on revenue growth through new customer acquisition above all else, it creates a natural divide between the team acquiring revenue and the team delivering on what was sold. 

It creates misaligned incentives for Sales, who are compensated for bringing in new business, and CS, who are rewarded for making this business successful. 

Rifts are exacerbated when companies don’t invest the same resources into both acquisition and retention.

Sales and CS leaders don’t get along

Another common challenge arises when there isn't a good relationship between the leaders of Sales and CS. 

While a little healthy friction between Sales and CS leaders can help keep them accountable and push to get better, too much can create organizational gaps and stifle growth.

“It usually shows up in finger-pointing,” says Conor, “which can create a really challenging situation for those two parties because they have goals and priorities that are at odds. If there’s a disjoint there, and the leaders don’t talk, that’s a common way for the friction to grow.”

Sales & CS collaboration tips

Now that we’ve covered the main challenges preventing Sales/CS collaboration, let’s explore strategies to foster it.

1. Nail (or eliminate) the sales-to-success handoff

The handoff is the transition of a new customer from the salesperson who closed the deal to the CS rep or account manager who will service the new account.

And it’s arguably the most important milestone in the entire customer lifecycle.

For your customers, it sets the tone for the entire working relationship with your organization. It’s where the dream presented in the sales process either becomes a reality—or turns into a nightmare. 

Needless to say, it is imperative to get it right. Here’s how to nail it every time.

Bring CS into the conversation before close

Instead of waiting until after the deal closes, introduce Customer Success Managers (CSMs) during the sales cycle.

“Creating that relationship between a CSM and a potential customer pre-close is important because things change post-close,” says Conor.

Whether it’s in an implementation review, a proof-of-concept, or a shared Slack channel, create ways for CSMs to put their fingerprints on deals before they close.

“When we get into the implementation phase, our CSMs have already had some influence on the shape the deal is going to take. Implementation becomes a lot smoother because they’ve already built that rapport with the customer,” says Conor.

Internally, a weekly deal review meeting can help align Sales and CS on major deals in the pipeline:

  • AEs can talk through how the deal is progressing, what’s left to do, and whether there are any risks or roadblocks. 
  • CSMs can begin organizing implementation reviews and establishing a relationship with a new potential customer.

Sales teams can also use Dock as a digital sales room to capture every artifact from the sales process in one place. Not only does this help the client stay organized during the buying process, but it also acts as a clean handoff resource to seamlessly transition the client into the onboarding process.

💡 Tip: During the sales process, Loom's Sales team introduces their Customer Success team. By giving buyers a glimpse of the onboarding process, it lessens the buyer’s apprehensions and increases their likelihood of committing.

After the deal closes: internal

After the deal closes, a knowledge transfer has to happen between AEs and CSMs.

Creating that “download” process is integral to Sales and Customer Success alignment at this pivotal stage of the customer journey

Sales should include information such as:

  • Customer background: Share detailed information about your new customer’s business, the industry they’re in, and their ideal customer base
  • Team dynamics: Identify the stakeholders, such as the account owner, key users, decision-makers, and points of contact.
  • Priorities and milestones: Share what they hope to gain by using your product, and when they plan to hit key milestones.
  • Pains and challenges: What was it that led them to seek you out in the first place? It’s important for CS to understand these challenges so they can be adequately addressed.
  • Sales process recap: Outline the entire sales process including how the lead was generated, issues uncovered in discovery, solutions discussed, and any objections that were overcome.
  • Renewal dates and upsell opportunities: Share contract length details and any potential upsell or expansion opportunities identified during the sales process.

This knowledge transfer is critical to a smooth handoff. It’s also greatly expedited with a single shared source of truth like Dock.

Here’s where your Dock sales room can double as a customer onboarding portal. For example, you can build an onboarding page into your Dock workspace template, and keep that hidden from the customer until the deal closes. 

Once the client signs, you just have to unhide the onboarding page, and they can keep working with your team from the same link.

After the deal closes: external

Once internal stakeholders are on the same page, it’s time to bring the new customer into the loop.

  • Collaborate on the kickoff call: Just as the CSM should be introduced before the deal closes, having the AE present at the first post-sale meeting with the customer is key to a smooth transition. While the call shouldn’t feel repetitive for the customer, restating the reasons for the purchase can help everyone get off on the right foot, prioritize important goals, and set expectations.
  • Define the most impactful wins: It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and possibilities of implementing a new too. Having a clear 30-60-90 day plan and honing in on the one thing that will have the most impactful outcome is important to long-term success.
  • Hold regular reviews: Sales should be regularly checking in with CS to help deepen the customer relationship and also help identify opportunities to renew and expand accounts
  • Celebrate the win: Remember that buying and implementing a new product is no walk in the park for your new customer, either. Small gestures like sending swag or gifts to celebrate the start of a new chapter together, can go a long way to humanize what can be a mechanical process and foster genuine relationships.

2. Align cross-team incentives

One of the main challenges preventing a good relationship between Sales and CS is a lack of clear and aligned incentives. 

When Sales prioritizes and is rewarded by one thing (like bringing as many new customers in as possible) and CS is rewarded by another (like making sure those new customers are successful), it can create friction.

But when incentives are aligned from the outset, it can lead to more fruitful working relationships. Here are the top strategies to do so.

Shared KPIs: pros and cons

Shared KPIs between Sales and Customer Success are a little less cut-and-dry than between Sales and Marketing, where you can draw a clear line to revenue.

“For Sales and CS it’s often less about metrics and more about understanding the nature of each deal and setting realistic expectations”, says Conor.

That said, there are some high-level KPIs that when shared by both teams can help align goals, including:

  • Churn: A critical metric for CS, but when Sales are assigned some responsibility for the number of customers who leave it can help make them more judicial in who they bring in in the first place.
  • Expansion revenue: This can help Sales teams prioritize accounts with “land and expand” potential, and CS reps plant the seed to expand the account early
  • Onboarding time: The time it takes for a new customer to go from signing the contract to fully using the product. Efficient onboarding requires input from both Sales and CS.

📖 Read more: Customer Success Metrics: 22 goals & KPIs for CS teams

Compensation plans

Financial rewards are the ultimate incentive for revenue pros. 

Creating comp plans that tie your reps’ compensation with your customers’ long-term success can be one of the most effective ways of aligning incentives and helping both Sales and CS teams identify, close, and enable the right type of customer for your business.

For SaaS businesses, this could be switching compensation structures from seat-based to usage-based.

  • Seat-based comp plans are often paid out soon after a deal is signed, which incentivizes Sales reps to front-load getting new business in the door.
  • Whereas usage-based plans reward reps who bring in accounts that use the product a lot

Tying a salesperson’s commission to a new client’s long-term usage of and success with your product or service naturally aligns Sales and CS’s incentives. Their success depends on the customer’s success.

3. Work from a single source of truth

Many revenue teams default to the CRM as their single source of customer truth.

Yet there’s a major flaw in relying on the CRM—it leaves out key context and details essential for a successful Sales-CS handoff and ongoing customer relationship. More importantly, it totally shuts out the customer from the process.

True collaboration is created when the source of truth is shared between Sales, CS, and the customer.

Enter Dock.

Dock provides the missing link for customer-centric revenue teams. Dock’s collaborative workspaces act as a shared HQ for every deal, centralizing critical information that accelerates and enables seamless handoff, onboarding, and renewals. 

Workspaces can be easily tailored as the customer relationship progresses and matures.

Align Sales and Customer Success with Dock

Sales/CS collaboration is so critical because it gets the two most powerful cylinders in your revenue engine firing in sync with aligned incentives and goals.

If people and systems make the engine, then clear communication, organized information, and clear visibility with internal and external stakeholders are the fuel. As buyer behavior shifts and sales cycles get longer and more complex, losing sight of any one of these critical factors can put revenue at risk.

Dock enables organization and visibility needed to get your Sales and CS team aligned.

Dock’s shared workspaces keep all of the information required to close and onboard customers organized in one single shared destination, acting as the single source of truth for Sales, CS, and customers from the first demo all the way through to onboarding. 

That means no more digging through email threads or threadbare CRM notes to bring teams up to speed.

Brittany Soinski, Manager of Onboarding at Loom, uses Dock to speed up customer onboarding.

“Dock has been really effective at showing people, even before the deal is closed, what onboarding looks like and how we are going to partner with them,” said Brittany.

“We know with confidence that when we show prospects their custom Dock workspace, complete with their name, logo, and custom resources, we're able to show that we have a best-in-class, completely customized onboarding ready to go.”

Winning a customer’s confidence—and ultimately, their business—is about aligning expectations with reality. 

To see how you can use Dock to consistently over-deliver on your sales and onboarding, talk to our team about a demo here.

The Dock Team