How to nail the Sales-to-Customer-Success handoff

The Dock Team
March 13, 2024
April 12, 2024

Picture a successful sales-to-success handoff, and you might imagine a baton passing from one runner to another in a relay race, in a smooth and effortless transition.    

The reality, for many teams, looks a little different. Your sales rep clings onto the baton way past the point where it gets awkward. Your customer success manager drops the baton and doesn’t even notice. The baton disappears altogether somewhere during the handover and both runners have to stop and look for it. 

We may have stretched the metaphor as far as it can go here, but you get the point. 

Frankly, nobody really wants to feel like a baton being passed around. The Sales-to-Customer Success handoff shouldn’t feel like a handoff to the customer. Instead, the customer experience should feel like a single, seamless interaction with your company, from first point of contact right through to onboarding and beyond. 

In this article, we’ll break down how to make sure that the sales-to-success process runs smoothly, avoids silos, and uses the right tooling for successful customer onboarding. 

Why the sales handoff is more important than ever

It’s harder than it used to be to attract new B2B customers. A 2023 report by TrustRadius found that today’s B2B buyers take longer to buy, involve more stakeholders in the process, and have a smaller budget than in the past. 


In other words, you really need to hang on to every customer you get. And that comes down to great onboarding. It took Salesforce five years to acquire 250,000 subscribers—but they doubled that number in a year when they revamped their onboarding.

For sales-led businesses with a high cost of customer acquisition, you need a strong sales-to-success transition to keep the deal moving forward during the long sales cycle. And, with B2B purchasing growing increasingly complex, you’ll also need a solid process in place for ensuring that all the details about stakeholders and solutions get passed on—or risk both customer retention and customer satisfaction.

On the flip side, PLG companies have to navigate the blurred lines between sales and success and make sure that responsibilities are clear—or you’ll end up duplicating efforts and pestering your prospects. 

In sum, without a strong sales-to-success handoff, you’re doing major damage to the customer experience, and risk plunging each new account into what Gillian Heltai, Chief Customer Officer at Lattice, calls the “trough of disillusionment”: 

“[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.”

Listen to Gillian explaining how she built the CX function at Lattice on our podcast, Grow & Tell

You’ll know this is an issue you need to work on if:  

  • Your CSMs are complaining that they don’t have enough information about the customer, and end up needing to re-do discovery post-sale 
  • Customers complain that they’ve been sold the wrong solution for their needs, or that Sales overpromised to make the deal 
  • You keep losing deals at the midway point and nobody can tell you exactly what went wrong 
  • All your deal information lives exclusively in your CRM and isn’t easy for CSMs to access
  • You have high churn rates.

Sales-to-CS handoff process: 7 best practice tips

If you know you need to tackle your sales-to-success process, here are some expert tips for making it a seamless handoff: 

1. Make it a partnership, not a handoff  

Brittany Soinski is the Manager of Customer Success Programs at Loom. She told us that she doesn’t think of sales-to-success as a handoff; rather, it should be a partnership. 

For example, Loom's Sales team introduces their Customer Success team during the sales process. By giving buyers a sense of the onboarding process, it reassures them about the quality of support they can expect after they purchase, and creates a sense of continuity in the relationship. 

It’s also worth bearing in mind that customer success is part of the package you’re trying to sell, points out Joseph Schmitt, the VP of Customer Success at UpKeep, an Enterprise Asset Management Software: 

“When we go into these new sales calls and we're pitching, we're essentially going in with the conversation that UpKeep is just not a software. The value that you get is the people in the process behind it. So we very much speak about professional services and customer success during the buying journey.”

Bringing in CSMs early doesn’t just help close more deals, explains Conor Cox, VP of Revenue at Trolley, a SaaS payment platform. A smooth handoff also helps to improve the implementation phase and gets the customer to realize value more quickly, and so increases your retention rates. 

 “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."

2. Reinforce that sense of partnership with deal reviews 

A weekly internal meeting can help align Sales and CS on major deals in the pipeline:  

  • Account executives can address deal progress and talk through any roadblocks
  • CSMs can learn about the account, begin organizing implementation and start building a relationship with the new potential customer.

💡 Tip: If you’re using Dock to manage the onboarding process, both teams can get a clear insight into how the deal’s going by checking in on the prospect’s progress on their mutual action plan (MAP) during your weekly reviews. 

3. Keep the partnership going post-sale

In the same way you’re introducing your CSM pre-sales, it’s worth having an AE present at the first post-sale meeting. The AE can restate the reasons for the purchase, and reassure the customer that the time they invested in pre-sales discovery has paid off because both sales and success have a clear grasp on their goals, needs and expectations. 

Sales should continue to check in with success over the coming months, to help deepen the customer relationship. AEs may also be able to help CSMs spot opportunities to renew and expand accounts, and offer commercial coaching where needed or appropriate. 

4. Work from a single source of truth (not your CRM)

CRMs are great at storing account information for sales teams—but they don’t really help when it comes to the sales-to-success handoff.  

CRMs aren’t the right place to store the details about the deal that success will need to pick up effectively where sales left off (think, customer goals and deadlines, meeting notes and recordings, information about the customer’s decision-making process and reasons behind the solution they ended up with). 

More importantly, they aren’t built for collaborating with customers—meaning that they can’t be used for onboarding. So, if you’re using the CRM as the only tool to manage the handoff, then even if both teams have access (which isn’t always a given) you’ll still end up with the onboarding process existing in a separate silo. 

Instead of using your CRM, you can use Dock as digital sales room during the pre-sales process. Sales can collaborate with the customer in a single shared workspace, where they can capture all the aspects of the pre-sales process: 

  • Customer background: Detailed information about your new client’s business, the industry they’re in, and their ideal customer base
  • Team dynamics: Key stakeholders, such as the account owner, key users, decision-makers, and points of contact.
  • Customer priorities and goals: What they hope to gain by using your product, their top pain points, and when they plan to hit key milestones.
  • Pains and challenges: The main reasons that led the customer to seek you out in the first place 
  • Mutual action plan: The tasks involved in closing the deal, to help keep the customer organized and make both Sales and Success aware of how the deal is progressing at a glance
  • Notes on the sales process: Detailed notes on the entire buyer journey, including issues uncovered in discovery, solutions discussed, and any objections that were overcome.
  • Contract details: Contract length details, so that CSMs can spot potential upsell or expansion opportunities that Sales identified during the sales process.

Then, rather than handing over the customer to a new team and new process, you can use the same digital sales room to manage onboarding and post-sales. Once the client signs, you can easily transform the digital sales room into a customer onboarding portal — just unhide the onboarding page, and they can keep working with your team from the same link.

5. Align cross-team incentives for CSMs and AEs 

If your sales-to-success handoff isn’t working, it could simply be that your incentives are misaligned. For instance, if you’re rewarding sales for closing a deal—any deal—then there’s a good chance they’ll be handing over customers who’ve been mis-sold or oversold. 

And, as Joseph Schmitt points out, that’s a recipe for disaster. “The number one way to stop churn is just to make sure that good-fit customers are getting in from the get go. That’s it.” 

Try creating comp plans that tie your sales team members’ compensation to your customers’ long-term success. For SaaS businesses, this might mean switching compensation structures from seat-based to usage-based—so that sales bonuses are paid out based on bringing in accounts that will really use your products and get great value from them. 

For other business models, you could tie sales comp into customer lifetime value, rather than the initial purchase—so the longer you retain the customer and the more they purchase over time, the better for the salesperson. 

6. Add a centralized RevOps function

If Sales and Success aren’t pulling in the same direction, it might be time to layer in a RevOps function to help. Revenue operations is there to align the other revenue teams (sales, success and marketing) around unified goals, unify the tech stack, create repeatable processes and identify opportunities for improvement. 

They can then help with the customer handoff by defining service level agreements (SLAs) between teams. For example, if a lead hits a lead score of 90 in the CRM, sales has to follow up within 24 hours. Or if a customer completes a certain step in their mutual action plan, CS has to reach out within 48 hours.

The result is an increased connection between teams as they pursue shared goals and meet shared standards, as well as a better experience for the customer. 

📘 Related reading: Revenue Operations Guide: The case for a centralized RevOps team

7. Use sales proof of concepts (POCs) 

For more technical products, you might also want to consider using sales proof of concepts to bridge the gap between sales and success. 

Instead of relying on product demos to close the deal, sales POCs take things a step further. A POC is a paid or free software trial where the seller provides hands-on implementation and technical support to the prospect testing the software. Adding in a POC creates a pre-sales crossover with success and implementation, and can help ease the transition from pre- to post-purchase. 

Additionally, in the words of Ben Solari, VP of Sales at Jellyfish, the POC improves the handoff process by letting both the sales team and the customer “hone in on a ‘less is more’ focus about where they want to start.” 

To put together a POC, you have to work with the customer to define their initial priorities for your solution. This means that you avoid overpromising during the sale, making it easier for success to deliver and help the customer get some quick wins once they purchase. 

📘 Related reading: The Sales POC Playbook: From Pitch to Purchase

Customer handoff metrics to track

To measure the effectiveness of your sales-to-success handoff, it makes sense to track the key metrics that should be shared by both teams, such as:  

  • Customer churn: The rate at which customers leave. This is a critical metric for CS, of course, but when Sales are assigned some responsibility for the number of customers who leave, it can help incentivize them to bring in the right customers in the first place. 
  • Expansion revenue: The value of additional recurring revenue from existing customers. If you share ownership of this metric between the two teams, then Sales teams are more likely to prioritize accounts with expansion potential. 
  • Onboarding time: The time it takes for a new customer to go from signing the contract to fully using the product. If both teams own onboarding, it creates an incentive to partner effectively pre- and post-sales to get the customer to value as quickly as possible. 

📘 Related reading: Customer Success Metrics: 22 goals & KPIs for CS teams

Get our free sales-to-success template

Dock makes the sales-to-success handoff easier with our free, done-for-you templates. Here’s how: 

  • Start by grabbing our digital sales room template. Our DSRs give you an online workspace to streamline and share sales information and materials with your prospects. This makes it far easier for your buyer to find what they need to champion your product within their organization, get through the logistical steps of the purchase, and place their order.  
  • Your sales reps can quickly personalize the template for each prospective buyer, adding in specific materials, recordings of meetings and demos, the buyer’s logo, and any other relevant customer information. 
  • Then, as the deal gets close to finalizing, you can start adding in success content into the same workspace the customer is already used to. For instance, you can add a new onboarding checklist, more tutorials and Getting Started guidelines, a recorded message introducing your success team, and anything else that would be useful to the customer. 
  • The customer is now fully transitioned over from a sales room to a customer portal — but your success team can still access the archived version of the DSR, where they’ll find all the meeting notes, customer deadlines, details of the deal, and everything they need to fully support the customer during onboarding and beyond. 

Create a seamless sales-to-customer success handoff with Dock 

Whether you’re PLG or sales-led, onboarding is the key to keeping customer retention high. Creating a smooth sales-to-success handoff comes down to effective knowledge transfer, shared tooling, and aligned incentives.

Dock can help by providing sales, success, and your prospective buyers with a personalized workspace to manage all the information involved in the purchase and create a seamless transition from one stage in the customer journey to the next. 

Get started with Dock by using the free template above, or create your first 5 Dock workspaces for free.

The Dock Team