5 Steps to an Iron-clad Sales to Client Success Handoff!

Sales and client success

The sales guy told you what?

Sales and client success teams typically have a frosty relationship. I’ve been at organizations where they sit on different floors, eat at different lunch spots, and only occasionally mingle at company meetings. Want to guess how well they mixed together when required? Like Cubs and White Sox fans in Chicago this week.

And yet, the sales team sends new clients to the success team for enablement at the most critical moment in a new client’s life. A lack of coordination can spell disaster from the outset.

For the client success team, a poor handoff from the sales team is like trying to build IKEA furniture without directions. Without proper background information provided by sales, a business consultant or account manager is put in the awkward position of having to blindly start piecing things together to figure out what goes where. It’s time-consuming for them, frustrating for the client, and dangerous for your bottom line.

How does the sales-success handoff affect your revenue?

The sales to success handoff is a key driver to sustainable revenue growth. According to Bain & Company it costs 6 -7 times as much to acquire a new client as to retain one, so every client that makes it into their second year is massively cheaper than any replacement. This may seem like a bit of a revelation for most software companies focused on hyper-growth, who up until now were only interested in new names. On the flipside, simply raising retention rates by just 5% can increase revenue by 25% to 95%. The key to client retention, and thus sustainable revenue growth, is good on-boarding.

So who’s really at fault here?

Everyone has skin in this game. Your sales team needs to provide more information, client success needs to ask for it, and they both have to feel accountable in the process. These two teams won’t always see how this directly benefits them, so it’s in your best interest to make this connection crystal clear, and to tie everyone’s compensation to client success.

The sound you just heard was thousands of salespeople and account managers crying out in horror across the world. Relax, folks. We’re talking about rewarding good work here, and the conscientious participation of everyone in the company in driving and retaining revenue. It’s in everyone’s long-term interest to step outside of their silos for just long enough to see that if they don’t do it, it’s not just their job that’s on the line: It’s everybody’s.

Five strategies for tightening up your sales to client success handoff:

1. Institute claw-backs. This is a clause in the sales contract that requires that they repay commissions earned from clients who didn’t last through 90 days. As a salesperson, it seems like a terrible thing to have part of your income tied to what seems like the account manager’s responsibility. “What if I do great and they’re just bad at their job?” your salespeople may reason. However, this type of reasoning fails to address the true question, which is “Why might the clients you bring in not be successful?” The reality is that sales is often responsible for missed expectations, half-true promises, and minor exaggerations that got the deal across the line but which become landmines for anyone who has to actually implement them.

Claw-backs institute some responsibility on the salesperson’s part to sell good, honest deals. It incentivizes them to know precisely what happens post-sale, and to perform a stellar handoff to ensure that that account manager will protect his or her investment. Without claw-backs, you’re encouraging a “Wild West” scenario where salespeople shoot from the hip to bring on clients who will eventually churn and cost the company 6-7 times more to replace. It’s the tradeoff between incentivizing explosive or stable growth, and we all know what happens to something when it explodes.

2. Compensate account managers or business consultants on success rates. It’s common for organizations to pay the people who implement the product a base salary plus an at-risk commission based on total-billed-revenue (TBR). This encourages them to focus on the highest-paid clients at the expense of the rest, also known as the 80/20 rule, which amounts to a form of triage. In reality, this form of neglect ruins your chances of growing the small accounts with the greatest growth potential.

These low-spenders are your neediest constituents with the smallest teams and the greatest desire for hand-holding, and yet sprinkled among them are also your future startup successes and possibly a few unicorns destined for $1B valuations and ballooning budgets. Instead of pretending that you know which is which, you should implement a baseline standard of support so that fewer clients get left behind. The health of the whole herd will lead to better revenue consistency. How? Easy. Tie your business consultant’s compensation partly to their overall client success rate after 90 days and upon renewal.

3. Give everyone a mechanism for providing feedback. Salespeople need to be able to address grievances from unhappy clients who return to them after implementation, and business consultants need to be able to call salespeople to the mat when expectations are seriously missed. Both teams need to view the handoff as a joint learning process and not a blame game. While their managers need to maintain great relations so that they can moderate disagreements, our next point is the real key.

4. Joint Beer-Fridays. To be able to provide feedback freely there has to be some rapport between teams. The best way to do this is to encourage familiarity by actually having some fun together. Hoops at the park? Bags in the parking lot? Horseshoe tournament? Your company culture can guide the nature of the activities, but here are a few key points:

  • Mix up the teams. Don’t let it always be sales versus success.
  • Plan it during work hours. Employees spend enough time at the office and forcing them to stay late on a Friday is a recipe for morale disaster.
  • Get their buy-in, and don’t let there be any sacred cows. Keep changing it until it becomes something the group actually enjoys. An easy way to do this is to delegate the organization to two rising stars from each team who understand its purpose.

It’s often said that you can’t hate something that you truly understand. Allowing people to mix frequently in a fun setting will help put faces with names. The goal is to make everyone on both teams feel more accountable to each other and to their collective business interests.

5. Sales-success handoff checklist. Here’s the culmination of all of your handoff efforts codified into a process that makes sales and client success mutually accountable to each other.

At a minimum, sales must provide the following to client success:

  • Who is the client and what is their basic information?
  • Who was involved with this deal besides the salesperson?
  • Are there any 3rd party vendors or services involved? Required?
  • What problem were they looking to solve?
  • What competitors did they evaluate?
  • Why did we win?
  • What promises were made to the client?
  • How soon do they need to be up and running?
  • What systems are they using that are relevant?
  • Who is our main point of contact and what’s their title?
  • Is this client easy or difficult to deal with?
  • What are potential concerns with this account?
  • Where do they expect to be in 30 days? 90 days?

Pro tip: Implement this checklist in your CRM so that you can organize and mine the data to optimize the process! If you’re using Salesforce, create a form that’s required before marking a deal as “closed-won.”

The medal is worth the marathon

If you implement these strategies, you’ll find that sales-success alignment will take hold and start to build upon itself. When account executives and managers both realize the complexities of each other’s roles and have a chance to interact outside of the typical confrontations, they’ll develop empathy that will grease the wheels of success. And when an organization has a better handoff, they have a better onboarding and ultimately save untold thousands simply by helping their hard-won clients stick around!

Want to learn even more about optimizing critical stages in your funnel? Download the Revenue Funnel Science: EXPOSED eBook to see what else you’re missing!


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