Mastering the Sales to Customer Hand-Off Process
Aligning sales and customer success (CS) on the critical “handoff” is a must for revenue teams. It’s vital to start the customer relationship on the right track. It will improve retention and increase up-sell and cross-sell opportunities.
The hand-off from sales to service is also important for the long-term customer value. It’s the first impression customers get in terms of how they will be treated going forward. The transition should be seamless. It’s a chance to delight the buying team and create a loyal, lifelong customer.
Why Does a Clean, Painless Handoff Matter?
The reason the sales to customer success handoff is so important is because it’s a pivotal point in the developing relationship between the customer and your company.
Think of it this way: the customer has just bought a new product. Hopefully, they’re excited about this purchase and the impact it’s going to have on their business.
The challenge is that the customer has worked almost exclusively with the sales team up until this point. Now that the purchase is made, sales moves on to the next customer and the current customer will work with an entirely new team.
The customer success team is committed to helping the new client succeed, but as the old saying goes, first impressions are everything. The sales to customer success handoff is your opportunity to make that perfect first impression.
Fail here, and building a relationship with the client becomes harder.
Beyond that, it’s important to build a good relationship between the customer success team and the client early on.
If this process isn’t handled smoothly, the customer might have problems with the product that go unresolved. When its time to renew their contract, they’re less likely to re-sign if they feel they aren’t getting enough support.
By making the handoff between sales and customer success early on, you can avoid this potential pitfall.
Common Failures in the Sales to Customer Success Handoff Process
Now that we understand what the sales to customer success handoff is, and why it’s important to get it right, let’s look at some of the most common mistakes companies make.
Not Involving Customer Success Early
Too often, the sales handoff process is delayed as the final details of the sale are worked out. This is a mistake.
Your new customer is excited and engaged at the end of the sales process, which is why it’s important to build on that momentum with customer success.
Delaying the handoff can let the trust and excitement wither, so get the CS team involved as soon as possible.
One of the major areas where the sales to deliver handoff process falters is in the onboarding phase.
For whatever reason, many companies think that once the sale is complete they can relax. This is inaccurate. Once the sale is made, it’s time to onboard the customer. This step is as important as the sale.
Too often, companies take a one size fits all approach to onboarding new clients. What you should be doing is spending time with each new customer and building a detailed CS program that helps them identify their key issues and concerns and provides solutions tailored to those needs.
Not Setting Clear Expectations
Another area where the customer success team sometimes stumbles is in the setting of expectations.
It’s important to clearly define what your CS team will and won’t do to help your customer succeed. Don’t assume the client understands how the customer success process works – spell it out, in detail.
You can always go above and beyond expectations, but let the client know what they can expect so they understand you’re in this together.
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3 Keys to a Seamless Transition from Sales to Customer Success
Now that we know some of the pitfalls, let’s discuss three key areas to focus on to make the transition from sales to CS as seamless as possible.
1. Knowledge Empowers Effectiveness
As the old saying goes, knowledge is power – and this is especially true when transitioning from sales to customer success.
The more you know about the client, the client’s needs, and how to best meet those needs, the smoother the transition will be.
Here are some things to consider:
- Understand team roles and workstyles
One key thing you can do early in the process is to work to understand the team roles of your client. By understanding their team structure, you’ll be better able to assist the client and utilize your own team members for best results.
- Align your sales and CS teams
There’s a tendency to assume that sales and CS are two separate entities, and when sales hands off a client, that’s the end of their involvement in the process.
There is some truth to this, but to make the handoff easier, it’s important to align sales and CS so everyone is working toward the same goals.
You can do this by making sure the customer success team has full access to the opportunity history of the client. By allowing the CS to see this information, they can have a better understanding of the client’s needs and goals.
You’ll also want to ensure both teams are aligned when it comes to understanding the customer’s goals. Ideally, the CS team will get clarification from the client during onboarding, but the sales team can provide insight ahead of those meetings.
Finally, make sure the sales team is clearly communicating everything the client has purchased and contracted. This can let the CS team hit the ground running.
2. Timing is everything
Next, you’ll want to focus on timing. The key takeaway here is that the earlier you can get your customer success team involved in the process, the better.
- Introduce the CS early
Many companies will wait until a sale is complete or very close to completion before bringing in the customer success team. This is a mistake.
The sooner you can bring the customer success team into the discussion, the better. Having the CS involved early can not only make the handoff easier, it can help make sales. Clients who meet the customer success team early and connect with them are often more comfortable completing a purchase or contract.
- Make a clean cut from sales
Once the handoff is underway, it’s important to remove sales from the equation as soon as possible.
Customer Success should take over the handling of new customers as soon as the sale is completed. This prevents potential miscommunications and will ensure your client has one proper point of contact for any issues they might have.
- Schedule onboarding ASAP
The importance of onboarding cannot be understated. You’ll want to get the process started as soon as humanly possible.
Beyond that, you’ll want to develop a clearly outlined pathway for client success. This is not a template – develop an actual pathway considering your customer’s unique needs and challenges.
As part of this, you’ll want to develop a timeline that marks key phases, goals, and deliverables with the client. By allowing the customer to see the road ahead, you’ll both be better able to prioritize key objectives while still handling unexpected challenges.
And finally, take the time to determine what success looks like upfront. Talk wth the client, learn their issues, and then figure out the solutions. Be as detailed as you can – set goals, deadlines, and targets.
3. Focus on Communication
Building on the previous points, you’ll want to communicate with your client regularly. With open avenues, you’ll be better able to solve problems for the customer before any frustration sets in.
- Discuss milestones
Talk with the client to determine important milestones and timelines. This not only gives the client objectives, it can help them see the bigger picture that your product is solving for them.
- Celebrate victories along the way
By that same token, be sure to celebrate hitting milestones and big wins along the way to the final goal.
As with the milestones in the previous bullet point, celebrating victories can builds camaraderie and shows your client that progress is happening and that their purchase is working.
- Time to value and progress
And finally, make sure you’re discussing time to value and progress with the client.
Sometimes the wins and milestones aren’t clearly defined. There will be points where the big win is that the product is creating value through saved time or some other form of progress. You should communicate these regularly as they’re often overlooked even thought they can have a major impact on the business.
A Letter from an Accent Expert:
This next section is a letter from our VP of Customer Experience, Elizabeth McChrystal. Liz is a result-driven sales enablement strategist focused on developing sales programs and guiding the implementation of our solutions.
She is well versed in account management, business process analysis, process adoption, relationship building and client service functions. She also specializes in enhancing business efficiencies and improving key sales metrics for diverse customers inside regional and global markets.
The following letter is her advice on how to leverage AI in the handoff process to optimize the customer’s experience, proficiently execute a seamless transition between teams, and make this stage of the customer lifecycle a differentiator (rather than a growing pain).
5 Ways to Leverage AI in the Sales to Customer Hand-Off Process
Scoring ideal customer profiles
It’s important that sales and customer success are aligned on the meaning of a good customer—or ideal customer profile (ICP).
AI is the perfect tool for this. It can analyze firm characteristics, success criteria, activities and behaviors, personas, and more. It can score customers against a perceived ICP, or even provide the data to create a new ICP overtime.
This scoring criteria can be used in the sales process and help reps prioritize their time on opportunities. In other words, it focuses their time on profiles that are the right fit for the organization while avoiding poor fit customers.
Furthermore, the profile created during the sales process is very valuable at handoff time. Customer teams gain quick understanding of the new customer and can make adjustments as needed based on the profile information.
Visibility into all sales activities and discussions
Sales AI improves the efficiency of the account handoff by providing all critical information—activities and discussion—before the first onboarding call. If you’re leveraging sales AI in the sales process, then all the automatically captured emails, activities, and meetings with the customer are available and visualized for the supporting team. From the initial meeting all the way to closing conversations.
The Customer team can review and understand:
- Why the customer purchased
- The challenges they want to address
- Expected timeframe
- Key influencers, supporters, and potential detractors
The immediate visibility and insight can streamline the sales to CS briefing, answering the essentials moving the discussion to more forward-facing account strategy. It shifts the focus to overall success criteria and tasks that need to be addressed versus spending time on recounting the sales events in the buying process.
Ensure the success team is ready for new clients by leveraging AI diagnostics to notify the assigned implementation and success managers of late-stage conversations. These notifications can act as triggers to promote internal collaboration and project planning plus schedule a service meeting with the potential new client.
Send an automatic welcome package
Timing is everything with the sales to CS handoff. Leverage AI to automatically trigger a welcome communication. This communication can be a simple email that helps keep the momentum going by:
- Thanking them for their business
- Communicating expectations
- Introducing the assigned CS manager
- Providing an onboarding process overview
- Establishing next steps in the process
Use AI to align and facilitate team-on-team communication
The sales team has worked hard to ensure that each persona is engaged and bought into the project. As sales transitions the buyers to the customer team, you want to make sure that team-on-team communication continues.
AI can bring that visibility and suggest next steps in terms of which buyers to communicate with and when. It can provide visibility into each contact’s level of influence and engagement. This will help you strategically plan how you build relationships with each stakeholder, and better understand their key areas of interest in the project.
Use AI diagnostics to set the proper communication cadence. AI can trigger reminders for each team member to communicate with their peer, plus suggest topics to ensure the interactions are value-adds for the customer.
AI is a powerful tool to leverage in the sales to CS handoff. It helps create a more seamless hand-off improving retention and expansion opportunities. The key value AI brings customer teams is visibility. Visibility into the new customer’s profile, what’s been done, what’s been said, and what’s been promised during the selling cycle. Visibility into the buyer engagement data aligns sales and customer teams—bringing better insight into what buyers are expecting and need. Armed with information and insight, customer teams are better positioned to delight the customer and develop a healthy, long-term relationship.
Liz McChrystal, Ph.D.
VP of Customer Experience
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