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How one Customer Success leader created a framework for a seamless Sales-CS handoff

CS Leadership
#alignment#handoff#teamwork

Imagine being a brand new customer of a SaaS product. You just spent a good amount of your precious time answering questions about who you are and what’s broken with your current process. You were promised the product would make your life better. You agreed, and signed on, excited for what the future might hold. You eagerly jump on a call with your Customer Success Manager (who you’re sure the Sales team briefed during an elaborate Sales-CS handoff), only to hear the dreaded phrase: “So tell me what brings you here.”

“Didn’t I already tell you that? In detail?” This is not the beginning of a long and prosperous relationship during which your SaaS customer becomes a champion.

As a Customer Success professional, you’ve probably felt the brunt of a poor Sales-CS handoff. I know I have. From being unaware of customer needs that Sales should have briefed us on to being unable to fulfill promises made by overzealous salespeople, there were several situations during my time at Copper that made us realize we needed to get Sales and CS on the same page.

A frustrated customer who was forced to repeat everything they had already told the salesperson (who could blame them?). An angry customer who had just learned we wouldn’t be migrating their CRM data for them as promised. These and countless other unhappy customers who had fallen prey to a bad Sales-CS handoff made us realize we needed a way to create a Sales-CS handoff that works. It is, after all, the biggest make or break moment for a SaaS customer.

Here’s the framework we came up with at Copper. You can use it to create your own seamless Sales-CS handoff.

Why your Sales-CS handoff needs a shared framework

Before we get into the how, let’s talk about the why—why even have a shared framework for your Sales-CS handoff? Because it makes it more likely that CS will be able to deliver on all the expectations set during the Sales process and it makes the Sales-CS handoff smoother, reducing the customer’s time to value. That means your customer has a better experience with your product. (And is more likely to become a product champion down the line.)

When we first introduced our Sales-CS handoff framework at Copper, the feedback we got from new customers was overwhelmingly positive. They felt confident in the value they would get from us because we were able to show we really understood their needs.

Bonus: When Sales and CS use the same framework, both teams function better. Sales is more educated, allowing them to sell healthier revenue, while CS better understands the customer, allowing them to hit the ground running.

Use this acronym-based Sales-CS handoff framework for a seamless transition

First, get Sales and CS together to figure out which areas each team needs to understand about prospects and customers. As you go through the process, keep in mind that the end goal is to have some agreed upon areas that Sales will “discover” for each prospect and will then handoff to CS.

At Copper, CS wanted to know about areas such as the customer’s use case, their criteria for the product, potential value, etc. Getting these all out on the table allows the teams to find the overlap of types of information and add any additional areas that aren’t covered in existing discovery frameworks.

Once you have the list, create an acronym that works for your teams—you can use whatever acronym you want. Make sure all the information gathered during the Discovery > Kickoff process is formed around that acronym. Then, when your teams go to do their Sales-CS handoff there won’t be any confusion.

An example Sales-CS handoff framework using SPOTC (Situation, Problem, Outcome, Timing, and Criteria for Decision)

SPOTC for Sales-CS handoff

Situation: How does the prospect currently manage their process?

Why Sales needs this information: Having the background that led to the prospect searching for a solution makes it easier for them to sell to a need 

Why CS needs this information: They’ll understand where the customer is coming from (previous tools, use case, etc)

How to implement: Make sure to dig deep here with a lot of questions to understand who the stakeholders are, what their current process is, and the importance of this strategy.  You should have already done your research on things like company size, location, etc

At Copper: When we started tracking this, we learned we had a lot of prospects who’s company had mandated they switch from spreadsheets to a CRM to help them get more visibility into their sales process to enable growth

Problem: What are the areas of opportunity that your product will improve upon?

Why Sales needs this information: This is the key for Sales to qualify the prospect and tailor their sales pitch

Why CS needs this information: It will help them understand what needs to be different for the customer compared to their current solution

How to implement: Don’t settle for just understanding what isn’t working, have them explain the impact it’s having on their business. This will tee up the ability to frame the value of your product

At Copper: We found a lot of prospects had no visibility into their sales numbers or deals, since they were managing everything out of email. This informed CS that showing them how to collaborate and track their sales would be a big value point.

Outcome: What is the future state they are looking for and how does this help their business?

Why Sales needs this information: So they can find similar use cases from past customers to leverage in their sales pitch

Why CS needs this information: This will tell CS what they are targeting

How to implement: When asking about ideal outcome, try to understand the outcome measured with some value metric, such as revenue or time savings

At Copper: I remember one customer who wanted to be able to measure the close rate of their different lead sources so they could decide where to allocate their marketing dollars. This gave us a value target to strive for at our renewal meeting. Being able to relate back to this successful outcome helped seal the renewal months in advance

Timing: What is the timeline for making a decision and getting a solution implemented?

Why Sales needs this information: It gives them the ability to create momentum and time box a decision

Why CS needs this information: So they can plan ahead

How to implement: Ask about any events that are occurring during the decision process AND during the onboarding process that you should be aware of

At Copper: We had a customer that needed to get up and running in one week as their contract ended with another vendor. Knowing this ahead of time allowed us to tweak our onboarding process to meet their deadline

Criteria: How will the prospect make their decision and what will they base it on?

Why Sales needs this information: This is used to evaluate the strength of the prospective sale, and identify the levers they can pull to be more competitive

Why CS needs this information: It helps validate the health of the sale and ensure the prospect is a good fit

How to implement: Create a joint selling plan that is shared with the customer and covers the different SPOTC areas along with agreement on how they are making their decision. Transparency is key here!

At Copper: There was a sale that CS and Sales mutually decided to shut down after we reviewed the decision criteria, and realized that a key requirement wasn’t possible in our system. Had we not reviewed this, we would have had an angry customer a few weeks in who would have wanted a refund. Instead, we had a very gracious prospect that kept referring business our way even though we weren’t the right fit for them

How to implement the framework for the ultimate Sales-CS handoff

Frameworks and acronyms are only as good as the use you give them. On that note, here are few things you’re going to need to consider to get the most out of your Sales-CS handoff framework.

Leadership buy-in

As you start to build out the implementation timeline, make sure you get leadership involved and onboard, or your shiny, new framework will be dead before you get a chance to use it.

Accountability

Have Sales-CS leadership meet weekly to review handoffs that had been flagged by either team. That way, everyone knows that there’s someone ensuring that both sides pull their weight and follow the established guidelines.

Implementation

Bake the acronym into whatever Sales-CS handoff process you’re already using so it’s a smoother transition for everyone involved. Here's how:

Organize your CRM: Create the SPOTC fields in your CRM so Sales has an easy way to document information during the discovery phase and CS has an easy reference point moving forward. Even better, link those fields to your CS software and use them to trigger automations

Automate repetitive tasks so your CSMs can focus on relationships

Vitally makes it easy to create automated playbooks that send personalized emails, assign tasks and more

Create an onboarding doc: Sales should fill it out before meeting with CS so the Sales-CS handoff is as smooth as possible. The doc can include SPOTC, and you can automate a welcome email or Slack message to CS using Zapier

Have a meeting: They are not a waste of time. Require both teams to have a Sales-CS handoff meeting (it can be quick!). That way they can review the SPOTC fields together and fill in any gaps

Show the customer you have your stuff together: Use a portion of your onboarding kickoff meeting to review the SPOTC areas with the customer. This will demonstrate CS understands their needs and situation

Strong Sales-CS handoffs bring more value to the customer

You absolutely need to nail the Sales-CS handoff if you want your customers to be successful with your product. When we implemented a handoff acronym at Copper, we saw our onboarding failure rate decrease, early retention increase, and internal feedback trend positive. Most importantly, a strong Sales-CS handoff leads to a better experience and value achievement for your customers. And, as we all know, customer success is business success.

Alex Bakula-Davis
Alex Bakula-DavisVP of Customer Success

Alex Bakula-Davis is a Customer Success leader, and the brains behind The Customer Success Newsletter. Currently, he's the VP of CS at ExTracker. Previously, he was the Director of CS at Copper, where he managed CSM & Onboarding functions