3 Steps to Getting Sales on Board with Your Customer Success Plan

August 16, 2022

Marley Wagner

Category: Change Management, Customer Retention, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Maturity, Customer Success Operations, Customer Success Strategy

Customer Success Plans are key to starting your customer relationships off on the right foot. CSMs use them to guide their first interactions with the customer, helping them clarify and set expectations, set up an action plan for moving forward, and establish critical milestones to work toward through the customer journey. They’re a great way to demonstrate to your brand new customers that “you’ve got this.”

CS Plans can also help ensure that the handoff between sales and CS goes nice and smooth. But what if I told you that they could do even more? If we started using them to facilitate critical conversations even earlier (like during the late stages of the sales cycle, before the contract is even signed), we could help Sales engage better, improve the likelihood of closing the deal, and increase up-sell, renewals, and customer retention. For all these reasons and more, I’d say the best Customer Success Plans are developed collaboratively with your customer and your counterparts in Sales during the pre-sale stage of the customer journey.

In order to be more involved before the customer signs on the dotted line, Customer Success needs to work closely with Sales, and we need their buy-in. As the owners of the pre-sale process, it’s no surprise that many Sales organizations can feel protective of their prospects and potential deals. The idea of bringing anyone in who could mess with their mojo is (understandably) scary to many Sales Reps and Sales leaders. If we’re going to help them out (and ourselves, too!), we need to convince them that utilizing a Customer Success Plan is not only in the best interest of the customer and their long-term success with your company, but is in fact in the best interest of their sales targets as well.

How exactly does Customer Success get in good with Sales so we can work our CS magic sooner? I’m not saying it’s going to be easy – after all, departmental silos have often been built strong and tall over time. But it’s worth it to break those down, for the benefit of CS’s ability to accomplish their goals, for the long-term view of the relationship with your customers, and for your company’s bottom line. Here are three steps to building that bridge between Sales and CS. These strategies have been developed by the ESG team after years of trial and error and are frequently utilized to help our clients bolster their own Customer Success Plan processes.

Step 1: Explain what a Customer Success Plan is

If you don’t already have a well-established relationship with Sales (and actually, even if you do), chances are they don’t know what a CS Plan is or what it’s for or why they should care about it. We know that a CS Plan’s purpose is to document the customer’s definition of success and the value they want to achieve. We need Sales to understand this, too. Best practice is to start this conversation at a leadership level, with CS leaders presenting this concept to executive and Sales leadership first.

Not only should that presentation include an overview of a CS Plan and its benefits, but it should also introduce the ask you’re making of Sales and the “why” behind it. You’ll need to be crystal clear about the process you’re proposing and what it’s meant to accomplish. If you don’t already have a standard format for your CS Plan, find a template you like (feel free to borrow ours) or build one of your own, so everyone has a concrete example to reference. Come prepared with all the specifics of your proposal to insert this new concept into the pre-sale process, and be ready to answer these questions, along with any others you know are likely to come up based on the needs and priorities of your business:

  • Which customers will go through this process?
    • Only certain segments?
    • Only once deals have reached certain phases of the pre-sale journey or likelihood to close?
  • Who will pilot or test this new process before rolling out company-wide?
    • Only certain customers?
    • Only certain Sales Reps?
    • Only certain CSMs?
  • What will be expected of Sales Reps?
    • Inviting CSMs to a meeting with the (future) customer or just providing an introduction?
    • Providing time in their meeting agenda for the CS Plan discussion or attending a meeting hosted by the CSM?
    • Knowledge transfer to the CSM prior to meeting the customer? In what format?
  • What will the CSMs’ role be pre-sale?
    • Attending a customer call hosted by the Sales Rep or scheduling their own?
    • Guiding the customer conversation to create a CS Plan collaboratively?
    • Providing a copy of the completed CS Plan to the customer or sharing with Sales so they can include in their follow-up?

Realistically, it might take a while to get in front of Sales to make your pitch. The better prepared you are ahead of time, the more likely you’ll be able to get them excited about the idea of using a Customer Success Plan and convince them to invest in the new strategy.

Step 2: Show them how it sets them up for success

Once you’ve laid the groundwork, you can start to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” for Sales. They need to trust that the changes you’re making will be good for them. Talk about all the benefits they’ll enjoy if they partner with Customer Success earlier in the sales cycle. Explain how having these conversations with customers early and often leads to higher satisfaction overall. Happier customers mean more opportunities for up-selling and cross-selling. It also generates more referenceable accounts and qualified leads.

When you take this collaborative approach between Sales and CS with a prospective customer, your company as a whole is communicating a willingness to develop a partnership with them based on mutual understanding. You’re establishing yourself as a trusted advisor and showing them that you care about their needs and goals. These discussions can make the difference between a prospect choosing you or choosing your competitor (read: Sales will close more business!).

Some other benefits you could highlight:

  • Success Plans create more engagement opportunities with multiple customer stakeholders, helping Sales to make more connections on the customer side.
  • Working closely with Customer Success can provide new insights into customer motivations so Sales can build an even stronger value proposition, improving the odds that we all meet (and exceed) our customers’ expectations.
  • It’s a massive opportunity for CS and Sales to kick off a strong customer experience they’ll be excited to stick around for.

Step 3: Make the change as easy on Sales as possible

The final step is ensuring this new process is simple and easy for Sales to integrate into their current game plan. Keep change management best practices in mind to get good results. You might notice that we have already snuck in a few ADKAR phases (Awareness and Desire) in the steps above, so keep going! Show Sales how to change (Knowledge), make it easy (Ability), and then plan to continue meeting with Sales Reps and leadership regularly to make sure the new process is going well (Reinforcement).

Other things that can help Sales embrace the new process could be creating a quick start guide or Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Sales to follow. It might include information about the phases of the new approach, which prospects are approved for the kickoff, and what and how you’ll be communicating to them. Be clear about what you need from Sales and ensure everyone is on the same page with a CS Plan introduction checklist.

Once Sales sees how amazing Customer Success Plans can be – pre-sale – they’ll want to work with Customer Success even more. Pretty soon, your biggest problem will be how much all the other departments fight over working with you! (Okay, maybe a little optimistic, but a girl can dream, can’t she?!)