I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes exceptional stand out amidst a sea of great. What is it about those who cut through the noise? I find myself circling back to one aspect time and time again. Little moments. Small but impactful inflection points. Today, many companies have these planned touchpoints scattered throughout their customer journeys, but again, we are talking about the exceptional. The ones who seem to have it all figured out. Achieving the maximum, with the minimum. In reality, the opposite is true. In fact, there is a famous interaction between Picasso and a woman in a marketplace that illustrates this quite nicely. It goes like this:
Picasso is perusing the marketplace one afternoon when a woman approaches him. She pulls out a blank piece of paper and asks, “Mr. Picasso, I am a big fan of your work. Please, could you do a little drawing for me?”
Picasso smiles and quickly draws a small, but beautiful piece of art on the paper. He hands it back to her… “That will be one million dollars.”
“But, Mr. Picasso,” the woman protests, “It only took you thirty seconds to draw this little masterpiece.”
“My good woman,” Picasso smiles, “It took me thirty years to draw that masterpiece in thirty seconds.”
The ease and effortlessness of his drawing performance masked the years of input that led to that small moment. The same is true for you. All the work and effort that goes into creating a truly impactful impression on your customer is immense; and like many things, it’s not the approach or the trick, it’s sticking the landing – the follow through.
So, the question remains, how do you transform a good, or even a great moment, into an exceptional one? While I’ll focus on the Sales to CS handoff here, I believe these principles can be applied across multiple touchpoints and phases of the customer journey. Jim Collins, a prominent management theorist, has a great article here touching on a similar quandary, but I digress.
What is the handoff?
Closing a deal is reason to celebrate for every Sales team! However, it is not the finish line. Once a prospect becomes a paying customer, there is a crucial next step to orchestrate a Sales to Customer Success handoff, where the “ownership” of your new customer is officially transferred from Sales Rep to Customer Success Manager (CSM). This transition lays the foundation for successful customer retention and growth.
The handoff is best accomplished through a personal introduction, a three-way meeting between the customer, sales rep, and CSM. This may also entail a few behind-the-scenes syncs between sales rep and CSM to prep for the customer meeting and for the sales rep to debrief the CSM on any relevant customer information. This will help the CSM build out a solid customer profile and start to understand their needs.
These intel sessions between the sales rep and CSM will uncover answers to questions like:
• Why did the customer buy the product?
• What problem(s) are they trying to solve?
• What does success mean to the customer?
• What are some potential roadblocks in making the customer successful?
Once a customer profile is built out and prep for the customer meeting has taken place, then, and only then, should the handoff meeting occur.
Handling the handoff
For me, this handoff is arguably the most important touchpoint across the entire customer journey. First impressions are notoriously tricky and Hell hath no fury like a customer scorned. The key elements I like to keep in mind during this transitional period are:
Let’s work through the list.
This section is a two-parter, because trust goes both ways…Only, in this example it’s actually three ways: Between A. Sales and CSM, B. customer and CSM, and C. customer and Sales. This triple trust scenario creates what I like to call the Triangle of Trust (yes, inspired by the one and only Circle of Trust, of Meet the Parents fame).
A. Trust between Sales and CSM
For the Sales to CS handoff to be successful, your sales rep needs to have a solid rapport with their partner CSM. For this to happen, the seller needs to understand what a CSM does (and doesn’t do) and vice versa. This means spending the time to educate both teams in their respective processes and phases of the customer journey. After all, knowledge is power, and in this case, power is trust. When your sales rep can confidently speak to the value that a CSM brings to the table, it sets the handoff up for success and sets the stage for the next step.
B. Trust between Sales and the customer
Your customer has built a solid rapport with their sales rep. The customer will answer your rep’s phone calls and emails. In short, the customer trusts them and will generally make time for them. This existing relationship certainly matters a great deal to the sales rep, in helping them close their deal, and it matters to the customer because it’s their first human impression of your company. By why does this matter to CS? Because word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of marketing. This is because people naturally trust the people that they know. Since your new customer knows the sales rep and they’ve built a rapport, this will come in very handy when it comes to the third and final side of the triangle.
C. Trust between the customer and CSM
The best way to transfer trust is through personal introductions. In other words, the handoff should be about the transference of trust from sales rep to CSM. Your sales rep should leverage the trust they’ve fostered with both customer and CSM to broker this transfer, sharing anecdotes about the great work the CSM has done with other customers and specifically recommending working closely moving forward. This is where the bond between the customer and CSM is built. Once the introduction has been made, your long-term relationship can begin.
Great communication and full transparency will give your customer clarity into what the rest of your working relationship will look like. They certainly don’t need to know the ins and outs of your internal processes, but they do need to see that your company’s interactions with and full support of them doesn’t end after you close the sale. The handoff is a gateway into your long-term relationship. As the Sales Rep and CSM guide customers through the handoff, it should be made clear to them that your company is easy to work with, a thought leader in your industry, and has proven track record of success with your customers. Those three points should be demonstrated clearly through actions, not just words, throughout the customer lifecycle and more specifically here, during the handoff process. A key example of this is building out the Customer Success Plan.
A Success Plan is collaboratively developed with the customer to solidify and document their goals with your product or service and the key milestones required to get there. This process should ideally be started during the late phases of the sales process, or at the latest, right after the handoff, and should be used as an opportunity to exemplify the three points above. By the end of this process, not only should a final version of a Success Plan be delivered, but the customer should feel both confident and empowered. They need to know (and feel) the CSM will be able to help them achieve their goals. This collaboration built upon a solid rapport will take center stage down the line when renewals and expansions come into play.
There is an elegance to simple solutions. E=mC2 is a wonderful example. Something so complex, boiled down into one simple equation. The same needs to be true of the Sales to CS handoff. On the outside, it’s a simple process that transitions your customer from pre-sale to post-sale. To the customer, it’s innocuous. It should feel natural. Internally, however, every piece should be working together to ensure the customer’s happiness, confidence, and opinion remain high.
Consider the following: A simple wristwatch has over 130 components. On the outside, it performs one elegant task – telling time. On the inside, gears, springs, counterweights, and all other manner of complications work together to ensure that the wearer never has to wonder. Simplicity is the key to a healthy handoff. One meeting. One first impression. One intended outcome. Simply put, from your customer’s perspective, this process should never appear more complex than a single meeting. The importance of this meeting should be impressed upon, but not because of its complexity, rather because of its weight.
Those who are exceptional generally make it look easy. But just like Picasso, you have put in the work. You’ve poured countless hours and resources into your product so that you can help solve your customers’ needs simply and elegantly. Just remember that every process that enables your success should be as elegantly designed and intuitive as your software. Your customer should love working with you just as much, if not more, than your product. The Sales to CS handoff is a pivotal moment in your customer’s lifecycle. It kicks off the rest of your relationship. Trust, clarity, and simplicity are the keys to designing it exceptionally.