Perfecting the Sales to Customer Success Handoff

Jun 15, 2022
finger pointing on the laptop screen

Have you ever been to a track meet and seen the runners practicing the baton handoff? If a teammate isn’t ready to grab the baton or tries to hand off the baton too soon, trust and communication break down, leading to catastrophic results. 

It’s much like how a new customer feels during a poorly executed transition between your sales and customer success teams. If the customer success team isn’t aligned with the sales team’s talking points, they won’t be prepared to lead the new client through onboarding. And that makes it hard for new clients to feel confident that their goals, their expectations, and even their decision to work with your company in the first place were heard and understood. 

Studies have found that almost half (44 percent) of companies focus mainly on client acquisition, while only 18 percent invest time in retaining customers. We believe that a balanced client acquisition and retention combination is an effective plan to build a trusting, long-term relationship. 

A consistent internal handoff between your sales and customer success teams requires a clear understanding of each team’s unique roles and expectations during the customer’s client onboarding experience. By sharing information about client expectations and delivering consistent and focused messaging, your company can blur the lines between your sales and customer success teams during a transition to create a positive (and potentially profitable) experience. 

Laying the Groundwork for a Successful Handoff

If the sales team has done its job well, the new client should be excited to get up and running. They’ll have seen where your product or service can help their business grow. Capitalize on this energy and make sure you don’t leave the client waiting. In order to keep up the momentum, you will have to lay the groundwork for a successful handoff before the handoff can actually occur smoothly. Here’s how. 

Don’t Wait for the Deal to Close to Get Coordinated

As a sales leader, provide your pipeline and forecast information to CS leaders. This way, the delivery teams know how to allocate resources and can engage your sales representative and prospect prior to closing. You should even allow the post-sales team to help you move new deals across the line. This will help streamline the process and allow the CSM and project manager time to get to know the prospect and their use case and help prepare the prospect for their onboarding experience. As a CS leader, build this non billable time into your time tracking and resource management models. It will pay off dividends!

Document Your Process and Share It with Your Sales Team to Build Confidence

More often than not, people skip steps or bypass the process and they have no idea they are doing so. Once documented and shared, evangelize, evangelize, and evangelize the process. Don’t assume because you reviewed it that everyone knows it. It will need to be reviewed frequently before it sticks. Iron out the process with influential members of the sales team. As the process is leveraged, share the wins across the sales and CS departments.

Leverage Forms, CRM, or CS Tools

Do this in addition to a meeting or call to conduct your handoff. At GUIDEcx, we have our new customers fill out a form to highlight what they are hoping to achieve during their onboarding experience. We also have our sales team fill out a similar form. This way, our onboarding team understands what success looks like from the customer and our sales team. We have integrated these forms (via APIs) to flow directly into our platform, where the onboarding team can access them seamlessly during the project while managing their workflows and communication. Leveraging technology and APIs will help you keep the process, documentation, and customer experience organized.  

Steps to a Seamless Sales-to-Customer Success Handoff

Getting the sales-to-onboarding handoff right can help you build lifelong relationships with customers, improving retention because your clients immediately see the value of the software they purchased and are able to achieve their desired outcome. Here are the first steps you’ll need to follow to succeed at the sales-to-customer success handoff.

Step 1: Communicate

One of the most common client complaints is a lack of communication about the next steps. They won’t be working with a sales rep anymore, but they don’t hear from anyone else right away. Your team might be working hard behind the scenes to get ready for onboarding, but without proper communication, the client feels like they’ve been forgotten. 

To avoid missing this step, automate the process with a welcome email that has information about what they can expect as well as contact information for the onboarding lead. Sales reps should make a clean break and let onboarding take over all communications.

Step 2: Gather Information

Your onboarding team needs as much information as possible about what the client hopes to achieve by using your software. You might be able to get some of that from your sales team. GUIDEcx integrates with SalesForce and Hubspot, so information can be easily passed from sales to the implementation team. 

Whatever tools you use, make sure you have a good handoff protocol and internal data sharing software to facilitate this transfer so you’re not asking the client the same questions over and over. You can also ask the client in a short, simple onboarding questionnaire.

Step 3: Set Realistic Expectations

Your sales team likely made some promises during the process, so knowing what the client expects here is important to fulfill their needs. Equally important is setting realistic expectations and timelines for what’s involved in onboarding and when it will be complete. Creating a schedule in your client onboarding software that shows each step (with deadlines and assigned responsibilities) can help you avoid overpromising and under delivering.

Step 4: Provide the Right Resources

During the sales process, your new client probably saw a demo and may have a short free trial where they could use the product. These are beneficial but often fall short of an in-depth user experience. Onboarding is the time to walk them through the software step by step, providing proper training and resources catered to their needs, so they can see how they will be able to achieve their goals with the new product. Avoid the most common mistakes by: 

  • taking plenty of time during training to get through all the features that will benefit your clients so they can achieve a shorter time-to-value (TTV);
  • customizing your training for each client’s specific needs so they only get the information they need and not a lot of useless information or training; and
  • sending out carefully planned and well-timed emails with the resources to walk your client through each step, not drowning them in training documentation and knowledge-base articles all at once.

Moving from Sales to Customer Success: Best Practices

Provide Frequent and Transparent Communication

Too often, new customers wait in limbo between the end of the sales process and the beginning of the onboarding process. The sales rep has moved on, but days or even weeks go by before someone from the implementation team gets in touch with the client. If the team being onboarded had little to do with purchasing your product or service, they might be unsure of what it is and why you’re contacting them.

This communication black hole, as we like to call it, doesn’t mean that your onboarding team is just sitting idly by. In fact, you might be hard at work on internal processes like setting up a new project, coordinating with the sales team, and holding internal kickoff calls.

However, if you don’t communicate any of that to your client, they’ll think you just forgot about them. When you do finally get in touch, things will already have started off on the wrong foot.

The solution is to have a plan laid out for your communication from the very beginning of your project. For example, if you integrate your sales CRM (like HubSpot or Salesforce) into your client onboarding solution, you can automatically send a welcome email to your new customer once the deal closes. This should include an overview of what to expect and contact information for the implementation manager.

Gather as Much Information as You Can about Your New Customer

To deliver the best customer service, you need to know as much about your new customer as possible. Coordinate with the sales team to find out how the customer got to you, what excited them the most about your product or service, and what they are hoping to get from the onboarding experience.

If you’re using a client onboarding solution, integrate tools like Salesforce and HubSpot to automatically transfer information from the sales team to the customer success team. Use the platform’s central repository for relevant documents and ensure nothing gets lost in a manual process.

Gathering this information about your new customer beforehand saves your customer from asking questions twice. It also helps you develop a client onboarding plan that achieves success for you and your customer.

Pitfalls during the Transition from Sales to Customer Success

Overwhelming New Customers with Too Much Information

Making contact right away is critical to onboarding success, but overwhelming your new customers with too much information can backfire.

A welcome email is a good chance to provide a project overview and make introductions. It’s not the place to include dozens of links to training videos and complicated technical guides. That can be overwhelming. Too many links or attachments can also trigger their spam filter and take you straight to their junk folder.

If you’re able, create a communication process with well-timed emails that give customers the information they need when they need it without making their heads explode.

Making Promises You Can’t Keep

Do you know what your sales team promised during the sales process? Is it something you can deliver? A smooth customer onboarding handoff includes making sure you know what clients are expecting. Once you know that, managing expectations about if—and when—you can deliver it.

How do you set realistic onboarding expectations?

Create a project schedule that outlines every step of your process. Customers need to know exactly what you’ll deliver and what you expect from them to achieve a successful outcome. Include realistic timelines so they know when they’ll be getting it. If you make project steps transparent from the start, you can avoid overpromising and under delivering.

You can also ensure that customers understand when their tasks are holding up the project—and avoid calling them out during status meetings. Transparency helps keep everyone on the team—internal, customer, and third party—accountable.

If customers are happy with the initial onboarding experience, you can create long-term relationships and positive word-of-mouth that will pay dividends for a long time.

The handoff from sales to customer success is oftentimes an afterthought, but it should be top of mind for both the sales and customer success teams. Failing at this crucial handoff often means frustrating your new customers and making it more likely for them to discontinue service, causing your churn rate to rise. Following these helpful steps while avoiding common pitfalls will ensure all sales to customer support handoffs go smoothly and leave your customers satisfied, which helps your business grow.


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