Why CSMs Should Sell

There is a lively debate in the Customer Success community about whether or not Customer Success Managers (CSMs) should be in charge of selling to existing customers.  I believe they should and that they are in the best position to optimize revenue from existing clients.  My viewpoint is that bringing in someone from sales to “close the deal” with an existing customer creates artificial and unnecessary friction in a process that should be the natural outcome of a strong relationship. 

My career started in sales, and I've always led sales teams.  When I started leading customer success groups as well it became clear that there are real benefits to separating the acquisition and expansion components of revenue, even if they reside within the same team.  Here's why I have CSMs handle all post-acquisition selling.

Core skill sets are the same

Assuming your CSMs are responsible for handling the customer relationship post-sale, you’ve already hired them for skills that closely align with those of the best consultative sales reps:

  • Asking probing questions
  • Listening to customer needs
  • Managing customers through processes

The only thing your CSM team might be missing are the mysterious “closing skills” we all hear so much about.  The reality is that closing is at most a tiny (albeit critical) percentage of the selling process.  Closing is also a very coach-able skill.  It takes a lot less time to teach a CSM to close than to teach a salesperson all the ins and outs of each customer relationship.

Sales can focus on acquisition

Getting new customers is a very tough job.  It involves coordination with the marketing team, taking a prospect through the sales cycle, building value, and negotiating deals.  Likewise, managing and selling to current customers takes a lot of effort.  If your sales team is focused on both prospects and existing customers you’re dividing their attention.  How do they decide each day which to spend time on?  Do you want them having to make that decision?

Additionally, the sales process for bringing on a new customer is typically quite different from the sales process for selling to a current client.  If you have your sales team doing both, you will need to train them on all products, services and add-ons, make sure they understand the processes for both types of selling, and set up commission plans for both new prospects and existing customers.  It is difficult to optimize one team for two different goals.

Success owns the relationship

The biggest argument I hear against having a CSM sell is that they are the customer’s trusted advisor and selling to them would put that role at risk.  My argument?  You’re the trusted advisor!  If there is something that your company produces that would benefit the client, you’re not doing your job if you aren’t selling it!  Consultative selling is about understanding needs and presenting matching solutions.  Selling your customer something that benefits them will improve your trusted advisor status. 

I would also argue that bringing in a sales rep who has to learn about the client’s needs creates more risk to the CSM-client relationship than having the CSM sell. Salespeople know that introducing a new person into a sales cycle, either on the client side or the company side, increases the timeline and adds risk to the process.  People buy from people they like, and it takes time for a sales rep to generate that kind of a relationship from scratch.  The CSM already has it, and bringing in someone new could damage that relationship.

Having your CSM team handle all sales to existing customers optimizes both your acquisition and expansion revenue channels, allows your CSMs to improve their trusted advisor status, and streamlines operations across sales and success.  I would challenge you to invest in training your CSM team on closing skills and give them some expansion revenue goals.  I bet that both revenue and relationships improve.

Need help training your CSM team to sell?  The Success League unlocks the potential of SaaS companies by helping them build and customer success teams who retain customers and drive revenue.  www.TheSuccessLeague.io