Where Sales Ends and Customer Success Begins

By Kristen Hayer

I’ve already shared my opinion about customer success teams and selling in a prior post, and one of our guest bloggers, Loni Spratt, discussed the opposite side of that issue in a recent article.  There are great arguments on both sides of the issue, and ultimately every company needs to make a decision about who does what.  I thought that this week I’d write about some of the situations I’ve run into, what worked (and didn’t), and how to think about who should sell in various scenarios.

One thing I want to emphasize first is that the sales and customer success groups must function as a team.  Regardless of who is selling, both teams are responsible for making sure that customers have a good experience and that they are setting the company up for success.  Sales and success leaders who work well together, strong processes, and regular communication are critical for making any division of the selling function prosper.

New Business

A company I worked with several years ago hired me because they had attempted to do away with their sales team, and after about a year realized it wasn’t going to work.  Their self-subscriber business model was great for about 90% of their customers, but didn’t work for the 10% of larger customers who brought in about 40% of the revenue.  This situation is a good reminder that there is almost always a place for a new business sales function.  New business is where sales teams shine, and most of the time they generate a lot more revenue than would come in on its own.

Contract Renewals

I’ve seen contract renewals work in both sales and success.  There are several factors to consider:

  • How long since the initial sale?  The further out the renewal, the more likely the success team will have a stronger relationship with the client than sales.
  • How strong are your negotiators?  In many cases renewals involve a tougher negotiation than the initial sale.  Do you have that skill on your success team?
  • How complex are your contracts?  If your document requires a minor in business law to understand, you might consider carving out an entirely separate team for renewals.


In general, I’ve seen the best upgrade results come from customer success teams.  A strong customer relationship tends to generate opportunities to discuss growth and creates a natural selling environment that isn’t pushy or artificial.  That said, I ran into an interesting exception recently.  This organization had been struggling with churn, and it was coming from customers who were not a good fit but were sold anyway to hit quota.  The company corrected the situation by allowing their sales team to earn commission for a longer period of time and to sell upgrades as well.  The motivation to close good deals returned, as did a focus on long-term customer relationships.

New Products or Services

Like upgrades, new products or services are typically most effectively introduced and sold by the customer success team.  Success groups are usually closer to the product and have a more thorough understanding of customer issues (and how the new product or service helps resolve them) than the sales team.  That said, you should consider two things:

  • Is the new offering highly complex?  If so, selling it might require the help of a sales engineer or internal sales consultant.
  • Does the new offering have a different buyer?  If so, this should be treated more like a new sale, since the existing relationship is less important.

Partner Products or Services

Your business development rep is closing partnerships left and right:  How do you make the most of these new relationships and generate revenue?  Some of the companies I’ve worked with have had blazing success with partnerships (one went from 0-33% of their revenue from partners in under 2 years!) and others never seem to get their partner programs off the ground.  The difference isn’t found in whether sales or customer success sells the program.  It’s all about training and communication.  Get the new partner in front of your team, provide them with solid enablement tools, give them a good incentive plan, and either sales or success can win deals.

Think through the scenarios you face in your business.  Once you decide who is selling in each situation, make sure you clearly communicate to both groups and set the expectation that they will be working as a team.  If you decide to put your success team in selling situations make sure you give them the same training and resources you provide to your sales team, as well as firm goals and quotas.  Selling expectations should carry the same weight across both groups.

Happy selling, and happy customers!

Need help training your success team to sell?  The Success League is a consulting firm that works with executives who want to retain and expand the customers their company worked so hard to acquire.  We transform support into success by building metrics, goals and processes that push customer success teams to perform at their peak.  www.TheSuccessLeague.io