Sales and CS

The Battle Lines Have Been Drawn - Customer Renewals & Expansion

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Our guest blogger this week joins us from Australia. Gary Rubinstein is a customer success leader who shares his perspective on who owns revenue - one of the hot topics in our field right now. Enjoy!

By Gary Rubinstein

Ownership of customer expansion and renewals is often the “elephant in the room” – especially in a Start Up environment. The flow on impact from this decision drives behaviors across the entire organization: from Sales to Customer Success, Marketing to Product. Everyone is impacted.  

And this is an important business decision because if our SaaS customers don’t renew, we won’t have a SaaS business for very long. And growth through customer expansion is easier than finding new customers.

The Players

First we have the Sales / Account Executive (AE) team. This team works hard to identify and close new business. It is typical for an AE to start “hunting” for their next deal once they close a deal.  But there are also times when AEs want to stay close to their customers.

In the world of SaaS, we also have the Customer Success team. The Customer Success Manager (CSM) is focused on helping customers get the most value out of their software investment. They focus on customer retention, account expansion/growth, and the overall customer experience. But there are times when CSMs wish they didn’t have to deal with some customers.

5 Considerations in deciding Who Owns Customer Renewals / Expansion

#1 – Maturity of the Business

Teams are small in early stage software companies. Most employees are performing multiple roles while the business is growing.

In the early days, most CSMs are consumed with the customer onboarding and adoption initiatives. While AEs continue to monitor progress and hand-hold accounts to ensure they have a happy and referenceable customer.

I would encourage any new SaaS business to be honest with themselves – with small teams and a small customer base, it just makes sense for AEs to own all contract discussions (including renewals). This will allow CSMs to focus on adoption and value creation.

#2 – Ideal Customer Profile

Do you know what your ideal customer looks like? And more importantly, are your AEs selling to them? If you answer “no” to either of these questions, then AEs should own (and be accountable for) the renewal.

CSMs don’t want to be held accountable for a churn event with a customer who should never have been sold to in the first place.  

Defining the ideal customer profile is a whole of business exercise. And one worth investing in. Because once you understand what your ideal customer looks like, it will help focus sales and marketing efforts, leading to more stable longer term growth. And fewer churn events.

#3 – Initial Contract Length & Time to Value

Imagine this scenario – a 12 month customer contract, a 3 month onboarding period and a renewal discussion commencing 3 months prior to the contract end date.  

All customers want to see value from their software investment. But most customers won’t be able to realize the value within 6 months. It will typically take 9 months to start seeing the benefits.

So if I was the customer in this scenario and I was asked at the 9 month mark “would I renew”, I would not be happy. And I would probably say no.

In this scenario, it is important to “divide and conquer” to not confuse the customer. CSMs should continue to focus on adoption and value creation. AEs should own contract discussions, including the initial renewal. This will also give the AE time to realize any early identified expansion opportunities (refer #5 below). Beyond the first renewal, CSMs should own all customer interactions.

#4 –Variable Plans

As humans, we are motivated by incentives. For AEs this is commission on sales. CSMs typically have bonuses based on defined metrics.

But what if an AE sells to someone who doesn’t fit the “ideal customer profile,” the CSM owns the renewal but it is clear from the outset that they customer is not likely to continue beyond the initial contract. Does the AE still get their commission? Should the CSM’s churn numbers be “adjusted” when this churn event is realized? Who takes accountability for this?

Variable plans need to be setup so that everyone is accountable for customer renewals. This might be, as per #3, that initial renewal is still owned by the AE. Or it might be that you “double dip” on the initial renewal to recognize the efforts of both the AE and CSM. There are many creative ways to tackle this.

But one thing is clear, if you don’t consider the impact your variable plan has on renewals – your customers may not renew.

#5 – When an Expansion IS NOT an Expansion?

Here is the scenario – the CSM owns and is incentivized for all renewal and expansion activity from Day 1. But the AE says “I’m expecting this customer to buy more in 3 months – they just don’t have the budget approved yet.” Is this expansion the AE’s or the CSM’s or do they both get recognized?

I have seen this scenario play out many times. And there is no perfect answer. From a business perspective – account growth is great. But it is bad for business if AEs stall an initial deal because they are hoping for the larger commission check. It is possible, even likely, that by waiting the AE loses the whole deal. On the other hand, is it fair to give the CSM a “free ride” on this expansion? On the other hand (if I had a third hand), should the incentive rules flex in this scenario?

Final thoughts

I come from a Customer Success background and have always focused on being a “Trusted Advisor” in the eyes of the customer. This helps build confidence and enables the customer to be open and honest in all interactions. This could not be achieved if customer felt that CS was sales by another name.

While CSMs need to be accountable for customer retention and expansion, the timing of this ownership needs to be addressed by all SaaS businesses.

Do you have any stories to share on customer ownership?

Are you a new CSM or do you want to improve upon your CSM skills this Spring? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers online training and workshops on core CS topics like Renewals & Churn and Customer Goals & OutcomesFor more information on these and our other classes and workshops, please visit

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Gary Rubinstein - Gary believes that every business should get as much value as possible out of their software investments. And it is with this philosophy that he moved from a successful career in Business Analysis and Project Management to Customer Success. By drawing on his business experience, Gary helps optimize customer processes to achieve increased value from software in a digital world.
Gary has helped establish multiple Customer Success teams; ensuring that value is recognized throughout the Customer Journey. He completed his Bachelors of Commerce Degree at Monash University, Australia and MBA at Swinburne University, Australia. In his "spare time" Gary and his wife are often playing parent taxi, shuttling their 2 boys from one activity to another.

You’re not on the sales team, but you’ve got some selling to do!

By Ashley Hall

Across the SaaS industry the debate about success teams owning revenue metrics, whether recurring or expansion, is a hot one. You’ll find strong opinions all over the map. Some are from the school of thought that “trusted advisors” from a success team cannot truly be trustworthy if they are responsible for a sales goal. Others say that success team members know exactly what their client’s needs are, and therefore can sell to them most successfully. Regardless of where you land on this spectrum it is important to acknowledge that all members of a company have some selling to do as a representative of the brand.

I think that a success team can find amazing motivation in exceeding a steep sales goal. In my career as an account manager, I have been in roles where I’m responsible for both expansions and renewals, and in roles solely focused on renewals where expansions were handled by a salesperson. I’ve appreciated the need to sell in both roles. Whatever the structure of your team, here are some thoughts on approaching both expansions and renewals from the perspective of a customer success manager.


Of course we all hope for relationships that are thriving and renewals that are automatic, but unfortunately this is not always the case.  When approaching a renewal, always provide as much time as possible; busy business contacts do not love a surprise. 2-3 months prior to renewal, schedule a call with all key stakeholders. When requesting and scheduling this call be sure to provide an overview of renewal logistics, sharing important dates and tasks. Ideally, during the renewal call you will be able perform your usual business review, understand the goals of the client for the upcoming year, and develop an action plan.

It is not uncommon for clients to use the renewal period to renegotiate their contract or scope out your competitors. These scenarios require significant salesmanship. You and your team should be prepared to re-sell your product at the drop of a hat. Since you already have an established relationship with the client you have the huge advantage of being able to highlight key functionality and any roadmap items that will continue to serve the customer's needs. Industry knowledge and an intimate understanding of where your product sits in the competitive landscape is critical to this conversation.


There are a number of ways to approach selling new products or functionality to a current customer. Hopefully, with assistance of a product marketing team, your customers are frequently updated on new offerings via email.  If so, this can be a natural conversation starter for your and your team. If not, you should establish a regular cadence of contact with your clients to cover product and service updates. Tracking calls with each client to your roadmap will help you be sure you have discussed every new offering as it is made available. These calls are important - they establish you as the client’s product advisor – so make sure they are a high priority in your day-to-day work.

Staggered releases or beta programs are other low-pressure ways to begin a sales process with your client. Presenting them the unique opportunity to participate in a beta release, prior to a purchasing decision, is a relaxed way to ease the client into improved functionality. Your client has a chance to see the value of what is being offered, which leaves you with a bit less selling to do.

Staying in touch with your client’s needs allows you to successfully sell to them. You’ll be able to advise them on how to use their existing solution optimally, but you’ll also be able to weed out new functionality that truly is not necessary for their organization. Selling strategically based on your client’s needs, not just every new thing, will yield greater sales in the future.

Regardless of the metrics your success department owns, everyone in a start-up is an important extension of the brand. Awareness of the competitive landscape and your product will empower every member of your success team to sell in a professional, comfortable way. 

Need to learn to sell through your customer success organization? The Success League is a consulting firm that works with executives who want to unlock the retention and revenue a top performing customer success team will bring to their business.

Ashley Hall - Ashley loves to lead account management teams; from training newbies to building processes out of chaos to working directly with customers. With an eye on the future she is a powerhouse in building scaleable frameworks that support and drive growth.  Ashley is currently working for Sparkcentral and holds a BA in Sociology from the University of Colorado, Boulder.  She lives in San Francisco, CA.

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.

Sales Resources for CSMs

By Kristen Hayer

I have to admit that I have a soft spot for selling.  I started my career as a salesperson, and find it fun to talk to people and help them find tools and products that make their jobs easier.  Plus, there’s nothing like the rush you get from closing a deal! 

That said, many Customer Success professionals are being asked to sell but don’t have any experience doing it.  Most CSMs in this situation admit to feeling uncomfortable with the idea of selling, and often don’t have formal sales training available to them.  If you’re a CSM who needs ideas on how to improve your sales skills, or a success team manager who needs sales training tools, here are my top 3 sales books for CSMs.

SPIN Selling, by Neil Rackham

“SPIN Selling” sounds like the worst possible collection of sales tactics, but SPIN is actually an acronym for a method of asking questions that helps uncover real customer needs.  This book was first published in 1988 but has stood the test of time, probably because it is based on so much real-world sales data.  Like most sales books, it is geared toward the new sale, but I like it because the methodology is simple to learn and can easily be applied to discussions with existing clients.

When to use it:  When you are new to selling, or when you have a team that needs to learn basic solution-selling techniques.

The Challenger Sale, by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson

This book is the hot new thing in sales, but definitely not just a passing fad.  Based on a tremendous amount of research on what makes a top salesperson, this methodology provides reps with a strategy to elevate their message above competitors.  Again, the focus is on new sales, but you can easily apply the tactics to create a more valuable vendor-customer relationship.  It does assume some sales ability, so if you are new to sales I’d start with SPIN Selling.  There is also a fantastic chapter on what it takes to be a good sales manager that I think applies to success managers as well.

When to use it:  When your sales skills need a boost, or when your success team is asked to take on more complex sales.

Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton

This is another older book, but it is still popular for teaching the art of negotiation.  I’ve taken many sales and success teams through this book to help them learn to create agreements that work for both the company and the customer.  Many times the renewal is a more difficult negotiation than the initial sale, and it is made even more challenging by the fact that you want to maintain a great relationship with your client.  This book can help you navigate that scenario.  Bonus: It might also help in negotiations with your significant other!

When to use it:  When you deal with lengthy or complex renewal negotiations, or when you have a CSM team that discounts too quickly.

Book Clubs

Many of the companies I work with are startups, and don’t have the time or budget to implement formal training programs.  A great way to deal with training when resources are slim is to start a book club.  If you’re a customer success leader, consider carving out 30 minutes a week to discuss a book your team reads together.  Are you a solo CSM?  Find like-minded success professionals at other companies to join you for drinks and a discussion once a month.  One chapter a week is a pace that most people can keep up with, and group discussions help everyone understand how to apply what was read. 

Do you have a favorite sales resource?  Comment to share that with the group.  Wondering whether your CSM team should even be selling?  Here are two recent posts on the Pros and Cons.

The Success League is a consulting firm that works with customer success leaders who want to unlock the retention and revenue potential in their team.  We partner with success teams to gather and present customer data in a way that allows them to advocate for customer needs and drive true change in their organization.

Why CSMs Should Not Sell

By Loni Spratt

The Customer Success Manager (CSM) is the closest interface to the end user and succeeds through establishing relationships built on a foundation of trust and rooted in partnership. Though there isn’t a one size fits all definition of the CSM role, what can be universally agreed with is that an effective CSM, regardless of the product or service offering, is both provider and voice of customer simultaneously. The art of being a successful CSM is the intersection of clarity of purpose, detailed customer needs understanding, and mastery of the product culminating in a world-class customer experience. This recipe, executed appropriately, results in increased sales but is not a sales function.

Maintain Clarity of Purpose

The fundamental purpose of the CSM is to ensure that the customer is successful, and it is critical that this focus isn’t clouded by motivation for up-selling to satisfy the allure of high commissions. Driving customer value is the number one priority. Negotiations, pricing tactics and the nuances of the sales process can easily detract from maintaining this clarity and ultimately have a negative effect on the customer experience. A poor customer experience easily translates into customer churn, specifically logo churn. Pursuing increased sales may help in the short-term to mask revenue churn but very quickly turn into a numbers game in which the success of the customer is never achieved; the purpose of the CSM is undermined.

An Advisor Relationship Rooted in Trust

Customer intimacy is categorically critical to making customers successful. A detailed needs analysis and understanding of your customer is required to be able to perform as a CSM. They understand how their customers define success and strategically work cross-functionally to deliver results consistent with this definition of success.  In order to achieve this detailed understanding, the CSM must not only be able to walk in the shoes of the customer but be skilled at being an advocate for what the customer needs before they know they need it. Advising customers of new product offerings that could help them achieve their goals is very different than leading them through the sales process. Built on a foundation of trust, this relationship puts the CSM is in the perfect position to identify opportunities to up-sell but those opportunities should be passed to a closing rep to complete. Effectively, CSMs are lead generation for the sales reps when it comes to existing customers. The trusted advisor role is never compromised and the CSM’s intentions are never questioned.

Product Masters not Sellers

Mastery of product is also an important characteristic of the successful CSM and energies should be focused in that area instead of sales. In the customer’s eyes, the CSM is the go-to person, completely knowledgeable about the product; ready to help them navigate to success. Day-to-day activities can include training and onboarding, sharing best practices, leading quarterly business reviews and promoting advocacy, while an account manager or sales role is focused on meeting sales quotas and driving renewals. Though they operate complementary to each other, the skill sets and DNA of CSMs are different than those of their sales counterparts.

The CSM-Customer relationship is all about trust. This relationship is sacred and shouldn’t be clouded by sales quotas or the appearance of disingenuous motivation. Establishing and nurturing this relationship ultimately translates into high revenue retention and low logo churn. As a CSM leader, my primary objective is to ensure that there is no conflict of interest within the team. One sign that a CSM gets “it” is when he or she embodies the voice of the customer so much that it spills over into internal company debate and lines between user and provider are blurry at best. 

Loni Spratt - Loni Spratt is the Director of Customer Success at Entelo, a SaaS platform that leverages predictive analytics and social signals to help organizations find, qualify and engage with in­-demand talent. Prior to Entelo, Loni co-founded IntelliTalent, an online recruitment company powered by both technology and a team of expert recruitment sourcers. 

Thanks to our guest blogger Loni for providing this wonderful counterpoint to the post "Why CSMs Should Sell". The Success League is a consulting firm that works with executives who want to unlock the retention and revenue a top performing customer success team will bring to their business.  Unlike traditional approaches to customer service, we transform support into success by building metrics, goals and processes that enable customer success teams to perform at their peak.