Sales and CS

The Best Account Plans Start in Sales

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By Ashley Hall

It’s me again! Here to be your customer success conscience, reminding you how and why growth plans are a powerful and necessary tool of the trade.  

So far, you know the 5 elements that outline a strong account plan. You also have a firm grasp as to why they’re important as well has how they support your role and also your colleagues. Now I’d like to discuss how you can get account plans going before your first meeting with the client.

My most impactful account plans have greater context from our sales team on what was important to the client at the time of purchase and what their long terms goals were. More importantly they also include relationship details regarding the stakeholders and their purchasing team.

This information is amazing to have organized access to. Why? It’s a great snapshot of their challenges at the time, their main goals at a time when they were evaluating solutions, and a glimpse into their excitement about your product upon purchase.  This intel empowers you as a relationship manager from day one to have full context into their lifecycle with your product and allows you to drive the strategic relationship forward.

There are a number of ways you can kick off the account plan process in sales. In my current role, we pull certain fields from a won opportunity in the CRM into an object both in the CRM and into our account plan document in a collaborative sheet. With a minor investment in development and CRM magic you can be pulling the key data points important to your account plan automatically.

If this doesn’t sound like a feasible solution for your team, I suggest getting started with form submittals (Google Forms are super easy to set up!) or hand off meetings where the salesperson shares the story verbally. Regardless of the method, set up a standard set of 5-10 key points you need from the sales team regarding this opportunity and record it in a place that is accessible company-wide.

What should you be collecting? Here are some ideas on what to start collecting in the sales process.

Client industry

Previous solution your product is now replacing

Summary of the client’s business model

Top challenges the need to solve for now

Long term goals

Summary of their current tech stack or tools

Planned growth or opportunities for cross/up-selling

Special contract terms or agreements out of the ordinary

Immediate action items

Customer success and partnership is a team sport! While the success team may own the retention and expansion goals, every department participates in customer success. Building an open and communicative relationship between success and sales ensures that the client wins every time but also your customer-facing teams.

Curious about learning more on how sales and customer success can work together as a team in your organization? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers a CSM Certification Program that includes selling-focused classes like Uncovering Opportunities and Managing a Selling Cycle. For more information on these classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Ashley Hall - Ashley loves to lead account management and success teams; from training newbies to building processes out of chaos. Ashley is one of the founding advisors to The Success League, and serves as a regular instructor for the company's CSM Training Program. She is a senior account manager for Copper, and brings her work experiences to her articles and classes. Ashley holds a BA from the University of Colorado, lives in San Francisco, and and enjoys global travel.

4 Ways To Prevent Sales From Overselling

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By Jeremy Gillespie

Sales is incentivized to close deals and customer success is incentivized to keep those customers. It’s pretty straightforward. But what happens when sales is closing the wrong type of deals? Deals that make it hard for customer success to do their job properly? Tension between the teams can arise and finger-pointing ensues. You may have experienced this yourself.

Growing a sales team is no easy task and being a sales rep isn’t either, but to prevent the sales team from over-selling takes practice. In this post, I’m going to cover four ways you can prevent this from happening.

Why This Needs to Be Solved

This is not a new problem, and it’s certainly not easy to solve, but the reality is - this is bad for the company. To start, it’s generally unprofitable. Of course you capture the initial revenue from the customer, but once sales commission is paid, the client is on-boarded, and time is spent on management you break even at best. However, the biggest cost is the opportunity cost to the company. Precious time and energy is spent focusing on customers who are going to quickly churn, while your best customers could have been getting the white glove treatment.

In addition, allowing this to go on reinforces bad habits. Sales reps who get by on misrepresenting the product, or continually using massive discounts to get sales on the board will continue to do so as long as it goes unnoticed or unchecked.

Lastly, it’s the customer who loses the most. They have purchased a solution and invested time and resources in it, when it ultimately won’t be a good fit for them. You lose the customer’s trust, eliminating any chance to expand the relationship. This can have ripple effect on your reputation in the market. So let’s discuss some ways you can prevent this.

4 Ways To Prevent Sales From Selling Bad Deals

Below are the four ways to prevent this. While there are other tactics you can use, I would suggest starting here.

1. Sales training

This is the number one way to prevent bad deals. Sales training is vitally important not only to get reps to meet quota, but to make sure they’re representing the product correctly. In addition to training, I would suggest you create an internal FAQ for reps to reference during their calls to drive accuracy and consistency.

2. Record & Review

There are a number of tools on the market, which let you record sales calls. Use them. Make it a habit to review calls on a monthly basis, especially while new reps are getting ramped up.  By recording calls you have a way to continually educate and coach reps so they can optimize their message and prevent mistakes.

3. Customer Success Approval

With larger sales opportunities, it’s a good idea to loop in customer success toward the end of the sales cycle. This allows sales and success can go over the requirements from the prospect to ensure your product can fulfill their needs. Some success teams even have veto power over deals (although they need to use it carefully!)

4. Clawbacks

Institute a commission clawback for customers who churn quickly. Clawbacks can be a little tricky, so do your best to make it as fair as possible and only apply it to deals where the customers has been misguided. Doing so will keep retention in the minds of your sales reps. If you prefer the carrot to the stick, try offering the sales team a bonus based on year one retention.

Just as the marketing and sales teams will always have some level of tension, so will sales and customer success. These tactics will align the teams on a common goal, which will help improve the relationship between the teams, as well as churn.

Need to learn more about how sales and customer success can work together better in your organization? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers a CSM Certification Program that includes selling-focused classes like Uncovering Opportunities and Managing a Selling Cycle. For more information on these classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Jeremy Gillespie - Jeremy is a growth marketing expert who loves using complex data to build creative retention solutions. He is a founding advisor to The Success League, and is also the founder of Built to Scale, a consulting firm focused developing customer acquisition and retention programs. He holds a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and MBA from Point Park University. He's a proud former Pittsburgher, currently living in San Francisco.

You're Not on the Sales Team, but You've Got Some Selling To Do

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This is a previous post worthy of resharing. See Ashley’s take on how Customer Success and Sales are closely related and oftentimes interwoven.

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.

RENEWALS

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.

EXPANSIONS

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 offers a CSM Certification Training Program that includes selling-focused classes like Uncovering Opportunities and Managing a Selling Cycle. For more information on these classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Ashley Hall - Ashley loves to lead account management and success teams; from training newbies to building processes out of chaos. Ashley is one of the founding advisors to The Success League, and serves as a regular instructor for the company's CSM Training Program. She is a senior account manager for Copper, and brings her work experiences to her articles and classes. Ashley holds a BA from the University of Colorado, lives in San Francisco, and and enjoys global travel.

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 TheSuccessLeague.io
 

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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.

Renewals

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.

Expansions

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. www.TheSuccessLeague.io

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.