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Customer Success vs. Sales: Differences, Similarities, and Collaboration

Shareil Nariman

12 min read
Customer Success vs. Sales: Differences, Similarities, and Collaboration

In today's marketplace, it's not enough to simply close the deal. You've got to consider the full customer lifecycle and support your buyers and users every step of the way. This support comes from two main teams: customer success and sales, both of which play unique — and interdependent — roles in a B2B SaaS business.

These teams can be incredibly powerful when they work together, but it's not always clear how to make that collaboration happen.

In this article, we'll discuss the differences between customer success and sales, including their responsibilities, skill sets, and goals, as well as how to have them collaborate effectively. Keep reading to learn all the ins and outs.

Differences Between Sales and Customer Success

Sales Is Focused on Closing the Deal

When it comes to sales, the stereotype of "deals, deals, deals," is accurate. A sales team's main focus is on bringing in new customers, demonstrating the key features and benefits of the product they're selling, and then securing the sale.

This means that most interactions sales professionals have with customers are pretty short-term, although the length of the sales cycle varies between companies. Sales work is also more quantitative compared to customer success — it's driven by quotas and emphasizes upsells and other revenue-boosters.

Example Day-to-Day Tasks for Sales Professional

The daily duties of sales professionals include key tasks like:

  • Cold calls and outreach
  • Lead prospecting, qualifying, and nurturing
  • Demos and use case explanations
  • Deal negotiation and closing

Required Skills for Sales Professionals

The skill sets for sales representatives versus customer success professionals vary greatly. Sales reps often require the following skills:

  • Deep industry and product knowledge
  • Customer-centricity
  • Storytelling
  • Active listening
  • Objection handling
  • Relationship management
  • Networking and communication
  • Data analytics

Customer Success Is Focused on Nurturing the Customer

Customer success professionals' main focus is on nurturing the customer in the post-sales phase, with the end goal being to convert every customer into a loyal, lifelong user. This includes monitoring customer health and offering helpful, tailored solutions to customers' needs and pain points as they crop up.

Customer success team members are much more qualitatively-focused than sales team members. They aim to build and maintain long-term relationships with customers.

This is done by regularly communicating with each customer, checking in to make sure they're comfortable and satisfied with the product, and proactively suggesting opportunities to use the product in the most effective ways.

Additionally, customer success is responsible for brand perception, arguably just as much as marketing or advertising. Because customer success professionals work so closely with customers, they've got a huge opportunity to build a base of brand advocates.

Example Day-To-Day Tasks for Customer Success Professionals

The daily duties of customer success professionals include key tasks like:

  • Customer onboarding and training
  • Welcome meetings and check-ins
  • Strategy meetings
  • Renewal conversations
  • Gathering, organizing, and analyzing customer feedback
  • Basic technical support

Required Skills for Customer Success Professionals

Because customer success is focused on managing and growing your brand's customer relationships, team members will need these skills to succeed:

  • Strategic thinking
  • Customer-centricity
  • Communication
  • Time management
  • Proactivity
  • Relationship management
  • Problem-solving
  • Conflict resolution
  • Data analytics

Their Compensation Structures Vary

The quantitative vs. qualitative dynamic of sales and customer success also majorly impacts pay structure. Sales compensation is intricate, tying pay and perks to specific quotas. Customer success compensation, on the other hand, is usually fixed with a simple base salary and bonus potential.

However, some SaaS companies are shaking things up. There's new interest in tying sales pay to customer success performance since their goals — customer retention and revenue retention — are so intertwined. Take a deeper look at the details below.

Average Compensation Packages in Sales

Compensation packages for sales professionals, especially in the SaaS space, are complex. They vary depending on the company size, organizational goals, experience level for the role, average deal/order value, and the incentives that motivate your team.

Most packages break down into two main variables — annual base salary and commission — which add up to a professional's on-target earnings (OTE), or what they can expect to earn if they hit 100% of quota. Here are some common examples of compensation structure for sales professionals:

  • 25% base salary/75% commission
  • 50% base salary/50% commission
  • 60% base salary/40% commission

As an example, the national average salary for SaaSsales managers is $119,166 per year, according to Zip Recruiter. On the low end, Zip Recruiter reports just $11,000 and on the high end, $236,500. This huge range shows just how many sales compensation structures there are out there among SaaS companies. We should also note that compensation for SaaSsales roles tends to be higher than other industries.

When it comes to building realistic but powerful pay structures for your sales team, aim to keep it simple. Having tons of levers and variables, like accelerators, decelerators, bonuses, and time-based rewards can confuse potential hires and make it hard for your team to focus on the priority objectives.

In addition, avoid limiting earning potential. According to Xactly data, caps can actually do more harm than good when it comes to sales team performance.

Average Compensation Packages in Customer Success

On the opposite side of the spectrum is the customer success compensation package. As we mentioned, these packages are more simplistic and straightforward than that of sales professionals. Generally, customer success compensation packages don't rely as heavily on commission or other variables, opting for a base-only or base-plus-bonus structure.

According to Salary.com, the average customer success manager (CSM) in the U.S. makes $59,690, as of December 2021. The typical range falls between $51,290 and $71,990. While earning potential is usually much smaller, CS teams enjoy more stable income and can be incentivized with other benefits like bonuses, commissions, or other perks where they make sense.

Growing Interest in Tying Sales Compensation to Customer Success KPIs

It's worth pointing out that there is an increasing trend among mature companies to make sales pay dependent on high-priority customer success metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs).

The idea is to encourage sales professionals to take a more active role in customer success to ensure the customers they close are actually sticking around for the long haul. For instance: The better a job each sales rep does of qualifying leads and capturing crucial customer goals and concerns, the better equipped each customer success rep is to excite, support, and retain new users.

Why Your Company Needs Customer Success as Much as It Needs Its Sales Team

Only Having a Sales Team Will Slow the Stream of Leads and Customers

If too much emphasis is placed on sales and not enough is placed on customer success, your stream of new customers will likely slow down, flatline, or decline.

Any problems that are unintentionally being created by the sales team — such as overpromising or overselling your product or services — will begin to compound and exacerbate, affecting customer satisfaction, increasing churn and reducing customer loyalty.

These situations, in which one team is unknowingly making the job harder for another, can create a less-than-ideal working environment for everyone involved. And we all know that a work environment in which team members are at odds directly affects employee satisfaction and harms the health of the company.

Investing in Customer Success Yields More Insights and Lets Your Sales Teams Focus on Other High-Value Tasks

Sales representatives likely don't have the time to fully understand and analyze customer journeys, product usage, and onboarding metrics or resolve the needs of customers — and that's just fine. This is exactly where your CS team steps in.

Customer success representatives are in a unique position as they work side by side with current customers. They get to know them on a deep level and in turn, better understand your product's true challenges and opportunities. Customer success team members can then build off these and other key insights to further improve your product or service and tackle customer concerns before they reach a critical level.

There Is Just as Much Value in Customer Retention as Customer Acquisition

In recent years, more and more companies are understanding the value of retaining customers versus acquiring customers. To put this in perspective, it may cost five times more to acquire new customers than to keep an existing one, according to research done by Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company. Additionally, their research also found that a 5% increase in retention rates may lead to a profit increase of up to 95%.

The bottom line is that you need to both attract and hold onto customers to be more than a flash in the pan. But retaining customers is often a better business deal — and less expensive — than only acquiring new customers. Check out our comparison ofcustomer acquisitionand customerretention(costs and benefits of each) to learn more.

Sharing Data and Collaborating on Accounts Helps Both Teams Improve Processes

The adage "teamwork makes the dream work" is definitely applicable when it comes to sales and customer success collaboration. There are tons of valuable insights that arise — qualitative and quantitative — when you partner these teams up to focus on the customer experience.

Sit your sales professionals and customer success professionals at the same table to trade concrete data and day-to-day observations around what's working, which unforeseen hurdles are consistently happening, and how problems can be resolved. This can be through a regular meeting, asynchronous check-ins, and more. This is crucial to removing information silos and improving processes companywide.

In addition, both teams should see each other as having the other's back. If a sales rep identifies an issue, they should feel comfortable and confident talking to a customer success team member to help alleviate that issue, and vice versa.

Introducing the Customer Success Rep During the Sales Process Creates a Better User Experience

Another way the sales and customer success teams can collaborate for the good of the customer experience is by introducing the customer success manager to new customers as the deal is getting closer to closing.

This makes customers feel valued and top of mind, allowing customer success to help sales professionals close the deal. Customer success can also simply give sales team members shared qualitative goals to encourage a smooth sales-to-service handoff and the continued success of an account. This step will result in customers sticking around longer, which means less churn and higher lifetime value (LTV).

Learn how to unpack which customers are leaving and how to fix it.

Focusing on Collaboration Opens Up Growth Opportunities for Employees and Employers

Setting up your teams with an emphasis on collaboration does more than boost retention or streamline internal workflows. It creates major opportunities for each individual employee and the company as a whole.

For example, encouraging customer success folks to sit in on sales calls, and sales folks to sit in on customer success calls, can lead to everyone learning some new skills and fresh strategies along the way. In turn, employees from both teams can apply for new positions or change departments when necessary or when they desire.

As we've covered, there's already a healthy level of skill crossover between these teams — both positions are often customer-facing, relationship-building, and require solid communication skills. Collaboration just expands and develops the specific knowledge they need to succeed. And these simple measures can relieve hiring pressure from upper management and HR while paving the way for higher employee engagement and satisfaction.

Let's take a look at some potential career paths for a customer success manager who wants to move vertically or transition to the sales or product team. Here are a few common examples:

  • CSM > Manager of CSMs > Director or VP of Customer Success > CEO
  • CSM > Account Executive or Account Manager
  • CSM > Sales Operations or Sales Enablement
  • CSM > Product Management
  • CSM > Product Marketing

On the flip side, you can reverse-engineer these paths if a sales professional has the desire to switch to a customer success role. Often, when professionals leave a career in sales, it's typically because they want something less stressful and with a more stable pay structure, which makes customer success appealing.

Give Your Customer Success Team the Tool It Needs to Build a Better Onboarding Program

Partnering your sales team with your customer success team is a sure-fire way to boost the quality of your company's customer experience. And every great customer experience begins with an outstanding onboarding experience.

If you're ready to take your company's onboarding program to the next level — or simply get it under control — scheduling a free onboarding consultation with our team is a great place to start.

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