The Sales-to-Customer Success Handoff: What It Is and How to Create One That Works

Getting the sales-to-customer success transition right can make your customers’ and your teams’ experiences way better. Here’s how.

Shareil Nariman

October 22, 2021

13 minutes

The sales-to-customer success handoff (or sales-to-customer service handoff) is one of the most crucial points in the onboarding process. This is especially true for SaaS businesses that rely on long-lasting customer relationships and subscription renewals.

Handled well, customers feel empowered and cared for, and they transition into using your product or service as seamlessly as possible, with high levels of customer satisfaction. Handled poorly, the sales-to-success handoff can leave customers stranded, or worse, running for the exits (and straight to your competitor).

Here’s everything you need to know to achieve a truly effective sales-to-customer success or service handoff process.

What Is the Sales-to-Success Handoff?

The sales-to-success handoff is the point in the customer journey when your sales team member formally passes the customer account over to a member of the customer success or customer service team. This handoff typically occurs just after a prospect signs up or becomes a paying customer.

Once the sale is made, your sales team needs to shift their focus to other leads and prospects. But your customer isn’t ready for full autonomy just yet. They need guidance through the customer onboarding process. This stage is typically managed by a customer success manager or similar role, although this varies depending on whether you use a low-touch or high-touch onboarding approach.

The sales-to-success handoff is much more than a point in time. It involves an active and clear transfer of information to and from the right teams and individuals. The customer success team can’t operate blindly. They need to know what the sales team did and didn’t share, access any information or insights that sales collected from the customer, and understand when it’s time for them to get involved.

Why Perfecting the Sales Handoff Process Matters

There’s plenty of confusion surrounding the sales handoff, and it doesn’t always happen cleanly. Here’s why your business must get this handoff process right.

Aligns Expectations Between Sales Teams and Success Teams

Part of providing a great customer experience is your customer feeling like the sales team listened to their needs and clearly represented what your company’s solution could do. Just as important, the customer success team must receive the appropriate information before they can correctly guide the new customer along their journey.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for sales teams to over-promise to a potential customer or even miss opportunities to point out high-value features. This tends to pop up with high-tech SaaS tools where plans and feature sets are more complex and customer needs can vary widely. Sometimes the overpromise isn’t intentional if, say, a new sales team member doesn’t fully understand the product yet.

But issues like these leave customer success teams and CSMs with the impossible job of trying to salvage relationships with customers who feel like they were misled.

A well-designed sales to success handoff gets your sales teams and success teams talking by necessity — and that’s always a good thing! Everyone can align expectations and nail down responsibilities, so that it’s clear who’s managing what and which resources they need to do it successfully.

Lets Customers Experience a Shorter Time to Value

Nailing the handoff can make a significant difference in a new customer’s time to value. This is the amount of time it takes for your customer to reach their “Aha!” moment where the value of your solution (by their definition) clicks for them.

If the sales process works like it’s supposed to, then as soon as the handoff is completed, the customer success or service team should have the details they need to help clients move toward their specific goals quickly and efficiently.

If the handoff is shaky, your service team may have to fall back on a generic or standardized onboarding process — one that doesn’t steer customers toward their unique value moment — raising their potential for churn.

Builds Internal Employee Trust Between Departments

Developing a quality handoff process isn’t just for your customers. It’s for your salespeople, your customer success team members, your account executives — even your customer retention team, if you have one.

A lack of alignment in these areas can lead to conflicting goals, siloed data and initiatives, and eventually, distrust between departments. But if everyone feels like they’re on the same team, being held to the same standards, and can depend on one another to provide good experiences, trust will grow among all your employees. And that’s going to continue to enhance communication efforts.

Saves Time for Everyone and Shows Your Customers You Care

You know that frustrating feeling when you visit the doctor’s office and fill out the same forms and answer the same questions what seems like a half dozen times? A bad handoff can give your new customer that same feeling.

No one likes to repeat themselves, especially when they’re in the middle of making a buying decision or testing a new opportunity. When a customer starts working with their CSM, only to face a barrage of questions they’ve already answered for sales, it’s not exactly a good omen for the rest of the relationship. It can quickly create a loss of trust in the brand and your sales reps.

By developing a strong and organized handoff, you can help your sales teams, success teams, and clients make forward progress and build rapport at the same time.

6 Steps to Build the Ultimate Sales-to-Success Workflow

Developing a rock-solid sales-to-success workflow from scratch can be daunting, but don’t worry. We’ve compiled six essential steps to create a seamless process, and you can also use our free success plan template as a place to start. If you’re a new CSM, definitely make this a part of your first 100 days. Let’s dive in.

Step 1: Collect Key Customer Information

Your sales team plays an outsized role in collecting customer information, typically serving as their first touchpoint. Here are some examples of info your CS team will need to provide a great experience:

  • Company size
  • Industry
  • Pricing needs
  • Number of employees or users
  • Names and roles of important contacts
  • Company goals
  • Goals for using your product
  • Tools they were using before to accomplish these goals
  • Any hesitations or initial concerns about your product

Sometimes, sales teams can be too focused on successful sales rather than customer relationships, and therefore not see the value in carefully collecting this information. Be sure to explain the organizational stakes and benefits of getting this step right.

Step 2: Make Sure the Sales Team Documents Their Findings

You know what you need to collect, but how will you do it? You’ll need to equip your salespeople to capture, input, and organize info in a clean and easy way, eliminating as much manual data entry as possible.

Many companies use a combo of online forms, intake surveys, manual notes, and automated transcripts from sales calls. In any case, it’s crucial that key players are in agreement about how this will work, from when to collect it to how notes and contact details should be formatted.

Also, this data should live in a shared space where everyone on the account can access it (both raw and organized data, if applicable). CRM software is tailor-made for this, but spreadsheets are also an option. This will ensure that customer success knows exactly what they need to know for a smooth transition — and where to look for any missing information

Step 3: Make the First Internal Handoff

As we mentioned earlier, the sales-to-success handoff isn’t a single moment. In fact, it’s not even a single handoff. Before the customer gets involved at all, you’ll need to take care of your internal handoff.

Here, you need to connect your salesperson to the customer success representative for the account and make sure that all the materials and ongoing conversations are prepared and shared internally. Every sale is unique, just like every customer. Your internal teams need to communicate about these unique factors so that your support team can get everything arranged for the external handoff.

Step 4: Set Expectations With the Customer Before the Sales Handoff

Before the external handoff takes place, your sales team should also connect with your customer success team to define next steps for everyone. These expectations should be compiled into an overall customer success plan, complete with measurable, identifiable milestones and a realistic timeline.

Both teams need to discuss:

  • When the account rep will change (from a sales rep to a success rep)
  • Number of calls or touch points left to complete
  • Homework the customer needs to finish
  • Total estimated onboarding time for the customer

Once sales and success finalize the plan, the sales team member should walk the customer through it and give them ample time to ask questions. This is an ideal way to set expectations with the customer — they won’t be surprised about anything coming up and, even better, they can start preparing early.

When possible, the sales rep should learn as much as they can about the customer’s workflows, including their current toolset, turnaround times, common roadblocks, and so on. With this knowledge, your CS team can proactively customize their onboarding process.

Step 5: Make the External Sales-to-Support Handoff

Here’s the external handoff you’ve been building toward. You’ve aligned your teams, prepped the customer, and built an initial onboarding plan, so this step is no sweat.

The sales rep should introduce the customer to the support rep, tying up any loose ends and reiterating next steps and expectations. Your support rep’s next action item is to set up the initial customer intake call, kicking off the onboarding process.

Step 6: Initiate Onboarding, Monitor the Success Journey, and Report Back to Sales

The last step in the sales-to-service handoff is the beginning of a customer success journey. It starts with an intake call and continues as customers progress through their onboarding plan.

The CS rep should monitor this journey closely, making sure to report anything noteworthy back to sales, such as misaligned expectations or unexpected hurdles. The handoff process asks a lot from sales reps in terms of data collection and upfront communication, and it’s only kind to return the favor!

Getting the handoff right is always a work in progress. The more information your CS team gathers and shares, the faster your team can iterate and perfect your product and process.

Tips for Improving the Sales-to-Service Handoff

Now that you know the basic steps to create an effective sales-to-success handoff, consider these strategies for improving it.

Give Sales and Customer Success Teams Shared Goals and Metrics

Shared goals keep everyone united, focused, and working toward the top-priority outcomes. Not sure where to start? Here are 16 customer onboarding metrics that let you measure your program’s effectiveness and identify cross-functional goals.

Collect NPS or Customer Service Data Along the Way

It’s hard to objectively improve your customer handoff and onboarding efforts using anecdotal data alone. Build in data collection points to your process, gathering Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys or other customer feedback about their experience to date. Then, get that data to analysts and decision-makers who can start refining your processes.

Have a Transparent, Shareable Timeline of Events for Everyone

We alluded to this in several steps above, but everyone needs to understand milestones, stay accountable, understand the timing of events, and know why they’re being asked to do various tasks.

One great way to do this at a high level is to create a transparent, shareable timeline of events that everyone — your customer included — can access.

Consider Making Your Sales Team’s Compensation Dependent on Customer Success Metrics

Depending on your company culture, this could be a bold move. But perhaps it’s time to rethink compensation for sales teams so that it includes more than just the sale.

Customer success metrics, like customer retention rate, NPS, or customer lifetime value, are just as crucial to your long-term profitability. Getting salespeople invested in those outcomes could lead to impressive results.

To get you started, we’ve created a customer success template that you can customize to fit the needs of your business.

Arrows’ Onboarding Software Takes the Headache Out of Sales-to-Support Handoffs

Arrows’ onboarding platform helps you bring order to chaos. Turn disconnected to-do’s and unclear timelines into neat, personalized onboarding plans for each customer. Everyone can see who’s responsible for what and when — assign tasks to teammates and customers and let Arrows automate all your reminders. When your customers begin onboarding in earnest, your team will be ahead of the game.

To see how Arrows keeps your company and your customers active and organized through every onboarding stage, get a demo today.

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