If the proponents of the multiverse theory are in the right, then there is a universe that is perfect for the people who work in customer success and who are trying to give everything to their companies.
In this universe, customer success people work in perfect unison with all the other departments within their companies. In this universe, the best of all the relationships is the one they have with sales.
This universe we operate in is not such a universe. It is a very chaotic and customer success people sometimes have to deal with a certain level of discord between them and other departments. Unfortunately for them, when discord between sales and customer success exists within a company, it is the customer success team that gets the short end of the stick.
Customer Success Limitations
Customer success is still a relatively new concept and, as is often the case, some people are having troubles understanding exactly what the customer success team can do for a company. While there are those who think CS is nothing more than a buzzword, there are also many on the opposite end of the spectrum who see the customer success team as something of a deus ex machina.
Companies that are struggling to keep their customers from leaving them decide that a customer success team is this magic wand that will make all of their worries disappear, no matter what everyone else is doing or how their customers are doing.
It does not work this way.
A customer success team has to be given a chance to succeed. Often times, it is the sales that withhold this chance.
How Sales Impede Customer Success
The most common and direct way in which sales impede customer success people is that they simply go out and sell to everyone and anyone.
Your company is struggling to pay its electricity bills? What you need is an expensive and overelaborate piece of accounting software!
You cannot handle the orders you already have? Let us tell you how our solution can bring you more customers!
Okay, these examples are a somewhat exaggerated, but you get the idea.
Basically, the sales sell the product or service to customers who simply cannot achieve success with it and whose experience cannot be a positive one, no matter how great the customer success team is at doing its job.
How Companies Get It Wrong
In the SaaS and B2B arenas, no one is really so bad at their job that they consider a simple sale a win. It all revolves around churn rates and customers that stay on and continue paying for extended periods of time.
Even though the upper management is perfectly aware of this, their commission practices are often too single-minded and revolve around a single date. For example, if the customer stays with the company for 3 months, the salesperson is paid a full commission. Often times, this results in an unusually high percentage of customers that leave almost immediately after 3 months have passed.
Both consciously and subconsciously, the sales (like almost everyone in this world) find a way to hit that threshold that secures them the commission and they do not worry about churn once this period of time has passed.
To reiterate, there is little that the customer success people can do in such situations. They are put in front of an insurmountable challenge.
How Companies Can Change This
The good news is that companies which have customer success teams can do something to change this and to stop the sales from directly and indirectly hindering the customer success people.
For the most direct approach, the commission practices can be adjusted so that the commissions are paid out over a longer period of time, encouraging the salespeople to target only those potential customers that will be realistically able to achieve success with the product (service) over time. This way, the customer success people are allowed to work with customers that are actually achieving success with their product (service) and to whom they can perhaps even upsell.
It might also be a good idea for the salespeople and the customer success team to meet regularly and exchange their experiences and their expertise. This way, the salespeople will be able to explain their motivations and their approach while the CS people will be able to share their insights into the existing customers. Together, the two departments will work on building better customer relationships and with the right customers, at that.
Many companies are still getting used to the presence of a customer success team and there are often misalignments that can hurt both the CS people and the businesses in general.
Perhaps the most important misalignment to avoid is of the sales and the customer success department because it makes it all but impossible for customer success team to do their job.