How to Build a Buyer-Centric Customer Success Program

For the longest time, there’s been finger pointing between sales and customer success teams. And, it’s a shame because when these two teams work together in harmony, it’s your pathway to accelerate revenue growth efficiently. 

Sales Vs Customer Success: Why the Battle Between Teams?

So, why are these teams constantly pinned up against each other? It most likely comes down to a company’s culture — or the lack thereof. It’s up to the leader (founder or CEO) to instill alignment between these teams and build a culture centered on the buyer’s needs. 

Remember the old phrase — “the customer is always right?” It stemmed from a buyer-centric philosophy that meant you should always operate with your customer in mind. While it can be taken way out of context today, the philosophy is still sound. 

But, too many leaders today don’t intentionally plan and maintain a culture that centers around their buyers. Instead, their teams settle to finger point at one another for their problems — leaving your buyers stranded in the middle of your mess. 

Who’s Responsible for Revenue Growth?

Now let’s apply this philosophy in today’s modern world when considering revenue growth. Which team is responsible for producing more revenue —  sales or customer success? (assuming CS is responsible for retaining customers). 

This is a tricky question because the answer is always, it depends. And, it does. It depends on your business model: subscription, services, one time capex, etc. But, I’m going to make an assumption and say that customer success handles a larger portion of revenue than sales ever will once a company stops growing significantly year over year. Even then, there are companies who sell multiple products that might lean on customer success to upsell/cross sell. 

So, Why Is Customer Success Always a Dumping Ground?

If CS is critical to continued revenue growth…

  • Why doesn’t it always get a seat at a table? 
  • Why is it usually a dumping ground for reacting to issues (support/triage, collections, complaints, etc)? 
  • Why isn’t there enough proactive planning (effective onboarding, customer outreach, buying process movement, etc)? 

Your customer success programs must be planned, purposeful, intentional, and proactive, if you’re going to lead a successful buyer-centric company. 

(I recently discussed this topic on the podcast Customer Service Secrets by Kustomer. Listen to the episode here.) 

Look at a company and compare resources invested in sales vs customer success (staff, salary dollars, technology, outside consult, etc). I bet for most companies you’ll find that they’re significantly unbalanced for sales. Why? Is there more emphasis on new customer acquisition? More available sales talent opposed to CS? Do the leaders value sales over CS? 

The reasons why could be endless. Regardless, I recognize it as a serious problem when these two disciplines are significantly disproportionate. 

So, how do we create balance again? Glad you asked! 

How to Build a Successful Customer Success Program 

It’s not until you align your teams around revenue, that you build a successful CS program and accelerate your growth. And to do that, your CS and sales teams/leaders need to talk with each other to: 

  • Understand what problems are occurring
  • Discuss ways to prevent issues
  • Plan and build an end-to-end experience centered around your buyers

Once aligned, then teams will stop finger pointing and start working in harmony to the delight of your buyers!

So, how do you do it? 

Just like others, I find it easy to start by breaking down your strategy and resources into three areas — process, people, and technology.

1.  Build a Process 

Sales teams are generally built around some type of a sales process that includes stages like — Introduction, Discovery, Demo, Contract, Closed. And, there are guidelines for how we engage with a prospect during it. At each stage, we identify a problem and use it to instill value in the process. Each step requires feedback from the prospect to help us determine what happens next. We also use exit criteria to define when we move a prospect from one stage to the next. 

But, you often don’t approach CS with that same mindset. This leaves us with no game plan or strategy for how we interact with our buyers at this crucial part in their journey — actually using our product or service. 

You should apply a process of stages to customer success, similar like you would for sales. A rough example of stages would be: Onboarding, Training, Product/Service Adoption, Business Review(s), Renewal. Just like in a sales process, each of these stages should be built with the customer problem in mind and how you continue to solve that problem throughout each stage. Couple this with customer guidance and effective exit criteria, and you have a solid foundation for an intentional and purposeful customer success program. 

2. People

Once you have a process in place, then you can consider what staff you should allocate to each part. 

In sales, you might have lead generators (SDR/BDR/LDR), closers (AE/TM), channel reps, national account managers, etc. You might even have some degree of specialization throughout your sales team focusing on a specific part of the sales process. 

You can look at staffing your CS team the same way. Do you have dedicated people to handle onboarding and training vs adoption and renewal? Do you have specific people to handle renewals vs upsells? 

Of course, there’s no one size fits all approach. But ensuring that there are people focused on each of these stages enables us to treat customers in a similar manner to prospects. 

The key is to identify your different customer processes and be intentional with them. Then, you can focus on executing on those tasks. A CS rep can handle multiple stages of the customer process, or they can handle single stages — depending on your business size, customer base, needs, etc. 

3. Technology

Technology is an enabler and should be used to enable a process, not to create a process. Sometimes people buy technology because it’s cool (video in email, direct mail services, etc) without knowing if it’s actually effective. Testing is critical in this arena (and I’m a big fan of A/B testing)!

From a sales perspective…

  • What sort of tech stack to do you have on your sales team? 
  • What sort of automation do you have in place to help sales reps manage outreach, engagement, follow ups, etc? 

Ask those same questions on the CS side. 

  • What technology do you have to understand what stage a customer is in? 
  • Do you have the automation to accompany the CS rep to engage with customers? 
  • Are you engaging through channels your customers want or are you forcing your own? 
  • Do you have adequate product tracking to understand adoption, usage, opportunities, etc? 

To be intentional and purposeful, you want to think about technology and engagement through your buyer’s eyes, not just your own. How can you use it to deliver a better experience both for the buyer and therefore your business?

Be Intentional about Customer Success Programs 

The takeaway here is that customer success should be planned, purposeful, intentional, and proactive. To keep growing profitability, you need support and investment for customer retention, just like you would for new customer acquisition. 

If you want to learn more about how to improve your customer success program, I also recommend: 

Nick Mehta’s book Customer Success: How Innovative Companies Are Reducing Churn and Growing Recurring Revenue. He shares in-depth tactics of understanding your product, your buyers, and how you can effectively build an intentional program to help your customers succeed with your product. 

Or, check out the article The Essential Guide to Company-wide Customer Success from Gainsight’s Chief Customer Officer. It focuses on building your customer outcomes and working your way back into purposeful tactics to support and enable those outcomes.


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