Customer Success 9 Comments

Customer Success: A Swiss Army Knife for Your Sales Funnel

Lincoln Murphy

January 5th, 2016

Customer Success Is a Swiss Army Knife for Sales

If you aren’t familiar with the concept of Customer Success, it’s when your customers achieve their Desired Outcome (what they need to achieve, the way they want to achieve it) through their interactions with your company.

And Customer Success begins at the first interaction with prospects by your sales team.

Very often, customer success and sales are thought to be on two different sides of the company strategy, almost at odds. But the reality is that the best companies understand customer success and sales are more closely aligned than different. When they bring them together, magical things happen.

A Treasure Trove of Sales-Accelerating Customer Intelligence

The best companies recognize that Customer Success Managers have a direct line into how their customers think and talk about their goals, and how customers are using their product to reach those goals. In fact, they even have insights into the language they use and other aspects of customers’ culture, all of which can be invaluable in accelerating the sales process.

So it’s critical that you remember your Customer Success organization is a treasure trove of useful intel on your customers that you can tap into to close more and better deals.

Ideally, Customer Success will share with sales (and marketing) the types of customers that are the most successful (so they’ll go get more like those) and the types of customers that are a bad fit so they’ll stop selling to (or otherwise attracting) customers like them.

Now, on the surface, telling sales to NOT go after a specific type of customer would be the antithesis of what drives a sales organization, but by giving sales a list of the characteristics of good and bad-fit customers, we’re giving sales the intelligence they need to find customers who are ready, willing, and able to take action immediately, reducing the length of the sales cycle and allowing sales to hit their number this quarter.

And what’s great is that we’re hitting those short-term numbers in a way that – because they’re bringing in more customers with success potential – sets the company up for consistent victories in the long-term, which is often at odds with optimizing for short-term sales goals.

Win-Win.

Optimize the Sales Process using Customer Success

Okay, so what are some characteristics of best-fit (and bad-fit) customers you should be able to get from your Customer Success org that will help you accelerate the sales cycle?

Well, they might include things like:

  • Industry – the niche, market, or category where the customer operates
  • Company size – employees, revenue, number of customers, etc.
  • Funding round / amount – companies operate (and buy things) differently at the various stages of their lifecycle; good to know where they are and how much money they have.
  • Geography – where your best – and worst – customers are located is important. For instance, the way companies in Silicon Valley operate is very different than… everywhere else.
  • Title/seniority of the account owner / champion.
  • Typical user profiles – the different user personas.
  • Use case(s) – especially those that the customers didn’t anticipate when they originally bought.
  • Language they use – the words, terms, and phrases the customers actually use.
  • Buying cycle – if they only buy in September, and you need to make your Q1 number, this may not be the customer to try to close now (but would be great to tee-up for your Q3).
  • Sales cycle length – you may even want to consider post-sale Time to First Value.
  • Who on their side was involved pre-sale and immediately post-sale.
  • Desired Outcome – after working with customers, you should be able to better articulate this.
  • Stick Point reached – many companies claw back or don’t pay commission if the customer doesn’t stay past their “stick point” so you’ll want to know if there’s a type of customer that churns out early.
  • Bills paid – some companies don’t pay full commission until at least the initial payment has been received, so knowing if there are certain types of customers that don’t pay their bills is something everyone – especially the sales person – should be aware of.

Using customer success to crush every phase of the sales process

Okay, so those are some characteristics you should get from Customer Success; these are some ways to use this intel to crush every phase of the sales process:

  • Prospecting – enter the conversation already taking place in their head to cut through the noise.
  • Qualification – you know the characteristics of best fit customers; it’s not just about our qualifications, but theirs.
  • Discoveryask better questions so you learn the right things but also demonstrate you get what they do. Remember, people don’t buy from you because they understand what you do… they buy from you because you understand what they do.
  • Demo – use their language, introduce use cases that resonate but aren’t what they originally thought about.
  • Proposal – obviously you should create a proposal around your conversations with the customer to this point and your understanding of their Desired Outcome, but knowing that you’re working with a company that shares the characteristics of other best-fit customers gives you a psychological advantage. Sharing that others “just like them” have found success can be a great way to leverage Social Proof.
  • Negotiations – it’s all about positioning; you can sell a widget for the lowest price, or you can focus on their Desired Outcome, how they’ll achieve that with you, and show that others just like them have achieved that, too. Negotiations will go much smoother, end sooner, and be more in your favor.
  • Objections – these happen throughout the sales cycle and are often the result of it being unclear how you’ll help the customer achieve their Desired Outcome. Sometimes it’s best to lay out exactly, in detail, how they’ll get there. Listing the Success Milestones, what they’re responsible for, and even starting to bridge Success Gaps early in the process so they know what the first 90 days, for example, look like with you.
  • Approvals (Closing) – there may be other people involved in the deal that you have to talk to; remember that customers have a Desired Outcome, and so do the individual contributors; use your direct intel from the prospect as well as collective intel from existing customers to know how to align with the Desired Outcome of each of the personas in the complex sale.

The actual contracts, paperwork, payments, etc. come after that and should be non-events at this point.

Those lists are not complete, but hopefully it’s enough to get your imagination going and that you can see how Customer Success really can be your Sales Acceleration Secret.

About the author

Lincoln Murphy

Lincoln Murphy is founder of Sixteen Ventures, a consultancy helping companies accelerate growth through Customer Success. He's a prolific writer and international speaker on Growth and Customer Success.

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