Want happy employees, happier customers, and more revenue?
The secret may surprise you…
It’s as simple as a solid sales-to-service handoff.
For several years, I ran account management at a marketing agency — a business model infamous for mismatched expectations and subjective quality of delivery. I’ve seen lots of good AND bad handoffs, and learned what to look for the hard way.
When we succeeded, it was because of the process and close communication we built between sales and customer service. It takes both of these teams, working together, to design and consistently execute a handoff that sets customers up for long-term success.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Keep reading to learn the formula for a good sales handoff process.
- Why is a handoff so important?
- Blueprint for a good sales-to-service handoff process
- Common problems you need to avoid
Why Is the Handoff So Important?
Let’s first quickly look at why a good sales-to-customer-success handoff is so important. There are three main reasons.
1. The handoff sets the tone for the entire service relationship. Good service seals the deal on profits. It also increases word-of-mouth and keeps customers coming back for more.
This is especially true in a subscription-based product, where it’s common not to make any profit until renewal. In this kind of scenario, it’s important to remember that the deal isn’t over when it’s closed. You have to be sure the customer will renew.
2. A bad handoff can increase the customer’s time to ROI. Time-to-ROI can be a major decision-point in large purchases, and the longer the handoff process takes the larger the time-to-ROI. Good communication and handoff management is the best way to improve this.
3. A bad handoff can ruin the customer’s excitement for the product. New customers are coming off the “high” of a purchase. They feel like they’re onto something new and exciting, but that excitement is fragile.
If the handoff is taking a long time, if they aren’t getting the support they were promised, or if the customer success manager (CSM) asks the same questions the salesperson did, then they can quickly become annoyed and lose their buzz for the product.
Blueprint for a Good Sales-to-Service Handoff
A good sales-to-service handoff process doesn’t happen by accident. It takes both teams working together — and developing a plan beforehand for how the process will take place.
A perfect sales-to-service handoff has five main stages:
- Internal Handoff
- External Handoff
Let’s walk through the process and see how these two team should be interacting at each step.
Step 1. Pre-Sale
Communication between the two teams is the most important aspect of a reliably good handoff. It needs to start before the sale is even made.
The rep making the sale should bring in the CSM as soon as they’re confident that the deal will close, so they can fill them in on the details of the deal.
This helps in a number of ways.
It keeps the speed of the transition high and the time to ROI for the customer low by reducing confusion on who in customer success will be taking on the account.
In some CRM’s, the CSM can be preassigned automatically. This will usually be done by territory, contract size, industry, or just plain-old availability.
Your customer likely wants to begin using their product as soon as they buy. If you don’t bring in the CSM until after the deal is closed, you’re already working from the back foot. Every bit of time lost is engagement lost.
One added benefit here is that you can use this as an extra selling point to ensure the deal closes. By making an early introduction, you give the prospect a clear picture of how the customer success team will help them, as well as how they’ve helped similar customers.
Step 2. Internal Handoff
The internal handoff is where the sales rep transfers any and all the information they’ve built up about the customer to the customer success team. It’s common for mistakes to creep in at this point, especially if your communication is sub-par. Be careful that things don’t fall through the cracks.
A common way to carry out the internal handoff is to use a questionnaire or “required fields” in the CRM. These will then serve as a briefing document for the CSM.
However, it’s crucial that part of the internal handoff be done in an in-person meeting or, at the very least, over the phone for remote teams.
This meeting ensures no important information is getting lost in transition. Questionnaires and required fields can save a lot of time, but having a meeting to answer questions and share additional information that may not be covered by the questionnaire is essential.
In-person and over-the-phone meetings are especially important for complex services or solutions where a custom plan is required for each client.
Both Sales and Success need to show up to this meeting prepared. The sales rep should have all their information and notes ready to share and answer questions. The CSM should come to this meeting with good questions to uncover any information that the sales rep may have forgotten to include in their report.
Let’s look at the kind of information and documentation that should be shared during the internal handoff.
The customer success manager (CSM) or account manager should have access to the details of the contract as soon as it’s signed. This will include:
- The contract value
- Seats (if applicable) or details of purchase
- Special terms (length, pricing, renewal terms)
The CSM should also have access to all emails and call notes with the customer. Ideally these will be entered into a CRM.
Any other documents shared (the proposal versions, the pitch deck, case studies shared, etc.) should also be included.
If there was a change to the proposal version, this should be made clear, and the sales rep should explain why and what changed exactly.
The sales rep should define the roles and personalities of all customer stakeholders to the CSM.
- Who was champion?
- Who was a blocker?
- Who was the decision-maker?
- Is that person still going to remain involved in the partnership?
These customer profiles are key to making sure the customer success team knows what they’re walking into and how to approach any issues that come up.
Goal-Oriented Summary from the Sales Rep
The customer success team needs to know what the primary goals of the client or customer are.
This is especially important with more complicated services and solutions that need extended support. If the success team doesn’t know the customers goals, they can’t support them as effectively, and the customer will grow frustrated.
The sales rep should succinctly describe in writing:
- The customer’s current process for solving their problem.
- The customer’s biggest pain points.
- The customer’s goals/definition of success, and the expected timeline for reaching those goals with their new solution.
- Why the customer chose you (rather than a competitor) to help them reach those goals.
- Are they migrating from a competitor? If so, which one?
DON’T make the customer repeat themselves to Customer Success if they’ve already shared this information with the sales rep.
Step 3. External Handover
This should be a very simple step in the handoff. It’s really just an introduction, but it marks an important step in your relationship with the customer. It shows that you are committed to working with the customer towards continued success. This step will help set up the dynamic of the relationship moving forward.
The salesperson should introduce the success team to the customer, on the phone, within 24 hours of contract signature. This is possibly the most important meeting of the entire relationship.
Sometimes a larger kickoff call is required. If so, it should be done within 5 business days of closing.
The success team needs to have a plan already developed and communicate that plan clearly to the client now. They need to demonstrate that they’ve done their homework, and that they know how to get the customer to where they want to go. They should have been coming up with this plan from the moment they were brought on pre-sale, and fleshed it out during the internal handoff.
The external handover needs to be completed, so the sales rep can focus on future customers.
Step 4. Onboarding
Now that the customer has been officially handed over to the success team, they can begin the process of getting them set up with the system or product. This is the step that your customer cares about.
The approach you take will vary slightly based on the kind of product and customer you have.
For self-serve customers or simple products:
- Prepare an email sequence that provides answers to FAQs.
- Introduce key product features.
- Provide them with contacts and resources if they have further questions.
For high-touch customers or for more complicated products:
- The onboarding process should be customized based on their specific needs, worries, and pain points. Onboarding steps are likely the same as those for self-serve customers, but more guidance may be needed.
- Depending on the customer and the product, regularly scheduled check-ins may be a good idea. For these scenarios an on-site product training can be a great idea.
Step 5. Confirmation of Handoff
The final step is for the success team to notify the sales rep that the handoff is successful and complete.
Simply put, confirm the process is complete, so no customer falls through the cracks.
This is also an excellent opportunity to refine the process. Both the sales rep and the CSM should talk about what went right, what went wrong, and what could go better in the handoff process.
How do you know if your handoffs are going well? How do you know things aren’t slipping through the cracks or things could be better?
Metrics to Track
There are two important metrics that serve as a canary in the coal mine for the handoff
- Time to completion
- Adherence to process
Time to completion
This is the count of days between contract signature and the customer being completely onboarded — when the sales rep receives the confirmation of handoff.
The ideal number here may change depending on how involved your onboarding process is, but you want this number as low as possible.
If this number is high, then gather your sales and service teams together to figure out where the gaps in communication are and how you can get that number down.
Adherence to process
This is the percentage of tasks done, and any pattern of specific tasks repeatedly not being done.
If this is low, then it’s a sign that the process needs to adapt. Usually when people break process, it’s because the process isn’t good enough.
The goal is to implement a process that’s quick and painless for you, your team, and the customer.
If steps are being skipped or people are doing different tasks than you had planned, look for ways to improve the process.
As I mentioned above, there are lots of places where the handoff can be fumbled. Let’s look at a few common problems that I’ve seen all too often — so you can avoid them in your process.
Poor alignment between sales and success
Poor (or not enough) communication between sales and success is almost guaranteed to ruin a successful handoff.
Formal documentation defining roles is very important. You need to be clear about who the sales expert should be handing the account off to, what sales should be providing, and what’s left to customer success.
Not documenting the handover process formally
Not documenting the process formally can lead to important steps and information being forgotten. It’s also much harder to track down and fix mistakes if you don’t have a formal documentation process.
You need a playbook to keep everyone on the same page.
Ideally you need one that works within your project management software. This can save time because the key steps that never change are automated within your software. You only have to tweak the process by adding the steps unique to each customer.
Not assigning each task to one distinct owner
It’s not enough to say the external handover needs to happen. You need to specify which AE is responsible for scheduling it, kicking it off, and who in Customer Success are they handing it off too.
This is the skeleton for a successful sales-to-service handoff. Depending on the product, the customer, and your organization, there are a thousand different ways you can go about it.
Still, the process should be the same. And communication between sales and success is key.
So get together, create a plan, make sure that communication is easy and often, and you’ll begin to see vast improvements in your handoff.