Isn’t it ultra-satisfying to watch a perfectly automated factory assembly line?
It could be cars, machinery, or maybe just ice cream sandwiches. See how smooth things are? There’s no friction whatsoever. That’s how your customer experience should be.
Salespeople create relationships, but it has traditionally been up to the customer success or account management team to nurture them. However, both teams must be aligned every step of the way, with one common goal in sight: delivering the best possible customer experience.
What is the handoff process?
A handoff process refers to the period where a lead becomes a customer and handed over to the customer success team from the sales team.
A sales team is focused on helping first-time users discover the initial value of a product or service, such as the unique selling proposition, then complete the purchase. While the customer success team ensures that the customer consistently obtains that value during the course of the relationship.
Why is the handoff process important?
What would you do if a waiter in a restaurant didn’t get your order right and then did nothing to correct their mistake?
You wouldn’t go back there again, right? It’s not just you, the majority think this way:
“Following a poor customer experience, 89% of customers move their business to a competitor.”
That’s why businesses want and need to ensure that during each period of a user’s journey, they offer the best experience possible.
Starting with a great first impression, businesses can set the benchmark high for the rest of the relationship.
The very first impression of a customer with a business is usually with their marketing and sales teams. If sales and marketing are working correctly together, then a visitor can convert into a trial user. But even after they give the product a try, they’ll be tended to by the sales team to ensure the sale happens.
Up to this point, if a customer has purchased the product, marketing and sales have done their job correctly (since they convinced someone to buy the product).
After the purchase, there’s no reason for the customer to still engage with the sales team, so they’re handed over to the customer services department. This “handing over” is just as important as the before and after of the handoff, yet it‘s so easy to fail this part.
I’m already sure that your customer success and sales teams are top-notch. Therefore, making sure the handoff process is as smooth as possible by removing any friction is the key to increasing customer retention and maximizing the contract length of the customer, which are two of the most important KPIs for any business.
Key components of a perfect sales-to-CS handoff
The customer shouldn’t even feel the handoff process; it should all be natural, and the communication between you and your customer should never be diminished in terms of value.
Achieving the perfect handoff isn’t easy, there are many things to consider. But if you said name the most important ones, here are the four key components.
1. Team effort
Let’s start with a no-brainer. A transition of a customer from one team to another always requires team investment. Highlighting the importance of communication and collaboration can open up lots of opportunities for improvement.
First off, instead of drawing lines in the sand which determine which team manages a client during each stage of your funnel, you could bend the rules. For example, you can involve the customer success team in the sales process from early on. They can be included in the early calls from time to time, and as the sales team nears the end of their part of the process, the CS team could be more and more present to understand the motives of the customer.
The CS team will need extra help in adapting the meetings alongside sales in terms of learning their language, methods, structures, qualified leads, etc.
Likewise, vice-versa, sales representatives should be actively involved in setting expectations for the onboarding process and encouraged to help build the client success plan.
Their job shouldn’t end with the sale, they should invest a bit of time working with the CS team to ensure a smooth transition.
To make it even simpler, the sales rep should be very present in after-sale success calls and gradually fade away from the funnel. When they successfully transfer the information and relationship they’ve acquired with the customer, they can phase themselves out.
2. Attention to detail
Aren’t you impressed when people you’re not that close to remember a genuine detail about you? It just generates a great impression. And this applies to business, especially when establishing relationships with customers as a customer service or sales team member.
In order to improve the level of service and customer loyalty, employees involved in all stages of the process should take notes in Salesforce, strategy documents, spreadsheets, or calendars. As well as practical details, it’s also a good idea to note customer sentiment and priorities after calls.
Recording every detail of the last conversation can help you, or your teammates, to pick up from where you left off in the next meeting.
Just imagine a deal that has spanned a few months and a number of different sales reps. The last thing a customer will ever want is to repeat what they’ve said before in the same context, when they are then handed over to the CS team.
Whether it is to impress, or to avoid annoying the customer, recording the details via note-taking can save customer-business relationships down the line.
Mid-list bonus: hold everyone responsible for user onboarding
I’ve mentioned that the sales team focuses on helping the customer to discover the initial value of the product or service, then convincing them to purchase, and the CS team focuses on making sure they achieve that value constantly.
User onboarding is the part of the UX where both these outcomes must happen, so whose responsibility is it to design the user onboarding experience?
Both teams are equally responsible for the whole user onboarding experience because everything we’ve mentioned about the handoff process applies here: all hands need to be on deck. Sales and CS teams should develop the user onboarding process together, create it, and constantly update it according to the feedback they get.
3. Transparency and communication
An emotional bond between two parties can only be established if they trust each other, and if there’s a reason to keep the relationship going.
For sales/CS-customer interactions, you need to make sure that every conversation is based on trust and has a clear purpose.
You should let customers know what to expect and who to expect before every meeting. Beyond that, here are some detailed points to follow when it comes to communication with the customer:
- Always give as much notice as possible of any changes. For example, if you’re changing the CS manager, they should know in advance exactly what to expect.
- Make sure the sales team let customers know what the relationship will look like before closing the deal.
- Book in regular meetings – ad-hoc communication is not enough.
- Hold regular internal debriefs to keep the CS team updated on the progress of sales deals.
- Keep product and marketing up to date on the relationship as they will eventually need to become involved further down the line.
- Whenever new team members are introduced to a customer, make sure the introduction is proactive.
- Create a clear, detailed and logical customer handoff plan/map (with notes) to pass on knowledge to any team member that will eventually become involved with the account.
- Include anything else that can affect the deal should be communicated both internally and externally.
4. Ask the relevant questions
Ask questions, but only the relevant ones. Don’t go around asking customers whether they like peanut butter, because it’s not relevant.
Whether you’re a member of the customer success or sales team, you need to learn the relevant information about the customer to close the sale and/or make sure they stick around for a long time.
So you’ll need questions. You can easily find the right questions by examining the existing customer profiles and the previous deals done, however, it’s always great to have a Checklist in your hand that you can follow for every customer. I’ve shared the basic guideline in the next section.
Going into a handoff: putting it all together
I’ve mentioned that we need to ask the right questions, note down the information, and then pass it down to the responsible team for the smooth transition between sales and customer success.
But what are the right questions?
As you experience and document more and more handoff processes in your company, you’ll have the precise power questions that matter for your product and industry, which will tell you how exactly you can turn customers into fans and power users. However, I know you need a starting point right now.
Basics first, who are your customers? There are a couple of things you’ll need to learn after their company name, so ask questions to get basic information such as:
- Company size
- Their industry
- What their product does/solves
- Who their customers are
Needs and motives
Later, you’ll ask why they’re here. After figuring out the basic information about the customer, the sales team has to ask for their needs and motives, basically why they’re considering your product.
For this part, you’ll need to get information such as:
- The problems they’re trying to solve
- Ways they believe your product will help them
- Reasons why they chose you over the competition
- The features/plans of your product they are interested in
- The departments/people from their company that will use your product
Goals and success
Until this point, the sales team has all the information they needed to make the initial sale, however, since a relationship of constant success and engagement will result in much more profit, they need to keep asking.
The questions that will be asked from this point on are to help the customer success team do their job and push users to success. Information such as the following will be required:
- Short-term goals
- Long-term goals
- Success criteria and metrics
- Their plan of integrating your product
- Subjects they expect your help in
The important details
The questions you’ll ask to gather the information above is enough for the customer success department to help users succeed. However, establishing a strong bond of trust between your business and the customer requires a bit more effort.
Each deal is unique, and during the sales process, the customer will mention details that are specific to their company. These can be information such as:
- Conditions that would make them churn
- Specific terms they have set on the deal
- Their comments, suggestions on your product
- Specific team members that you should contact for different circumstances
- Unusual expectations from your business
- And any detail that is worth mentioning for a better relationship
All the information that you should gather doesn’t need a question for each, most of the time they will reveal themselves through conversations.
A handoff process can be vastly improved if you adopt a number of habits that center the customer’s experience as the focus.
Improving this part of the user’s journey is just a part of the job, creating a top-notch customer experience can take a while. Remember the factory example above? Well it’s not initially going to be as smooth as that, but little by little you can make improvements and before long you’ll create a well-oiled machine.