The Relationship Between Sales and Customer Success with Wynne Brown

Today's expert interview is with Wynne Brown, Director of Customer Success at Seal Software, about the relationship between Sales and Customer Success.

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To start out, I’d love to hear about Seal Software and a bit about your role with the company …

Seal Software solves a problem that all companies face: contracts. They’re the life thread of any company and they need to get stored somewhere. Within each contract, there is a certain level of risk, like the unlimited liability you gave to your first customer. Seal Software tells you where all your contracts are and what level of risk they contain, at scale.

My role is running Customer Success for West & Central Regions, which boils down to a few simple things.

  1. Ensuring that the reason our customers bought our software is fulfilled and they see value delivered.

  2. Bring in best practices, ideas, and initiatives to the table that our customers wouldn't have thought of.

  3. Be the voice of the customer back into Seal Software so that our product can always be better iterated to fit the customers' needs.

That leads well to our topic today which surrounds the interesting relationship that exists between Customer Success and Sales. You’ve had career experience on both sides so I’d like to know your thoughts on what the state of the relationship is as it stands today?

It varies wildly from company to company, but in general, there isn't enough partnership between Sales and Customer Success. The worst case scenario is still fairly common where Sales will sell a lot of promises and wishes – things that can't actually be done in the delivery of the product – and then Customer Success is left holding a bag of impossible dreams.

Best case scenario in my mind is how we've set up our relationships internally at Seal Software. We have Customer Success and Professional Services involved in the presale process to help make sure that everything that Sales is promising has been vetted and is attainable. We also benefit greatly from having a very experienced sales team filled with professionals who sell to value.

Interesting that Customer Success is involved as early as the presale, how does that work?

It varies depending on the type of deal it is. Sometimes it’s very high touch and we're in every meeting, and sometimes it’s lower touch with something as simple as a meet and greet. We’ve found that not only does it mean that Sales isn’t selling something that isn’t possible, but our Customer Success team brings value and insights to the meetings they attend.

Sometimes we have customers who come to us knowing what we do, and they want to have visibility into their contracts, great, Seal can help them accomplish that. The thing is that that alone doesn’t have any particular measurable delivery of value. Ideally, we’d like to have a way of measuring ROI, right?

An example would be days to pay. We have customers who contractually have negotiated that they have 60 days to pay, but the people who are actually paying the bills don't know that, and they’re paying it in 15 days. That cost of capital over time added up can be millions for large corporations. That’s just one example of an ROI story Customer Success can bring to the table early in the presale process.

"Salespeople are coin operated, which isn't a bad thing."

In general, how do you see Sales and Customer Success working together in today’s world, compared to how they should work in a perfect world?

When I think of the relationship today, on the bad side of the spectrum is where a Sales team is only incentivized for the first sale, and there's no long-term focus on renewal. When we think about the relationship and how to change behavior to more of an ideal state, having a Sales incentive beyond the first sale is the first step.

Salespeople are coin operated, which isn’t a bad thing, but it means that deals need to be setup so they have the potential for commission based on renewal. That way you're able to convert that one-time commission cheque and who cares what happens after the sale into a longer-term perspective focusing on health, happiness, and value.

Where are the common areas where you see problems between Sales and Customer Success come from?

The big one that I brought up earlier is when Sales sells something that can’t be implemented.

This tends to happen when the Sales team is out of touch with the reality of the business and what can be done. That's probably the main point of friction that most companies have is that Sales Reps are selling anything they can to hit their quota and not thinking about the long-term success of the company or the customer.

"Hey, here's your new team. Bye."

Right, that handoff between Sales and Customer Success is a tricky one. Do you have any tips on how to make that a smoother process?

It starts with the way you think about the word itself. It shouldn’t mean that Sales stops and Customer Success starts, but rather that it's an overlapping transition. Something that goes a long way to help with that is meticulous notes from the Sales team from the initial demo all the way to the signed contract.

Then comes in additional communication with the opportunity for any questions in an internal hand-off meeting. From there it’s best practice to have a joint meeting – in person or by phone –  with the customer so they don’t just get an email from Sales saying, “Hey, here's your new team. Bye.”

A crucial part of that call is to understand the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved. People often forget to dig deep into the roles and responsibilities that the customers business has, but it’s important to understand for the ongoing relationship you’re going to have with their company.

In the case that Sales does sell to the wrong buyer, how is that best handled on the Customer Success side?

One thing that's always useful – no matter the situation – is to have a clear and adult conversation. Many people shy away from tackling the reality that they're facing. From there, you’ve just got to dig around a little bit to see any little bits of value you can muster up for the customer, any sort of ROI story.

"The best way for Customer Success to end up with great customers to work with is to feed Marketing with everything they need to attract the right buyers."

Now looking at the closed loop relationship between Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success, as Customer Success, how do you make sure that Marketing is focusing on the right leads?

Our feedback loop is very active with communication to the Marketing team about specific customer experiences, situations, data, ROI, and so on. We make sure to pass along information on the most successful customers so Marketing can better target new business.

At Seal, we work best at scale so our target's on the Fortune 200. There are plenty of companies in the Fortune 500 who could also benefit from our services, but we perform best when we're looking at contracts in excess of 20,000 contracts. That in itself limits our market, so of those companies that are large enough it’s a matter of understanding what type of problems do we solve best and communicating that through Marketing messages.

We want to end up with the best profile for our customers so that we have great customers to work with down the funnel. The best way for that to happen is to feed Marketing with what they need.

When it comes to Customer Marketing where Marketing messages are being sent to current customers to encourage the upsell opportunity, should that fall to Marketing or Customer Success?

At Seal Software, we're actually at a tipping point where we're having a shift there, so it's a very pertinent question to us right now.

It depends on the size of the customer base. With us, working all day with very large enterprise companies and being a relatively young company, it’s lived within Customer Success. We’re starting the shift to move it over to Marketing though as we get more sophisticated in the systems that we use.

Overall, I’d say that when you’re still small and communicating with customers on a one-to-one message, it should live with Customer Success. Once you scale to a certain point and one-to-one communication is no longer possible, it shifts over to Marketing to create new one-to-many messaging.

With this shift happening, how do you plan to have Customer Success communicate the types of messages Marketing should be delivering to customers?

One of the most helpful things we can do is have stories for Marketing to tell. Developing those stories for Marketing to be able to spread around is huge. The more stories we have that apply to different market segments, the better.

Some companies choose to have Customer Success have a strong focus on support, while others a stronger focus on upsell opportunities, and a lot of times it’s a mix of the two. Where do you draw the line between Customer Success having a quota versus a churn rate to achieve?

This depends on if you have a big bang or land-and-expand Sales strategy. At Seal, it’s actually a mix of the two. The majority of our customers are land and expand, so what that means for Customer Success is that they will not have quota assigned as it remains the responsibility of the original seller to achieve the upselling or expansion sale.

Since Customer Success does have a strong influence on that, we have a fairly common plan where the quota and commission essentially overlay because we contribute significantly to identifying and capturing expansion opportunities. Our model has a large focus on renewals because we find that if a customer is healthy, they will renew.

From my own perspective, whoever owns the account owns the number. In my past positions, my team has had ownership of the account, and the Sales team is only compensated on the initial sale.

Before we wrap up I wanted to grab some of your favorite resources.

Favorite blog:

I'd be remiss to not say that one of my favorite blogs is Seal Software’s. We have a very active blogging community that isn’t just Marketers. Our CFO is an incredible writer – which is strange for a finance guy – but his pieces are amazing.  

I’m a huge fan of the Gainsight blog. They're an extremely passionate group of folks that I've known for quite a few years. Their writing, insights, and studies are very interesting. Highly recommend.

Favorite book:

I’m an avid reader so this one is tough. I’ll pick two but they are the written by the same author. I'm big into science fiction, and the two books that I’m obsessed with and read about once a year are Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.

Last but not least, what is your favorite ‘90s dance song?

Okay, so this one's kind of awful, but I love it, Tubthumping by Chumbawamba. It makes me dance whenever I hear it. It’s great.

Great answer, I love it.


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