Welcome to the first post in our series on operational excellence for Customer Success! The goal of this series (and our other series) is to give you actionable tips to uplevel your operations and show how great tooling can save you time and hassle. For this series, we’re partnering with Jonathan Sousa, an experienced CS leader at companies like Loom and Dropbox, and we hope you’ll like it! Please share feedback with us at @jebank on Twitter. - Jacob, Founder/CEO of Relay
In my experience building, scaling, and leading Customer Success functions at Loom, Scoop, and Dropbox, I’ve seen a lot of cases when Customer Success has gone right, and plenty of others where things have gone wrong. I partnered with Relay to share the insights I’ve learned along the way around how to manage the most important Customer Success processes to help you up-level your CS operations.
From Sales to Success
The first process we’re going to cover is the Sales-to-Success handoff. At first glance, it might seem silly to have an entire post on a topic that seems so simple. Doesn’t an Account Executive (AE) just send a Slack message to a Customer Success Manager (CSM) after closing a deal and the customer could be considered ‘transitioned’? Not quite. I’ve learned that this process is one of the most important steps for a company to set their customer relationships up for healthy outcomes and that it’s actually much harder to get right, with more moving parts and contributors, than it seems. First, I’ll show you a summary of the (surprisingly complex) process, then I’ll drill into the impact, opportunities, and common mistakes that come up at each stage.
Stage 1: Contract to Signature
The first step in the Sales-to-Success handoff is the time before a customer becomes a customer, when the Account Executive sends the contract for signature.
The opportunity for you at this point of each customer relationship is to get prepared across your internal teams. This will allow for a smoother, less frantic experience once the customer signs and is ready to be kicked off.
- Tip #1: Make sure there’s a seamless notification process when contracts are sent out so the CS team (specifically CS leadership and CS Ops) know to plan for additional incoming customers.
- Tip #2: Take advantage of this pre-signature window to ensure information about the customer - their motivation for buying, success criteria, key relationships, potential risks - is complete and in your CRM.
Mistake #1: When the CS team isn’t notified about a new customer coming onboard, there can often be a scramble once the customer signs about which CSM will own the relationship and what the next steps are, which can leave a customer in limbo. To solve this, set up an automated workflow so when a contract is sent for signature, the CS team is notified, a CSM is assigned, and information about the customer from the CRM is delivered to the CSM. This goes a long way in preparing the CS team and avoiding surprises and scrambles at the last minute.
Mistake #2: When important customer information is missing at the time of signature, CSMs need to go and find these answers from the AE or from the customer, which often leads to knowledge gaps and customer frustration that could eventually impact customer retention. As a best practice, the AE should capture all important customer information - and most importantly their motivation for buying, success criteria, key relationships, potential risks - in their CRM. To solve this, set automated prompts when the AE sends the contract, to remind them to fill in important fields. Sales Leadership can further support this behavior by investing time to train AE’s on the importance of this customer information to company and revenue goals, and can even build this behavior into incentive structures, either as a one-off bonus or part of variable compensation.
Stage 2: Contract Executed
The contract execution kicks off a series of immediate actions to ensure that your new customer is set up in your internal systems and they gain an understanding of what happens next.
The opportunity for you at this stage is to take care of all internal logistics as seamlessly as possible, so your customer-facing teams can focus on delivering a warm welcome to your new customer.
- Tip #1: Automate as much of the manual logistics workflow as possible. This could include auto-generated notifications to internal teams in Slack, document sharing so contracts are accessible and stored correctly every time, or data pushes (ex. auto-creating a new customer in your CS platform with information from your CRM).
- Tip #2: Take the time to think through and map out the best experience that each new customer, regardless of segment, would want to experience once they sign up. Use that as your guidance to inform how you write your welcome email, how the team schedules time for a kickoff, and how you frame expectations with the customer for what comes next.
Mistake #1: When a welcome email isn’t sent to a customer shortly after the contract is signed, you risk losing momentum with the customer. Immediately after the contract is signed, you should welcome them and make an introduction to the CSM, ideally within hours. To solve this, craft a welcome email template that AE’s can use as a baseline with customizations based on the specifics of each customer. The email should also serve as a way to coordinate a Kickoff Meeting with the customer’s new CSM, to keep up the sense of momentum by driving to the kickoff as a tangible next step.
Mistake #2: When customers aren’t set up correctly in backend systems at the outset of the customer relationship, it can often create a long-tail of operational debt if/as issues arise in the future. To get set up successfully, implement operational systems that ensure contracts are clearly cataloged, revenues and deal terms added to accounting. Communication channels (both internal and external) can be automatically configured using the contract close as a trigger, and notifications to your Product team can be set to give access to the product when required. These essential steps can be easy to skip or miss, so you need to stay on top of each, and setting automation in place early will keep things consistent and on track, paying dividends in the future.
Stage 3: AE and CSM Handoff
Once the contract is signed, the team needs to complete an internal handoff between the AE and the CSM to share important information about the customer.
The opportunity for you in this step is all about preparation. An AE and CSM tandem that hosts a Kickoff Meeting clearly prepared with knowledge about a customer’s specific goals and success criteria will instill confidence and significantly uplevel the customer’s experience. This sets the partnership with your customer stakeholder off on a strong footing.
- Tip #1: Automate the transfer of historical customer context to the CSM in advance of the meeting to meaningfully improve efficiency and preparedness. This will give the CSM time to review and digest the customer specifics, and give them the opportunity to dig in more deeply during the internal handoff.
Mistake #1: When there is no internal knowledge transfer between the AE and CSM, key knowledge about the deal is lost. It can be tempting to skip this meeting and just share notes, but it’s a truly valuable investment for your team to have an internal handoff between the AE and CSM to talk through the customer’s context and needs, their expectations and success criteria, and any risks and next steps. If this handoff meeting doesn’t get scheduled quickly, they will either delay the customer kickoff, or it may never end up happening. Build this important internal meeting into your processes, ensure historical customer context is shared automatically from the AE to the CSM from the CRM, and you’ll see much better customer relationships out of the gate.
Stage 4: Customer Kickoff (External)
The final step in the Sales-to-Success handoff is to have the kickoff call with the customer, which is led by the CSM.
This is your first interaction with your new customer, and an opportunity to impress them, instill confidence in your company, and build the foundations of a successful relationship moving forward. An exciting opportunity!
- Tip #1: Send a brief note in the days leading to the Kickoff meeting to let the customer know the agenda and what they can expect. They’ll appreciate your proactivity, and be more engaged and prepared during the conversation.
- Tip #2: Standardize the meeting structure so CSMs become highly fluent in the conversation arch, and build in opportunities for customization and creativity based on what CSMs have learned about their customers. The combination of a fluid Kickoff Meeting with highly-customized touches relevant to the new customer will land really well with new stakeholders, and lead to an impactful first impression.
- Tip #3: Send a quick email following the Kickoff to thank the customer for their time and share next steps. This simple email puts a bow on the Kickoff, and again demonstrates to the customer that they’ve made a wise investment with your team and product.
Mistake #1: When CSMs need to create content from scratch for each customer kickoff, they’ll waste a lot of valuable time that could be spent thinking more deeply about how to deliver the best possible Kickoff meeting for a given customer. To solve this, standardize a Kickoff deck template. You could even use a tool like Relay to auto-create the Kickoff template with customer-specific information, and deliver that template to the CSM. Now, the CSM can take a deck that’s 80% complete, and add the 20% customization to deliver something really thoughtful and high quality for the Kickoff.
Mistake #2: A big mistake in an early customer relationship is gaps in communication, because the foundations of the relationship haven’t yet been built. It’s therefore highly important to over-communicate with new customers to let them know what’s going on, what to expect, and when they can expect. CSMs should send an email prior to the Kickoff meeting to share an agenda and address any immediate questions; similarly, they should follow up right after the Kickoff meeting with a thank you and next steps. By building these best practices into your Kickoff flow, you’ll ensure that there’s a high level of contact with new customer stakeholders, open lines of communication, and strong foundations for the relationship.
What you can do about it
As you can see, there are a lot of places this process can go wrong, and it’s essential to get it right. These mistakes can be avoided with a standardized playbook of steps that are followed when a customer is handed off from Sales to Success. Even better, this process should have reminders and accountability built in so the ball is never dropped. A tool like Relay can help you manage this workflow by crystallizing the steps in the process, reminding AEs and CSMs when a task is required of them, automating steps along the way, and ensuring the whole team stays on track when handing off the customer.