Customer success is preoccupied with nurturing its current customers, rather than seeking out new customers. While being distinct with different objectives, there is an intersection between customer success, marketing and sales: they’re all customer-centric fields.

Securing customer retention is the overarching goal of customer success, but it operates on a more subtle level. The customer doesn’t want to be hounded by a CS team or to be part of an upsell strategy.

Customer success is nuanced and complex. Whether you’re a Customer Success Manager (CSM), Director of Customer Success, or  VP of Customer Success, the skills you bring to the table are varied, with overlap from other more-established industries like marketing and sales, but without communication and collaboration, productivity will suffer.

Each department will have its own OKRs and KPIs, but how does it all come together with this trifecta? And when it comes to it: how does cross-departmental collaboration really work?

In this article, we’ll examine:

  • How customer success, marketing and sales intersect in a customer’s journey
  • How these industries work in tandem
  • Best practices for cross-departmental collaboration

What is the process of customer success?

what is customer success

Over the last ten years, customer success has gone from strength to strength; many organizations are recognizing a customer success team as a lucrative future investment.

That said, customer success is still finding its feet. Customer success teams are adapted in each organization depending on individual business models, and as convenient as it may be, there’s never a ‘one size fits all’ approach; everything needs to be tailored to a business’ specific needs.

Like marketing and sales, there are many other job roles that lend themselves to customer success. For an outsider to the industry, it might seem that CSMs are re-branded Account Managers, given they both work in customer relationship management.

The Head of Customer Success or Customer Success Manager (CSM) are at the helm of a customer success team; they’re the point of contact for the customer after the sales process, ensuring that the product is living up to expectations. They essentially want to make the customer more valuable, and assist the customer in getting the most out of the product. The CSM will employ metrics to measure the stability and state of their customer base, ultimately to prevent the dreaded customer churn.

How to measure customer success

Customer success has carved out its own path away from customer service and customer support, in its proactive, ongoing relationship with the customer. It nurtures the customer relationship after the initial sale, taking it through the necessary steps of onboarding and calculating metrics like customer satisfaction score, net promoter score (NPS) and customer lifetime value (CLV).

How to calculate customer satisfaction score

Calculating the customer satisfaction score (CSAT) is a neat way to figure out how many happy clients you have. A series of options, ranging from ‘bad to good’, are presented at the end of a customer feedback survey:

  1. Very unsatisfied
  2. Unsatisfied
  3. Neutral
  4. Satisfied
  5. Very satisfied
(Number of satisfied customers / Number of survey responses) x 100 = % of satisfied customers

How to calculate net promoter score

Being able to calculate the net promoter score is super important; it allows you to measure the loyalty of your customers and establish whether or not they’d be willing to recommend your product to another potential customer.

NPS = (% of promoters % of detractors)

How to calculate customer lifetime value

To work out the customer lifetime value (CLV), you need a few bits of data to hand:

  • The annual revenue for the customer
  • The length of time you’ve been in business with the customer
  • The original cost of acquiring the customer

Once you have these 3 statistics to hand, use the following equation:

CLV = (annual revenue per customer x length of relationship) original cost of customer acquisition  

Once you’ve identified the OKRs specific to your organization, you can use the above metrics to discover what went well, what didn’t and what more can be done to further success.

To put this article into context, we should briefly outline what marketing and sales are and how they align with customer success.

What are marketing and sales?

what are marketing and sales

Marketing and sales are business functions that attract new customers and drive revenue. They’re two fields that everyone has heard of.

But for the purpose of this article, it’s important to really delve into what exactly these industries are to fully understand the marketing-sales-customer-success trifecta.

Marketing

Marketing is a type of storytelling; it’s how a brand and product are promoted to a target audience with the intent of stimulating sales. Marketing targets new clients and whets the customer’s interest with a dynamic and unique campaign.

Like a customer success team, a marketing team knows their customers inside out, and it’s their priority to identify what the customer wants by scoping out the competition and stirring up intrigue.

The key functions of marketing can be categorized into the following:

  • Promotional channels
  • Market research
  • Product management
  • Pricing

For clarity, let’s go into these a little bit more.

Promotional channels

You’re never going to sell your product without a little fanfare and to be successful, you need to put it out there! A great way to do this is by generating as many leads as possible, be that in email marketing, social media posts, SEO, PPC or general word of mouth advocacy. To keep everything consistent and organized, creating content marketing and social media plans is ultra-important for a marketing team.

Market research

Going into a product launch blind is not only a big no-no, it has the potential to be self-destructive and harmful to your business. If you don’t scope out the competition and see what’s out there on the market, you can risk damaging your brand, alienating your customer base and, ultimately, you’ll lose money.

Product management

Now this is what really makes a product. A Product Manager is responsible for shaping the product while it’s being built. They will oversee the product for its entire lifecycle, from birth to launch. Product management is focused on the creative thought process and strategy behind the product, and ensuring its completion from start to finish.

Pricing

Pricing is a stage that goes hand-in-hand with competitor research. Without it, you can lose money for your business by underestimating the product’s price against the market value, or overcharging your customer for its worth, which will result in alienation and drive customer churn.

Sales

After the customer has expressed an interest in the product, it’s then down to the sales team; a marketing team lures in new customers with promotion and sales swoops in to seal the deal.

A sales department does what it says on the tin: they sell the product and drive revenue. The sales process enters the picture once the customer has been dazzled by the marketing department. 88% of people undergo online research before purchasing a product. Therefore, businesses need to employ sales enablement to ensure that the sales team are properly supported and can empathize with the customer’s journey.

But to properly understand how sales functions, we need to look into where it sits in the customer’s journey,  from window shopper to full-fledged customer.  Let’s see how sales intersects with marketing and customer success in the sales funnel.

The sales funnel

Every customer goes through a buying journey, AKA: the sales funnel. It’s quite literally the buying process and it’s a  journey each customer embarks upon when purchasing products.

Image: https://online.visual-paradigm.com/

There are 5 stages in the sales funnel:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Purchase
  • Retention
  • Advocacy

Marketing can be considered as ‘top of the funnel’; it generates interest, which sparks the awareness phase. This allows a prospective customer to explore a product and become familiar with the brand, culminating in a prospect taking action by engaging with your business via your website or contacting you.

After the first stage, it now boils down to some careful consideration; the customer really needs to feel at ease with their choice before purchasing a product. But this isn’t the time for abandonment. Your business needs to be there to ensure they have every confidence in your product. After all, customers buy products to solve their problems. You can monitor customers’ buying habits to gain intel into how best to nurture this stage in the sales slow, by finding out what exactly makes the customer tick.

Sales on the other hand is the middle of the funnel’. After the groundwork is completed by marketing, it’s very much up to sales to seal it. This can’t be done without clear, interdepartmental communication and a singular, unified customer journey (more on that later).

In order for the prospect to become a fully bonafide customer, every stage of the sales funnel must be met with care and attention. At this point, the prospective customer knows that they want to buy the product, but it’s up to the sales team to fully deliver on the promises pitched by the marketing team.  Providing the customer with the right support and a smooth order process is vital for this stage in the sales funnel, as without it can increase drop-off-rate.

If a business pays little attention to the retention stage, then things can go from dandy to dismal in next to no time. And this is where your customer success team enters the chat.

You can drive your retention rate through the roof with a solid customer success strategy in place that includes onboarding support and offers product updates to maximize a continual interest. We *cannot stress enough* how important this stage is to the success of your business. Without it, you can cause customers to churn, undoing all the good your marketing and sales teams have implemented with reckless neglect.

In order to reduce churn and champion customer retention, it’s imperative to keep on top of your metrics like your customer lifetime value (CLV), customer satisfaction score (CSAT), net promoter score (NPS) and your monthly/annual recurring revenue (MRR/ARR) – a predicted value of what your business will financially make over the course of a month or a year.

How can customer success, marketing and sales collaborate?

Customer success collaborates with marketing and sales, each of which are crucial steps in the  buying process.

Marketing and customer success go hand in glove. Marketing aims to drive top of funnel interest, bringing in new customers through spreading awareness and on the other hand, while customer success aims to drive expansion in existing accounts.

But like any aspect of business, there are often collaboration issues between departments. After all, no team is the same. Having identical departments is a waste of time and money, so there are bound to be differences in approaches. But collaboration is the key to success.

To echo the famous orders of the Beatles, customer success, marketing and sales need to “come together, right now”.

Come together

A case study: how sales and customer success align

Earlier this year, we caught up with Debra Senra, SVP Revenue at Hireology, who detailed her company’s experience during the Covid-19 global pandemic and its decision to alter strategies to align with market trends and customer needs.

Due to the rising unemployment levels, Hireology faced mass cancellations. And pre-existing US regulations made business difficult for recruitment software companies. When presented with increasing customer churn, many businesses offer discounts in a bid to drive customer retention. Debra candidly illustrated the devastating effects that mass redundancies had on Hirelogy’s client base:

“We had some customers who were doing layoffs and, in some states, you are not legally allowed to post jobs when you're doing a layoff for that role. So some of our customers were calling in, and they were saying, 'It's illegal for me to use your software right now', and, for that customer, it just made no sense to do a 50% discount: 50% off of something that they can't use isn't enough.”

Hireology demonstrated a compassionate and pragmatic approach to what was a market crisis, with Debra identifying that this was not an ordinary situation:

“We built a decision tree for our customer success team that essentially looked at what was happening with the customer and the decision tree led the team to the concession that they were allowed to offer.”

For a pool of customers who were worried about their business remaining afloat, cancelling their contract was the right thing to do.

It’s imperative to realize that business needs to prosper as well as the client. Rather than follow suit with their competitors, who were offering a generous 50% off, and also received 50% in revenue in the three-month time period, Hireology realized that 10% was a better concession for the customer and business alike.

For the SaaS business model, a great customer success tactic is to offer price deductions. An alternative solution might offer reduced access to the product over a temporary period. Of course, this level of empathy is admirable, and for customer success teams it’s all well and good. But how does this factor in with sales?

Well, it is precisely this flexible customer-centric mentality that Hireology replicated in their sales team, as Debra commented:

“[We] transitioned that mentality to our sales team and mirrored the options that we had for our customers to our new business prospects. Now, there weren't as many [as when] we'd offer 10%. But it did help them be more consultative based on what they thought was best for the dealership and how they could help them.”

Following the (for lack of a better term!) success of Hireology’s customer success team during the pandemic, there are lessons to be learned from taking an adaptable, proactive approach to recruiting new customers. The key takeaway from Debra’s interview is the word ‘consultative’. Rather than focus purely on the product, consultative selling is a less transactional approach to sales and puts more emphasis on the customer’s own needs.

How to improve employee collaboration

Basic communication

To optimize in-house collaboration, you need to have a well-oiled communication process in place between your customer and your organization.

If there’s any sort of blockage or miscommunication then you can guarantee that adverse effects will reverberate within and outside the organization. What an organization can do to support its customer success, marketing and sales teams is to implement the necessary communication tools that encourage inter-departmental collaboration.

From jumping on inter-department calls and using collaboration tools like Slack, there are a myriad of ways in which you can be better connected with your colleagues.

Coordination

Like anything growing at a rapid pace, the challenge can lie in unifying every element. This is particularly pertinent as businesses scale at a pace. Not only must there be an alignment in management among each department, but there needs to be a coordination of company-wide objectives and key results (OKRs).

Making sure that your marketing, sales and customer success strategies are in sync with each other is no exception.

With revenue-driven teams like marketing and sales, strategies ought to be shared, particularly in identifying different buyer personalities within their target audience. One way to ensure this is by rewarding existing customers who have a high adoption rate. This is a key way to pique a customer’s interest, ultimately driving more engagement and productivity with the product.

Ordinarily, sales teams are driven by chasing new leads and recruiting new customers. However, an economic choice for driving revenue is to reactivate ex-customers who’ve been lost to churn. Through identifying this client base and concentrating on win-back efforts, companies can spend less on brand-new campaigns to pique the interest of a new customer frontier. If the customer has been lost to churn, they’ve clearly taken an interest in the product/service before and are familiar with the company. Win-back campaigns are a fiscally-sound way to unite customer success, marketing and sales.

V. Kumar, marketing professor at Georgia State University, predicted that most customers who cancelled their contracts due to pricing reasons were more likely to return compared to those who left due to bad service. Kumar identifies that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is futile – you’re never going to be able to win back everyone. For Kumar, it really boils down to technology: successful win-back campaigns rely on ‘sophisticated customer databases’ to delve deeper into understanding how customers use a service. With this customer success knowledge, a business is immediately better informed as to which customers are more profitable targets for a marketing team’s win-back strategies.

Let’s wrap up

Collaboration is a critical component in identifying new areas of growth and unifying the business.

Marketing lays the foundations for sales to fully close the deal and handover to the customer success team.

Miscommunication can be solved by adhering to regular inter-departmental catch ups and reiterating a singular, unified customer journey that each team can get behind. Marketing, sales and customer success shouldn’t be viewed as three distinct, battling fields of business, but rather teams with specific skills which, when pooled together, can better address the customer’s needs and reduce any friction on the customer journey.

When a business reflects internal collaboration and listens to its customers’ behaviors, an increase in revenue and overall success is not only achievable – it's ready for the taking.

How to improve employee collaboration