What is a Sales-to-Customer-Success handoff? [+Free Template]

A smooth Sales-to-Customer-Success Handoff is crucial to preventing ruptures in the customer relationship. Here's how to nail it.
June 30, 2021
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Onboarding a new customer is a reason to celebrate for every sales team.

However, it is not the finish line. The next phase, and a crucial one at that, is the handoff of the customer account to the customer success team. This handoff influences the customer’s experience in transitioning from pre-sales, to post-sale, to implementation. This transition can make or break the relationship with the customer. In addition, it lays the foundation for successful customer retention. 

When done right, this handoff leads to a customer who is eager to use your product to achieve their goals. It helps avoid confusion and provides the customer with the support and structure they need during the transition. 

What is a Sales-to-Customer-Success handoff document?

It is usually a document that encapsulates all the key information that the sales team collects during the initial meetings. It includes the expectations of the customer and the goals they intend to achieve by using the product. In addition to this, it also clearly defines the goals that need to be achieved. All members involved in the project from start to finish are listed, and their roles are mentioned to define a task and its owner clearly. 

Advantages of an efficient Sales-to-Customer-Success handoff

Articulating the most efficient handoff process has multiple benefits. Strengthening the handoff strategy creates a win-win scenario for both the customers and internal stakeholders alike. A well-planned handoff ensures that no vital information gets lost during the transfer process. It prevents tension and loss of time. This ensures that the expectations of the customers are transferred efficiently between team members and smooth and successful completion of the project. An impactful sales-to-customer-success handoff goes a long way in delivering customer satisfaction. 

Free Download: Sales-to-CS Handoff Template

Guide to achieving a good Sales-to-Customer-Success handoff 

Here’s a five-step checklist that will help you ensure the most effective handoff.

1) Pre-sale

Goal: To prime your customer for the relationship handoff.

A successful Sales-to-CS handoff begins even before the customer is officially onboarded. 

During the sales process, the Account Executive (AE) should prepare the customer for a relationship handoff by letting them know that a member from the Customer Service Management (CSM) team will be assigned to them, to help them achieve their desired outcomes. It also helps to mention why a particular CSM is being assigned and highlight how they have helped other companies solve challenges similar to what the customer is facing.

2) Contract signed

Goal: To give your customers visibility into the next steps and help them prepare for them.

The customer should never be left wondering “What next?” after signing the contract.

The AE should detail the next steps like onboarding date, data needed from the customer to set up the product, etc. in an easy-to-understand timeline format. The owners of each action item should be called out. The contact information of each of these owners has to be made available to the customer for easy reference. 

3) Internal handoff between AE and CSM

Goal: To share all the information about the customer with the CSM and set him up for success.

You can divide this part into two steps:

a) Internal handoff questionnaire

A questionnaire should be sent to the AE by the CSM. Doing this reduces the dependency on the availability of AE and CSM and ensures a quicker hand-off.

Apart from details of the contract like the number of licenses, account value, etc. the questionnaire should include the following questions:

  1. Why did the customer buy the product/what problem are they trying to solve?
  2. What does success mean for the customer?
  3. Who is the buyer of the product?
  4. Who are the individuals with maximum influence and power within the account?
  5. What are potential roadblocks one may face in making the customer successful?

b) An internal meeting between AE and CSM

The CSM and AE can meet internally once the handoff questionnaire has been filled.

Armed with context about the customer, the CSM can ask further questions and understand more about the account and buyer from the AE in this meeting. In addition, the AE can provide the CSM with all the information collected during the initial meetings with the customer. This helps the CSM understand the expectations of the customer and the reason behind their purchase of the said product. 

4) CSM introduced to the customer

Goal: To help the CSM set the right expectations with the customer and hand over the relationship.

The AE should set up a convenient time with the customer to introduce the CSM and help set the right expectations with the customer and kickstart the onboarding process. This sets the tone for the remainder of the project. 

This is probably one of the most important meetings you will have with your customer. It always helps if the AE and CSM are aligned and prepared for pushback before the meeting.

If the AE isn’t going to be involved in the account going forward, it is recommended that they introduce the CSM to all the key people they interacted with during the sales process. This relationship transfer helps the CSM during renewal, especially in the case of large enterprises.

Few tips for implementing and driving this process :

1) Build Playbooks: A playbook in its most simplistic sense is a set of tasks that need to be done when an event occurs in your customer’s lifecycle. So your handoff playbook should contain a list of tasks to be completed (with due dates) before an account is transitioned to Customer Success.

2) Clearly define the owner of each task: Assign one owner per task. Having more than one owner for a task is equivalent to having no owner. Therefore, it is imperative to play by the strength of the members and assign the best-suited candidate to each task. 

3) Track the key metrics: What gets measured gets done. The important metrics you should track here are:

  1. Time to Kickoff: Time between the contract start date and onboarding kickoff.
  2. Handoff Completion %: Number of tasks completed in the handoff playbook.

As you start tracking these metrics, you will be surprised to see the correlation between good handoffs and your customer’s ability to see success (and your CSM’s ability to deliver success), directly impacting churn and upsells.

4) Use CRM software or other project management tools: There are multiple CRM tools available that can help you automate your processes, increase the visibility of the handoff statuses, and document important information. The incorporation of pre-built templates helps maintain consistency in the communication between the customer and the CSM. 

Components of the handoff document

The following are the key elements that need to be a part of the handoff to ensure a smooth transition and work going forward. 

  1. Customer Account Information: This includes the company name, industry/sector they function in, company size, and contract details. 
  2. Customer Team Information: This includes the first point of contact from the customer end, the decision maker for the purchaser, and details of the team using the product. 
  3. Internal Team Information: This includes details and contact information of the primary Customer Success Manager and the Sales Team member. In addition to this, it all identifies other key stakeholders and their responsibilities. 
  4. Customer Goals: This defines the business objectives of the customer. 
  5. Reason for choosing the product: This identifies the issues faced by the customer that the product stands to resolve. It also identifies the features or benefits that the customer is keen on. It is imperative to analyze if the customer is migrating from a competitor in this stage. If they are, it is essential to understand the reason behind the switch so you can avoid the mistakes made by your predecessor. 
  6. Defining Success (Customer): This section identifies the parameters based on which the customer determines if the product is helping them achieve their goals. 
  7. Defining Success (Internally): This section identifies and defines the key metrics that need to be evaluated to ensure that the project is on track and customer satisfaction is retained. 
  8. Work and communication style: This includes the most effective and easy communication channels to reach the customer for future communication.
  9. Growth opportunities: This section helps identify how the product can be custom-tailored to suit the customer’s needs better. It also analyzes the additional features that can be made available to the customer based on their business goals. 
  10. Red flags and risks: This section identifies all roadblocks that were present during the sales process and offers solutions on how these can be avoided going forward. 
  11. Next steps for the team: It includes all steps that need to be adopted to ensure customer satisfaction. It also lists the members responsible for each of these tasks identified. 
  12. Next steps for the customer: It includes an analysis of any additional training required to ensure smooth implementation of the product within the current working system of the customer. 
  13. Any other important notes
Free Download: Sales-to-CS Handoff Template

Pitfalls to avoid during a Sales-to-CS handoff and best practices

The customer success team must understand and capture all the elements that are truly important to the customer and develop the post-sales lifecycle from the customer’s perspective. All departments must be on the same page and aligned on customer’s needs to ensure smooth inter-departmental transitions and customer satisfaction.

Pitfall #1: Poor knowledge transfer

The sales handoff is one of the most crucial aspects of the customer lifecycle. This transition from the sales process to “becoming a customer” sets the tone for the remainder of the customer relationship. However, communication gaps between the sales and customer success teams are common with regard to a new customer’s business goals, needs, and desired outcomes. This leads to CSMs and CS leaders not being aware of the critical expectations or promises discussed between the customer and the sales team.

Best practices for a smooth sales handoff

  1. Develop an efficient ‘data transfer’ template to ensure critical information and expectations are passed on
  2. Ensure that Sales and Customer Success are on the same page when it comes to key promises, goals, and outcomes
  3. Capture how all parties involved will measure value and success through various stages of the project
How Rocketlane’s Salesforce integration ensures a smooth customer onboarding experience

Pitfall #2: Customer onboarding and implementation (training is not value-focused)

The onboarding/implementation process is the first step into customer/vendor relationships for new customers. It gives them an idea of what the relationship will be like moving forward. If the onboarding process solely focuses on the setup of the account or selective features instead of analyzing how the customer will implement the product to achieve their goals, roadblocks may occur.  

Best practices for smooth customer onboarding

Where customer onboarding strategy is concerned, there are typically two different strategies or methods: low-touch and high-touch.

  1. Low-touch onboarding: This onboarding strategy is very simple and hands-off. Low-touch onboarding involves just a series of video tutorials or automated help guides. One drawback to this style is that some customers don’t properly learn how to use the solution, affecting the project going forward if not rectified in time.
  2. High-touch onboarding: This onboarding style is typically used by customer success teams with a fairly complex solution or if there is a large group of users going through training. High-touch onboarding is very common with higher priority accounts.

Many onboarding experiences fail if the customer feels too rushed, if the content is too obscure, or if the process is too impersonal. CSMs must tailor every onboarding experience to the customer.

How Rocketlane does customer onboarding: People, process, tools

Pitfall #3: Adoption & value (silence is success)

The customer begins to see value with the implementation of the product as more users become engaged during the adoption stage. A key element to avoid at all costs during this stage is silence. Most often, CSMs do not check-in enough or ask the correct questions after the relative chaos of onboarding. Customers tend to have questions specific to a feature or workflow at this stage, which CSMs can usually quickly resolve. It is essential to ensure that all users, from executives to end users, benefit from the product. Regular follow-up calls should be scheduled to discuss predefined goals, ROI, and business outcomes. 

Adoption & value strategies + best practices

To ensure maximum value for the maximum amount of users, CSMs can follow some of these best practices:

  1. Engage with users at all levels to ensure their personal goals for the solution are being met
  2. Check in frequently 
  3. Work with other CSMs and customer success leadership to manage large-scale accounts with automation and technology
  4. Stay alert for any adoption red flags or dips in usage to stay on top of satisfaction and retention metrics
Four customer onboarding strategies for happy end users

Pitfall #4: Expansion & upsell (weak value realization post-implementation)

Customer expansion strategy leads to identifying novel revenue streams within existing accounts, both with new features or user growth. Expansion opportunities are the key factor of a CSM’s customer account and are the ideal indicators of satisfaction. With the implementation of a clear strategy and clean execution, this can be achieved. 

Expansion and upsell best practices

A best practice for expansion opportunities is to work with Sales to develop the best proposal for individual customers based on their custom concerns, goals, and opportunities. CSMs should keep their eyes open for any metrics that highlight a customer as expansion-ready, including an increase in product usage, engagement, etc.

Pitfall #5: Renewal (tangible business impact and ROI)

During the renewal stage, a CSM’s strategy revolves around strengthening a customer relationship to the point that they decide to repurchase the solution for another set period of time.

Best practices for renewal

When it comes down to who should own the renewal, a best practice is aligned with sales. CS teams are well-versed in dealing with current customer issues, concerns, and values, while Sales can bring negotiating techniques and tactical expertise. Another best practice is to develop strong executive relationships during the entire customer journey.

An inefficient sales-to-customer-success handoff often threatens an important aspect of the customer’s lifecycle. Experiences that challenge a customer’s long-term success can develop early on—even before a customer has used your product. A strong partnership between Sales and Customer Success is essential when making this delicate transition to ensure customer satisfaction and retention.

When mastering the sales-to-customer-success handoff, it is necessary to be well-informed of the definition of success in the customer’s eyes and the right time to introduce them to your Customer Success team. Ensure that both customer expectations and your teams’ internal expectations are aligned from the start and reinforced at each stage of the customer lifecycle. Most importantly, never underestimate the importance of your knowledge transfer process. Both internally and externally, nothing should be left to question once a new customer has signed on.

How to leverage customer onboarding to reduce churn

Sales-to-Customer-Success handoff template

Seamless handoffs will pay dividends now and well into the future. We hope these tips can help your team establish long standing relationships with your customers in addition to enabling efficient and effective execution of projects.

You could download this free template and customize it according to your requirements.

Further reading

  1. Become a customer onboarding expert with our ultimate guide
  2. Does client onboarding seem daunting? It won’t be after you’re done with our walkthrough of the process!
  3. Always keep your onboarding on track by following these solutions to common customer onboarding challenges
  4. Never miss a step again by following our client onboarding checklist

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Saranya Udayamohan
Content Marketer @ Rocketlane

Content crafter at Rocketlane. Curating content to make blogs sparkle. A girl looking to make a difference with her fun and out-of-the-box perspectives.

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