Customer Success + Sales = Revenue Retention: Insights from Totango Leaders

CS + Sales = Revenue Retention

“What’s your company’s most important business outcome in 2024?”

If you asked your customer success (CS) and sales leaders this question, what do you think each of them would say? Would everyone have the same goal, or would it vary from team to team?

Revenue retention hinges on the collaborative efforts of CS and sales teams as they collectively shepherd customers throughout the lifecycle journey, from acquisition to retention and expansion. While acquisition and new logos will always contribute to a part of growth, the ongoing engagement, support, and alignment between CS and sales solidify customer relationships driving long-term, sustainable revenue. This is what businesses need to survive in today’s environment. 

We recently fielded this question with our Customer Advisory Board (CAB) revealing a consensus among CS and sales leaders: improving retention rates is the most important business outcome to focus on this year. However, we also found that most CS and sales leaders believe their business requires a more transparent and coordinated pre- and post-sales strategy to accomplish this goal. Why? This approach ensures that customer needs are addressed effectively throughout their entire journey, fostering stronger relationships, enhancing customer satisfaction, and increasing retention rates.

Luckily, Totango and Catalyst are no strangers to CS and sales collaboration. I recently hosted a webinar with four leaders from our team to learn how they work together to bolster retention, expansion, and upsells as a truly unified CS and sales front. Meet my teammates:

These four shared everything from hot takes and unfiltered opinions to real-life examples of ways they’ve worked together to establish a successful partnership. Read on for three key takeaways from this discussion, or listen to the no-holds-barred conversation by watching the full webinar on-demand.

 Watch webinar

1. Break down barriers: Give sales and CS clearly defined roles  

Silos lead to misunderstandings and the loss of winnable customers. It’s no wonder the theme of “breaking down barriers” appeared over and over in our conversation. 

One tool that Katie finds helpful in her role is a RACI matrix that designates accountability to relevant stakeholders involved in a project, task, or decision. RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed and is a great tool for:

  • Overcoming ambiguity.
  • Closing communication gaps.
  • Establishing a source of truth across teams.

However, Katie emphasized that ownership and delegation can’t stop with the RACI chart. CS and sales leaders must prioritize building customer trust through clear communication, following through on commitments, and avoiding unrealistic expectations. She also encouraged collaborative conversations over the phone or in person rather than hiding behind texts and emails. When leaders within both functions work together, they will likely remove red tape and process rigidity, making everyone feel like they’re on the same team. And, as a bonus, pre- and post-sales motions go faster and better.

Quotation mark

One barrier is over-promising or under-promising things to customers [in the pre-sales stage] and setting unrealistic expectations. So, if your team hasn’t championed bringing the post-sales team in as a part of the ICP discussion, do it now. Pre-sale interactions are unbelievably crucial for setting the tone for the overall customer experience.

Katie Yagodnik, Director of Customer Success Operations and Digital Programs, Totango

From the sales side, Charlie talked about implementing systems to document the sales cycle thoroughly. This ensures that the CS team can follow through on commitments made during the sales process as the account transitions to the post-sale team.

Quotation mark

We’ve set up systems to document what we said we were going to accomplish with the customer in the sales cycle. What was the goal of the project? What’s the business problem that we’re solving? What’s the timeline that we need to solve it within? And then Salesforce passes that information to Totango to operationalize the onboarding and make sure there’s a clean handoff between sales, implementation teams, and CS.

Charlie Sonnenberg, Vice President, Global Sales + Sales Development, Totango

Once everyone communicates and works together as a unified go-to-market team, decisions must be made about who’s responsible for sustaining revenue growth. 

2. Share responsibility: CS and sales both need skin in the game 

“Who’s in charge of sustainable revenue growth within an organization?” Who isn’t?

I asked the panelists to give their predictions for the future of CS and sales, both individually and how they will work together. The overwhelming consensus was that there is, and will continue to be, a significant shift toward sustainable customer growth throughout the SaaS industry. Both CS and sales organizations must share that growth responsibility to see healthy revenue gains.

Quotation mark

No one is looking for growth-at-all-costs anymore. We need sustainable growth. So, how are companies going to start improving profitability? The easy answer, and why we’re all here, lies within your customer base. What’s important? Renewing, retaining, and expanding. We know that sales and CS are both sharing responsibility for those things.

Mia Lopez, Director of Revenue Operations, Totango

Totango’s revenue leaders, with Mia at the helm, have operationally adjusted how their organization works so that revenue responsibility rests on both CS and sales. One way they’ve done this is by creating a bi-directional data sync with Salesforce and Totango to ensure all information flows from one system to the other, leaving no room for gaps in information or data. 

Standardizing common revenue motions with Playbooks (or Totango SuccessBLOCs) for processes like renewals and expansion makes them repeatable, ensuring clarity on roles and responsibilities throughout the processes. 

Taking this approach further, Kristin stressed the importance of establishing clear goals and outcomes for each team. This will, of course, keep everyone — from CSMs to AMs to AEs — aligned, but more importantly, keep the customer’s needs at the forefront.

Quotation mark

The ongoing trend is toward sustainable growth, which demands that CS teams take on more revenue responsibility. This requires clarification and clear goals and outcomes for the ownership of renewals, expansion, and new business, which ultimately affect the customer experience. Work hard to be in sync internally; it’ll help you put customers first.

Kristin Hallas, Director of Customer Success, Totango

It’s not up to any one team to retain customers. But if every team and leader is pointing fingers at the other team, wishing they’d take more ownership, it’s time for CS and sales leaders to address the challenge straight on and figure out reasonable goals and commissioning structures across teams.

3. Work backward from outcomes: Identify each customer’s goals early 

The final discussion point focused on identifying customer outcomes early in pre-sale conversations and capturing that information in a shared place. Those 1-3 desired outcomes should serve as a lighthouse for CS and sales teams alike. Whether your product is accomplishing those outcomes for them is a clear indicator of how well you’re providing value. All of our experts agree that understanding outcomes needs to be as important to the sales team as it is to the post-sales team.

Quotation mark

From the very start, identify and capture outcomes. Having one source of truth where we have all of the information, the notes, the conversations, where the CSM can get fully up to speed on all of the things that have happened in the sales process, is key.

Kristin Hallas, Director of Customer Success, Totango

Besides, CSMs asking customers about the same information, like background information and desired outcomes, creates a clunky experience — especially if their AE just asked them during the sales cycle. To avoid this situation, the sales team must gather this data upfront and document it where it’s constantly at the forefront.

Unify your GTM team and enjoy better relationships with both colleagues and customers

The experts have spoken: Open, transparent communication and collaboration make a CS and sales partnership work. If you’re a CS or sales leader, do what you can to align with your customer-facing teammates to drive outcomes for your customers and drive revenue for your business. You are on the same team — it’s time to act like it. 

Are you eager to listen to the full discussion? Check out the full webinar to get the full story and get to know our panelists better.

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