What it Takes to be a Customer-Focused Leader
Customer success and sales are two of the most crucial areas of successful companies. But it’s not uncommon to see friction between the CS and sales teams.
To provide great service to customers and grow the business, these two teams need to find common ground and align their vision to work together. So why can’t they get along?
We’re In the Same Boat
The relationship between CS and sales is similar to rowing a boat. The two groups are on the same boat, each with an oar and trying to reach the same destination: satisfied customers and a growing business. But to get there, both teams have to row in sync. When the teams row in different cadences or fight against each other, the boat goes in circles and doesn’t reach its destination.
The ultimate destination for CS and sales teams is to make customers successful. When both teams rally around customers to offer the right deal structure and support, customers win, and the company wins. But that requires aligning the vision (destination) and actions (strokes) to work together.
Working together pays off in more ways than one — experience-driven businesses grow revenue 1.4x faster and increase customer lifetime value 1.6x more than other companies.
It Starts With Why
The first step to aligning the sales and CS teams is to create a common goal. Although sales and CS might go about it differently, the ultimate goal for both groups is to help their customers succeed. That shared customer-first mindset puts CS and sales on the same path to success.
As companies provide value to their customers, those customers can be successful. That’s what leads to long-term company growth. Research from Adobe found that more than two-thirds of companies that led in customer experience outpaced others in their industries in the second half of 2020.
Author Simon Sinek famously tells businesses to start with why. Instead of focusing on the results, he says great leaders and organizations start at the center with the purpose behind their actions.
“Very few people or companies can clearly articulate why they do what they do,” he said. “By why I mean your purpose, cause, or belief — Why does your company exist? Why do you get out of bed every morning? And why should anyone care?”
Establishing the why aligns the objectives of sales and CS around their central focus: customers. Instead of team members working individually to hit their own goals, understanding the greater why expands their vision and allows for less friction and greater alignment.
Ultimately, the CEO sets the vision and mindset for the company. Sales and CS leaders typically report to the CEO and must come together to align to the company’s vision or risk creating chaos in their customer interactions. Leaders can’t play favorites but must support all teams to work towards the company’s ultimate goal.
A customer-focused mindset helps the CS and sales teams create smaller goals that align with the overall vision. All teams have to dive into the why behind their goals. That means teams and leaders have to make sure the execution aligns with those goals and that the people understand the vision behind what they’re doing.
But aligning goals doesn’t necessarily mean CS and sales need to use the same metrics. CS tracks metrics to retain and support business, and sales uses different metrics to grow and add new clients. The metrics might not be the same, but the groups should still be aligned on their overall mission and purpose.
Team Building on the Ground
Understanding the company’s why and creating a customer-first mindset sets the tone for alignment, but much of the actual collaboration between CS and sales happens on the ground.
CS and sales groups naturally attract different types of people. Creating a cohesive team starts by understanding what motivates each person. Understanding each person’s individual purpose and motivations helps leaders and colleagues find common ground and know how to communicate, collaborate, and encourage each other.
Highlighting success and sharing wins breaks down animosity one side might be feeling towards the other and helps them see the vital role both sales and CS play in driving the company forward. Contests and recognition programs motivate employees to do their best work and show their strong efforts to the other side. Team-building activities and opportunities to bond and build relationships also strengthen alignment.
And then, of course, there are the financial incentives. Putting money behind teamwork is a powerful way to encourage alignment and collaboration. Incentivizing CS in a growth deal to help the sales rep ensure the CS team will be on board to move the deal forward. Conversely, tying a financial reward to hitting a specific CS metric can encourage the sales reps to find solid new customers.
Running a successful organization requires extreme ownership, starting with a great leader who isn’t afraid to own the outcome. While there may be natural friction between sales and CS, it can only be conquered if the leaders are aligned. If key leaders are pointing fingers, making assumptions, and not building relationships with each other, how can they expect their teams to get along? Leaders have to be on the same page and show their teams how to effectively work through conflict.
From coaching to execution, leaders need to be all in. They have to be in the trenches to understand the impact of their teams’ actions and attitudes, catch issues as they arise, and always bring it back to the why. Why did we take this path, how does it impact our success, how does it affect the outcomes?
A customer-focused mindset has never been more critical to a company’s growth. And to hit that goal, CS and sales have to make sure they’re rowing together to help each other get to the ultimate destination: satisfied customers fueling the company’s growth.