Customer Success vs. Sales; Who Should Own Renewals?

March 8, 2021

Even though they seem miles apart, both Customer Success and Sales teams have a lot of overlap in their day-to-day. The main similarity is their ability and necessity to build a relationship with their customers.

However, each team has a different plan for their relationships, with unique goals, focal points, and measurements. And when it comes to new opportunities, it’s clear that it’s up to Sales to get the customer to sign the deal. But what about existing customers?

If an existing customer wishes to renew or even expand their contract, why shouldn’t the CSM handle that aspect as well? They’re already the direct line of communication with the customer; they’ve become their trusted advisor and can optimize the process and offering.

There are arguments for and against CSMs owning the process, but the answer might not be as simple as you’d think. Let’s break it down:

Why CSMs Should Own the Process

First, we need to define customer success managers' current goal: to become a trusted advisor for their customers. To do so, they work hard on forming, building, and maintaining a relationship, making sure to provide value for each customer and help them achieve their own goals.

Once the relationship is established, the customer understands that the CSM is on their side, and wants what’s best for them. By doing so, it makes it easier to handle the renewal process (as well as upsells), due to two main reasons:

  • The CSM understands the customer’s current needs and wants, and can use that information to their advantage when signing the contract.
  • On the customer’s side, the CSM remains the main point of contact; they don’t have to re-introduce themselves to other people inside the company, making it easier for them to sign the deal.

Another advantage of letting the CSM handle the renewal process is they can focus on the existing customers. As we mentioned, Sales usually center on bringing in new money and letting the CSM be in charge of their current portfolio, they help take the load off the sales team.

Why CSMs Should NOT Own the Process

Sure, knowing the customers' wants and needs can help with the sales cycle, but that's not the "Success" department's primary goal.

We’ve mentioned it before - the CSMs want to become a trusted advisor to each customer. That takes a lot of work and effort, and the pressure keeps rising as more customers are signing up. By turning Customer Success into a sub-department of the Sales team, you might be risking the quality and trust in each of their relationships.

In other words, if a deal goes wrong or the customer is not satisfied, they will not be able to trust the CSM. You might lose a critical communicational connection between you and the customer, and it might even cause them to churn.

As for the CSMs themselves, shifting their focus from building relationships to expanding sales means that they need a new set of skills and abilities, they most likely don’t currently have. Putting one team against the other to compete over contracts and revenue is likely to cause some tension, which might reflect over the customers - and we don’t want that to happen.

And of course, you will either have to adjust your hiring criteria or train existing CSMs to fit the specification of a Success+Sales position - which will be time and money consuming.

It’s Not One Way or Another

It seems that the easy solution is to let CSMs focus on the Success of the customer while allowing Sales to handle all of the sales aspects.

But what if we told you that there’s a third option, which might be the ideal solution for you?

The best scenario for all parties involved is having Sales and CSMs work together on existing customers. Like the Sales team working as a team to push a sale forward, they should bring in the CSM to be their trusted advisor and help improve the process.

The CSM knows the customers’ current state, product, and needs, which can be a handy tool for the Sales team to leverage the sale. By combining the two teams, the company can offer a more suitable contract while ensuring the CSM stays in the picture, is aware of the process, and can better position themselves as a trusted advisor.

Combining both Sales and CS to offer the best value for the customer might sound trivial, but that’s not always the case. Most companies we’ve spoken to stated that since the two teams have different KPIs, goals, and focal points, they don’t always see eye to eye, and might not be aware of what the other team is doing.

So why should you do it?

  • Having an established relationship with the customer and knowing their needs can speed up the sales process from months to several weeks.
  • CSMs can help Sales predict and optimize the pricing model, features included, and assist in objection handling processes.
    By having more sets of eyes on the process, you can make sure it is executed and nothing falls through the cracks.

Bottom Line

While it’s not ideal for CSMs to own the renewal process (as well as upsell, expansion, and any other sales-related aspect), you must include them in both the conversation and process. This can help both the customer and the company get the ideal process possible, ensuring the relationship stays stable and keeps providing value.

Having said all of this, you need to remember that each customer is unique and might have specific demands. If your customers do not want to speak to the salesperson, and your CSMs are up for the challenge, they should handle the renewal process. And just like the other way around, they should include Sales in this process, consult and use their knowledge and make sure the customer is as satisfied as they can be.


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