How customer success should deal with over-promising sales teams

4 min read

People in the Customer Success community speak about the responsibility of the new business sales team when it comes to customer success. The notion that the product is oversold or that the wrong expectations have been set by the new business sales teams seems to make a lot of CSMs upset. It is a topic of discussion for a lot of customer success managers, you can read it at online forums like this one or see it being discussed at customer success meetups across the world.

Here is our two cents on the how customer success should deal with over-promising sales teams:

First off, we believe that the topic should be put in the right context – it's important to approach the topic objectively in a humble way if you're a customer success manager. Nobody wants unhappy customers but let's not forget that the customer success function exists because of the work is done in the new business sales department. Think to yourself – what is better, a customer that has been slightly oversold or no customer?

That said, we've found that the number one reason for overselling is a lack of sales skills, reason number two is lacking product features.

Customer success people in large companies have the luxury of complaining about the sales teams overselling (maybe because getting new customers is not a problem in the first place) but most CSMs reading this post work in startups and we encourage you to think of this issue from a founder's perspective. Be humble, work with what you have and follow our guide below to understand how customer success should deal with over-promising sales teams.

1. Stay humble – attitude is key

Remember, sales is hard! Every customer your sales team is bringing on-board is an opportunity for you as a customer success manager.

2. Understand why – get to the root cause

Why is your sales team overselling your product? Is it lack of sales skills, is it lack of functionality in your product or is it just sloppiness? What do you think helps? Product training? Sales training or does it need to be addressed with leadership? Speak to the sales people in your company, join them in their late stage cases to understand why someone would oversell? Don't judge – you're there to learn!

3. Show the sales rep the consequences of customer churn

Overselling leads to unhappy customers and unhappy customers eventually leads to churn. Use this tool to calculate the consequences of churn for your business –

If you have the data, show the correlation between low NPS scores and customer churn and CAC (cost of acquisition)

4. Tell the sales team about your struggle

Why does it suck to deal with customers that have been oversold? Ask for their help – what would they do? You’re in this together!

5. Involve Product Managers and engineers!

Share your findings with Product Managers and Engineers. Maybe there is a particular feature that is more frequently oversold? Ask for their help.

6. Monthly e-mails

Follow up with monthly e-mails where you list clients that you’ve recently onboarded and have been oversold. Create a simple template you use monthly that list the client's name, the details around the overselling (which module/feature), the value of the account and name of the sales rep. Send the email to both sales and product managers and the leadership in your company (CEO). Your e-mail should be full of facts, not opinions!

7. Who is accountable for churn in your company?

If overselling is a big problem for your company, then bring it up with senior management. Churn and happy/unhappy customers should not be the sole responsibility of customer success. Everyone in the company should be held accountable for churn – sales, engineering, customer success, marketing and everyone in senior management. Bring up your challenges with senior management, ask for advice!

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