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The long-running, oft-worshipped, and rarely questioned organizational business structure of Sales and Post-Sales is sick and overdue for some tough medicine. For years, there have been ample talks and thousands of articles written about the dysfunction of Sales and Marketing, but an even bigger argument can be made that the graver threat to a company is what isn’t working between the two major organizations, Sales and Post-Sales, that (sadly) often meet only at that line in the contract where the customer signs.

Identifying Where the Problems Lie

The Sales-led paradigm of managing customer engagement and controlling the levers of revenue growth is struggling, and the old methods for addressing declining revenue (increasing spend on marketing or hiring more salespeople, or both) is not working as it once did. Inefficiencies are certainly a major factor, and this 2009 McKinsey article on the topic still rings true today, primarily because the argument made for a serious overhaul of business processes has simply not taken place. But what has really exposed the weakness of the existing Sales/Post-Sales model is today’s digitization and the democratization of choice. Frankly, we are all partially to blame. Our embrace of mobile, social, cloud, low prices, choice, freedom, and, finally, that we seem to have more faith in the opinion of our peers than with authority are all combining to create massive upheaval in business. There exists much empirical evidence suggesting companies are headed over the cliff due to this upheaval unless they dramatically alter course. TSIA’s J.B. Wood described the predicament and charted a path forward in this keynote address at our recent Technology Services World conference in Las Vegas.

So What Can You Do?

One way to at least slow the momentum over that cliff is through a reexamination of the relevance and wisdom of some long-cherished notions. This will require company-wide effort to open up to new ideas around what it means, as well as what it takes, to engage and lead the customer on a positive journey through a product or solution life cycle.

sales and marketing revenue growth  

(Click image to enlarge.)

The above graph is pretty ugly. If it was a report from your financial advisor (perhaps one who is famous for their decades of experience generating great returns) about the 5-year performance of your portfolio, how would you characterize your emotions? Phlegmatic? Disinterested? Unconcerned? Confident in a steady-as-she-goes approach? Not likely. You would fire your advisor and immediately look for someone who thinks differently and who is open to questioning conventional methods when data surfaces that warrants a reconsideration of assumptions. The decades-long standard response to declining or flat revenue (which has been, more investment in Sales and Marketing) is clearly not working as it once did. Companies across the board, in enterprise and SaaS, are reporting this widening and disturbing gap between S&M investment and revenue growth.

So how should you tackle this? Try challenging these long-held notions by asking yourself a few key questions about your current business environment.

Notion #1: Sales Owns the Customer Relationship

  • How effective is your Sales team in managing the customer relationship post-sale?
  • How well do they understand the customer experience?
  • How well do they coordinate the activities required to drive adoption, and how capable are they at planning for extending the technology solution based on the customer’s knowledge, capabilities, and progress?
  • What impact does post-sales effort have on their ability to pursue new sales?
  • How effective are they at nurturing true advocates, those individuals who can speak to some depth about using the solution?
  • How effective are they at understanding the customer’s health and their propensity for extending their investment far in advance of contract renewal?

Notion #2: Marketing Owns the Customer Experience

  • How effective are they at understanding the customer’s end-to-end experience?
  • How well do they work with the Post-Sales organizations to complete their buyer profiles?
  • How effectively and dynamically do they work with Sales and Post-Sales to nurture and drive advocacy?

Notion #3: Product Management Knows What the Market Needs

  • How broad is their understanding of the various customer profiles?
  • What tools are they using to collect and distill information about the existing customers’ use of the products?
  • How effective is the mechanism for collecting information from Customer Success about the customers’ use of the products?
  • Is broad customer feedback (Voice of Customer, Net Promoter Score) included in their input channels?

Notion #4: Post-Sales Owns Customer Support

  • How effective are they at supporting customer needs?
  • How well do they coordinate with Sales and Marketing to flesh out their understanding of the customer in order to better support them?
  • How extensive is their participation in the account planning exercise?
  • How effective are they at leveraging a complete customer profile in order to drive higher rates of adoption, higher renewal rates, and lower rates of churn?
  • Are they effective in converting lessons learned from implementations, upgrades, and production fixes into better training, better customer onboarding, and more resilient and intuitive products? 

Always Strive for Operational Improvement

Over centuries, challenging conventional notions has worked to progress society in countless ways. While the questions I’ve listed above are meant to force some much-needed conversations, there is no suggestion being made that some new list of conventions simply needs to be dropped in order to replace the old. In future blog posts, I will delve deeper into how interwoven and overlapping all these organizations are and how the artificial walls separating them were built on assumptions that are now turning quietly lethal to business. Customers are now demanding more, and historical barriers are preventing companies from meeting those demands. As a result, there is great urgency for companies to figure out how to create an easier and more seamless experience for the customer. That means a company’s internal processes have to be more seamless, more collaborative, less territorial, and less redundant. If they fail to create this seamless experience, they will be supplanted in the marketplace by other companies that more efficiently, more precisely, and more quickly deliver what the customer expects.

But how should companies break down those walls? The best hope is from technology that in near real-time assesses customer health, informs decisions for go-forward plans, and drives cross-organizational activities to advance customer progress, especially when the technology is integrated with others to span the entire customer journey.

From the perspective of how the Customer Success industry views technology, it is most often seen as the enabler of scale, for how it can drive some level of touch to a multitude of customers. To fulfill the promise described in the paragraph above, technology needs to be seen as having far more wide-ranging responsibility than that. It needs to be seen as the liberator of artificial barriers and of the enabler of powerful customer-focused, and process and data-driven, teamwork within companies.

Business can indeed morph from conventional models that historically forced the customer into the background, as the last step in a complicated series of steps meant to deliver a product to market. But a choice needs to be made and it is this. Do you want to stay with a tired and no longer effective model or do you want to move to one that sees the customer as the very reason any given process even exists?

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