Valuable Tips When Moving from Sales to Customer Success

If you work in software sales, you're probably wondering if the grass truly is greener on the other side. With the rise of the subscription-based business model for software companies, customer success is one of the fastest-growing jobs in software. Customer success managers seem to have it easy - no monthly or quarterly quota, no prospecting and cold calling to land new logos, and the ability to bounce around to various customers. Easy, right?

Not so fast, my friend. Customer success roles have their share of challenges as well. Plus, moving from sales to customer success is easier said than done. If you're thinking about making the move, keep reading this article. We'll walk through the major differences in the job, skills required, and what the customer success career path looks like. Then, we give advice on how to make it happen. We'll touch on how to make your resume "customer success friendly", some interview tips, and more. If you're looking to move from software sales to customer success, read on!

The Difference Between Sales and Customer Success

If you're looking to move from sales to customer success at a software company, you should be aware of the major differences between the two roles.

Day to Day - Sales vs Customer Success

The customer success job itself is very different from traditional sales roles. While both are customer-facing in nature, sales is focused on transactions and upsells, while customer success is focused on client growth and adoption.

Usually, a customer success manager gets involved during the late stages of a sales cycle or immediately after the transaction is booked. By getting involved, a customer success manager is looking to drive adoption of the new technology or to ensure the existing technology stays in place at the customer

Because of the difference in tasks, the day-to-day for a customer success manager can look completely different than the day-to-day for a salesperson. Here are some tasks that a typical CSM will focus on that are exclusive to the role:

  • Monthly or quarterly meetings with customers to help resolve any adoption or support issues
  • Proactive outreach and meetings with new customers to ensure adoption of the new technology
  • Meet with sales counterparts to discuss new customers who just signed up, or prospective new customers who are about to sign up

Skills Required to Move from Sales to Customer Success

When you move to customer success you are now in charge of managing and growing your brand’s relationship with the customer. You will ensure retention and influence upsells, while also helping them use the software in the most effective way for their business. To do these things, you need some specific skills:

  • Relationship Management: You need to be able togrow personal relationships with the users and decision-makers at the company.
  • Problem Solving: Customers will come to you when they have issues with the software. It’s your job to figure out workarounds and solutions for them.
  • Communication: You have to return phone calls and respond to emails in a timely manner. Plus, you need listening skills to truly understand what’s bothering a client. What you understand you can address.
  • Technical Skills: Sometimes you will be tasked with training new users on the software. Also, you will need a good understanding of the functionality of your software so you can solve technical problems for your buyers.
  • Conflict Resolution: Sometimes customers will come to you and say they are thinking of ending their contract. It’s your job to hear them out, acknowledge their qualms, and figure out how to keep them on as a client.
  • Strategy: Find upsell or referral opportunities and figure out how to take advantage of them.

Salary & Commissions

The average salary of a CSM in the computer software industry is $61,032/year. Across all industries, it is $64,682/year. However, what you earn depends on a number of factors including the size of the company, your years of experience, and demand for your product. As you can see, companies offer a wide range of salaries for CSM positions.

https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/customer-success-manager-salary-SRCH_KO0,24.htm

As for commissions, some companies will pay their CSMs commission on a few things such as the retention rate of clients in their portfolio. Or, you might get a percentage of upsell revenue as commission. Usually, CSMs will make more than their base salary, in the form of commission, profit sharing, or bonuses. For instance, check out Oracle’s comp plan for their CSMs.

https://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Oracle-Customer-Success-Manager-Salaries-E1737_D_KO7,31.htm

Generally, CSM’s compensation is more secure than an AE’s. The base pay is generally higher. However, AE’s have the potential to make more money from commission.

Career Path

Like with most corporate jobs, the traditional career path of a CSM ends in a people management position, such as VP of Customer Success or a Chief Revenue Officer. But, this isn’t always the case. Some CSMs know they don’t want to manage people, so they continue to grow in their position and become more senior members of the CSM team — perhaps an enterprise CSM. That seniority usually brings higher-value accounts and more pay.

Of course, your destiny is up to you in the end. And companies are becoming more open to cross-departmental transitions. As a CSM you will have gained relationship management and technical skills that are widely applicable in the tech industry. If you have been performing well and your company is flexible, you can pretty much go into any department you’d like. Here are some less traditional career paths for CSMs, courtesy of Dan Morris at Squelch.io.

CSM → Manager of CSMs → Director/VP → CEO

CSM → Enterprise CSM

CSM → Account Executive or Account Manager

CSM → Sales Engineer or Sales Operations or Sales Enablement

CSM → Professional Services

CSM → Product Marketing

CSM → Product Management

Moving From Sales to Customer Success

Let’s go over some aspects of moving from sales to customer success, such as why it might be the right move, the benefits and drawbacks of doing it, and how to make the move.

Why You Might Do It

There are plenty of reasons why you might want to move from a sales position to customer success. One of the most common reasons is because you are tired of the stress that comes with a closing sales position. A CSM position can be a lot more laid back since you aren’t always racing to hit quota.

Or, maybe you want to increase your range as a sales professional by forming a better perspective of what it’s like to be a buyer. As a CSM you will get a behind-the-scenes look at what your buyers actually care about, how they implement and use your software and their frustrations.

Maybe you want to try your hand at a more consultative role. As a CSM you will learn a lot about businesses and how they operate. And you will help your clients solve business problems, with your software, but sometimes without.

Of course, what you consider a benefit someone else might consider a negative. It depends on your personality, inclinations, and nature, but here are some commonly listed benefits and negatives of customer success compared to sales.

Benefits compared to sales include:

  • Less stress.
  • You get to form fulfilling relationships.
  • More stable pay.
  • No more prospecting — if that’s something you dislike.
  • Company card privileges for sporting events, fancy dinners, and more.

Negatives compared to sales include:

  • Lower compensation ceiling - due to less commission.
  • Have to deal with a few bad, nagging clients.
  • Stressful when an account is going to churn.
  • Training new users who are technically-challenged.

If you can live with the negatives, customer success might be right for you.

How to Make the Move

Internal: Moving Within The Same Company

If you already have sales experience at your company, making the move to a CSM shouldn’t be that difficult, especially if there is an open position. Regardless of if there’s an open spot, sit down with your manager and tell them about your goals. Explain to them why you want to transition and why you think you’d make a valuable addition to a CSM team.

As an AE, you already have many of the skills required to be a successful CRM. You already know how to start relationships, solve problems, and communicate clearly. What you might lack is some knowledge, especially industry and technical knowledge.

Therefore, it might pay to do a little studying on your product and the industry, as well as the business operations of your clients. Sit in with some CSMs and listen to their phone calls with clients. Sit in other their training or implementation sessions. This will better equip you for the new role and will inspire confidence in your manager about your ability to excel in it.

External: Moving To Another Company

If you are trying to land a customer success manager position at another company, the process will be a little more difficult, but nothing you can’t manage. You already have experience in sales and relationship management. That’s the most important requirement. What you might need more of is industry experience, which helps you relate to the company’s clients and offer them insights and tips.

So, before you start interviewing for positions at other companies. Pick a few industries where you are interested in working. Perhaps that’s real estate and law. Therefore, you would spend some time reading about the two industries as well as about real estate technology and legal tech. Maybe look into some tech companies in that domain and read their case studies and study their software. This will help you sound knowledgeable and passionate about the relevant industry when you interview.

Resume and Marketing Yourself

You should optimize both your resume and your LinkedIn profile. Both should demonstrate your sales experience, your wins, and the results you delivered to your former company. If you can show your results (passing quota, bringing in revenue, facilitating upsells and referrals, etc) you will have a better chance of landing a CSM position.

CSM hiring managers want people who can grow the relationships into more revenue, and as a former closing sales rep, you have that ability. Prove it to them on your profile and resume.

Also, be sure to personalize your resume to each employer, just like you did with your sales emails. Hit the keywords they are asking for in the job posting.

Lastly, keep in mind that you will be client-facing. Your LinkedIn picture and writing should present you as a professional — someone the business would feel comfortable taking a 6-figure client out to dinner.

Interview Tips

  • Study the Company

A lot of the time, the first questions an employer asks are to make sure you have done your homework. They want to see if you are truly interested in their specific company. They want to feel special. So, study up about their product.

Come prepared with enough knowledge about how their main product works to be able to explain it to your grandmother. You don’t need to be an expert. Just nail the basics and communicate it clearly.

  • Read About the Interviewer

If you know who's interviewing you, read up about them. Figure out their responsibilities, motivations, and desires, just like you would with a prospect. Scour the company website and their LinkedIn for information about their hobbies and interests. If you find something you two have in common, bring it up, and get flowing the juices of friendship.

  • Ask Relevant and Interesting Questions

When it’s your turn at the end of the interview to ask some questions, absolutely blow them away with how relevant and interesting your questions are.

When you ask 5 great questions, you demonstrate to the interviewer that you are interested in the company, well-read on their product and the position, and curious — a trait that is important for growing relationships and solving problems for clients. Not to mention, you will show your interest in the interviewer and their job. This makes them like you more. It also shows you are serious about working there.

To ask really solid questions, you have to prepare. Do some research and find 5 questions that fall into these categories:

The Industry: Ask their opinion on something going on in the industry, such as growth in a specific sector, a new type of technology on the market, or a problem like COVID and how businesses in the industry are overcoming it.

Product/Business: Ask about the product to demonstrate your interest in it. “I read about feature {x} and I was wondering if you could tell me how customers usually use it for process {Y}?

The Position You're Going For: Try to get some more specifics about the role, like who you will be working with, what you will learn, what types of clients you’ll manage, etc.

The Interviewer: Ask about how they got to where they are. Ask about their current goals for their team. Say, “I read that you started in finance. I myself started in another industry. I was wondering what inspired you to make the jump from that industry over to tech customer success?”

Honestly, sometimes it feels like question-asking is the beginning of the interview. Natural conversations proceed, and everyone lets their guard down. Take advantage of this relationship-building and learning opportunity.

Conclusion

If you are in sales and want to make the leap to customer success you should be excited. Customer success is a fun and interesting role, not to mention fulfilling; for you will be helping clients solve their problems. And be confident in your ability to switch and win a job in the new role. You’ve been in sales. You’ve overcome objections. You’ve explained complicated tech to confused buyers. You’ve booked meetings with strangers and closed deals. You have what it takes.