Should CSMs handle sales?

Sales discussionAs the customer success field matures, several philosophies of whether and how CS teams should take ownership of selling to existing customers are developing. In this article, we explore which ones work best.

3 Models

The no-selling model focuses the success function strictly on adoption. CSMs are usually expected to identify expansion opportunities but are not expected to drive or close them.

The renewals-only model places the CSMs in charge of renewals, but any other selling is handled by the sales team, as in the no-selling model.

The farmer model expects the CSMs to drive all expansion sales. The Sales team hunts for new logos, and all other selling is done in the success team.

The No-Selling Model

The no-selling model can be viewed as the “purest” form of customer success and creates a lot of trust in customers. But CSMs and customers are dependent on others to handle renewals and expansion sales, which introduces new contacts and often delays, especially if the sales team is focused on large deals and is reluctant to spend time on the typically smaller opportunities arising from existing customers.

The Renewals-Only Model

The renewals-only model nicely melds the ongoing adoption work of CSMs with the contract renewals, creating a seamless experience for both customers and CSMs. However, if the renewal process is fiddly, CSMs must spend a lot of time on paperwork, and there can also be a very uneven burden through the year if most renewals occur at once. And of course the issue of getting the sales team’s attention for expansion sales remains.

The Farmer Model

The farmer model is completely seamless for customers, and comes with a lower cost to the organization since CSMs are not usually on the same commission schedule as sales reps. On the other hand, the relationships between CSMs and customers may suffer as the CSMs will be perceived as more mercenary, and CSMs may also neglect customers that do not have expansion potential. It’s also tough to find individuals who have both great sales skills and great account management skills.

So which model is best?

It really depends on your specific situation.

  • The farmer model requires rearchitecting the sales model, focusing the sales team on “hunting” for new logos and the customer success team on farming existing customers. Tweak the compensation model accordingly, especially if new customers tend to start small and expand other times, so the sales reps get appropriate recognition for their efforts.
  • The renewals-only model works well when you automate renewals so CSMs can focus on relationships and not paperwork.
  • The no-selling model is well aligned to complex products and sales. Let the CSMs focus on adoption and track the opportunities they send to the sales team.

And a hybrid model may be even better. Specifically, if you see a lot of small add-on sales for additional users or higher usage volume, why not expect the CSMs to handle those, while leaving the larger opportunities to the sales team? You will need to clearly define the boundaries between add-ons (handled by CSMs) and expansion sales (handled by sales reps), and streamline the process for add-on sales, especially contracting, so CSMs can continue to focus on adoption–but the result will be a better experience for customers and CSMs while simplifying the recruiting and training of CSMs. I’m a fan!


What model do you use and what recommendations would you make to others?