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Customer Success vs. Sales

I completed 3 years at Sauce Labs a few weeks ago. As some of you may know, I joined the company as a Customer Success Manager in November of 2016 and in April of 2019, I transitioned to the sales team as an Account Executive.

You can bet I heard (and at times made) a lot of jokes about moving to the dark side, selling my soul, etc. Not much of a surprise, considering the reputation that salespeople have. They’re commonly known to be pathological liars, slimy rascals, probably narcissistic, and definitely should not be trusted, right? So, why choose to go from a role that’s customer-centric, designed to help drive value and success for customers, to a role that’s revenue-centric, designed to help drive value for the company?

On the surface, these seem like fundamentally conflicting ideas, but that has not been my experience.

Enterprise customer success drives value for organizations through a product or platform, specifically designed to retain and generate revenue for a company that’s built on a subscription based service (i.e. software as a service). I could write another article entirely about my perspective on software eating the world, the rise of subscription based business models, consumer experiences driving competitive advantages, etc, but I won’t focus on that now. The takeaway is that businesses’ revenue models are changing and revenue retention is becoming just as important, if not more, as revenue generation. Customer success, on the surface, is about revenue retention (preventing churn), but increasingly leads to account expansion. In almost all instances, a successful customer will be a growing customer.

As a CSM at Sauce, I helped customers get more value from our testing platform, which they used to build higher quality digital web and mobile applications. Their success ensured a higher quality experience for the users of their apps. I learned how companies hindered by their engineering bottlenecks are less able to focus on competitive advantages, and will eventually lose share in the market. There’s a fantastic book I’d recommend on this subject, and digital transformation in general, called “Project to Product” by Dr. Mik Kersten.

My turning point was the realization that “sales” is where decisions ultimately landed — customers’ technical successes are fantastic and certainly encouraged, but how much of that impacted their customers’ experience and ultimately their bottomline revenue would dictate their real world successes. Failure to achieve those business goals would indicate a failure to derive value from the product, whether that’s true or not. What I’m saying is, customer success is not the successful implementation of a product, but the successful achievement of the customer’s underlying business goals. Getting to those goals is what attracted me to sales. It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling to take a product to market and deliver real value for an enterprise business. The money’s not bad either!

So, I don’t feel like I’ve changed trajectories in my career — my approach to sales is rooted in customer success. Leave me a comment below and let me know what you think about that.