So in the earlier days especially, you’ll be tempted to lean on the sales team to do more than just … sell.  Especially, more after they get an e-signature.  Especially because the first 1-2 successful reps you hire will often be a bit of a product expert, and be great at really understanding customer problems.

So you’ll be tempted to have your sales team … do more than just sell:

  • Have them do customer success, and manage the account
  • Have them do some support, since the customers will reach out to them
  • Have them do onboarding, since that’s critical to make the sale actually work out
  • Sometimes, have them do renewals, since they know the account already

In other words, to own more of the lifecycle of the customer.  Not just abandon them the moment a deal is signed.

This makes logical sense as founders.  Concentrate the customer experience in the team mate closest to the customer needs.

It has some positives, the more you ask sales to do.  Sales almost always complains if there’s no commission check this week coming, but owning more helps them, too:

  • Upsell is much, much, much easier if you continue to add value after the deal is signed
  • Word-of-mouth and referrals are much easier to get if you continue to add value.   Some reps build a whole book of business here.  No one refers their friends to a rep that never helped during the deal and disappeared after.
  • Renewals, if they are tough, are sometimes better handled by sales who at least isn’t a brand-new name
  • Customers like continuity.  They maybe even are owed it.
  • Reps are better able to claim they “own” an account … if they truly own it.  Otherwise, it may be taken away.

So, to a point, reps benefit by doing more than just closing.

But it’s a trade-off.  You want your sellers selling for the most part, period.  What’s actionable here? Just a few thoughts:

#1.  In the early days, let your reps own more than just the close, but don’t force it.

Forcing a rep to own onboarding, or post-sales support, that resents or doesn’t want to do it is worse than any other alternative.  So suggest it, but don’t force it, or at least, don’t continue to force it if you get resistance.

#2.  Don’t rely on sales to do true customer success.

This is perhaps the biggest mistake.  You can’t hire “traditional” customer success too early.  1 or 2 folks whose only job is to drive up activation rates, drive down time to go live, drive up NRR and NPS and CSAT, and drive down churn.  Sales can’t do this.

#3.  Route bigger customers to sales reps that continue to help after the deal closes

The ones that disappear?  Fine.  Give them the smaller deals, the more transactional deals.  Don’t give them the big ones.  They always expect more.

#4.  If a sales rep really loves supporting customers more than sales (this happens all the time), maybe move them to customer success

This is a pretty common path to staffing an early CS hire or two at startups

#5.  Secondary incentives and spiffs don’t work too well here

A small spiff for handling onboarding?  Or doing QBRs?  It doesn’t really work.  Sales reps will focus on where they get the biggest commission checks.  Small spiffs really only work if they are already aligned with the primary bonus goal.

In the end, up to the first few million in ARR, do whatever works.  But as you scale toward $10m ARR and beyond, don’t plan or expect your sales team to do anything but … sell and close.  Find others to do the rest.  Everyone will be happier.

(image from here)


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