With the effects of the pandemic continuing to linger and with fears of a pending recession, many organizations are dedicating more resources to customer retention and expansion. The need to better engage existing customers has accelerated that focus as net-new business has slowed across many sectors. So, organizations are shifting attention to customer success teams to help retain and grow existing customers.

But we must remember that customer success is not solely a team in an organization. It is a business operating model, a growth strategy focused on outcomes. The value attributed to your offering from the impact of your customers’ outcomes achievement is table stakes for success and revenue growth.

If revenue growth is the goal, then the mission of the customer success team is to generate revenue from existing customers. The team helps to create the conditions for retention and expansion by building trust-based relationships. It relentlessly drives customers toward their outcomes, measuring value along the way, and connects them to the success criteria that customers defined early in the relationship. The customer success team is able to identify expansion opportunities because it has demonstrated value from those outcomes. It is sales because of success.

Though the team has commercial responsibility, should we really be calling it “the new sales”? Not so fast. Calling it “the new sales” is misleading because it:

  • Adds to the confusion on roles involved in revenue generation. Calling customer success “sales” can cause confusion across the revenue teams. It can potentially perpetuate already existing confusion between sales, account management, and customer success, especially if roles and responsibilities have not been clearly defined as the business grows. More importantly, it can create turf wars if sales and account management teams feel as though their territory — and their compensation — is being infringed upon.
  • Muddies already muddy waters on the unique value that customer success teams bring to the organization. Many executives and companies have still not fully grasped what customer success is and the value it provides to the organization. Far too many see customer success as customer support or the “customer happiness” team, or an admin role that is the single point of contact for customers. Customer success is its own organization with its own focus: customer outcomes and value realization. Though customer success is a revenue-generating organization that directly impacts the company’s bottom line, simply calling it “sales” is a misnomer and erodes the value it brings to the broader organization.
  • Blurs reporting structures. To whom does customer success report if it’s deemed “the new sales”? What happens to the CCO? Chief customer officers act as the glue across the organization by providing valuable customer insights to drive growth and retention. They measure adoption, health, and retention/churn and leverage those insights to help sales increase win rates and grow accounts. Most of all, they focus on the overall customer experience. A strong CCO can zoom out and see the big picture and analyze competitive as well as product dynamics. They can understand the customer at the executive level. What other leader has the right skills and experience to manage these teams and the strategy as effectively?

Words matter. Calling customer success “the new sales” only complicates things when so many organizations are still trying to figure it out. Both functions have different meanings, metrics, and compensation models. Customer success is about the long term and is not quota bearing. If the team takes on that role, it will cause confusion for the customer and detract from their experience because it fails to fully consider the customer’s goals and timelines. Instead, allow customer success to build relationships centered on trust to deliver on customer outcomes and value realization. Read The Role Of Customer Success In Building Trust to start today.