Apr 15, 2021

5 min

3 Key Takeaways From ‘Customer Expansion and Customer Success’ Panel

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Customer acquisition often gets all the glory in SaaS.

But if you don’t retain (and more importantly grow) the customers you have, growing your own business becomes a Sisyphean task – forever filling a leaky bucket.

Customer expansion is transformative to your team and bottom line, which helps recover revenue lost to churn and rising customer acquisition costs.

At ChurnZero’s recent virtual RYG, we held a panel discussion with Customer Success leaders who offered up their best advice on how to:

  • Weigh the pros and cons of Customer Success owning expansion
  • Make your Customer Success team comfortable with upsells and cross-sells
  • Better align with sales to drive expansion

ChurnZero vRYG panelists included:

Here’s the recap of the top takeaways from our panel discussion. 

1. There’s no one right way to handle expansion ownership

Expansion ownership is a continuous evolution that often depends on your product’s complexity and your company’s maturity. As your company and product evolve, so too will your structure for expansion ownership.

Bearing this in mind, a definitive answer to whether Customer Success or sales should own expansion doesn’t exist. While acknowledging this reality, both panelists shared their current structures for expansion ownership.

Since CSMs work with customers every day, Jennifer Griffin, Vice President of Customer Success at TrustRadius, says they are in a prime position to uncover expansion opportunities. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they should own the expansion opportunity end-to-end.

“When I first started at TrustRadius, we did not have an account management function,” says Griffin. “All that [responsibility] fell to the CSMs. It was with mixed success. We found that the logistics of the paperwork and the red lines weren’t great for Customer Success. That’s why we kept that division there.”

While the Customer Success team works closely with sales to conduct joint account reviews, Customer Success owns the customer relationship and sales owns the expansion.

Jennifer MacIntosh, Vice President of Customer Experience at MindBridge, says their Customer Success team maintains a similar division where sizeable expansion opportunities are passed to the sales team. MacIntosh explains that using ChurnZero, the Customer Success team logs Customer Success Qualified Leads (CSQLs) and runs an automated play to transfer those leads to their CRM where the sales team can convert them to an opportunity if it’s a viable upsell or cross-sell.

Offering up a contrasting take, Bri Adams, Manager of Customer Success at ChurnZero, adds that their CSMs completely own the customer relationship once a contract is signed (including all expansion). As the customer-facing product experts in the organization, their CSMs are the best positioned to clearly articulate and demonstrate product value. “Anytime we have those expansion conversations, it’s always driven by the CSM,” says Adams. “Our sales team even occasionally pulls in a CSM for pre-sales conversations with a prospect.”

Additional Resources:

2. Selling doesn’t help, helping sells

To get your CSMs more comfortable with selling, MacIntosh turns to the words of Bill Cashard: selling doesn’t help, helping sells. She explains that if CSMs are helping their customers achieve their outcomes and goals, then there’s no selling needed. Echoing this sentiment, Griffin says that the biggest expansion consideration is ensuring that the upsell aligns with your customers’ goals.

“What you want to avoid is ‘This new feature that costs money came out. Quick everybody go have a meeting and push it really hard. Jam this new feature down their throat.’ It’s much more about a CSM using those skills to say, ‘Wow, this feature came out. I know these three customers of mine are a perfect fit. I can’t wait to get it in front of them and get them excited,’” says Griffin.

If the upsell truly ties back to your customer’s goals, it shouldn’t feel like a sell.

Additionally, MacIntosh recommends light sales training (emphasis on light) to equip CSMs with the basic skills needed to facilitate sales conversations.

“As soon as [a customer] says let’s talk dollars, [the CSM thinks], ‘I can’t. I’m not allowed to say anything about that.’ I don’t want them to feel like that,” says MacIntosh. “I want them to be comfortable enough to have an early conversation and say, ‘We can talk a little bit about this, but let me bring in someone who is more comfortable with doing that.’”

Additional Resources:

3. Create transparency and accountability between Sales and Customer Success

To prevent functional friction between Customer Success and Sales you must delineate responsibilities and have clear lines of accountability when it comes to renewals and expansion. 

“There’s a lot to manage here, especially as we talk about renewals,” says MacIntosh. “For example, is this going to be a flat renewal? Is there going to be a small expansion? Or is this an opportunity to really go big?”

All team members should have complete visibility into who owns what segment of your renewal and expansion processes. When not abused, transparency builds trust and empathy between teams.

“You’re working so closely with [sales] that you want them to know exactly what’s going on with your customers – the good things and the bad things,” says Adams. “That visibility is [how] your team is going to work really efficiently if everybody knows what’s going on.”

When planning joint customers calls that involve both the CSM and AE, make sure both sides are clear on not only the overall intention of the conversation, but also the specific talking points that will be covered. “That’s really key because a lot of times we assume the other person knows what the point of the call is and we have not made that clear,” says Griffin.

Customer Success and sales workdays are often dictated by the schedules and needs of their customers and prospects. In this type of fast-paced work environment with daily shifting priorities, it’s critical that both teams operate and make decisions based on the same information. Otherwise, you risk missing expansion opportunities from team misalignment and mixed signals (or no signals at all).

Maintaining a single source of truth for your customer data improves productivity and keeps everyone on the same page – and team. “A never-ending goal is to make sure that we’re attacking the account as a team, not as two separates,” say Griffin.  

Additional Resources:


Check out our Customer Expansion Knowledge Hub to learn the strategies and tactics that will help your team drive effective account expansion.

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Be sure to sign up for our newsletter for upcoming vRYG details, plus get our latest blog, resources, and event updates delivered to your inbox each week.


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