Jul 22, 2021

6 min

Rules of Engagement for Customer Success and Sales: Considerations and Examples


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Setting rules of engagement saves your team time, money, and energy. By creating healthy boundaries, Customer Success and Sales don’t have to spend their days assessing and arguing over every expansion situation. Laying ground rules for how teams work together leads to greater productivity and efficiency while reducing cross-functional friction. You can win more deals faster when teams stay in their operating lanes instead of causing undue congestion, territorial clashes, and destructive road rage.

Your rules of engagement should be based on which team is genuinely the best fit in each scenario and has the greatest likelihood of gaining sales traction. In this article, we cover the top considerations for identifying that best fit, as well as examples of expansion scenarios for applying the rules.

As a final note before we dive in: Be prepared to constantly amend your rules of engagement. It’s impossible to account for every expansion scenario, so you’ll need to refine your rules as you encounter new situations.

6 Considerations for Creating Rules of Engagement

As you write your rules of engagement, you’ll want to keep these common considerations in mind. To understand the full context of a situation, you don’t want to weigh these factors independent of one another. Instead, consider all the factors together to ensure you make the most informed decisions possible.

  1. Customer comfortability and experience

When creating internal rules and processes, teams have a habit of prioritizing their own needs above the needs of the customer. They think through the lens of efficiency – “How can I make this easier for myself?” – instead of approaching the situation from the customer’s point of view and what’s best for them. As you think through the buying experience, consider what interaction will make the most sense to the customer and what will make the customer feel most comfortable and entrusting.


  1. Circle of influence

Building on the point above, when determining expansion ownership, you want to quantify the established relationships between a Customer Success Manager or salesperson and the customer. As a Customer Success Manager, if you’re trying to expand product usage or introduce a new feature within the same team or business unit you’ve been working with, then it likely makes sense for you to own that expansion. (A caveat being feature complexity, of course.) But if a new decision-maker is involved, that might align the opportunity closer with a new deal that Sales is better equipped to handle. Always factor in how far removed the seller is from the product or person being sold, as well as their circle of influence.


  1. Product and process complexity

The complexity of your product, your sales process, and your customer’s buying process will likely be the biggest determinants of expansion ownership. Are your expansion pathways (cross-sells and upsells) more transactional or complex in nature? A transactional model has greater volume, fewer stakeholders, faster sales cycles, and less risk. Whereas a complex model is the total opposite and typically much more involved. For example, let’s say you offer two distinct products – Product A and Product B – that fall under the same Solution umbrella. Your customer already purchased and uses Product A, which qualifies them as a strong candidate for Product B. But selling Product B requires a whole net-new sales cycle. So, although the customer is staying within the same Solution offering and team for the purposes of the sale, due to the involvedness of the sales process and contract logistics, Sales might be the better owner. This type of expansion can quickly become a distraction for Customer Success, which is why their capacity must also be a top consideration.


  1. Customer Success Manager capacity

Do your Customer Success Managers have the capacity or the desire to do the actual prospecting work required to expand further into the organization of their existing accounts? If not, it may make sense for Customer Success to own expansion that’s confined to customers who they have an existing relationship with and for Sales to own expansion that’s essentially a new deal that just happens to fall within the same organization. When weighing these decisions, consider your Customer Success Manager’s full scope of work. For most Customer Success Managers, the majority of their daily responsibilities revolves around making the customer successful. So, if you want to tack new inside sales onto their job description, then something has to give. And usually, that means significantly reducing a Customer Success Manager’s book of business, which is not always a viable or desired alternative.


  1. Visibility into buying signals

When determining expansion ownership, it’s also helpful to consider which team has the most visibility into buying signals. If Customer Success has the best insight into customer behavior and usage to identify certain buying triggers, then they should likely own that expansion. But if Customer Success isn’t even aware of other interest from within their customer’s organization, perhaps because it involves an entirely different team or a new product, it may be more appropriate for Sales to own. It come back to who’s best equipped to identify the value and benefit of the product you’re selling and market that to the customer. And sometimes, there are instances where both teams are equally fit to sell the customer, which brings us to our last point on finding opportunities for revenue-shares.


  1. Revenue-shares

If you encounter a scenario where you could argue in favor of either Customer Success or Sales owning the expansion, which you will, it may indicate a good opportunity for a revenue-share. For example, let’s say Sales is better suited to prospect into a new business unit, but it’s impossible for them to make any headway without an introduction from a CSM. In this scenario, even though Sales may take the lion’s share of the commission, by implementing a revenue-share, you reward everyone’s participation. For example, Sales may get 75% comp for doing the brunt of the expansion work and the CSM gets the remaining 25%, not only for making introductions, but also for their long-term work of building a trusted reputation and maintaining strong relationships that Sales is then able to heavily lean against.


Rules of Engagement Scenario Examples

Now that we’ve discussed broader considerations for creating your rules of engagement, here are a few examples of common use cases for applying your rules.

Churned Customers

Considerations: Duration of time since a customer churned

Example: Customer Success owns new deals for one year after a customer’s end date. Sales owns new deals after the customer’s one-year churn anniversary.

Opt-Out Customers

Considerations: Duration of time since a customer opts out

Example: Sales owns new deals after a customer’s opt-out date.

New Business from Customer Referrals or Moved Points of Contact (POCs)

Considerations: Customer referrals and moved POCs

Example: Sales owns new business from customer referrals or moved POCs; Customer Success must pass all referrals.

Acquisition (Acquiring or Acquired) Companies


  • New deals at the new company
    • Example: If there isn’t an existing opportunity at the new company, all expansion (new units, licenses, add-ons, etc.) is owned by Customer Success.
  • Existing sales-owned opportunities at the new company
    • Consider the opportunity’s stage and win probability
    • Example: New deals (i.e., new contracts) will be split between Customer Success and Sales based on the opportunity stage. If there’s no new deal within six months of the acquisition date, the opportunity transfers to Customer Success.
  • Length of rule adherence following a company acquisition
    • Example: 18 months after the acquisition date, all scenarios revert to standard rules.

Business Unit Deals

Considerations: Company size (SMB, MM, Enterprise) and solution portfolio (depth/breadth)

Example: For Enterprise customers, new deals will be split between Sales (75%) and Customer Success (25%).

Rule Under a United Front

The effectiveness and ultimate success of your rules of engagement comes down to your leadership. How leaders speak about and handle the rules determines how others speak about and handle the rules. So, if leaders approach the rules as a collaborative effort and present them as such, teams will react the same way. Treat your rules of engagement as a real partnership. Encourage team collaboration instead of combativeness. The rules can’t overly favor one team. Customer Success and Sales both need to play in the same sandbox. With these considerations in mind, you can create rules of engagement that drives high sales performance, as well as a positive workplace culture built on trust and healthy competition.


To learn more about how to build stronger partnerships between Customer Success and Sales, check out these resources:


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