How to Transition from Sales to Customer Success

How to Transition from Sales to Customer Success
Erika Villarreal

Looking to transition into Customer Success from Sales? You are not alone.

Customer Success is a very promising career with a lot of growth opportunities. Companies are hiring more CSMs than ever so it’s the perfect time to get started.

And if you have a Sales background, you’re already one step ahead. Now it’s time to leverage that experience to best position yourself for the role.

I did it, and so can you. Here are three tips on how.

# 1: Start With Why

Simon Sinek said in his book, Start with Why, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. This is the first step towards landing the role, understanding why you want to become a CSM.

Before I landed my first CSM role in December 2020, I took time off to better understand my options. I worked in Sales, Operations, and Marketing, but I was trying to figure out what to do next. I started researching Marketing, Product Management, and Customer Success. I wrote a list of things I liked about each role, weighed the pros and cons, and made my decision.

Ultimately, I chose Customer Success for these three reasons:

  • I like talking with customers and building long-term relationships.
  • I like solving problems and helping people overcome their challenges.
  • I like strategizing (i.e. success plans) and following through to grow my accounts.

No matter what role I was in, I always asked myself how I could make my customer's experience better. I was passionate about improving their journey and I always considered how I could add more value. In the end, I always looked for ways to make my customers even more successful with our product. And that is what Customer Success is all about.

Since transitioning from Sales to CS, I’ve interacted with numerous customers across different industries. I've learned about their businesses while developing my strategic and analytical skills.

As you’re thinking about transitioning from Sales, ask yourself these questions:

  • What attracts you to a role in Customer Success?
  • What qualities in your work are most important to you?
  • Why are you making this change from Sales?
  • What makes you happy?

Personally, the last one resonates with me the most.

#2: Leverage Your Sales Background

Sales and Customer Success have a lot in common.

Before landing my first CS role, I worked in Sales at a Fintech startup. We offered payroll advance as a service to big manufacturers in Mexico. When I started researching Customer Success, I was able to identify common ground between Sales and CS and use that in my favor.

Here are some transferable skills/traits of great salespeople that you've probably picked up along your journey. Be prepared to showcase how you have exemplified these qualities in the past.

Active listening

Think of a time that you demonstrated how deeply you understood your customer's needs and had their best interests at heart. Remember, Sales is about bringing customers on board for the long run.

Curiosity

Salespeople are trained to ask the right questions at the right time. They care about the customer, understand their challenges, and recognize how the product’s capabilities can help their customer overcome their challenges. Customer Success is no different. CSMs need to ask strategic questions all the time to align with their customers and their challenges.

Resilience

Sales Reps hear “No” a lot from prospects. Maintaining a positive attitude and keeping your head held high is important. CSMs face similar pushback. There are times when CSMs feel everything is against them, but great CSMs NEVER GIVE UP. They find their way around or over obstacles to make their customers successful and they always come out of difficult situations better equipped.

Empathy

Empathy also plays a very important role in Sales. Customers are not interested in product features; they want solutions to their problems. A salesperson who is able to walk in the customer’s shoes is more likely to close the deal. CSMs need to connect with their customers at a human level. Empathy is how we build trust.

Setting expectations

Setting the right expectations is so important in both Sales and Customer Success roles. This is the first step in gaining a customer’s trust and ensuring that they will be successful with your product. It requires you to be transparent, honest, and upfront about what your product can and cannot do. It also requires you to ask tough questions. Be prepared to share a story of how you set expectations with your customers.

Identifying ideal customers

Remember, your solution is not fit for every customer. Effective salespeople use their consultative skills to identify their ideal customers and know when to hold off. If possible, discuss a time you had to hold off on closing a deal because the potential customer was not the right fit. How did you communicate this to the customer?

Meeting quotas

Last but not least, upsells and expansions. As a Sales Rep/Account Manager, your goal is to bring in revenue for the company. Spotting expansion or upsell opportunities is also vital in Customer Success. If possible, talk about a time when you identified an expansion or an upsell opportunity and what the outcome was.

#3: Learn The Language

Customer Success is full of jargon: renewals, retention, churn, success plans, business reviews, upsells, expansions… the list goes on.

I remember my first three interviews. The hiring manager asked questions that I didn’t have the answers to because I hadn’t done enough research. Needless to say, they didn’t go very well.

After three failed interviews I decided I needed to upskill my game. So here's what I did:

Once I started to feel more confident with the role and the concepts, interviews started to flow. Understanding the role and the responsibilities of a CSM played a key part in landing my first Customer Success role.

Wrap-up

Making a career change can be a difficult process, but the payoff can be very rewarding. Don’t lose hope during the job hunt. Don’t be scared, you will get there. Be yourself and let that passion for making customers successful shine.

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