Five Tips for Improving the Post-Sales Handoff
Last month, we unpacked Level 1 of the maturity model, which focused on the steps necessary to achieve alignment between sellers and prospects around a shared understanding of value. Here, the goal is to document the key outcomes the buyer wants to achieve and the mutual action plan you agree upon in service of achieving these outcomes. The objective of Level 1 is to consummate a commercial relationship between a supplier and buyer on the basis of a clearly documented understanding of what both parties want and expect.
After the contract is signed—and frankly even in the days leading up to that moment—you need to start thinking about Level 2: Delivery.
Level 2 is where the rubber meets the road—where the promises established in Level 1 are put to practice for the first time. It’s when the customer gets to see for themselves how these promises cohere with reality. And this experience sets the tone for the rest of the relationship.
Level 2 begins with the post-sales handoff, which is arguably the most important part of a B2B customer relationship–but it’s fumbled with alarming regularity. When I talk about this handoff, with nearly universal consistency, I hear the same groan of recognition.
That damn handoff …
The truth is that the buyer is notably on edge during this phase because they’ve been burned before. We’re familiar with what that looks like. We’re promised the moon during the sales process, but what follows can feel like something else entirely. Thanks to some combination of misaligned incentives, hamfisted communications, and broken cross-functional processes, the experience that comes after the deal closes is generally the low point in the relationship. Ideally, it should be a continuation of the goodwill and momentum generated in the sales cycle.
Here are five things you can do today to make the handoff memorable for your customers in the right sort of ways.
1. Create a shared success plan
A successful handoff cannot happen unless you’ve satisfied the conditions of Level 1. Be sure you’ve adequately documented and achieved alignment on a definition of target outcomes and a mutual action plan with the prospect. Once they become a customer, this becomes the living record of the relationship that travels with them as they progress through subsequent phases.
2. Introduce stakeholders before the deal closes
Even if you’ve established a friendly rapport with the buyer, on some level they don’t trust you. More specifically, they don’t trust that your company will deliver on exactly what you’ve promised. Demonstrate otherwise by introducing the implementation, onboarding and/or success teams before the deal is closed. If you can, bring them into the conversation directly, but even simply giving them a name and a face and a backstory will help to allay the fear that, once the contract is signed, they’ll be left alone in the wilderness to fend for themselves.
3. Communicate early and often
Here’s a rule of thumb: if your customer asks for an update, they’re probably not satisfied with the pace and frequency of your company’s communication. Particularly in the early days of a new customer relationship, silence after the contract is signed can be deafening relative to the pomp and circumstance that preceded it. Get ahead of this by ensuring you have a thoughtful, orchestrated communication plan that ensures your customer feels that you’ve got them.
4. Celebrate milestones
The sales process can feel like #winning because of the energy and enthusiasm of the sales rep. But once the deal is closed, the energy can feel starkly different, which is jarring to a new customer. Creating a mutual action plan allows you to create momentum in the relationship by acknowledging each accomplishment with a micro-celebration. I’m not suggesting throwing a party. Memorialize the small wins with appropriately timed reminders that progress is being made. It may feel insignificant, but the assurance will go a long way to counteract doubt.
5. Rethink incentives
Salespeople are coin operated machines. Where the incentive goes, the effort flows. While they may not own the post-sales relationship, be sure they’re compensated to really care that it goes well. This means holding them accountable to Level 1 in the maturity model–a clearly articulated definition of target outcomes and a mutual action plan–and cooperation with the handoff procedures. While it may be a bridge too far today, at some point sellers will likely be compensated on outcome achievement for customers. Ultimately, that will ensure they’re making promises the company can keep and sustaining interest after the deal is closed.
Hugs, not handoffs
Someone recently mentioned that they want their experience to feel like hugs, not handoffs. Figuratively speaking, this is the exact right way to think about the initiation of the post-sales experience. Fumble the handoff and you’re on your back foot from the very beginning. Get it right and you’re on your way to an easy renewal and a lasting and profitable relationship.