What Sea Turtles Can Teach Us About Selling and Customer Success

June 04, 2020 | Written by Jake Sorofman

My kids grew up making an annual pilgrimage to the beach where our otherwise frenetic rhythms ground to a halt for one glorious week. One of their very favorite beach traditions were evening encounters (from a safe distance, of course) with baby sea turtles, those impossibly adorable creatures–who, come to think of it, may be the only reptiles that universally fit such a description. If you’ve had the good fortune to see these little buggers in action, you’ll know that they scurry from their pillowy nests to the water’s edge in a spirited dash to freedom that would make the crustiest curmudgeon downright effervescent with goodwill toward mankind.

It’s perhaps a strange story to share in a blog post like this, but there’s an important, somewhat unnerving, and highly relevant lesson to be learned from the march of sea turtles. You see, while we cheer them on as they race to the deep blue sea with that darn Chariots of Fire song stuck on a loop, we fail to recognize that their real challenge is what lies ahead. I’ll spare you the heartbreaking statistics, but let’s just say that the odds are certainly not in their favor.

Of course, that’s not the beachy narrative we choose to believe, and I only share it to point out an uncanny resemblance to how we often manage our customer relationships. The sales cycle, which we regard with great enthusiasm, is not unlike the turtle’s march to the water. When someone gets a deal over the line, we make all sorts of happy noises on the sales floor. But getting the deal done is like the turtle’s first dip into the sea. The hard work starts from there.

We can only imagine the exact details of the harrowing journey of the sea turtle making its way past the shorebreak and into the deepest blue beyond, but we’ve all seen first hand how hard it can be to get a new customer off the blocks and launched toward the success we promised.

There are multiple obstacles standing in the way, beginning with the handoff. There’s this fateful moment in the days after a deal is closed when the new customer becomes a bit anxious. All of the energy and enthusiasm wrapped up in the sales cycle makes the relative silence that follows feel downright deafening by comparison. Hope fades. Cynicism set in.

Finally intros are made and the onboarding team shows up with almost no context. The customer wonders if perhaps she made a mistake.

Which sets the tone for the implementation, the onboarding, and the QBR and renewal to follow. The relationship begins with a defensive posture as the supplier feels they’re perpetually climbing out of a hole, chasing elusive proof of value, and trying to recreate whatever magic in the sales cycle excited an appetite to formalize a commercial relationship in the first place.

So the next time you celebrate a closed deal, do so with a measure of humility–for that moment is not unlike the sea turtle’s first step into the brine. Similarly, the challenge is what lies ahead–and how you meet this challenge is what will make all the difference in building an enduring and profitable customer relationship. May the odds be in your favor.

Credit goes to MetaCXr Trevor Pearson for sharing the sea turtle analogy, but the author takes full responsibility for any torture inflicted upon said analogy in the preceding blog post.

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