Article | 12 min read

Aligning sales and customer service: how and why

Drive profits and transform your brand by breaking the silos between your sales and support teams. It’s easy, and it’s essential.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Last updated January 12, 2022

Sales and customer service should be a natural fit. Both teams work to create successful customer interactions and move the company forward. It stands to reason that they should easily support one another – unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. Because sales and customer service (CS) teams are focused on different metrics, they rarely interact with each other. Sales teams, for instance, key in on sales metrics like win rates, while CS keeps an eye on tickets closed and CSAT. That can result in customers falling through the internal cracks – and businesses paying the cost. In this piece, we’ll discuss the importance of aligning your sales and customer service teams. We’ll talk about what each team can do for the other, and how the best alignment strategies and best practices can reinvent your sales pipeline.

What are the differences between sales and customer service?

The key difference between sales and customer service is where the customer factors in. The concept of customer service should be a part of a successful sales pipeline, but at the end of the day, many sales are about pushing the product, not necessarily resolving issues. Customer satisfaction is an element, but not the point of the sales team. The point is to sell – however, market trends and customer expectations are challenging the notion of what makes up successful selling. A successful modern sales team can’t simply be transactional anymore; they need to care about building customer relationships as well. Customer service, on the other hand, is solely focused on the customer. The average customer service interaction is started by a customer coming to the company with a problem. From that point on, it’s the job of the customer service team to solve that problem. Contrary to sales, the product takes a backseat in this instance. Perhaps the customer is looking to return the product or get a refund. Customer service might try and strategise to find another solution, but they do need to eventually make the choice that most benefits the customer. This key difference of where the customer factors in is at the heart of the misalignment between sales and customer service, so let’s examine it further.

Why the misalignment?

When sales and service teams are kept separate, they lose the common focus of the customer experience. Most customers will end up interacting with both sales and customer service. But from many teams’ perspectives, the customer experience with sales has nothing to do with the experience with service. This is where companies start losing profit.

Sales teams with high KPIs are frequently pushed to meet quota at any cost. The truth is, quotas met with unqualified leads or misled customers carry the cost over to customer service. This can create tension between the teams as customer service blames sales for sour deals and sales blames customer service for not maintaining those customer relations. This resentment also hurts the company as a whole. It doesn’t matter if a sales team is going 20% above their revenue goal if all that money is being refunded by the customer service team. A net loss is still a loss. In fact, acquiring a new customer is five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one. So, how do we fix it?

Why is alignment essential?

When different teams within a company realise they are working towards a common goal and stop focusing on individual KPIs, everyone wins. Recent studies on misalignment between departments across companies of various sizes reported wasted resources of up to 60% to 70%. That’s a lot of lost revenue and allocated budget due to (primarily) miscommunication. Let’s take a closer look at how alignment benefits both the sales and the customer service departments.

How sales benefits customer service

The sales team determines the customer experience and, most importantly, sets customer expectations. A new customer is a sponge and will take in whatever information is offered to them, especially if that information is about deals or savings. Unfortunately, if that information is inconsistent, that customer’s trust will falter by the time they’re on the phone with customer service.

The customer service team adheres to strict rules. When a sales rep promises a refund that the customer service team isn’t allowed to process, that will most likely result in a lost customer. Therefore, it’s the sales team’s job to keep their promises accurate, consistent and friendly. Especially in the age of more informed online sales, accuracy is key to building customer trust. The impact of online sales on customer service is massive. Because customers are now able to enter customer service conversations armed with competitor information, company information and pricing demands, customer service needs to be similarly armed with data. The main benefit sales can give to customer service is the gift of information and key customer data. They can instantly share information like adjustments to pricing discrepancies and new changes based on competitor movements. By breaking down information silos and sharing critical data, the sales team can keep the customer service teams in the loop so they’re not hit with surprises. This, in turn, helps the customer service team maintain thriving and profitable customer relationships. In this new world, communication between sales and service not only generates revenue but also builds brand credibility and makes the customer a part of the conversation.

How customer service benefits sales

Even though customer service frequently comes after the sales aspect, it still affects sales in a variety of ways. How can good customer service increase sales? With satisfied customers. Satisfied customers will likely become repeat customers, and repeat customers are crucial to business success. Not only do repeat customers build brand credibility, but they also save radical amounts of time and money.

When customers are scarce, sales has to spend additional time generating possible leads. This process is expensive. It winds up costing companies around six to seven times as much to gain a new customer as it does to retain a current one. Meanwhile, a scrambling sales team is unlikely to generate qualified leads, so the cycle continues. In an ideal scenario, the customer service team is able to provide a quality experience so that customers not only return but are also open to upselling. Furthermore, if a customer is happy, they are likely to share their experience with potential future customers, which in turn eases the pressure on sales. With the right strategy, a business can turn its customer service team from a cost centre to a revenue generating part of the business.

Alignment strategies and best practice

We now know alignment between customer service and sales is essential, so now let’s discuss how it’s done. Below are strategies and best practice for synchronising your teams.

Five strategies that bring teams together

1. Unify the customer vision

Most companies know the first impression they want to make on the customer, but a successful company carries that impression all the way through the entire customer journey. Whether your brand is fun, compassionate, practical or analytical, that aspect needs to shine in every customer interaction, no matter who is interacting with the customer. However, customers don’t know where the internal lines are drawn within a company – and they probably don’t care. All they want is a great experience any time they interact with your brand. Over time that trust builds and makes them more likely to return in the future because they know what to expect from the company. No customer knows the job title of the people they interact with, but they do know when that interaction goes south – and any friction a customer experiences is a reason for them to look at other solutions. That’s why a smooth, seamless experience is imperative for customer retention.

2. Connect your teams digitally

Running different teams on different software when they deal with the same clients/customers is a nightmare. According to a study by 1E, US organisations wasted £22 billion on unused software over the course of a four-year study. A unified CRM allows everyone to be on the same page of the customer’s history, so that sales can accurately upsell/market and customer service can have an accurate purchase history. A single system not only lowers the total cost of ownership, but also helps streamline company productivity so that information can be passed to all parties as quickly as possible. Plus, employees don’t have to worry about being out of the loop.

3. Gather everyone together for big picture meetings

Getting everyone in the room together – even if it’s a virtual room – helps to create a more unified working environment. Similar to streamlining digital communication, getting all parties in the room for verbal communication builds a sense of responsibility, as everyone can see exactly how their efforts are contributing to the overall goals. Inclusive meetings let you touch on the issues that affect everyone. For instance, if you have customers who are high volume, high profile or otherwise VIP, it’s essential that all teams are aware of company policies for these customers. If sales gets the green light for an exclusive discount, customer service needs to be aware of that discount in the event of a call. Having all your teams in one room also gives the opportunity for members of those teams to understand each other’s work. Then they can better empathise with what information or support other teams might need.

4. Share client interests and motivations

One of the best things about the sales pipeline is that it’s never-ending; a customer can loop back in at several points, revisit or recommend another customer to the starting point. That said, the pipeline shuts down if the pipes aren’t connected. Let’s say you’ve just partnered with a new distributor, but that distributor is having trouble moving products. They call customer service and in the process they also let customer service know that, in their region, buyers are interested in a similar but different product. This information is ideal for sales. With a shared client history easily accessible in their CRM, customer service can note that this customer needed a refund but is a qualified lead for a different product. Feeding customer feedback to sales is revolutionary in how sales approaches leads and what pain points they target.

5. Foster a culture of collaboration and feedback

Even when everyone isn’t in the room together, they need a method for sharing critical information. Each team in a company usually has their own metrics of what’s working and what needs improvement. But that data might be more useful in the hands of others. Seamless collaboration between sales and service creates more opportunities for deals and helps create positive customer journeys. For instance, sales can escalate issues for their accounts and then hand them off to customer service. At the other end, customer service should be able to identify leads and seamlessly hand them off to sales. Additionally, having a clear avenue for providing feedback gives teams the power to smooth out wrinkles. If customer service is constantly getting feedback that they wish they’d had more pricing details from the start, that information needs a way to get to sales, so the issue can be solved before it causes more problems down the road. Feedback between teams can be tricky to navigate because it’s easy to make it sound like blame. But with strong managerial leadership, feedback can help everyone work together to solve problems rather than letting them fester. Try scheduling a monthly team meeting to go over metrics and stumbling blocks.

Sales and service best practice

  1. Focus on pleasing the customer, not beating the competitor

    Product superiority is a great goal to have. But it’s not the most realistic selling point. At a certain level, customers will simply have brand preferences regardless of any product advancement unless it’s a never-before-seen invention. Because of this, it’s beneficial to shift the company mindset from beating the competitor to pleasing the customer. When sales and customer service make this shift, it might seem counterintuitive but it leads to an increase in repeat customers and long-term company growth.

  2. Incorporate customer values into the company culture

    It’s easier to meet your customers at their level when your company is practising what it preaches. If you’re selling reusable and recyclable products but using non-eco-friendly methods to produce them, chances are that your target audience is going to find out about it. By incorporating your target customers’ values into your company’s day-to-day operations, you give a leg up to sales and customer service. Sales gets to back up its claims with company facts, and customer service doesn’t have to field complaints from misled consumers.

  3. Focus on great customer experiences to reduce customer churn

    Customer churn is a financial black hole for any company. It costs so much money to create a first-time customer that losing that customer is frequently an overall loss no matter the value of their purchase. Focusing on the quality of the customer experience can reduce churn and create a healthier pipeline. Customer retention is about more than just transactions – it’s about relationships. This is especially relevant in companies which deal in subscriptions or packages and may lose customers down the line, without cultivating relationships or offering benefits.

How Zendesk can align your sales and service teams

The easiest way to get everyone on the same page is to, well, put them on the same page. With Zendesk Sell and Zendesk Suite, your sales and customer service team can work on one simple, streamlined platform that interacts with the rest of your company’s software. Having full context of the entire customer journey – through a single view – empowers reps and agents to deliver personalised and relevant experiences. It creates easy access to customer accounts and it’s a way to align your departments without having to put in a ton of time or effort – and that’s the goal. Alignment is a part of running your company, but it shouldn’t be your sole focus. That’s why Zendesk was created: to help you do more faster. Request a demo and start aligning your teams today.

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Simplify your sales tools

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