In 2018 at INBOUND, Brian Halligan explained why HubSpot retired the funnel for the flywheel. Essentially, approaching business in a linear way to measure growth is a weakness. While the funnel produced customers, it didn't consider how you can delight customers to attract more people to your business (i.e. how marketing impacts sales impacts service impacts marketing, etc).

To truly delight your customers, you need to have a seamless process of going from prospect to customer. That's where sales and service alignment comes in. But how does this work? And why is this important?

To find out, we talked to executive customer success leaders about why you need to foster sales and service alignment and how to do it. Let's dive in.

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Why is Sales and Service Alignment Important?

Are your sales and service organizations truly aligned, or do they work in silos separate from each other? According to the experts, while many organizations don't focus on sales and service alignment, they should.

Lauren Locke-Paddon, the VP of Customer Success at Vocal Video, says, "Organizations that recognize the value of the customer experience teams as part of the revenue team (aka the holy grail of sales/service alignment) will see stronger customer acquisition, retention, and expansion."

Keep in mind that when a prospect goes through the sales process, they're going through the customer experience. These teams need to be aligned because the customer experience starts at marketing, goes through sales, and then goes through customer service (and most likely, customers go round and round this journey).

"It's extremely difficult for a customer to have an amazing experience if Sales and Service lack alignment," Helena Young, the VP of Customer Success and League, Inc. says. "The ultimate goal is to set expectations amongst all parties to deliver an amazing customer experience."

Since the customer journey isn't linear, the approach to sales and service shouldn't be either. These teams need to be aligned and working together throughout the customer experience, allowing engagement to be hyper-personalized and relevant.

Ultimately, the goal is to "formalize operational ‘bridges' across multiple levels (team to executive level), forcing a level of ongoing communication and alignment across the teams," Karen Tang, VP of Customer Success at ActiveCampaign, adds.

When your sales and customer service teams are aligned, you'll be able to serve the customer and help them grow, which will then help your company grow.

Nakul Kadaba, a Consulting Manager at HubSpot, says, "Sales and service teams with full alignment are consistent in structuring the right products/services for their customers, when appropriate. Furthermore, alignment allows for a feedback loop between both teams, and opportunities to improve internal operations."

With the right sales and service alignment, there will be clarity on your teams and a formalized method in place to help your company grow.

Viplove Bhojwani, the CEO at MarketSquads, Inc., explains, "These are two essential pillars of an organization. If the service and sales team work together, it adds a lot of value to your company. You have recurring revenue, you have happy clients, you have more sales."

"At the end of the day, business at scale is about friction reduction. Sales and service alignment isn't just important; it's the only way." - Gustavo Nascimento, Customer Support Manager at HubSpot.

1. Structure your teamwork.

To align the sales and customer service teams, you need to have structured teamwork in place. This means providing clarity on how these teams interact, how they can help each other, etc. Bhojwani says, "The responsibilities need to be aligned quite well. Everybody should know what their role is. Think about where sales and service reps need each other to build a relationship with a customer."

Additionally, it's important to make this alignment known across your organization. Locke-Paddon, says, "Bring the service organization along for the ride in the pre-sales processes, celebrations, & compensation. All too often customer service teams are left out of the attention lavished on sales. By creating a regular process for them to contribute to the pre-sales process with unbiased product expertise during interactions like demos, celebrating their contributions at sales meetings, and paying commissions on deals, CX teams can be motivated to greater alignment with sales."

2. Incentivize customer stories.

What's a great tactic for marketers and salespeople to attract people to your organization? Customer stories and testimonials.

"Customer service should be sharing customer stories regularly with sales (as well as marketing, product, etc.)," Locke-Paddon explains. "Great customer stories often remain trapped with CX organizations because sharing them is often a favor outside the scope of the role. Fix that by making it a part of the job's key performance indicators (KPI)."

Besides making customer stories a KPI, you can also incentivize customer stories by working on building your collaboration with fun, culture-focused activities. Nascimento says, "Think SQLs, competitions, clawback processes, and zoom parties with magicians if that's your thing. Having incentives that drive collaboration in an effort to win across the board, not just within your own department is crucial to team building and the eventual fun required to be most effective within your role. Fun.is.required. And you want to have it chasing something together."

3. Provide tools for referral and account expansion.

So far we've learned that we need to be intentional about sales and service alignment. Another way to do this is by providing tools and incentives for account expansion and referrals.

Tang explains, "Customer Service can convert a support interaction to a potential expansion opportunity. Create systematic handoff opportunities in your CRM that can track expansion leads to sales."

Locke-Paddon expands further, "Customer service teams can be a great source of hot leads for sales. By training CX professionals to ask for referrals (and paying them for it) and making it easy for them to share with their sales teammates, CX professionals can really earn a seat at the revenue table."

4. Harmonize the ideal customer.

Before we continue, let's review some basic information about business. You can't succeed without having an ideal customer that each team agrees on and works for.

Young says, "Architecting a strong Sales to Service transition begins with agreeing on the ideal customer. This process minimizes the strife associated with onboarding and operationalizing an ill-fit customer."

Each team needs to understand the ideal customer -- their wants, needs, challenges, and pain points. To make sure your organization is aligned, clearly communicate this information to both your sales and service teams.

5. Partner on solutions.

Sometimes when a prospect has a problem, they communicate that to the sales team during their purchasing process. At this point, the sales and service teams need to partner together to make sure your company can deliver the right solution. Think about questions like "What are the needs of the customer?" and "What do they want to see from your product or service?"

Young says, "Once a deal is at a certain degree of confidence it's important to partner on established solutions that will meet the needs of the customer. These steps allow us to align expectations with the customer, sales, and service."

Without this partnership and communication, customer success managers will have a hard time meeting the needs of the customer and providing excellent customer service. Sales and service teams need to work together so each team has the context they need to provide a best-in-class experience, from prospect to customer.

6. Facilitate debriefs along the customer journey.

For your sales and service teams to be aligned, they need to communicate with one another. One way to do this is to set up debriefs along the customer journey.

Young says, "Facilitating cross-functional debriefs after certain customer touchpoints provides an opportunity for the organization to capture and apply lessons learned to the Sales and Service process."

This means having frequent and intentional communication. Kadaba adds, "Whether through communication platforms like Slack or having recurring meetings with key stakeholders from both teams, communicating frequently and intentionally on challenges to achieve full alignment can depict issues, and offers a space to devise solutions."

Additionally, there should be formalized processes in place to share knowledge between the teams. Tang says, "Customer Service teams have deep product and technical expertise (that they can share with the sales team). Leverage your enablement team to formalize ways of sharing knowledge between sales and service."

7. Common vision and shared metrics.

Once the two teams have really started to work together, it's important to measure success. Tang suggests "developing shared OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and goals at the Sales and Customer Service leadership level."

Doing this will not only help you track success, but will also motivate your teams. Kadaba says, "Having a common vision and shared metrics between your sales and service teams motivates both to communicate actively on helping your customers find success, knowing they are incentivized similarly."

8. Encourage internal mobility.

Another way to foster sales and service alignment is to encourage internal mobility.

Kadaba says, "Encouraging internal mobility between your Sales and Service teams maintains knowledge sharing, and gives opportunities for those who made internal moves to identify where alignment can improve -- be it communication, process, or approach taken by either team."

This is something that we at HubSpot do as well. Nascimento comes from a background in sales but ended up in support leadership. He says, "In support, we send a lot of people to other departments but also receive recruits from other departments. Open doors from an internal mobility perspective serve to create some of the strongest foundational relationships within our business today, and build several of the leaders of tomorrow with vectors aligned."

To encourage internal mobility, you'll want to create unity and clarity from a skill development standpoint.

Nascimento recommends "establishing a holistic competency-based framework that applies to all employees regardless of role. Within any flywheel, there are going to be shared competencies required for the reduction of friction. We don't all do the same job but we do chase the same mission with many of the same tools."

9. Use the right technology.

Of course, a huge component of alignment in this day and age is technology and automation. For sales and service teams to be aligned, they need to have the same customer information and know about previous conversations a customer has had with people on the sales or service teams.

Bhojwani says, "Tools like HubSpot can really help because when you create those funnels, everybody knows their responsibilities automatically. Automation and technology together can be very helpful. At the same time, you have to be improving the process because no process is perfect."

At this point, I think we all realize how important it is to have your sales and customer service teams aligned. To start working toward alignment, follow these expert tips and set up intentional communication between the two departments.

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Originally published Sep 27, 2021 5:00:00 PM, updated September 28 2021

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