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In customer success, it is commonly believed that one cannot sell and be a trusted advisor. “If I try to sell something to my customer, I’ll lose all that trust I’ve built up over the past several months,” we say. This is a misguided belief that does not consider the entire picture of what being a trusted advisor actually is. The truth is quite the opposite: one cannot be a trusted advisor without selling.

Here’s what I mean. 

One fundamental principle of customer success is that we proactively help customers make progress with the products they purchase from us. No matter how your company defines customer success, how job descriptions are written, who customer success reports to, what customer success actually owns or doesn’t own; in the end, our job is to proactively help customers. 

If we believe this to be true, why do we think we should stop helping when a potential sale is the next step in the process of helping a customer? 

A few examples:

  1. As customers grow users, it may require purchasing a higher user tier. 
  2. If a customer wants to expand into an adjacent function, it may require them to purchase another product module. 
  3. As their use of your product becomes mission critical, it may require they purchase premium support. 
  4. As a customer wants to more tightly integrate your product with other software services, it may require purchasing professional services. 

We must help customers to the point at which, in order for them to achieve their goals, they must grow their relationship with us. We can only earn trust by helping customers make the connection between purchasing additional services and achieving their goals. This is how customer success managers sell and become trusted advisors. 

As Kristen Hayer, CEO of The Success League says, “At this point, the sales process is just paperwork.” Because customer success has already helped customers realize the value of adding the additional services required to make further progress. 

I know what you must be thinking, “Customer success doesn’t own the renewal in our organization, so this does not apply to me.” You might not own the renewal or any official sales responsibility, but selling as a trusted advisor does apply to you. In fact, Kristen and I did not aim to make a case whether customer success should own the renewal or have any selling responsibility in any job description. We sought instead to help customer success teams answer the question, “How can we create the most value for customers and help our organizations capture some of that value?” 

The answer to that question is selling as a trusted advisor. 

It is also how one becomes a valuable, indispensable, player. 

So it doesn’t matter whether customer success owns the renewal. We should act like we do. 

On March 4, 2021, Kristen Hayer and I made this case in our talk titled “Selling as a trusted advisor” at the Strikedeck Spark Summit. We offered a three step process for how a customer success manager can sell as a trusted advisor, even if, and especially if, one does not own the renewal. We’d love it if you watch the recording here.