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Customer Success Operations vs Sales Operations: Why You Need Both

SalesOps is NOT the same as CSOps. Customer success professionals need their own focus so we can do our job.
Stefan Palios
August 30, 2022

A dollar from a new sale is not the same as a dollar from customer success. 

And we’re not just talking about how much cheaper it is to earn more revenue from current customers. Earning that dollar requires a different operational skillset depending on where it comes from.

In a lot of companies, customer success operations (or “CSOps”) gets smushed in with sales operations (SalesOps) under the broader revenue operations (RevOps) umbrella to save time and generate “synergies.” But that creates an enormous success operations problem: the two jobs are completely different and combining them is a disservice to your customers, the poor employees on your RevOps team, and your top (and bottom) lines.

Regardless of economic times, you need dedicated CSOps. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a newly hired person or team, just a function that’s called out and given some resourcing. But it needs to exist separately and distinctly from SalesOps if you like growing revenues.

Customer Success Operations vs. SalesOps: Definitions

It’s all operations, right? Wrong. SalesOps and CSOps are two distinctly different practices, both of which fall under the broader RevOps umbrella.

SalesOps: Make revenue acquisition and retention smooth and predictable

SalesOps teams operate with the goal of smoothing out how companies make more money from new customers.

Customer Success Operations: Protect and grow existing revenue

CSOps is a specialty that focuses exclusively on protecting and growing existing revenue streams. Sometimes it sits within the CS team, other times it has a dotted-line connection to RevOps or sits entirely within RevOps. 

While success is also measured in dollars, the path to get there is different from the path to new revenue. Instead of simply new revenue (which is SalesOps’ focus), CSOps focuses on engagement, health of the customer, product use, and successes.

Why you can’t combine CSOps with SalesOps

RevOps is a big umbrella that contains both new sales and customer success. But under that umbrella, CSOps needs its own focus. If that focus isn’t granted, two bad things happen that can ruin revenue growth:

1. Delays leading to lost upsell opportunities

When CSOps is simply one part of SalesOps, all CS requests get merged with the full list of ops tickets submitted by the rest of the company. And that means delays. Lots of them.

SalesOps teams are pressed for time and resources as it is, given the aggressive push in almost all businesses for new customers. So when CS makes a request, it’s put on the list and often push farther down the list whenever a “high priority” sales request comes in.

The delays that CS leaders contend with can last days, weeks, or even months depending on the growth trajectory of the company and available SalesOps resources. All the while, upsell and expansion opportunities go unfulfilled because the CS team doesn’t have the time or resources to act on them. Or, perhaps worse, the CS team misses churn risks due to bad data or lack of visibility into customer health scores.

2. A pure sales mindset doesn’t work in customer success

Operations teams are supposed to make execution easier. However, when new-revenue focused SalesOps practitioners do get around to helping CS out, they often do it purely from a sales lens. While this is helpful for the last step of closing an expansion opportunity, it’s unhelpful for cultivating lasting relationships with the goal of retention.

This sales-only mindset can mess with CS operations leading to increased churn (of customers, employees, or both) and an overall situation where CS can’t do its job properly.

The keys to success in customer success operations

CSOps can be its own team  (the "success operations team" led by a "success operations manager") if your company scale calls for it. Or it can be a specialization within RevOps at smaller sizes. Regardless, here are some keys for success:

1. It’s about focus, not necessarily headcount: Customer success ops needs dedicated focus. This might mean a full-time employee or even a full-time team, but size depends on company needs. At smaller sizes, it could even be one person doing both SalesOps and CSOps, provided both are equally prioritized in the person’s day.

2. Create handoff policies and processes: CSOps starts where SalesOps ends, which means the handoff can be a painful process. The best practice is to have a customer success platform with CRM integrations—that means all sales data moves over automatically—but if you don’t have one yet, at least ensure sales is delivering information to CSOps through forms and shared documents.

3. Build feedback loops: CSOps and SalesOps have a huge opportunity to share some resources and best practices with one another. Don’t let this slip by. They are separate focuses but can talk to one another about what makes a great customer buy, stick around, and expand.

4. Empower with tech: The right customer success platform will help SalesOps have visibility into what CSOps is up to, making collaboration easier and ensuring CSOps can focus on its own work.

5: Set up your CS ops team for success: A good CS ops team—whether that's one person focusing half-time or a team of people—needs to work in tandem with both the sales team and customer success team. That means having a CS ops manager role who can collaborate with customer success managers, the existing ops team in the company, and the customer service or customer experience team(s).

Two streams in service of one goal

Both SalesOps and CSOps teams act in service of revenue, but of different kinds. That means they need to be separate, but both are critical and necessary.

For companies that merge the two teams, a clear focus is necessary—CSOps must be a specialized practice within RevOps if it is to be successful. And once your company is big enough, CSOps should have its own dedicated full-time focus to ensure existing customers get the same quality of service they received when they were prospects because, after all, every customer is a prospect for life when it comes to subscription-based services.

PS: If you’re looking to supercharge your CSOps, check out Catalyst

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