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Unlocking Business Success: Understanding the Roles of Sales, Customer Success, and Customer Service

In today's competitive business landscape, organizations need to prioritize customer satisfaction and long-term relationships to thrive. To achieve this, it's essential to understand the distinct roles and responsibilities of sales, customer success, and customer service. In this blog post, we will explore the differences between these functions and highlight the crucial role of customer success. As a leading knowledge source in customer success, STEAM Vitality is dedicated to helping businesses excel in driving customer-centric revenue enhancement. If you're interested in working with us, reach out today to schedule a discovery call and unlock your business's true potential.

As the CEO and founder of STEAM Vitality, my experience working in contract renewals as a Senior Customer Success Account Manager at Microsoft, followed by my role as an Account Executive for Higher Education and Academic Medical Centers for Microsoft's Midwest accounts, has provided me with invaluable insights into the world of customer success, customer support and sales.

Throughout my first eight years at Microsoft, my primary focus was on measuring client health and delivering proactive services announcements "just in time" for the right client, at the right time. Working closely with Sales, I ensured that the Account team and solution sellers were informed of any adoption challenges that needed to be addressed before considering selling new innovations.

In high-touch client environments, it was often fixable to address any adoption issues promptly. However, in cases where there was limited access to the client, neglecting such issues could be catastrophic, resulting in significant resource investment from various support and executive level across the business and potentially losing the client's trust. I often found myself advocating for my clients' health while also prioritizing Microsoft's success, standing "toe to toe" with Microsoft sales leaders to strike the right balance.

My dedication and expertise led to me being nominated by those same leaders to Microsoft's Health and Life Sciences Technical Council as the Technical Council Leader for customer success in the United States East. This role provided me with immense responsibility, including defining strategies for Sales' interactions with customer success and customer support/reactive support.

Capturing Opportunities

Sales professionals play a vital role in the initial stages of the customer journey. Their responsibilities include prospecting for potential customers, generating leads, and ultimately closing deals. They are at the forefront of capturing opportunities and driving revenue growth for the company. Their responsibilities extend beyond just prospecting and generating leads; they are the frontline warriors who capture opportunities and drive revenue growth for the company. But their role goes even deeper. Sales professionals are responsible for matching the organization's target market to the right clients. They have the critical task of determining if the revenue generated is not just good revenue but also the right fit for the organization.

Let's consider two hypothetical clients, Client A and Client B. Client A is enthusiastic about the products and services offered by the organization, willing to invest deeply and become a valuable partner. This type of client presents a higher chance of building long-term value and becoming a useful customer advocate. By delighting Client A, they are likely to spread positive word-of-mouth, reducing the cost of acquiring new customers through referrals.

On the other hand, there is Client B, who approaches the purchasing decision with hesitation, opting for a lesser level of services and showing lukewarm interest in the brand. While it's possible to transform Client B into a healthy high-touch client through targeted efforts, it's essential to recognize that any early challenges or dissatisfaction may result in higher costs to retain this client. Moreover, negative word-of-mouth can significantly damage the organization's brand reputation.

This is where the Sales professional's expertise comes into play. At the beginning of the sales cycle, they have the opportunity to evaluate not only the right budget and timing but also the suitability of the client for the organization. By asking the right questions and assessing the alignment between the client's needs and the organization's offerings, Sales professionals can ensure they are bringing on clients who are a good fit, have the potential for long-term value, and align with the organization's mission and values.

In my transition to becoming the Microsoft Account Executive for Higher Education and Academic Medical Centers, I faced a new set of challenges and opportunities. While my focus shifted towards solidifying existing partnerships, I still needed to actively seek new contacts within the industry. However, what made this task particularly challenging was the sheer amount of responsibility and the limited bandwidth I had to work with.

Being responsible for 15 accounts/partnerships, each with its own unique dynamics, required a strategic approach to prioritize my efforts. I vividly remember my first day, looking at one of the 15 accounts, which happened to be a higher-education system encompassing multiple universities and campuses. Each university and campus had to be treated as its own account, even though the revenue ultimately came through one account placement at Microsoft.

As I assessed the opportunities within this complex environment, my management reminded me of the significance of not only pursuing revenue but also identifying strategic bets that would yield the greatest long-term value. Balancing the needs of current clients while exploring new innovations in partnership with customer success became a delicate dance.

In this high-pressure setting, I witnessed firsthand the importance of collaboration between sales, customer success, and customer support. It was crucial to align our efforts to ensure the best outcomes for our clients. Customer success played a pivotal role in supporting our existing clients, driving adoption, and maintaining satisfaction, while sales focused on identifying new opportunities and fostering long-term partnerships.

Customer Service - Post Sales/Incident Resolution

Customer service teams are responsible for handling post-sales inquiries, complaints, and resolving issues. Their focus is on providing excellent support and ensuring customer satisfaction. Having witnessed the transition first-hand, I understand the challenges of juggling reactive incidents while trying to be proactive in delighting clients. Customer feedback became an essential aspect of advocacy, especially when product satisfaction was less than optimal.

Having witnessed the transition from a Technical Account Manager to a Service Delivery Manager and ultimately a Senior Customer Success Account Manager, I experienced firsthand the evolving role and expectations of customer service and the separation between customer success.

While my initial responsibilities revolved around support interactions and reactive incident management, I soon realized the importance of being proactive and strategic in advising clients before challenges arose.

As I became proficient in anticipating adoption, migration, education, and infrastructure challenges, I noticed a significant positive impact. Clients themselves experienced successful revenue years, trust between the client organization and Microsoft grew, and support challenges decreased substantially. I vividly recall one client in the southeast region who had gained a reputation as a "tough" client, having replaced multiple account managers and account teams within a short period.

Upon reviewing their active cases, I discovered over 400 open cases. Through a careful assessment, I swiftly closed some cases where strategic awareness of Microsoft services was lacking, while others required the attention of a reactive customer service team. Some cases were product feature requests, and I recognized the need for a well-rounded approach.

Over the course of eight months, I worked closely with this higher education university client to transform them into a passionate customer advocate for Microsoft. The number of open cases reduced from 400 to just 4. They upsold to new contract levels, granting them greater influence in shaping product changes. Microsoft, recognizing the significance of customer success advocacy, developed a feedback model tailored to clients of their nature.

During this transition period, customer support remained at the forefront. We prioritized closing some cases immediately for quick wins before suggesting any proactive paid services.

This required a strong focus on client advocacy, especially when product or support interaction satisfaction fell below optimal levels. To effectively handle this responsibility, I immersed myself in the processes, services, and policies of Microsoft support and the organization as a whole. This allowed me to reset client expectations when necessary, showcasing my role as a trusted advisor rather than solely relying on executive intervention, which would have consumed critical resources and time.

Customer Success - Proactive, Strategic Approach

Customer success is a proactive, strategic approach aimed at maximizing the value customers derive from products or services. As a Senior Customer Success Account Manager at Microsoft, I had the opportunity to work with a global client that had a minimal partnership of less than $300,000 with our services. This client was undergoing internal leadership transitions and had more changes on the horizon due to pending retirements. Despite their good revenue and innovative energy, they remained unresponsive to our outreach, essentially becoming a "dark client" who paid for services but was distant in terms of engagement.

This situation posed challenges for both the client and Microsoft. While revenue continued to flow, the lack of active engagement prevented us from helping the client effectively when challenges arose. Furthermore, we lacked an Account Executive to drive sales, and our technical sales leader was dealing with personal circumstances, making them unavailable. As the Customer Success Account Manager, I understood the importance of not getting caught up in reactive support and instead focusing on influencing and evangelizing Microsoft's offerings.

However, in this case, reactive incidents became the only chance to engage the client. Collaborating with the customer service and incident management teams, we set up alerts for their cases. We carefully analyzed the resolution of the past four months' cases and sought proactive services that aligned with the client's needs. Customer success isn't just about offering services; it's about providing tailored solutions based on in-depth research and acting as a trusted advisor.

The opportunity arose when the client faced multiple issues related to collaboration tools. Leveraging my close collaboration with customer service and incident management, I quickly identified that three active cases were all related to the same product line. As the Customer Success Account Manager, I had thoroughly studied our proactive engagements and recognized the need to expand the scope of the engagement to include onsite support.

Advocating for this internally, we successfully changed the offering and delivered an engagement that involved two days of customized onsite support. I personally attended the onsite support days, providing additional assistance. To address the critical collaboration issue, I delivered a comprehensive two-hour presentation to all the executives present, emphasizing how proactive measures could have prevented the issue from escalating and providing recommendations for the future.

This collaboration between customer success and customer service proved to be impactful. Additionally, during this critical time, a new Account Executive joined us onsite, providing the sales professional with an opportunity to analyze new contacts and explore potential avenues for innovation once the initial health and proactive engagements were solidified. Within less than a year, this client's partnership with Microsoft grew to over a million dollars.

This story exemplifies the power of customer success and the collaborative efforts between customer success, customer service, and sales.

By focusing on proactive engagement, strategic recommendations, and delivering exceptional support, businesses can not only resolve immediate challenges but also foster long-term growth and partnership with their clients. At STEAM Vitality, we leverage our expertise in customer success to help businesses achieve these outcomes and maximize their customers' value. Reach out to us today to explore how we can elevate your customer success strategies and drive your business forward, making customer success a organization, discipline and philosophy.

The Crucial role of Customer Success

In today's competitive market, customer success plays a pivotal role in the success of businesses. It involves focusing on ensuring that customers achieve their desired outcomes and maximizing the value they derive from products or services. By embracing customer success strategies, companies can directly impact key business metrics such as reducing churn, increasing customer lifetime value, and driving overall growth. In a customer-centric environment, prioritizing customer success is vital for companies that aim to thrive.

At STEAM Vitality, we recognize the significance of customer success and are dedicated to helping businesses develop and implement effective strategies to drive customer-centric revenue enhancement. Our comprehensive range of services is designed to assist you at every step of your customer success journey.

Reducing Churn: Churn can significantly hinder a company's growth. We specialize in helping businesses analyze their customer churn rates, identify underlying causes, and implement strategies to reduce churn. By understanding customer needs, addressing pain points, and delivering exceptional experiences, we can help you retain more customers and increase their loyalty.

Creating a Customer Success Framework: Building a solid foundation for customer success is essential. We work closely with your team to develop a customer success framework tailored to your unique business needs. This framework encompasses strategies, processes, and metrics that enable you to effectively manage and measure customer success initiatives.

Identifying Business Scenarios and Strategic Projects: Every business faces unique challenges and opportunities. Our expert consultants assist you in identifying business scenarios and strategic projects where customer success strategies can be applied effectively. We guide you in aligning customer success with your overall business objectives, ensuring maximum impact and return on investment.

Customer Success Support and Consulting: Our experienced team provides ongoing support and consulting services to help you navigate the complexities of customer success. From optimizing customer onboarding processes to designing personalized customer success plans, we provide the expertise and guidance you need to achieve outstanding results.

Unlock Your Business's True Potential

If you're excited about the possibilities that customer success brings and ready to take your organization to new heights, reach out to us today. Schedule a discovery call with our team at STEAM Vitality [] to explore how our expertise can benefit your business. Together, we can unlock your business's true potential through effective customer success strategies. Don't miss out on the opportunity to thrive in a customer-centric market. Contact us now: and let's embark on a transformative customer success journey together.



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