Defining CS

I often struggle to explain the concept of Customer Success to the uninitiated. It’s frequently confused with customer support, professional services or account management.

I have to stop the discussion right there.

Customer Success is not a new name for an old concept. It’s a discipline, a mindset, a set of practices all supported by a technology toolset.

But in an attempt to oversimplify it, I’m proposing a new phrase:

The Second Sale

The “first sale” is well-understood. It’s the one we celebrate by ringing a gong, a closed deal, a converted trial user.

But as subscription-based products continue to overtake traditional buying models, it’s The Second Sale that will determine the long term success of your company. That’s because unit-level profitability isn’t realized until well-after the first sale is made. Consider the unit economics of a typical SaaS customer (a16z):

Cumulative Cash Flow


Let me repeat: The Second Sale will determine how successful your company is going to be.

Okay, So What Is The Second Sale?

The Second Sale begins immediately after the first sale is closed, and it’s a continuous flow of small wins. Here’s what I mean:

Convincing users to attend our orientation and training sessions.

Convincing buyers to engage others in their company.

Convincing users to use our products every day.

Convincing customers to add-on products and services which will give them more ROI.

Convincing customers to do case studies.

Convincing users to tweet or post their successes on social media.

Convincing a customer to accept a reference call from a prospect.

Convincing customers to make introductions to their peers in their market.

And the list goes on…

Always Be Closing

So, it turns out that Blake was right. We must ABC: Always be Closing. And this is why Customer Success is not support, it’s not professional services, and it’s not reactive account management.

It’s a proactive approach to building a customer lifecycle and systematically addressing likely objections which will arise along every step of the journey. Objections that subvert your investment in the sale, erode customer ROI, and cost your company dearly in lost revenue and growth opportunities.

Executing The Second Sale

Like Sales, managing the Second Sale is part art and part science. Part listening and understanding to customer objections, part designing and implementing solutions to scale.

In a data-driven world it is possible to get feedback, build assumptions, test hypotheses and systemize positive results through everyday successes and failures.

The Second Sale drives improvements to virtually every part of the business because it will become the heart of the business strategy. So when people ask me what I do for a living, my new answer is this: I help companies build businesses by closing The Second Sale – consistently, reliably, and across every function of the business.

I believe that companies who choose not to take this approach do so at their own peril.

Jay Nathan is the founder of Customer Imperative, a Customer Success consulting firm based in Charleston, SC. If you are interested in building and executing your Second Sale strategy, shoot him an email at [email protected]

Jay Nathan

Founder, Customer Imperative