Blog Post

Career Paths: Customer Success to Account Executive

By: Salesloft Editorial



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The journey to a sales career can take many different paths. The majority of Account Executives (AEs) start out as Sales Development Reps and climb the ranks. However, customer-facing roles, like Customer Success Managers (CSMs), can also be a good avenue to a successful career in sales.

A CSM’s primary responsibilities are retention and customer satisfaction. It costs five times as much to attract new customers than it does to keep existing ones, so decreasing churn is valuable for organizations.

Ensuring customers successfully utilize a solution is a critical retention factor. CSMs are an integral part of this, specializing in solving customer pain points and being advocates for their success.

Rachel Cha recently transitioned from a CSM to an AE role at Salesloft. Although the two roles differ in responsibility and process, Rachel’s experience as a CSM has helped her find success in a sales role. Rachel shares with us the advantages and differences, as well as the biggest surprises when transitioning from a CSM to an AE role.


Deeper Product Knowledge

Understanding the product you sell is crucial. It allows you to address a variety of customer challenges. Working with end users provided Rachel with a deeper knowledge of the Salesloft platform. This allowed her to address pain points faster, quickly deliver answers to customers, and be viewed as a trusted advisor.

“It makes you more of a trusted advisor when you can get answers to the customer faster. Quickly identifying the solutions to customer pain points leads to meetings.”

Sales engagement platforms increase this ability through account visibility. By having account information readily accessible, AEs can confidently execute tasks and impress prospects with their knowledge and preparation.

Referral Selling

Referral selling should be a chief business development tactic. Leveraging existing customer relationships is one of the most effective, simplest ways to reach new prospects. 92% of buyers trust referrals when making a buying decision, but only 11% of salespeople ask for them. The relationships Rachel developed as a CSM made it easy to incorporate referrals into her sales process from day one.

“It turns cold leads into warm leads when you can get an introduction through a referral.” How can you start benefiting from referral selling? Ask! Identify customers you have strong relationships with and ask for help.

Develop Buyer Profiles

Buyer profiles are essential in identifying companies similar to current customers where the platform has been successful. There are common traits among buyers that can make adjusting your communication for specific buying personalities much easier. 

Rachel uses this knowledge to her advantage by looking for new opportunities based on previous accounts. Sharing success stories and case studies with prospects is an excellent lead-in for securing an initial meeting.

“It helped me identify new opportunities. I knew if the platform helped one type of customer, it could help similar customers in the same industry.”


Personal Mindset

Transitioning from customer success to sales requires a mindset adjustment. Rachel describes customer success as reactive. CSMs are charged with solving customer challenges as they arrive. Sales requires a proactive approach where the seller initiates contact and engages the customer first. It’s akin to hunting for your food rather than having it served to the table.

“My day-to-day changed drastically. Instead of reacting to customer challenges, I needed to be proactive in researching leads and contacting prospects.”

Shifting from a reactive to a proactive mindset is one of the first obstacles to overcome. Implementing well-defined sales cadences can help ease the transition. This sales tips video explains how cadences keep AEs in front of opportunities.

Customer Mindset

Customer success focuses on finding solutions within the platform to help customers succeed. In her new sales role, Rachel needed to approach prospecting from a time management standpoint, instead of an account management perspective. Recent TOPO research uncovered that top sales performers can research and qualify leads more quickly than average performers. Identifying disqualifiers early helps to prioritize time and focus on the accounts most likely to close.

“In sales, I’m focused on making sure the prospect is qualified so I know I’m investing my time wisely. In CS, you think about how the platform impacts an existing customer’s success.”

Biggest Surprises

Ups and Downs of Sales

As a CSM, the sales team provides a steady stream of new customers. CSMs work with customers on an ongoing basis, so workflow is consistent. Sales, on the other hand, is known for its ups and downs. An inconsistent pipeline can be a challenge to new reps.

“Sales is less consistent. You have good months and bad months, but it’s your responsibility to remain proactive. There’s some adjusting to the difference in workflow.”

As an AE, Rachel needed to remain proactive to reach her quota. Building and maintaining a pipeline is vital. If you neglect the top of the funnel, there won’t be anything to close in the next sales cycle.

The Process

Learning a new role is always challenging. Training provides a baseline understanding of techniques and overall process, but in sales, the real world is a different experience. Reinforcing training requires firsthand experience.

“I had never run a sales cycle from start to finish. There’s a lot that goes into it, and I had to learn how the process worked to be successful. The ability to review conversations with Conversation Intelligence after the meeting allowed me to focus on the conversation rather than worry about taking detailed notes.”

Rachel understood the basics of the sales process and what happens after a deal closed, but had never run a full sales cycle from the beginning. A combination of training, real-time coaching, and first-hand experience contributed to Rachel’s success in her new AE role.

Customer success experience translates well to sales positions. Each role focuses on building relationships and providing an excellent customer experience. Applying her experience as a CSM benefits Rachel as an AE. Her in-depth product knowledge enables her to identify how the Salesloft platform can address prospects’ needs and challenges. This expertise and customer-first approach position her as a trusted advisor to customers.