How Go-To-Market Teams Can Align on Customer Ownership


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Who owns the customer? Seems like a basic enough question, right?

Think again.

In the traditional customer management model, which is mostly linear, the answer is largely aligned to whoever is responsible for quota attainment. Functions were typically organized around specific customer needs tied to specific stages in the customer journey, with explicit ownership “handoffs” as the customer moved from one stage to the next.

With significant growth in subscription business models, the answer to “Who owns the customer?” has changed. The shift to a subscription model transitioned from a product-centric approach, with a large upfront investment, to a customer- and outcome-centric approach with the investment spread out over time. This coverage model requires a focus on delivering value to the customer at each step of their lifecycle.

This means that the broader revenue organization – sales, account management, renewals and customer success – is now on the hook for ongoing outcomes, since the customer faces a renewal decision at the end of each subscription cycle. But this is no easy feat.

To effectively support customers in today’s economy requires a collaborative, matrixed coverage model of resources across go-to-market teams at different points along the customer journey. With sales leaders reporting “commercial convergence” being their top priority in 2023, the good news is that there is appetite to more soundly answer “Who owns the customer?”

At the 2023 Gartner CSO & Sales Leader Conference, I presented how go-to-market teams must clearly define their roles and account for the new resources required to deliver customer value throughout the lifecycle.

Understand the customer life cycle and their journey with you over time

The shift to a lifecycle-based subscription model requires go-to-market teams to deeply understand the customer, what they value, and be able to work with customers to help them unlock value through use of the solutions they purchased.

This responsibility demands new sales and post sales motions that connect onboarding, adoption, value realization, and advocacy. It requires new skill sets and resources such as customer success managers and renewal specialists to be able to address the customer’s business objectives and help them realize value through the organization’s solutions.

If you think about the customer lifecycle and their journey with you and your organization, there are a number of places where things could go wrong. Rather than handing off customers from one function to another, we need handshakes.

Hand offs imply that “one side of the equation has completed their responsibilities but may have not necessarily been picked up by the receiving person.

Handshakes ensure a system that has strength at each of the steps of a customer journey. They put in place a documented approach between resources as the customer moves along the lifecycle.

Executing effectively demands a central focus on the customer and allocation of resources. Scaling effectively mandates new resources and alignment to customer tiers based on delivering a mix of current and future value. It also requires infusion of digital solutions into the customer engagement approach to ensure the cost of acquisition, retention and expansion is commensurate with each segment’s financial contribution.

Clearly define the roles of those involved along the journey

A lack of clearly defined roles across the go-to-market teams creates friction around customer ownership, often resulting in employee frustration, organizational inefficiency and customer dissatisfaction.

Delivering the optimal post sales experience does not necessarily fall on sales teams alone. There must be coordinated partnerships with other functions (e.g., customer success, pre-sales, product, and marketing) to realize the significant impact they can have on customer business outcomes such as improved customer satisfaction and increased revenue via increased customer spend.

We all have a common understanding of the high-level responsibilities of an account executive or renewal specialist, which often involve more overlap than differentiation. Go a step further in defining the granular responsibilities and interoperability of the roles of each person involved in the customer lifecycle for GTM-wide success.

Build compelling new coverage models

The traditional resource coverage models that have been around forever fail to account for the new responsibilities and the integration of new and existing resources that are required to deliver customer value throughout the customer life cycle.

Organizations must develop coverage models that account for different customer tiers and new presales and post sales motions to meet the varied customer outcome expectations.


  1. Thank you for this great article Jennifer. It truly is a “strength-in-recognition” moment for teams that continue to have siloed agendas and competing bonus structures in place and the immeasurable value it brings to both the customer and the company to look for ways to build cross functional teams of people working together for the lifetime of the customer. In those models, everyone owns the customer and their outcomes. Depending on how long they choose to stay, customers will most likely have different needs or desires at different times in their relationship with any company. I have found that often, companies are focused on walking customers through an internally created agenda, which gives them a false sense that they’ve done everything they could to set the customer up for success, and then quickly move on to the next customer. This false sense of security is a mistake that is usually recognized as churn later down the road. That departure usually begins at the moment the company stopped holding the customer’s hand on their journey. Many times, there seems to be an extreme amount of effort and focus on “front-loading” the value of a company’s product/services, which sadly fades over time. Imagine if we put our best foot forward equally throughout the relationship. Why would customers even think of using a competitor?


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