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What is Customer Success Management? From a Customer Success Manager's Point of View

Updated: Jul 21, 2022

⚠️If you're looking for a scholarly answer, this post ain't it! ⚠️

I'm not even going to pretend that I have all the answers here. In fact, just the idea of writing this post about this topic makes my knees weak.

All that aside, this post needs to be written! "What is Customer Success Management?" is incredibly vague but being as how this blog is here to help people get into Customer Success, I figured I share what it is from a CSMs perspective.

Here are three things I want to focus on in this post:

  1. Defining Customer Success

  2. The balance between strategic and tactical in Customer Success

  3. Putting your fortune-teller abilities to the test as a CSM

Defining Customer Success

Let's be clear here –– Customer Success is different from company to company and industry to industry. I work directly with Customer Success teams every single day and there's not one company that exactly mirrors another company's CS structure and/or processes.

Regardless of the differences, they all have one single thread in common. They are responsible for the customer post-Sale. Once the ink dries on the contract, the Customer Success team is there to take them from "I hope this works" to "Wow, this really works!".

Customer Success after the sale can look like a lot of different things. It can be a CSM that takes the customer and onboards them, maintains the long-term relationship, and also manages all upsell/expansion/cross-sell opportunities as well as the renewal.

I've done that type of CS work before and let me tell you, it's A LOT of work!

You can also have a CS structure where you have an Implementation team who onboards the customer and then the CSM handles everything from there. Or a structure where you have an Implementation team and a Renewals Manager that helps with revenue motions.

The composition of your Customer Success structure defines the type of work you'll do as a CSM. But the point will always be this:

If we can imagine the customer journey being a cross-country road trip, the customer is the driver and we're basically the passenger with a map in hand.
Yeah, the customer could do without us but without our direction, they'll likely encounter a lot of mishaps or worse, never make it to their destination. The main purpose of Customer Success is to serve as the strategic partner on the customer's journey to realizing the value they were after with the product/service purchased.

The balance between strategic and tactical in Customer Success

You wanna know the hardest part of being a CSM after being in Customer Support? The mindset.

In Support, you're trained to solve. Solve. SOLVE!

That mindset is so detrimental to Customer Success. If you're solving all of the time, you're not focusing on being strategic.

I've learned this one the hard way. There's a concept called success plans in Customer Success. They help you align with the customer on their goals and how you, as the CSM, plan on getting them there. I created a few success plans with my customers but they just weren't strategic or tailored.

The strategy I had in place wasn't what the customer wanted and I never brought up the success plan again. Instead, I was focusing on their immediate needs.

Calls were turning into a town hall for feature requests, customers reached out when they had a problem and I wasn't prioritizing their needs accordingly. All because the success plan wasn't strategic and it was on the backburner.

I was in the weeds.

I had to recognize that I was just going in circles with my customers and I needed to understand their goals, their workflows, the things that kept them up at night. So I started having calls to get these answers that would pave the way to a success plan that aligns with their goals and pain points.

After having a success plan like this in place, it's easy to say:

"Here are your goals, where does this feature request sit within your goals?"

Instead of taking their requests at face value.

Telling a story

Something else that's challenging when you're not being strategic with a customer is the ability to tell the story of where they were and what you helped them achieve.

Customer Success is a sell and sell again motion so it's not like you deliver value this once and boom, renewal signed! Setting the strategy and helping the customer execute is something you can take to the bank when the time is right.

Putting your fortune-teller abilities to the test as a CSM

You could be sending agendas ahead of time.

Wishing your customers a happy birthday.

logging every feature request.

Showing up to every call prepared.

But if you're not seeing the future, you're not being a CSM.

You've probably heard the buzzword "proactive". It's a luxurious lifestyle that every CSM aspires to live.

When I think about being proactive as a CSM, I think about establishing relationships with multiple stakeholders. I think about recommending things before they ask. Keeping an eye on those leading indicators and proposing what to do next. It's catching those at-risk red flags that can save an account.

All of this requires eyes behind your head or a strong platform (like Catalyst) to help bring all of these important changes to your attention.

So while you're busy acting on the strategy, wrestling with your unruly inbox, communicating with other teams on Slack, and putting together presentations... you also have to make space to be proactive.

To wrap up

You'll hear about nuances in Customer Success. The QBRs or EBRs, the monthly calls, the KPIs, all of this is also part of the job. They're all checkpoints and destinations on your customer journey cross-country road trip you're on with them 🙃


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