The Customer Success Manager: Why the Hype?

The Customer Success Manager is the single most important role a company can hire for.

Now, if I were Bill Gates or Barbara Corcoran from Shark Tank, you might have taken that first sentence a little more seriously.

Let me see if I can convince you. Stay with me.

The Customer Success Professional’s Handbook is a must-read for anyone wanting to get a deep dive into the impact CS can have on an organization. One page 4, it describes perfectly why the CSM role is so vital especially for the SaaS industry.

“Because of the current business landscape, the customer’s requirements have evolved. Customers expect outcomes, not just a completed transaction. Businesses have realized they must deliver value in a way that fulfills their product’s promise and meets clients’ expectations. Enter Customer Success! The CS function is the bridge between customer expectations, the experience they receive, and ultimately their retention. As a result, Customer Success is now one of the most significant contributors to company growth. In 2016, McKinsey & Company published a report that was titled “Grow Fast or Die Slow: Focusing on Customer Success to Drive Growth.” They concluded that ultimately the focus on customer success not only accelerates revenue growth but also creates a more efficient and effective go-to-market organization.”

Check out the full study here:

Kellie Lucas says in her book, The Customer Success Pioneer “It is literally life or death for your business, if you are not fully and demonstrably committed to knowing and understanding your customer. Return on Investment (RoI) has been crowned as being king for your customer; this is absolutely a key objective. In a business economy where customers have the freedom of movement more than every before, the urgency for embracing Customer Success is a reality.”

She then goes on to quote Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, and a true pioneer for CS. He says, “Nothing is more important to Salesforce than customer success … And that’s why I believe being so committed to the customer is more important than it’s ever been … because it’s really this culture that’s driving us forward.”

Zendesk, a customer engagement software company based in Silicon Valley, weighed in on the importance of hiring CSM’s for your organization.

In a recent article, they shared this analogy, “Have you ever gone out to eat and were overwhelmed by the menu? And what you really want is someone to help you decide? That’s how I view [Customer] Success,” explains Delores Cooper, Customer Success Associate at Zendesk. “[We] look at the picture in its entirety; what will provide immediate gratification as well as long term stability. Success members accompany the customer on their journey and stick around for the entire lifecycle.”

Read the full article here:

There’s no other way to say it: Software companies are no longer living in the days where they could sell a product, make a profit, and not have to speak with the customer ever again unless for emergencies.

As SaaSX puts it, “SaaS companies have to keep customers happy to make a profit. Instead of selling a piece of software for a lump sum, you might sell a subscription to an app for a monthly fee. That means customers have to keep getting value out of your software in order to maintain their subscription. If your customers succeed with your product, they’ll keep using it, and your business will profit.”

Full article here:

So there you have it. The need for a quality Customer Success team has never been more important especially for SaaS companies.

And if you’re a start-up, then jumping on this bandwagon can be the single more important decision you make. I’ll explain more in my next post.


Additional Resources

The Key to Start-up Success

Back in the good ol’ days when we could gather in large groups, I attended the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City.

Among the incredible line-up of speakers and presenters, the one that stood out to me the most was Brian Halligan, CEO of Hubspot. I honestly don’t remember much of what he said but I do remember one golden-nugget of wisdom he shared.

“These days, your product or service will seldom make you stand out from your competition. The companies that will truly win in the end will be the ones that make Customer Experience a priority.”

Brian Halligan, CEO, Hubspot

This simple piece of advice is what gives me, personally, a vision for the future of Customer Success. CS is what will catapult companies towards massive growth and customer satisfaction.

If I could give advice to anyone starting a business, it would be this:

Figure out who your target customer is and invest in them first.

Your customer may not always be “right” but they are always the most important!

The 3 B’s for Customer Success

What does it take to be a great Customer Success Manager?

Well, you may get a lot of different answers when asking multiple CS professionals. In my “not-so” humble opinion, there are 3 things that truly separate the good CSM’s from the great CSM’s.

If you want to truly excel in CS, you need to implement, what I call, the 3 B’s

  • Be Empathetic
  • Be Proactive
  • Be an outrageously great communicator

Pretty simple, eh? Let’s dive a little deeper.

First off, without empathy, it’s next to impossible to succeed in this career field. Sometimes, this is easier said than done but working on this skill will lead to immeasurable success. Take time to make your contacts more “human” and less “transactional” and it will be time well invested.

“Of all the skills that you can acquire as a CSM, becoming more empathic is probably one of the important that you can develop. Customer Success is known as a “human-first” concept and endeavor. As a CSM, you must reach out beyond yourself and place yourself in your customer’s shoes.”

The Customer Success Professional’s Handbook by Ashvin Vaidyanathan and Ruben Rabago

Next is being proactive.

If you haven’t read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, you should read it…right after you’ve finished this article.

Spoiler Alert: The first habit is Be Proactive. So it’s not just important for CSM’s to be proactive, it’s important for everyone to implement this habit in their day-to-day life, regardless of career path!

For a CSM, being proactive means not waiting around for your clients to reach out to you with an issue. And it means actively managing your book of business so that you can identify problems before they happen.

Tedious daily task, emails, meetings, etc. can get in the way of this so it’s important to block out time each day to proactively manage your book of business.

In The Customer Success Professional’s Handbook, chapter 3 is all about the day in the life of an effective CSM. The 2 most important things every CSM should do at the beginning of their day are as follows:

  1. Check your calendar before doing anything else.
    • This will allow you to know what you have going on that day so you can prepare appropriately. Having your critical appointments be top-of-mind is key to proactively preparing for them. It is also an opportunity to reprioritize non-essential meetings.
  2. Review your proactive to-do list.
    • This a list of deferred items from previous days, important date-triggered events such as customer renewals, upcoming business reviews, and anything else that requires your attention today.

So moral of the story, stay on top of your book of business the best you can. It will position you as a Trusted Advisor for your clients, help reduce the risk of churn, and mitigate risk.

And finally, being an outrageously great communicator.

The Gain, Grow, Retain podcast recently came out with a fantastic podcast all about communicating with customers. The hosts, Jeff and Jay, interviewed Kristi Faltorusso. If you know of these three, you know this is basically the holy trinity of Customer Success.

Kristi is the VP of Customer Success at IntelliShift and every month they have a live product webinar that they invite all their clients to. So far, they have seen great success with these webinars and it’s the CSM’s job to follow up with their clients that attended to ensure the client is adopting the product features that were discussed in the webinar.

Listen to the full episode here:

This is one of many effective ways/methods to communicate with clients. Follow up about everything. Their renewal, a product request they had, your previous QBR. Heck, if your previous conversation included some talk about a big game their favorite sports team was about to play, follow up on that.

To reiterate, simple follow up is one of the most effective ways to show your client that you are listening and that you care.

What would you add to this list?

Additional Resources

The Customer Success Elevator Pitch

Customer Success is a fulfilling and amazing career path. Then again, if you’re reading this blog, you probably already know that.

One thing CSM’s tend to run into frequently is having to explain what they do in order to not be confused with technical support or customer service.

Let me be clear, this post is not to demean or downplay the impact of support and customer service reps. They are valued and needed. If done correctly, Customer Success works hand in hand with these departments.

I recently asked the CS community on LinkedIn what their elevator pitch for Customer Success was. Here were some of my favorites:

“I love that customer success is a healthy balance of everything. Though, it’s proactive versus reactive. Customer Success focuses on predicting problems before they become a problem or mediating escalations. Along with other responsibilities, primarily focusing on 3 key items: Retention, Adoption, and Expansion. Whereas customer support and technical support focus typically in reactive situations that are often break/fix.” – Mike Larsen Gain Grow Retain Community Member

“My team includes customer support and customer success. I try to set expectations up front that customer support is for break/fix, reactive in nature topics. Your CSM is for proactive, consultative, and advocacy type of topics. The two skill sets and teams are complementary and both play a role into the overall perception of your organization to customers.” – Brian Hartley Senior Director, Customer Success at RFP360

“One of my go-to explanations is to use the Sherpa example. People don’t individually or even in a group attempt to climb Mt Everest. They are led by someone who knows the path and while typically not life/death for CS professionals, we are the eyes and ears for customers as they put forth the effort to reach the various milestones in their journey, i.e. base camp (training), next level base camp (adoption/engagement), summit (scale, advocacy), etc.” – Ronni Gaun Enterprise Customer Success Manager at Zoom Video Communications

“I usually compare it to Sales for people. Sales conceptualizes the vision for the customer and closes the sale. CS makes that vision a reality, and keeps/grows that customer’s account over time.” – Ben Winn Community & Events Manager at Catalyst Software

“To put it simply, we are a strategic long-term partner for driving value for every client.” – Diana De Jesus Customer Success Manager at Catalyst Software

And last but not least.. “Customer Success is designed for a more proactive and targeted approach to ensure on-going satisfaction and ROI for all our clients. It allows clients to have a main point of contact throughout their lifecycle. Knowing someone will always be there to help them. Someone who knows their specific needs.” – Me

What’s your elevator pitch?

Sales to Customer Success: Partnering through the Handoff

Have you ever bought a product and immediately regretted it? I’m sure it’s not just me. We’ve all done it. It’s part of being a typical consumer. Luckily, in the SaaS world, there is a process that if fine-tuned, can prevent this from happening to our new clients.

Let me introduce the Sales to Customer Success Handoff.

It’s imperative that sales and CS are able to work together so that every handoff can be seamless, efficient, and productive for the new client.

The Customer Success Leader Podcast recently interviewed Josh Fedie who had a lot of great things to say about the sales to CS handoff. One of the points he really emphasized is that the experience you give your brand-new clients is so critical. The company’s growth and the overall satisfaction of the client are dependent on it.

Listen to the full episode here:

Buyers remorse is a real thing even in the SaaS world. When a customer signs on and you, as the CSM, have the opportunity to speak to them for the first time, make the first experience a a memorable one.

Basically, make sure they get off your first call/meeting knowing they made the right decision.

One of the best ways to make a the first call/meeting memorable is to go in with lots of knowledge about the client. This can be done by collaborating with the sales rep before the call.

By doing this, you accomplish two important things that every CSM should have as a priority.

  1. You create a good, collaborative relationship with the sales team.
  2. You become more knowledgeable about your clients needs, positioning yourself as a Trusted Advisor rather than just a typical “Account Manager” (more on this in a later post).

When speaking with the sales team before your initial call with the new client, here are some questions to consider:

  • Are we replacing an existing solution or is this a new tool for them?
  • Who are the key stakeholders? Are there any personality stand points I should be aware of?
  • Were any additional line items added to the contract that I should be aware of?
  • What problems is the client trying to solve?
  • Are there any potential risks with this client that I should be aware of?

I’ve been with companies where the relationship between sales and post-sales is great and in companies where it’s not. The secret sauce for a good hand-off is open and respectful collaboration between departments, especially with management.

A strong partnership between sales and CS can make a world of difference for the company’s growth and culture.

Additional Resources