This week’s newsletter features an excerpt from Chapter 1 in Rick Adam’s latest book, Practical Customer Success Management. Special thanks to Rick, and to the printer Taylor and Francis, for allowing us to share it with you all. I hope you’ll see today’s issue as something to reflect on and share with your team.
You can purchase the full book here. You can also register to gain access to the full first chapter (which is where the below section is drawn from), and other CS resources like podcasts and articles, at Rick’s website: practicalcsm.com.
There are 14 tenets (or principles) by which a CSM should live. Some of these may be obvious,
but it is worthwhile reviewing all of them carefully as these explain both the role of the CSM
and how that role can be successfully performed. Absorbing and understanding these tenets and then applying them in your work will go a long way toward helping you become an effective and productive CSM.
- The CSM exists to create value for their own company.
The reason why your company has decided to invest in customer success management (either as a fully fledged, separate department or as tasks to be performed by people in other existing roles such as customer services) is because it expects to see a financial return from that investment. Usually, this financial return comes from increased product/service sales and contract renewals from customers, but it may also include additional customer advocacy levels and/ or a deeper understanding of customer needs to help with product development.
- The CSM’s primary task is to help customers attain measurable value from using their company’s products and services.
Customers expect to see a return from their investment in our products/services. The primary task of the CSM is to help customers to attain the maximum returns possible and to make sure they are measuring and reporting on these returns so that it becomes known and understood by the relevant decision makers within the customer organization.
- The CSM is a subject matter expert in how to adopt, use and realize value from their company’s products and services.
The customer is already a subject matter expert in how to run their own business, but the reason why a CSM can add value for a customer is that they have subject matter expertise in the products and services that this customer has purchased. Specifically, that expertise lies in the adoption and value generation processes that customers need to undergo in order to attain the maximum return on their investment.
- The CSM understands the customer’s business.
While the CSM may never know as much about a customer’s business as the customer themselves, they need to make sure they know enough about that business to be able to understand how their own company’s products and services can add value for that business and to provide contextualized help and assistance to the customer in planning for and undergoing product/service adoption and in measuring the value gained from doing so.
- The CSM is a researcher and an analyst.
In order to plan for and take effective action, the CSM must first understand the situation, which means the CSM needs to be able to uncover the right information and to make sense of it. The information that needs to be researched and analyzed includes that which relates to the customer’s business strategies and outcome requirements as well as its current situation. It also includes that which relates to the CSM’s own products and services and how they might be adopted.
- The CSM is a consultant and an adviser.
For each customer engagement, the CSM’s role is to act as consultant and adviser, rather than as the decision maker. It is the customer’s money that is being spent to pursue the customer’s own strategic outcomes by engaging the customer’s workforce to use the customer’s new products and services (that they have bought from us). Our responsibility is to provide timely and useful information and guidance and to lend a practical hand where necessary to help them get our products and services adopted.
- The CSM is an educator.
Key stakeholders within the customer organization may not always know everything that they need to know about the products and services they have purchased from us, or about the activities that need to be performed to get them fully adopted. While the CSM should make sure not to take on a formal training role, it is definitely part of their role to provide informal training and related activities to help these stakeholders understand the situation more completely in order that they can make well-informed decisions.
- The CSM is a communicator.
Communication is at the heart of customer success management. This includes verbal communication in meetings, workshops and presentations as well as written communication in reports and on management systems (such as a CRM tool). Needless to say it also includes active listening. The CSM needs to have excellent communication skills and must be versatile enough to communicate with a wide range of stakeholders from a variety of cultural and job role related backgrounds from within their own and the customer’s companies and sometimes from third-party companies as well.
- The CSM is an influencer and an enabler.
While the CSM is not generally the formal leader within an engagement, they most definitely need to have strong leadership qualities, especially the abilities to influence people and to enable activities to occur. Strong interpersonal skills including rapport building and forming trust relationships are also important, perhaps especially because the CSM may not be seen as the “person in charge” but yet still needs to influence others in order to get the job done.
- The CSM is a planner and a project manager.
Not all activity is equal. Before taking action it is imperative that time is taken to formulate a well thought out plan that adequately manages risk while maximizing efficiency and effectiveness in getting things done. Once the plan is in place, it needs to be followed and outputs measured and where necessary adjustments made to ensure that the project remains on track to deliver the desired results. The CSM may not be a formally qualified project manager, but should definitely be comfortable with planning and managing activity.
- The CSM is a problem solver.
There are many potential barriers to customer success that CSMs may come across. These may relate to very practical problems such as a lack of information or insufficient resources, they may relate more to conflicts of interest and/or opinion between stakeholders or they may come from outside the project itself such as a change in corporate strategy or a new piece of legislation. Whatever the situation, CSMs need to be good at viewing problems logically and rationally and determining the right course of action to overcome those problems.
- The CSM is a pragmatist.
It is perfectly reasonable for customers to desire to see a return from their investment in our products/services. But sometimes the customer (or specific stakeholders within the customer organization) may have unrealistic expectations. Perhaps sometimes even our own colleagues may also have ideas that are impractical or unworkable for one reason or another. The CSM needs to remain realistic about what can be achieved within the timeframe, budget and whatever other resources and situational limitations exist.
- The CSM proactively seeks further sales opportunities.
While I am not an advocate of turning CSMs into sales people per se, I do very much believe that it is the duty of every CSM to use their knowledge and understanding of both their own company’s products and services and the customer’s business and technical needs to identify further opportunities for which the CSM’s company’s products and services might be used by the customer to gain additional value. These opportunities should be passed to the Sales team to follow up with the customer as necessary.
- The CSM should do as little as possible—ideally nothing at all.
This final tenet is partially humorous but also partially a truism since in an ideal world there should be little or nothing that the CSM needs to do. In this ideal world, much of the work that a CSM is normally involved with will already have been completed during the pre-sales process, and much of the remaining work will be completed by a well informed and sufficiently skilled and resourced customer adoption/change management team. It may not come as a surprise to learn however that we do not live in an ideal world, so in reality there will generally be plenty of work for the CSM to do. The secret of a good CSM lies in spotting where the knowledge and skill gaps lie and what hasn’t been done that needs to be done, and in doing the work to plug the gaps and get the necessary tasks completed.
This week's top resources:
[Panel] It's Time to Level Up Your Finance Game
We’re hosting a free Q&A-style discussion on Jan 13th with Finance leaders from Blend, Lever, UserTesting, and Higher Logic. The conversation will be tailored for senior-level CS execs on how they can better approach budgeting and planning conversations. (Note: If you can’t make the event, you should sign up anyway. We’ll send you the recording afterwards.)
VOC: Typeform's Guide to Turning Customer Feedback Into Action
Here’s an in-depth guide created by the team at Typeform (written by Cristina Marcelo and highlighting Angela Guedes) on how to share customer feedback across the company in a structured way.
Tips for Running an Effective CS Summit
If you’re considering hosting a CS Kickoff or Summit in the new year, here’s a quick post with ideas from Emilia D’Anzica (Founder at GrowthMolecules) on how to run an engaging summit.
A Tactical Guide to Managing Up: 30 Tips From the Smartest People We Know
This list from First Round compiles advice from leaders at companies including Opendoor, Zendesk, InVision, and many others, that together help break down the science of managing up. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the piece: “One of the essential parts of managing up is understanding what actually are your manager’s most urgent priorities, and then adjusting accordingly. If you’re at the top of the stack, over-communicate. If you’re not the most pressing thing right now, you have to learn to drop back and do really great work.”
Success Happy Hour is a weekly newsletter for Customer Success leaders. Each week we feature one digestible piece of advice or a framework from a top Success leader, along with the best resources from that week. Subscribe here.