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The difference between Customer Success Managers and Customer Account Managers

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Although Customer Success Managers and Customer Account Managers (often shortened to Account Managers) are sometimes seen as one and the same, my latest discussion with other customer success professionals proves they’re not — and here’s why.

The initial comparison is that CSMs are proactive in their approach versus AMs and their reactive approach. CSMs have always been seen as the trusted advisor within the company with a holistic view of the customers, while AMs manage escalations and renewals. Almost everyone agreed CSMs should not carry a quota.

One VP of Client Services comments, “It is unfortunate that many organizations I have spoken with are simply relabeling account managers without making the needed mind set and organizational changes to make it about the customer being successful rather than just the bottom line. 

Differing Customer Success and Account Management Roles

CSMs should be more concerned with Customer Lifetime Value because successful sales to an installed base are only possible when the customer is ready and prepared for the next steps. There were many folks who strongly felt Customer Success and Account Management should be kept separate. Measuring their performance separately meant defining metrics that showed influence on client retention (e.g. adoption, referenceability) for Customer Success, and then things like renewals and upsells for Account Managers. 

Another point that I really liked was the difference in the core skill set required for the job. Customer Success Managers possess great consultative skills, normally have deep sector/domain knowledge, detailed product knowledge, and usually make it a point to truly understand the ecosystem of their customers (i.e. knowing what role their service plays within the customer’s company). 

Another member mentioned that upper management needs to support that the CSM role is not to manage individual tickets but to monitor them and keep pulse of how the customer is doing. One challenge many companies are facing is how to keep their Customer Success team out of day-to-day support. 

CSMs Connect the Customer to the Company

At the end of day, most interactions with the customer are virtual, but CSMs are there to bring a face to the customer relationship and be the glue that connects the company to the customer.

Many thanks to everyone who participated in the discussion online – Josey, Andy, Raj, Graciela, Bill, Jean-Marc, Scott M, Jonathan, Anne, John, Cyrille, Dave, Carly, Scott C, David, Steven, and Marcia!

Find out what a day in the life of a Customer Success Manager is like from interviews with practicing CSMs.

You can also watch how Totango’s Customer Success Center can give the insights and tools needed to optimize your Customer Success Operations.

Jill Rubin

Jill is a senior marketing and business development executive with experience leading successful teams in both large companies and startups. She has taken companies from early stage to strong revenue growth and propelled established businesses to industry leadership positions.

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