What Do Customer Success Managers Need?

The research of The Customer Success Management Initiative is revealing that while many SaaS/Cloud companies are hiring individual Customer Success Managers, or even establishing entire teams of them, there is a wide range in the understanding the role. Given the lack of clear cut definitions, lines of authority and accountability, it’s no surprise that there would be an equally broad range in how the individuals and teams are equipped. After all, if your job is only about writing up case studies and customer references for use in marketing collateral, a telephone, laptop and perhaps a reasonable travel budget may be entirely sufficient. But if you’re truly charged with the responsibility for keeping customers and increasing their spending with your company, you’ll need much more.

A Question of Ownership

The first item on the CSM wish-list ought to be a clear charter. Who is to be responsible for what? What authority does the CSM role carry with it? Holding a professional (or anyone, frankly,) accountable for something over which they have no real operational control is a recipe for failure and turnover.

A “fire-fighter,” a customer retention specialist brought in only at the last moment to try to save a failing customer relationship, may only need to have the authority to make concessions within a determined range so that they know what they can and cannot offer to the customer. Their engagement will probably be of limited duration, and their performance metrics are likely to be based mostly on deals saved/lost statistics. However, if the customer retention manager’s responsibility also includes early detection of at-risk accounts, then Senior Management needs to provide appropriate access to data and tools to enable that aspect to be accomplished.

More than CRM

It’s an unusual company in this day and age that does not have a Customer Relationship Management system installed and in use. Unfortunately, in too many companies, the CRM system is really only about automating the Sales and Marketing functions, with a module or two for Case Management over in the Support group, In reality, there are three separate systems: Marketing, Sales and Support — that are designed and built for just those functions as individual activity areas. CRM systems are typically not designed for the Customer Success Manager, who needs to analyze a range of interaction data to detect patterns that indicate the actual health of the ongoing relationship between the customer and the company in time to do something about it when necessary.

An appropriate CSM system, for example, would alert the manager that a particular customer, one who perhaps represents 40% of the overall yearly corporate subscription income, was no longer using a key module of the product. This is not about a decline in simple logins and licenses, but in the usage of certain specific features of the application. Such a capability, vital to ensuring that a new customer is properly proceeding up the adoption curve, becomes even more important as a means of detecting an established customer that has started to disengage. To enable that insight, however, requires that you know which features of your product to track. That’s a subject for another day.


About the Author

Mikael Blaisdell, The Hotline MagaszineMikael Blaisdell, publisher of The HotLine Magazine, brings 30+ years of experience in the strategy, process, people and technology of customer support, retention and profitability to the emerging profession of Customer Success Management. He is also the moderator of the CSM Forum on LinkedIn. Read moer about The Customer Success Management Initiative, sponsored by Totango.


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