What Does A Customer Success Manager Actually Do?

13-Apr-2016 16:48:35


There’s 24,373 people on LinkedIn with “customer success manager” in their title. About ⅔ of those appear to be in the US. Most of these customer success managers work in large IT and software companies like Oracle, Salesforce, Linkedin and Microsoft. Most of the industries represented are IT, software, marketing and financial services.

These stats alone can tell you a lot about the role of a customer success manager (CSM) and types of people you’ll be working with. It's also reflective of customer success being a relatively new concept mostly only adopted in large, multinational technology companies. There’s more work and time needed until customer success comes into the mainstream as it’s own concept.

So it’s no surprise that I regularly get the question “what does a customer success manager actually do?”. As it’s a new job title it can be hard to peel back the curtain and see what the day to day of someone in this role looks like. Hopefully I can shed some light here.

Some background

An important thing to know is that while “customer success” might be a relatively new term, the collection of activities it represents have been around for ages. If you are considering applying for a job as a customer success manager you might also be interested in researching other job titles like:

- Account manager

- Customer account manager

- Account representative

- Client services manager

- Client manager

It's also worth knowing that the role of customer success manager can vary from company to company and across industries. The day to day of your job can be quite different depending on where CSMs sit in the structure of the business and what they are measured on. The types of activities you work on can also vary across the customer success lifecycle.


Some things to consider that might change your day to day include:

- Is the CSM expected to be an expert in the domain or technical area they support?

- Is the CSM in charge of upsell or solely responsible for retaining customers?

- Does the CSM deal with contracts, renewals and payments or do they have separate role for that?

- Is the customer interaction mostly remote or face to face?

- What are the CSMs measured on - churn, retention, product usage?

- Does the CSM train customers or is their dedicated onboarding and training teams?

- Who owns the overall relationship and what’s the relationship with sales?

With those questions and differences in mind I’ve put together a list of some of the day to day activities that a CSM might participate in. This is a long list and it’s unlikely you would be involved in all of them but mostly likely a combination of a few.

CSM Day to day

1) Keeping organised -


Any role in customer success requires balancing a lot of varied activities. Unlike a role in say product, marketing or operations, it’s rare that you will ever be able to put on headphones and crank away at a project for the day. You are often at the mercy of your customers. You need to keep your inbox, calendar, schedule and to do list in order.

If you enjoy keeping organised, squeezing that extra few minutes of productivity and cranking through a to-do list then customer success might be the role for you.


2) Introducing or onboarding new customers

Customer success managers spend a good deal of their time helping customers at both ends of their lifecycle - the beginning and the end. The importance of a strong beginning to a customers relationship with a company cannot be understated. Most customer success managers, particularly in the early days of their job spend a lot of time welcoming new customers onboard, figuring out what their goals are and creating onboarding / success plans to help them get there.


3) Attending scheduled calls with existing customers

As well as new customers, it’s likely that CSMs will also have an existing book of customers at different stages in their lifecycle. Some customers will be just starting to get self-sufficient and see results. Others will be approaching renewal and negotiating changes to their subscription. Some customer will be unhappy, experiencing product or services issues or looking to cancel.

A good portion of the day to day of a CSM is moving between these types of calls and adjusting style and strategy to get to the customer and your intended outcome.


4) Meeting customers face to face

In many companies, CSMs are working with large enterprise customers or working in markets that require a good deal of face to face interaction. This type of work often requires a lot of preparation, travel and time investment but can also be pretty fun.

Face to face time with customers can consist of meeting decision makers, presenting solutions, helping with workshops or training, gathering feedback and working through problems together.


5) Helping to deliver results


This is what the job is all about! All of the effort you put into onboarding, regular communication and meetings should be driving towards your customers getting results from your product or service.

The value of CSM in this context is to act as a trusted advisor. Ultimately the real responsibility of success is on the customer but the CSM provides valuable context the customer doesn’t have access to. For example, what are other companies in your industry doing? What are the benchmarks for x? What are the best practices I could implement here? This context allows CSMs to create tailored plans for their customers with activities, tasks, milestones and timelines that will get them to their intended result.


6) Responding to questions over email

Customers can’t always wait for scheduled meetings to speak to you. If issues or questions arise while they are working on projects it can expected that customer will reach out to you over email, instant messaging or other communication platforms. Most companies I’ve spoken to also have support teams that can handle urgent or technical queries but the responsibility for strategic answers still falls with the CSM.

In the day to day, between calls and meetings CSMs spend time answering emails, finding answers and responding to customer queries.



7) Dealing with frustrated customers and helping resolve issues

This isn’t the most exciting or enjoyable part of the role but it can’t be ignored. Customers don’t always see success for a multitude of reasons. As a CSM you need to be comfortable dealing with disappointed customers, helping them find solutions and turning the situation around.

This kind of work requires a level head, patience and the ability to negotiate internally and externally. This kind of work can be a challenging but rewarding part of the job.


8) Escalating issues and working with technical teams or managers

Sometimes you can’t solve your customer’s problems or make them successful alone. A huge piece of being a CSM is knowing where you skills start and end. Some products or services are very technical and it’s not realistic that a CSM would know every detail of the product. In this case they may need to work with a technical support team or product manager to get the answer or context a customer needs.

Similarly, you may need to be work with your manager to come up with solutions or escalate issues when the customer requests it. If you are considering a CSM position or job change my advice would be to find out as much as you can about your direct manager and their experience speaking to customers as you might need to rely on their experience and advice.


9) Training customers on new products or services

Products and services change. Most customers don’t like change. In some organisations the onus for training customers on new features or products falls on the CSM. This means you need to constantly learning and keeping up to date with how your product changes and thinking about how to impart these changes to customers in a way that will deliver value and make them more successful.

This can be an enjoyable aspect of the role especially if your compensation structure is driven by upgrades and retention. New products and services are great opportunity to make more money and hit your metrics.


10) Identifying opportunities to cross sell or upsell other products or services

Depending on how CSMs fit into the organisation you might be responsible or accountable to a number of cross sell and upsells. A critical component of net churn is expansion revenue that comes from upgrades .

You need to be able to put your sales hat on here and look at your book of business to identify opportunities. Ideally if you are working closely with customers and your product drives real results then customers should naturally purchase more products and service from you. However, unless the process is completely self-service then they are going to need help to see the value of these additions and put them in context for their company.


11) Negotiating contract terms and renewals


Many times a CSM is responsible for making sure their customers renew. In some companies the CSM directly negotiates the terms of their renewal while in other companies there can be dedicated renewal managers to handle this activity.

In either situation you need to have a good commercial and negotiation brain. You’ll be confronted with discounts, contract lengths, legal terms of service, services levels and much more.


12) Working with sales to bring in new or additional revenue

In many companies the responsibility of driving additional revenue from your existing customer base is with sales. In this case you need to be ready to partner with sales reps and account executives to bring in that revenue. They are going to rely on your context and experience with the customer to add to the relationship. Many times this revenue comes from additional business units or teams in your customer’s business coming onboard. Having a successful customer advocate on your side can be very helpful here.

When the role of the CSM requires collaboration with sales you will need to understand sales motivations, empathise with them and just as importantly, know when to say no or push back


13) Attending meetings with other teams that also work with your customers

In most companies customers have a couple of touchpoints. Technical support teams, trainers, implementation consultants, collections and billing or a combination of roles could be someway involved with your customer.

Part of the CSMs role is to keep aligned with those teams and ensure you are all driving towards the same unifying goal or metric and solving for the customer. That could mean meetings, phone calls or emails that can be scattered throughout your day or week.


14) Monitoring your churn/retention/product usage or cancellation metrics

How do you know if you are achieving success or on the right track? In many modern customer success organisations data plays a big part in the day to day. Ideally you would have access to customer success metrics and dashboards and can quickly get insight from the information.

For the most part you won’t need to be data scientist or have to spend much time on analysis but having an understanding of critical success metrics and analysing the trends with your customers is a critical part of the CSM role today.


Final thoughts

There’s definitely a lot of other activities and tasks you could spend your day on as a customer success manager but I’ve tried to be as comprehensive as possible. The day to day described here is based on my experience and from speaking to customer success managers at other companies but if anyone else has something that I’ve missed I’d welcome your thoughts. Hopefully this breakdown could also be useful for anyone considering a role in customer success or trying to understand what the role looks like in real life.

Topics: customer success

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