The 14 Tenets of Customer Success Management

Here are a fourteen 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 between them they 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 towards helping you become an effective and productive CSM:

Table 1.5: The 14 Tenets of Customer Success Management

  Tenet Explanation
1 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
2 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
3 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
4 The CSM understands the customer’s business Whilst 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
5 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.
6 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
7 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. Whilst 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
8 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
9 The CSM is an influencer and an enabler Whilst 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
10 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 whilst 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
11 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
12 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 resource and situational limitations exist
13 The CSM proactively seeks further sales opportunities Whilst 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
14 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 true 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

 

 

 

 

About the Author

Rick Adams is an independent author, trainer and consultant, specializing in helping technology companies deliver measurable business value for their customers. Adams has over 25 years’ experience of working in the IT industry, including owning his own startup software-as-a-service business which he sold in 2012 to focus on writing, training and consulting. Having delivering training and consultancy to many hundreds of businesses and thousands of technology professionals in over 30 countries across four continents, Adams is now based in the rural west coast of Ireland where he lives with his two dogs Zeus and Terri.

Adams’ recent work includes the development and delivery of a global certification program on customer success management for Cisco Systems Inc. His book titled Practical Customer Success Management: A best practice framework for managers and professionals is now available. His current interests includes helping individuals and companies develop best practices in customer success management and in business outcomes focused selling.

He can be contacted via LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/rickadams01/, via Twitter at https://twitter.com/RickAda84728077 or by email at rick.adams@practicalcsm.com.