Customer Success Managers

One role in B2B tech startups that is incredibly important, but not talked about as much, is that of the customer success manager. Several years ago at Pardot we called them client advocates, and tasked them with making our customers successful, knowing that a comprehensive software product, no matter how cool the interface, still requires on-going training and help. Whereas the support team is reactive with customer issues, the customer success team is proactively reaching out to customers to make sure everything is going well and helping customers get more value out of the product.

Here are a few thoughts on customer success managers:

  • A customer “touch” cadence should be used whereby customers are pinged once a month/quarter/year
  • Analytics and engagement tools should be used to track which customers are actively using the critical features in the product and which customers are at risk of leaving due to little/no usage
  • The old adage “It’s cheaper to keep an existing customer than sign a new one” is even more true for SaaS businesses
  • As major new product features are released, the customer success team should help customers incorporate the new product functionality
  • Some of the best customer success managers are sales people that loved helping prospects but didn’t like asking for the sale
  • Upselling and cross selling is usually part of the customer success team, so it’s often a revenue-generating function

Customer success managers are critical and should employed earlier than expected in B2B tech startups. As a proactive, customer-facing team, they often develop some of the strongest customer relationships and add tremendous value.

What else? What are some more thoughts on customer success managers?

3 thoughts on “Customer Success Managers

  1. David, I’ve seen CSMs measured unfairly by their management almost solely on new revenue generation for assigned clients rather than client sat, per se. Of course that’s important, but when the role is presented as “Client Success” , then that should be paramount. The Sales team should partner with the CSMs to farm the account to close new add on business but the CSM should by definition focus primarily on keeping clients happy and referenceable. My .02, at least.

  2. David, the CSM adoption is a really hot topic. Thanks for sharing. At Docebo, in our fast growth stage, we introduced the CSM in our organization about 12 months ago. It was not as easy ride as we thought it would be in the beginning (it it ever?). We stumbled upon a few challenges which allowed us to A/B test our approach to customer retention and support.

    These are some of the things we learned, and challenges we faced :

    – CSM is a revenue contributing resource and reports into sales. Yes to upselling and cross selling, but more importantly has metrics of increased churn and contract renewal attached.
    – CSM and Implementation or PM roles definition of tasks requires well defined processes. The side effect of not spending time on those processes is a confused customer, and a bit of a messy company. As an example for us in the beginning it was challenging to define at what point of the implementation process the CSM steps in. Kick off? Go Live? Technology delivery? In our case we opted for a light CSM involvement from day 0 (contract signed), and teamwork with Implementation Specialist. Following best practices from leaders in the SaaS space and adjusting where necessary helped us a lot (ie hubspot). Also it is quite typical that the customer lacks understanding about what the CSM and the Account Executive do, and it is our job to clear that from day 0.
    – The frequency (number of touches) of a CSM whether these are bi monthly, monthly, quarterly, varies entirely on the product positioning and customer size and ARR. There doesn’t seem to be a one size fits all type of approach. In our case we have a light-touch transactional version Vs. an Enterprise version of our product. Our CSM is dedicated to the latter segment of our clients, whom expect that added value as part of the fees.
    – A CSM in our organization is expected to be able to provide added value services, such as ad-hoc consulting during the ongoing project, and product training where requested.
    – Hiring a CSM from another company is not preferable. Our CSMs are former presales or tech support people whom love to help, but also understand user personas, use cases, adoption challenges. Transforming a pure sales person in a CSM would be challenging for us, since it is expected that the CSM is able to come up with creative workarounds to configuration challenges.

    Hope this helps,

    Alessio

  3. Much needed reminder. Sometimes it feels like investing in customer success is a waste given that it’s not bringing in new customers like sales. I’m curious if there is a typical number of customer success managers per sales person? I.E. One customer success for every four salespeople?

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