The Path Beyond CSM Image

The Path Beyond CSM

Imagine you are a Customer Success Manager (CSM), and you wonder what the future holds for you. You learned about other roles where your experience in CS can be a springboard for those positions.

However, you aren’t sure of the path to get there. We, at Gainsight, want to show you not only what is possible to achieve with a career in CS but what capabilities and skills you need to possess to attain your next job. We have said it before—today’s CSMs can be tomorrow’s CS leaders.

Let’s begin with what makes you unique as a customer success professional. Over the past ten years, the role of Customer Success Manager has evolved and changed as much as the field of SaaS has. Now CSMs are an integral part of almost every field of business. While specialized CSMs may be asked to perform different metrics, objectives, and activities based on their industry or company, baseline CS skills have strong commonalities across all business segments. Anywhere you find CS, there are CS professionals. As a CSM, there are traits and abilities you must either have or work to incorporate into your CS toolbox. 

Core CSM competencies

In Gainsight’s book, The Customer Success Professional’s Handbook, the authors shared the essential skills that every CS professional should possess. Skills such as:

  • Understanding the Customer Lifecycle and Journey Map
  • Building and using Health scores
  • Using data and playbooks to mitigate customer risks
  • Preparing and presenting executive reviews
  • Helping manage renewals and driving advocacy


To rise to the next level in your profession, every CSM needs to demonstrate mastery of core competencies.

  • Knowledge mastery: This is the first core competency. It does not imply comprehending everything about CS. There are two forms of knowledge mastery. The first is to have a firm grasp of your industry, category, and product. The second part is knowing your customer, their problems, and the solutions to those problems. Most of all, you need to use this knowledge effectively to accelerate your time to value (TTV) by identifying key strategic priorities, metrics, and best practices to help you and your customer feel more confident and prepared, especially if they are starting and growing their company.
  • Problem-solving ability: As a CSM, you become an investigator. Your customers are sometimes unique, and so are their problems. You must understand their pain points and study their business issues to solve them. 
  • Challenger mindset: Another great skill to develop is the “challenger mindset.” All CS professionals, no matter their level in the hierarchy, should be respected and trusted by their customers for the valuable insight they provide. Sometimes that valuable insight means you have to say “no” to the customer when they try to repeat flawed processes and practices. 
  • Building relationships with your customers  Being empathetic is the most critical tool in your CSM toolbox. Cultivating a deep connection to your customers enables you to put yourself in their place and understand their issues and goals in a very “human-first” way. 

If you examine each CS asset closely, you will begin to see how and why these skills are embedded in the foundation of customer success. They are indeed precursors to every motion that enables you to make your customers successful. If you have these in your toolbox, in addition to other skills you learn along the way, there is no doubt that you can rise to the next level of CS or transition into another position. 

Paths Beyond CSM

Before considering your next step in your career path, recognize that staying in the role of a CSM, at any level, can be a very fruitful career. The job has become a launching pad of sorts to other positions within and outside of CS. But because you have so many great tools from your time as a CSM, you don’t have to abandon them. You take them with you to create a depth of care at the next job persona you assume.

  • Sales: That’s right, Sales! Becoming a Sales Account Manager or Account Executive is a very natural progression for a CSM. So is transferring from Sales into CS operations. If you think about it, the roles are comparable. Both Sales and CS thrive on data information and analysis for reporting results, forecasts, and analyzing leading indicators for all forms of sales, including renewals and upsells. 

    The technology and platforms both Sales and CS use often have similar capabilities.  Both roles also share processes, such as engagements, external communication, and risk management. There is also cross-functional coordination and alignment with other teams and departments to meet sales objectives or deliver on customer needs.

  • Solutions Consultant or Presales Engineer: The role of a Solutions Consultant or Presales Engineer is a Sales collaborative role. While it requires more of a technical background, as a CSM, you come with the perspective of knowing the customer’s needs and goals. With this role, you need deep knowledge of the product, service, or technology that your company offers. Combined with your background as a CSM, it enables you to have a broader understanding of the problems, pain points, and issues customers are trying to solve. 
  • Advocacy Program Manager: If Sales is not for you, consider an advocacy role. CSM’s are natural advocates for their customers. The job of an Advocacy Program Manager is to develop advocacy strategies of the organization and oversee their implementation. While many businesses or organizations require a background in policy, your CS experience in planning, managing, and implementing CS processes and procedures aligns with this position. Also, you are already familiar with cross-functional collaboration, which any Advocacy Manager needs to do. 
  • Customer or Product Marketing: In Product Marketing, you would help determine a more defined customer target. Knowing your product, you would understand what types of problems various sized customers face and adjust the marketing message accordingly. In Customer Marketing, a former CSM can help continuously refine the go-to-market strategy based on actual experiences and outcomes. You can better advise on valid customer pain points. 
  • Product Manager: This position is a bridge between the product, the developers and engineers, Sales, and the customer. In effect, you are the manager of the white space surrounding the product. You provide feedback on business strategy, product design, and development. With your CS knowledge, you can understand how your company’s product or service can best aid the customer while helping it evolve yet still be valuable and relevant. 
  • Developmental Operations Manager or Project Manager: A Project Manager is responsible for managing projects’ timelines, ensuring that they hit key milestones and tasks are completed on time. They don’t need a technical background, but a CSM background certainly contributes to a PM’s practice. A DevOps Manager is not that different from a Product Manager. They are responsible for the more technical parts of projects while being the customer and upper management’s point of contact. Like the project manager, DevOps can be accountable for scheduling and delegating tasks required to complete the company’s initiatives and project goals. 
  • C-Suite, CEO, and Entrepreneur: For years, Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight, stated that “Today’s CSM is tomorrow’s CEO.” Well, those words are coming to fruition. There are countless examples of former CSMs finding a seat at the executive table and a place in the C-suite. With the vast range of skills CS professionals cultivate, along with the vision of the revenue power of CS, hiring board members find these individuals flexible and innovative in processes and ideology, understanding the bridge they need to create across the enterprise.

Moving Forward

Truthfully, there isn’t a role a CSM can’t jump into. A wise manager or leader would recognize that helping a curious employee venture out to another position in their company is actually a good thing. Keeping employees educated, informed, and excited about their work environment and job, makes them better employees. 

As for the CSM, recognize what you bring to the table. You can create deep relationships with customers, understand their pain points, plan to achieve their goals and outcomes, and you always bring value to the experience. While you may believe that the next step is to CS leader or CS Ops, there are many roles available to you. Just raise your hand, volunteer, and see what happens. And if you do move out of CS, you are not going for something “better.” You are bringing “better” with you. 

Gainsight offers a vast amount of valuable information for those looking to get started or level up their CS knowledge, especially when you are working to fast-forward outcomes from onboarding to the point where your customer is finding value with your product or service. Put your CS program on the fast-track to durable growth through the Essentials Accelerator, a value added program that comes with the Gainsight Essentials product packages.