Essential Guide to Customer Success Management

Introduction

It’s a customer’s world right now. Gone are the days when there was only one product on the market. Now, everybody’s emerging on the subscription scene and it’s not enough to simply have an offering—instead, it’s critical to guide your customers to success or they’ll find someone who will.

In fact, customer experience is actually anticipated to overtake both price and product as the key differentiator by 2020.

This makes customer success more important than ever. Technology is advancing rapidly but try as it might, it still can’t replace a human touch. And while customer success might be a company-wide discipline, it’s customer success management professionals that are leading the charge.

In fact, the field is growing so rapidly that customer success management positions have increased at an incredible rate of 176.54% year over year. And while these positions are most commonly found in the US, the trend is also growing globally.

It’s clear that customer success management is going to have a significant impact on B2B in the coming years, but just what does that mean? Let’s take a look.

Chapter 1

What is a Customer Success Manager?

If your company’s product is a ship, CSMs are its navigators and the customers are its passengers. The daily roles and responsibilities will vary from company to company, but the main purpose of a CSM remains the same—to navigate your customers safely to success.

While this should always be the end goal of your entire team, the CSM is in a unique position separate from other team members. Often, other customer-facing roles are all hands on deck, focused on the individual needs of each customer. This is important, but often only addresses short-term goals and needs.

The CSM, on the other hand, is there to make sure your customer’s long-term needs are met. It’s not enough for them to have a cursory knowledge of products and systems. Instead, the CSM should have an intimate knowledge of your customer’s journey and use that knowledge to navigate them through the sales phase and into the post-purchase phase.

Instead of simply helping customers with their immediate issues, the CSM focuses on building long-term relationships to build trust with customers. More than anyone else, the CSM should understand the needs, goals, and issues each customer faces. And like a navigator, they should have a plan for helping them navigate through rough waters and treacherous seas to success.

This is often easier said than done. Customers don’t want to receive generic messages or check-ins—more often than not, they end up being sent to a spam box. Instead, the CSM needs to build a framework that provides personalized value with each interaction.

The ultimate goal of the CSM is to shift the focus of customer success from providing reactive solutions to anticipating the needs of your customers and adopting a proactive strategy. It’s not enough to solve problems as they come along. Instead, the CSM should be able to identify potential icebergs within the customer journey and proactively avoid them before they ever become a problem.

Just as important is the CSMs role in info-gathering. The data the CSM gathers is critical to guiding the company’s decisions in the future. By understanding and communicating customer feedback, they can influence key decisions such as:

  • Product features
  • Pricing model
  • Onboarding processes
Chapter 2

Customer Success Manager vs. Support vs. Service vs. Account Management

When it comes to customer success management, there can be a lot of confusion about how it differs from other similar traditional customer-facing roles. CSM, Support, Service, Account Management… it can get real complicated, real fast.

It’s alright if you’re not quite sure where other roles stop and CSM begins. Let’s take a look at what each position means and how they relate to each other.

Support

Have you ever used Best Buy’s famous Geek Squad? They’re a prime example of how Support operates.

Sophisticated technology often requires on-going assistance—that’s where Support comes in. They function as a guide for customers to help set up and use systems for their day-to-day activities.

If there’s something strange in your product, who you gonna call? This time, not the Ghostbusters. But, like the Ghostbusters, Support operates in a reactive role. More often than not, you only talk to Support when things are going wrong and you need help.

The focus of Support is typically on product use. Just like how Geek Squad helps your sweet old granny set up her new laptop, support members provide services such as troubleshooting, conflict resolution, and product walkthroughs/tutorials.

Professional Services

Support tends to fall under the umbrella of Service, but they function differently. While Support focuses on helping customers with using a product, Service provides guidance on getting a customer up and running during onboarding—putting the necessary integrations in place, helping configure the product for their use case, and so on. In addition, services can often act as a sort of consultancy down the road, offering paid engagements to launch projects or offer best practices

Their relationship with the customer tends to be more holistic than the one that Support provides. Often, Service roles provide customers with different ideas and ways to get the most out of their product. However, similar to Support, Service teams are generally reactive and only engage with a customer when an opportunity arises.

Account Management

Account Management functions differently from the above positions in that it focuses on a set amount of customer accounts and assumes more of a sales role. While the other three positions largely focus on customer success, Account Management is geared towards expansion and up-selling.

The role of an Account Manager is to identify the needs of their client accounts and then pitch products that will fulfill those needs. They also handle client renewals, using their knowledge of the client to leverage that information in a way that demonstrates the value of your product.

The main difference?

The main difference between these four positions is where their customer focus lays:

  • The CSM focuses on long-term relationships.
  • Support provides technical support.
  • Service makes sure customers are happy with their experience.
  • The Account Manager pitches relevant upsells/cross-sells.

Each position fulfills a unique role within customer success, but they all work in tandem to create an overall pleasing experience. Often, roles in Support, Service, or Account Management can lead to a position as a CSM.

Chapter 3

What does a Customer Success Manager do?

Ever heard the old adage, “Happy wife, happy life”? Well, the same philosophy applies to your customers. When it comes down to it, a CSM wants to do their best to keep customers happy and, in turn, reduce churn.

This comes down to a few key activities:

Customer Onboarding

Onboarding is one of the most important tasks a CSM will undertake. Their close relationship with customers gives them an advantage in finding the quickest way to value for each client.

This doesn’t mean that CSMs need to take on the entire burden of customer onboarding. Instead, they should focus on the initial first steps to getting a customer to their goals and then hand it off to your Onboarding or Customer Support team.

A great way to take much of the burden of onboarding off of CSMs is by creating an onboarding framework that can be applied broadly across all your customers. From there, this framework can be tweaked and improved upon as needed.

Follow-Up

The relationship a CSM has with a customer is often the most important one during the customer lifecycle. It’s not enough for CSMs to simply onboard them and then let other departments take over.

The role of a CSM should instead include Quarterly Business Reviews (QBRs) to encourage customers to renew their subscriptions. Even if a customer has been happy and healthy for a long time, this doesn’t mean they will stay that way. Following up will proactively save at-risk customers from churn.

Upsell/Cross-sell

Account Managers aren’t the only ones responsible for upselling and cross-selling to customers. Introducing customers to new products and services is a key way to increase a customer’s lifespan and keep them around longer.

This is another place where having a close relationship with the customer is helpful. Because you’ve already led them to success with an initial product, they already trust you. This, in turn, makes them much more amenable to sign up for subsequent offerings.

Translate and Communicate Customer Sentiment

While other customer success roles also provide access to customer sentiment, no position has quite the overarching reach that a CSM does. Unlike other customer success agents, the CSM has access to the many different streams of incoming customer information.

Using this information is a key part of what a CSM does. By putting this information together to create a complete picture, CSMs are able to translate the data into something legible that other members within the company can use.

Company Advocacy

Having access to complete customer information and constant interaction with customers puts the CSM in a unique position to advocate effectively for your company. By encouraging a positive outlook among customers, CSMs can influence them to renew their contracts as well as spread the word among their friends and colleagues.

Delegate Effectively

It’s easy for CSMs to get overwhelmed with their workload—as you can see, there’s a lot to do. That’s why it’s important that a CSM is able to identify issues that can be resolved by other team members and refer them accordingly. Otherwise, they can find themselves getting overwhelmed and their own work performance could suffer.

Ideally, the interactions between a CSM will focus on long-term goals and actions. The relationship between a customer and CSM should enable the customer to problem-solve more effectively on their own in the future. In contrast, small problems like technical issues or questions should be directed to other team members or departments.

This doesn’t mean that CSMs should delegate everything. The sign of a great CSM is the ability to roll up their sleeves and get dirty. Instead, they should be able to recognize when their workload is beginning to affect job performance and take action to correct that.

Chapter 4

Customer Success Manager Job Description

There’s no set description of what a CSM does—what could be taken for granted at one company could be unheard of at another. With that being said, although the day-to-day activities of a CSM vary from job to job, most positions require a certain set of hard skills and soft skills.

Let’s take a look:

Hard Skills

Product Knowledge

As a leader within the company, the CSM must have a deep knowledge of their product or service. Not only will they direct and advise their own employees, but they’re also often one of the first contacts a customer has with the business.

There’s no do-overs when it comes to first impressions. If a customer feels like the CSM doesn’t understand their product, they may think the product is too complicated and take their business somewhere else. On the other hand, having a demonstrable understanding of the product inspires trust and respect among your customers.

Data Integration

Although it might not be obvious, a large part of a CSM’s job involves managing data. The role of a CSM includes bringing together both short-term and long-term data to paint a complete picture of what is going on with your customers.

The CSM should be able to explain exactly what’s going on with their data to a customer as well as possess the know-how to keep that data secure. While a large part of the CSMs role is based around soft skills, modern CSMs still need to be technologically savvy, especially in tech industries.

Project/Time Management

The CSM is the cog that keeps your business turning. Both the employees and the customers rely on them to make sure things are running smoothly—if the CSM isn’t on top of things, the business can quickly fall apart.

This makes project and time management especially important. A CSM who can’t manage their own time is bad, but a CSM who can’t manage their employees and clients is even worse. Good CSM’s will have above ordinary management skills and a portfolio that shows it.

Soft Skills

Problem Solving

Arguably one of the most important aspects of a CSM’s skillset is their problem-solving abilities. The nature of the CSM role is to provide solutions for their team and customers, so it’s important that a CSM can identify problems in the customer lifecycle and provide tailored solutions for each issue.

Communication

Building successful customer relationships rest largely on how well the CSM can communicate. Every customer faces unique challenges in their journey and it’s important for them to feel heard. A good CSM will both know how to listen to understand their problems and then communicate effective solutions.

A Cool Head

The problems your customers face are as varied as the customers themselves. When new (and occasionally frustrating) problems come up, it’s important to have a CSM who can think on their feet and keep a cool head. They’re the bastion of sanity for customers and if they lose their cool, it’s all too easy for customers to become flustered as well.

Chapter 5

How to Become a Customer Success Manager

Customer success management is a relatively new field, which means there isn’t one single path to become one. There are CSM’s who don’t have any formal schooling, CSMs who have only worked in the service industry their whole lives, and even ones from completely different backgrounds altogether.

With that being said, however, there are certain paths to take that can better prepare you for a career as a CSM. The role of CSM is growing at a rapid rate and those numbers are showing no signs of slowing down. As a result, more and more certifications and courses designed to train industry-grade CSMs are coming out every year.

Certifications are great for preparing you for a career as a CSM for several reasons such as:

  • Demonstrating commitment: Independent certifications are often done on your own time, which reflects well on you. Taking extra certification courses shows a commitment to your job that will put you ahead of other candidates.
  • Learning from professionals: It’s easy to lack guidance when pursuing a career as a CSM. Certifications provide a structured environment where you can learn and communicate with real professionals.
  • Showcasing knowledge: There’s no set course or degree for customer success management, which can make it difficult for companies to know who is qualified or who isn’t. Having a certification lets recruiters know you have a certain baseline of knowledge.

With so many certification courses available, however, it can be difficult to know which to pick. Ideally, you want to choose a certification course that provides a structured curriculum while also giving you access to up-to-date training and tips.

Our pick? Pulse+.

At Gainsight, we’ve been using our platform to branch out into all areas of customer success. From our customer success platform to our Career Hub, we’ve gotten our toes wet in just about every aspect of CS you can imagine.

This is what makes Pulse+ such an effective platform. It includes regularly updated training through mixed media such as videos, podcasts, and guides. New content is added on a monthly basis, meaning you never have to look elsewhere for further training.

As a leader in the industry, Pulse+ has access to leading brands and thought leaders, giving enrollees access to current happenings within the industry. We provide CSM training to heavy hitters in all industries, from IBM to CallMiner.

Currently, Pulse+ offers a Certified Professional certification course for CSMs. However, new certifications are slated to begin in the coming months for:

  • Customer Success Manager - Advanced Certified Professional
  • Customer Success Manager - Expert Certified Professional
  • Customer Success Leader - Certified Professional
  • Customer Success Executive - Certified Professional

This is good news if you’re interested in customer success management as a long-term goal. Puse+ is already one of the most widely recognized certification programs for CSMs and expansion certifications only further establish its legitimacy.

That’s not to say that there aren’t other qualified certification courses out there. Do your research, talk to your colleagues, and then do what feels right. Remember, the more certifications you have, the more appealing you’ll be to future employers, so don’t be afraid to participate in multiple programs.

Chapter 6

Customer Success Manager Career Path

We all know the story by now. After years of studying in college, the newly graduated student enters the workforce—often in a field that doesn’t have anything to do with their major. Similarly, most people don’t go to school with the plan to become a CSM. Instead, they find themselves organically falling into the position as they take on various customer success roles within a company.

The career path of a CSM is a winding road. Many of the qualities that make up a good CSM are soft skills that can be learned with time and patience, making it an accessible career path for employees from many different backgrounds.

Whether you accidentally stumbled on this career path or knew you wanted to help people since you were running around the schoolyard, here you are and you probably want to know what you can expect from a career as a CSM. Luckily, the future of CSMs is looking bright.

While customer success roles are more common in small and medium businesses, this doesn’t mean candidates should neglect to look towards enterprise companies. As the Saas industry begins to move towards a customer-centric business model, more and more enterprises will begin to look for employees to fulfill the role of a CSM.

In terms of longevity, a CSM is usually considered an entry-level position within customer success, mostly because the average tenure is two years or less. After two years, most CSMs advance into senior-level positions. If upward mobility is your goal within the next few years, this is good—there’s continuous room for advancement in the field.

So, how do you get the role of CSM? Often, the position is filled through employee promotions in other related fields. The top 5 job titles held before working in a customer success position include:

  • Account Manager
  • Project Manager
  • Account Executive
  • Customer Specialist
  • Senior Account Manager

This doesn’t mean that all hope is lost if your current job title doesn’t include any of the above, however. Entry-level positions in customer success tend to focus on skills like customer service, management, and sales. In fact, it’s pretty common for candidates to start out in the field with little to no experience and simply pick things up as they go.

Ultimately, the career path of a CSM is a promising one. The average YoY growth rate of Customer success professional job postings is 3087.85% globally, indicating a growing industry. And as more of these roles are filled, new positions in customer success can be expected to be created. CSMs already have good upward mobility rates and these numbers will only go up as more senior positions are needed.

Chapter 7

Customer Success Manager Salary

So, you’ve made it this far. You’ve checked out the role of CSM and thought, “Hmm, I can do this”. The career path is promising. Now, that only leaves one little thing…

How much can you expect to get paid?

Well, like most things in life, it depends.

The role of CSM varies from company to company—what might be considered a critical job function in one business could be someone else’s responsibility completely in another. As a result, the salary of a CSM can range anywhere from as low as $50,000 to as high as $140,000.

I know, I know, that’s a pretty broad range. Luckily, there are a few factors to take into account that can give you an idea of your own earning potential:

  • Experience: First and foremost is experience. While CSM might be an entry-level role, this doesn’t mean you can just stroll into the job. Most companies will expect you to have at least 1-3 years of experience in a customer-facing position and as always, the more experience you have the better.
  • Industry: The nature of the role of CSM means that it’s a position that’s more prevalent in some industries than others. Industries like Software and IT employ 72.8% of all CSMs globally, making it a more competitive field.
  • Location: CSMs have a better chance of finding job opportunities in large metropolitan areas. Cities with the largest growth rates include New York, Boston, and Chicago.

At the end of the day, your experience will have the most impact on your salary as a CSM, but your industry and location are important too. Here’s what a rough hierarchy of salaries looks like:

  • Starting salary: The average starting salary for a CSM starts at $50,000. This will be an entry-level position for someone who’s newly transitioning from a Customer Success role.
  • Median salary: The average median salary for a CSM is $82,000. Typically, this is a mid-level position for a candidate who has several years of experience in other leadership roles.
  • High-level salary: At the other end of the spectrum, high-level CSMs can make as much as $140,000. These positions are highly competitive and reserved for candidates with experience in similar executive positions.

Remember, these numbers are only averages. You might find your first role as a CSM pays less—or you may find that it pays more. It all depends on your own personal aptitude.

Chapter 8

Customer Success Manager Job Board

Ready to get started as a CSM? First, you have to find a company that’s hiring.

One of the best ways to find a position as a CSM is by looking within your current company. They know you, they know what you’re capable of, and you’re already familiar with the culture.

However, sometimes that isn’t an option. Maybe you want a change of pace or there aren’t any positions available. In that case, it’s time for the next best thing…

Job boards.

For all of our technological advancements in recent years, the easiest and fastest way to find a new job is through the good ol’ job board. You even probably already have some in mind—hiring giants like LinkedIn, Monster, or Indeed.

Large, mass-market job boards like these have their place, especially for the common traditional jobs of the past. As a newly flourishing career, however, it can be difficult to find high-quality CSM positions. It’s kind of like going to the club—everyone can get in, but only the top 1% can party in the VIP section.

For newly emerging roles, the VIP section is on websites that specialize in those industries. The best engineering jobs can be found on engineering boards, the best copywriting jobs can be found on copywriting boards and… you get the picture.

For customer success positions, we advise checking out Gainsight’s Customer Success Career Hub. Specializing specifically in (you guessed it) customer success, it features competitive positions from leading brands in the CS space. These companies know what’s going on in the industry and exactly what to look for, which makes certifications like Pulse+ even more valuable.

When searching the Career Hub, here are a few tips to getting the most out of your search:

  • Pay attention to keywords: When looking through job listings, pay attention to which keywords regularly come up. This will give you insight into what that company is looking for specifically.
  • Search by location: The Career Hub has listings from major cities all over the world, so narrowing your search by location can help you find a position in your dream location.
  • Have your resume ready: Unlike other job boards, the process is simple on the Career Hub. All you have to do is send your name, email address, a short message, and attach your resume!
In conclusion: key takeaways

This is only the beginning. The CSM role will expand tremendously as more and more companies begin to adopt customer-centric strategies. This means you can expect the landscape of customer success to change significantly in the coming years.

For now, however, this is where the role of CSM stands:

  • CSMs focus on fostering long-term relationships with customers to help them achieve value and reduce churn.
  • The CSM is an aggregation of various customer success roles, with a focus on bringing them all together in a managerial role.
  • As with many leadership positions, CSMs need to emphasize soft skills such as leadership and decision-making. However, the nature of the industry means that they also need to possess hard skills such as product knowledge and technical know-how.
  • While there isn’t a degree or graduate course for becoming a CSM, certification programs like Pulse+ can help further qualify candidates.
  • CSMs have a promising career path. On average, after two years, they typically rise to higher leadership positions.
  • CSM salaries can range from anywhere between $50,000-$140,000.
  • When searching for customer success positions, specialized job boards like Gainsight’s Career Hub offer opportunities you won’t find on larger platforms.
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