An Open Letter to Customer Success Managers

5 Pieces of Advice Accumulated Over the Last 12 Years of Managing Customers

Fellow Customer Success Managers,

I have grown up professionally on the customer side of the house. The vast majority of my career has been in roles where I managed a book of existing business customers or helped build and manage teams that were also managing customers. I have been in your shoes. When I took a step away from the day-to-day management of customers, it was to explore a newfound interest in the discipline of customer experience. All along the way, I have grown to appreciate the complexities of the Customer Success Manager (CSM) role. You are doing amazing work and your organizations and peers are recognizing more than ever the importance of your role and skills.

As I reflect on my experiences as an Account Manager and Customer Success Manager in the first phase of my career, I wanted to share some advice as you work to build your experience and develop your career path.

Don’t Get To High Don’t Get Too Low
Managing customers is an emotional rollercoaster. The good days are really good and the bad days can be pretty bad. In my experience it has been really important to maintain a healthy perspective on the realities of any given situation. I believe things are never as good as you think nor are they as bad as you think when things get tough. Working to maintain an even keel can help you navigate the emotional ride that is the Customer Success journey.

Fight For Your Customers
I think it’s so important to fight for your customers. Nobody understands your customers like you do and nobody can defend and represent your customers like you can. Collaboration with other stakeholders and team members is always necessary of course, but as the business grows and functionality priorities begin to create the famous silos, it becomes more and more important for the Customer Success leaders and Customer Success Managers to represent the needs of the customers. It is common for internal needs to take top priority consistently if the voice of the customer is not being heard. Carry the customer flag with data and conviction, and you and the business will greatly benefit.

Build Internal Relationships
There may not be a more important piece to the customer success puzzle than building internal relationships. Building internal relationships with your colleagues cross-functionally is tremendously important as you work to solve problems and work towards the achievement of your customer’s goals. Inevitably you will need to communicate the needs of your customers to other departments, strategize with others on the account team managing a specific customer, or defend a decision you made to advance your customer success strategy. It is always better to work with others to navigate the tough waters of managing customers, and your internal relationships will prove to be one of your greatest levers.

Celebrate The Wins & Learn From The Losses
It is so easy to fall into the trap of the daily grind. For those CSMs that are also managing or assisting with renewal and growth conversations, it is critical that you celebrate the wins and learn from the losses. Upsells and renewals are a big deal in any organization, but sometimes the work that it took to win a deal goes unrecognized. I believe it is leadership’s job to create an environment where celebration and learning are part of the culture, but I also think that CSMs should take on part of this responsibility. Sharing wins with the team and organization will build confidence, camaraderie and trust while learning from losses will provide a venue for feedback and improvement. Put yourself out there for both sides of the conversation and you will find greater satisfaction in the work.

Think One Step Ahead
This one is tough sometimes, but I believe it can have a profound impact on your customer relationships. Anticipating the needs of your customers can go a long way in the journey to creating a strong relationship with your customers. It starts with understanding the desired business outcomes and then turns into working the plan to make the achievement of outcomes a reality. Within the strategy and plan it becomes apparent what is most important to the customer as a whole and your individual contacts. As information is accumulated about both, you can start to anticipate their needs and wants. In Customer Success this falls into the category of being proactive—it’s the holy grail. The value of thinking one step ahead far outweighs being stuck in a reactive mode. Make the time to be strategic with your customers and your odds of success will increase dramatically.

I hope these ideas are helpful and insightful. Keep up the great work and drop me a line if I can ever be of help.

Dave Duke