How to implement a Customer Success strategy?

5 years ago, US companies realized the importance of being “customer-centric”, especially in the SaaS industry, as the customer is much less locked than in traditional on premise businesses, and as the price depends on the customer’s usage of the product. They started to change their organization structure in order to reflect this new parameter, and the “Customer Success Management” (CSM) department became a critical function companies. CSM became a standard and is now also widely implemented into European SaaS start-ups. However, this emerging role still varies a lot from one company to another and the “CSM” key-word is too often used to rebrand an existing team rather than to bring an additional value to the company. So, let us recap the basics of this CSM team.

What is the role of a Customer Success Manager (CSM)?

CSM’s role is to ensure that the customers are actively using the product/solution and that they get the concrete business value that they were expecting from it. This means ensuring that: 
. the product answers to the customers’ specific needs
. the customers are experts enough to take the full value from the product and be successful.

CSM’s actions should result in a lower churn rate and an increase in the renewal rate, since the more customers grow successfully their business, the more likely they are to stick with the tools they have been using. Indirectly, a CSM also creates more upsell opportunities, as a client can only think of adding a new feature, of enlarging an initial scope and/or of increasing the number of users, when he is already at full capacity with his existing subscription.

CSM’s responsibility starts at the onboarding phase of a customer and lasts through out its life time.

What a Customer Success Manager is NOT

The CS department is quite transversal in the company, but should not replace other existing functions.

A CSM differs from a Key Account Manager (KAM).

Even if both CSMs and KAMs have a direct link with the customer and are sometimes reporting to the same person (VP of Sales) they have distinct roles.
 The CSM’s main objective is to avoid churn and increase customers’ adoption, while the KAM is held responsible for upsells and renewals. In other words, the CSM gets the customer ready for the next step while the KAM signs customers up for the next step. It might look very similar. But, even though, both roles have to be mastering consultative selling skills, the CSM should focus his efforts on fostering existing product usages, whilst the KAM should be an expert in helping customers visualize future product usages. The CSM should help the customer bridge the gap between expectations created before the transaction was closed, and actual value, as opposed to the KAM, whose role is to help customers create expectations. Eventually, the CSM has a key role in terms of gathering success stories based on the conversations he facilitates with actual customers, while the KAM should leverage those very stories in order to replicate existing and proven success across his patch, or territory. It is also a positive feedback loop since CSMs’ territories consist of the accounts landed by KAMs, knowing that the more KAMs can re-use success stories gathered and shared by CSM’s, the more likely they are to succeed, and hence expand the patch of their CSM colleagues.

A CSM differs from a Customer Support Manager.

Both CSMs and Customer Support Managers assist customers in their use of the product. But the main difference between them is that the CSM should act mainly on a proactive mode, while the Customer Support Manager is only acting on a reactive mode. The Support team manages tickets and helps the customer with a day-to-day support, while the CS team monitors these tickets to get an overview of the customer’s needs/issues.

CS teams differ from PS (Professional Services) teams.

Some companies give the on-boarding/implementation/account set-up responsibilities to the CS team. But when PS & CS teams are separated, these roles should go to the PS team. Same thing for product customization. 
 Another crucial point to mention is that the service offered by the PS team is always charged to the customer, while the CS team is often free of charge /included in the licence price.

Who does the CSM interact with in the company?

The CSM is the main point of contact between the customer and the company. Anytime the customer has questions/issues (whatever the nature), he addresses them to the CSM, who then should redirect him to other departments. That’s why the CSM has interactions with various departments in the company:

. With the tech team, as CSM should represent the customer’s voice in the company, especially when the tech roadmap is discussed and when prioritization in new product developments should be made. Also, if the customer has tech issues, the CSM would require the help of the tech team
. With the marketing team, as the CSM is involved in redefining the Ideal Customer Profile (~loop back). Indeed, if the company acquires the right customers, Customer Success Management becomes much easier
. With the Account Management team, as the KAMs identify their best next targets from the CSMs data


These are only the basics of Customer Success. If you also wonder when you should start building a CS team, what KPIs CSMs should be incentivized on, what to focus on when recruiting a CSM, or what tools CSMs can leverage to be more productive, you should come to our next CS Meetup, that will take place on June, 22nd at Salesforce Paris offices! Inscriptions here 😉

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