Yet another 5 assumptions made by CSMs that turned out to be wrong

Artem Gurnov
Jun 29 · 6 min read

If you’re transitioning to being a customer success manager (CSM) from another customer-facing role, you need to change more than your title — you need to change your mindset. The way you work with clients needs to evolve to your new role. The metrics that matter are different and certain skills that made you successful in the previous role might be totally irrelevant here.

For example, if you were a salesperson, your main goal was to close the deal as quickly as possible and move to the next opportunity in the pipeline. You were less concerned with what happened later with the client. As a CSM, on the other hand, you need to focus on long-term results and ensure that the customer continues to derive value from your product.

Your previous experience may lead you to form some misconceptions that won’t serve you well in your new role. We covered 4 of these assumptions in the first part of the article and cover 5 more below.

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The job of a CSM is to ensure that the customer is getting value from your product or service. The perceived value must be higher than the costs associated with the solution so the customer chooses to renew. Thus the work of any CSM is to ask a lot of questions to get a sense of how the solution is helping the customer and their feelings on the product.

The customer might offer both positive and negative feedback as well as new feature requests. It’s easy for the CSM to focus on the negative — the customer could complain that the product can’t do this, can’t do that, lacks certain integrations, etc. And even though all this information needs to be carefully aggregated and forwarded to the product team, these requests and complaints do not necessarily mean that the customer isn’t getting sufficient value from your product and is on the verge of churning. On the contrary, it often means that the client’s team is committed to your product, is becoming more and more dependent on it, and, as a result, needs additional improvements to get even more value.

It’s important to remember, however, that the product may have been mis-sold and doesn’t address the customer’s needs. Make sure to ask additional questions to clarify whether the customer is getting any value from the solution and decide upon the best course of action.

Onboarding does not equal product training. Don’t assume that the team can learn the product or service by using it and achieve the necessary results without extra effort. In fact, the onboarding process includes the planning phase, during which all the goals associated with the product are set. It is followed by the training (the importance of which is still hard to overestimate). The onboarding also includes providing a clear explanation of why the implementation of the new solution is important for the business processes and, of course, building the new daily/weekly routines associated with the product.

Unfortunately, the lack of understanding of these factors significantly increases the chance for the customer to not renew the subscription. If clear goals for the solution haven’t been established, it’s difficult or even impossible to evaluate its impact on the business processes. Team members could potentially miss key components of the product simply because they don’t know about them and haven’t been properly trained. Without a compelling explanation of why the product is important for the business, employees might think of it as of extra work (or even something that has been purchased to micromanage them). And if the necessary routines aren’t built, the product simply won’t be used regardless of how good it is.

Let’s imagine you just got a new client that has been using your product for several years already. You start reviewing your colleagues’ notes and find out that the product has already delivered some amazing results for the customer’s organization. You schedule the first call with the customer and expect to have a pleasant conversation, but instead, they express frustration and disappointment. It turns out that the customer’s organization has gone through some significant changes, and your product is no longer an effective solution for them.

Only 2 things matter: the value your product or service is delivering now (and by “now,” I mean the current quarter/year of the subscription cycle), and the costs of transitioning to a new solution. It’s great if your customer found success in the past with your product, but what matters is the value they are currently deriving from your product. Transition costs are also very important. If, for example, the client would give your solution a strong 9 out of 10 last year, and today the score would be 5 or 6, they may start evaluating other products. The customer would need to consider the amount of time required to transfer all their data, educate the team on the new tool, and set it up correctly. It may just be less expensive for the company to keep the current solution even when it’s not as effective as it once was. So, in the end, retaining your solution for the customer would actually be a compromise.

It seems only logical that if you spend more time working through your customer’s issues, they would find more success with your product. This is often the case but definitely not always. All your time and effort are pointless if the customer is not willing to do their part. This involves setting aside enough of the team’s time to learn the product, helping employees create the necessary routines associated with your solution, and properly translating the business need for it.

You may be tempted to do some of these things for the client. While it’s wonderful that you’re dedicated to helping the client achieve great results with your solution, it’s the client’s team that needs to use the product to achieve any results. While it’s certainly OK to help, the customer ultimately needs to be responsible for rolling out the product.

A decade ago, it was widely accepted that you needed to establish a strong, long-term relationship with a decision-maker in your client’s organization. With the increasing popularity of a subscription-based business model and growing competition in various markets, such a relationship is no longer as important. Companies now have a wide range of solutions to choose from, and developers of these solutions are doing their best to make the transition from the competitor’s product quick and easy. Some vendors even let customers import data directly from a competitor’s solution. This means the price of making a mistake is higher than ever — any issues with your solution could lead a customer to turn to a competitor.

While it’s still important to build and maintain a long-lasting relationship with the key person in your client’s organization, the fact that your product no longer meets the company’s growing needs and requirements is likely more of a deciding factor than this relationship. In the past, companies used to work with just a few solution providers (usually large), but now they may be working with dozens of different vendors simultaneously and simply not have the time to communicate as closely with you. So, yes, do continue building these relationships, but don’t expect them to guarantee a subscription renewal.

We hope you now have a better understanding of the assumptions it’s easy for a CSM to fall into and how to better ensure your customers’ continued satisfaction. Here’s to many happy renewals!

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Artem Gurnov

Written by

Project Manager at Wrike

Wrike TechClub

We are a community of engineers, product managers, and customer-facing team members within Wrike. Each day, Wrikers from different offices share their knowledge and experience with communities through different platforms and invite you to collaborate.

Artem Gurnov

Written by

Project Manager at Wrike

Wrike TechClub

We are a community of engineers, product managers, and customer-facing team members within Wrike. Each day, Wrikers from different offices share their knowledge and experience with communities through different platforms and invite you to collaborate.

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