The Case for Customer Success Management: Part 2 – What Does a CSM Do and How?

What Does a CSM Do and How?

By Steyn Basson, Synthesis Head of CSM

In a previous article, I looked at the “Why” question as it relates to CSMs, i.e. why do you need CSMs to grow your business effectively? In this article, I wanted to explore the what and how in a bit more detail.

The single most important weapon in the CSM’s arsenal is communication. The CSM’s role is to ensure better client expectation management (which in turn allows the client to make more accurate and reliable decisions and leads to better strategic planning), efficiency between teams/areas (through communication) which ensure that problems that have been solved by other teams don’t need to be solved again, and solutions can be reused, and it leads to better handover between different phases of a project, meaning that loss of momentum can be minimised significantly.

In addition, a CSM should work alongside the client to better understand their roadmap/vision – this will help ensure that teams are aligned properly and working towards a common goal. The CSM can provide input/advice based on experience in the field and in so doing ensure a more robust client roadmap. The CSM would also be in a unique position to ensure that any technical decisions that are made help move the client closer towards their vision, rather than away from it or sideways. The overall goal would be to ensure that the value of each cent spent by the client can be translated into maximum value.

Insight into the client roadmap also allows a CSM to provide advice to clients related to areas in which their teams can make a difference, and conversely, areas where the team may not be able to deliver optimal value. As valuable as a CSM’s insight into areas of expertise is, often the opposite is even more valuable. i.e. being able to say no. Whereas pure sales functions are often incentivised based on the monetary value of closed deals alone, it is critical that the CSM’s motivation and drive is not purely financial. A CSM’s focus should be on maximising client value, and building trust. And this means sometimes walking away from an opportunity if they don’t believe we can add proper value. This is preferable to the alternative of embarking on a piece of work and being set up for failure, which will damage the client relationship (and trust) in the medium to long term.

Insight into the client roadmap also allows the CSM to align internal teams, R&D activities, and other initiatives to better coincide with client demands, meaning that when clients embark on new journeys, instead of needing to play catchup, we are already there waiting and ready.

A CSM should also be able to push back when needed, especially if just saying yes is not in the client or team’s best interests. More often than not simply saying yes to unrealistic and potentially unreasonable client demands result in a worse outcome for all involved in the short and long term: In the short term the demand can’t be fulfilled despite an expectation being created that it could, and more often than not this only becomes clear close to the deadline, and in the long term, teams typically become less effective and engaged over time at clients where there is a history of unreasonable/unrealistic demands – a culture of “us and them” can quickly become the norm, leading to worse long -erm outcomes for the client. As such the CSM should balance all requests carefully to ensure that the client/team relationship remains first and foremost in mind, and that the best outcome can be achieved for the client in the long term.

A CSM is most effective when they spend the majority of their time onsite at a specific client. First prize is being able to spend time with teams, “walk the hallways”, being pulled into ad-hoc conversations etc. This has proven a LOT more difficult during 2020/2021 due to COVID-19, but good CSMs find ways around these challenges, ranging from setting up recurring one-on-one meetings, making sure they attend stand-ups, or actively reaching out to clients with ideas and proposals to help them be more effective during lockdown.

All of which leads to better outcomes for the client and sets them up for success, and ensures maximum return on investment.

So, what makes for a good CSM?

A successful CSM is someone who can bring together three areas effectively: Client environment/requirements, Domain knowledge (Finance, Insurance, Banking etc), and Vendor offerings/capabilities. A good understanding of these three areas allows a CSM to provide the right advice at the right time, and ensure that the client is set up for success.

In conclusion, the CSM should be the “go-to” person at any client, ensuring that they build trust through integrity and good pro-active accurate communication. In so doing, they can balance the client demands with the team capabilities, and ensure optimal long-term outcomes for clients.

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