Why Customer Success Managers (CSMs) are Critical for Growing your Business
By Steyn Basson, Synthesis Head of CSM
The company where I work (Synthesis Software Technologies) started out as a small company. A small handful of employees, a small handful of clients, a limited technology set, and a hyper focussed target market (banks only). This brought about an interesting dynamic where every employee was hyper connected:
- Each employee had a very similar set of skills.
- Each employee was either involved with, or intimately aware of every project we undertook.
- Each employee interacted with every other employee on an (almost) daily basis.
- Each employee had spent at least some of their time at every client.
- Each employee knew the (relatively small) technology stack backwards.
- Each employee understood the (limited) target domain very well.
It was simple. But growth was limited and our focus was short term. Downtime was relatively common and sometimes employees would complain of not having enough to do. In addition, what we could offer our clients was also severely limited because of capacity constraints that prevented us from undertaking larger projects.
However, great delivery led to positive word-of-mouth feedback at clients. Other departments at existing clients started noticing us, as well as other banks, and even other industries. Synthesis started developing a reputation as the place to go if you had an interesting project that nobody else had been able to crack yet, and as the place to apply to if you wanted to do exciting work.
The advantages of a smaller technology business
For everyone at Synthesis it was clear where they could add the most value, and where a gap was identified, it was naturally filled, and good delivery was enabled through simple communication:
- Client to Synthesis and vice versa, which was uncomplicated since we only dealt with a handful of clients at any given time.
- Between different project teams, mainly since we had limited amounts of teams at any given client.
- Between different phases of a project, because the same individuals that were responsible for delivery were usually responsible for maintenance
The challenges of running a larger technology business
But then we grew. From tiny beginnings, to a company that is now much larger and much more stable than in those early days. However, with growth came some interesting changes to the dynamic:
- Employees now often have very different sets of skills.
- Very few employees have a full big picture view, since there are a lot of projects running at any given point in time.
- Employees now have less exposure to other members of the larger team, simply due to the number of employees.
- Employees tend to be assigned to specific clients for extended periods of time, meaning less exposure across the larger client base.
- We now utilise a much larger variety of technological stacks and options.
- There are significant differences between the way that different sectors (and geographical areas) operate. For example, what works in the banking sector may not work for retail, and vice versa.
It is definitely more complex. But growth and opportunity is enabled in new ways. Our focus has shifted to longer-term thinking (while ensuring quality delivery in the short/medium term), and downtime is something that is a lot less common, with employees being exposed to new technologies and new domains constantly. In addition, the range of solutions we can offer our clients has grown exponentially, including larger projects that we would not have been able to undertake in earlier years.
Communication has become a lot more complicated however:
- Client to Synthesis and vice versa, due to the larger client base.
- Between different project teams, since a single client could have multiple teams onsite at once.
- Between different phases of a project, since there are now dedicated support (MSP), and other areas that ensure optimum delivery at every stage.
Communication and clarity of vision happened naturally when we were a small company, but this presents more of a challenge as we grow, and has become something that needs to be explicitly addressed. It is clear that waiting for these items to be organically/naturally addressed will lead to failure in the long term.
An apt analogy may be one of a balloon with dots marked on it being blown up. When it is small, all of the dots are close to each other, but as the balloon grows, the distance between the dots grow larger and larger, and gaps appear.
Solving the communication gap
Enter the CSM (Customer Success Manager): A specific individual (or team in some cases) that is put in place to try and address the above. Put another way, the CSM’s primary role is to act as the glue that holds everything together when things start expanding, and in so doing they enable further expansion. The CSM is there to ensure the client can benefit from all of the advantages that (vendor) growth brings, while at the same time minimising the disadvantages (and even turning these aspects into positives).
In conclusion, the role of the CSM allows organisations to embrace growth and all the advantages that it brings, while allowing the retention of the values and client dedication that allowed the organisation to be in a position to grow in the first place.
In part 2 of this series, I will look at how a CSM does all of the above.