Customer success manager is a key position in SaaS companies responsible for the portfolio of existing clients. CSMs usually support them in using the product and are responsible for the client‘s growth. I will look at what are the key factors for successful CSMs in our company while being aware that it might vary from SaaS to SaaS.
I have always been close to client success. When I joined ROI Hunter, my first position was called account strategist which was basically CSM but more hands-on. From the moment we hired the first proper CSM, I lead the CS team and now I am responsible for the region where our company became popular thanks to outstanding client support provided. That’s why thinking about what makes it be a great CSM is so natural for me. While their role and responsibility can vary from company to company, there are definitely characteristics which will work even for the agency’s account managers and similar positions.
1) Ownership of client’s success
When hiring a CSM, this is the first and main thing I am looking for: will (s)he do whatever it takes to make sure the client will succeed with our platform? Are they able to be responsive? Will they proactively check the client’s performance and adoption? Will they strive to exceed client’s expectation? Will they create an audit or prepare a quick tutorial without anyone asking for it?
It is impossible to be a great CSM if you wait for clients to come and ask. Yes, often a CSM might be a firefighter. CSMs are in the first line when the client has a problem. They have to show up their face and apologize for bug or issue caused by someone or something they can’t affect. That can be very ungrateful.
If a CSM waits for clients to reach out, most of the interaction will have a negative sentiment – complaining, solving problems or challenging workflows. While if a CSM can reach out proactively with suggestions or ideas, it moves the relationship with a client to another level. A reactive CSM will hate the job after a few years. Proactive CSM will earn tons of clients‘ compliments regardless of how good or bad is the product. I want my CSMs to think every day „How can I make my clients successful using our platform?“.
2) Technical skills and domain knowledge
I don’t think this applies across all SaaS companies but ROI Hunter’s CSMs have always been top experts in our area – Facebook advertising. Given my own nature, I have always paid attention to Facebook expertise and making sure our CSMs know the best about Facebook has always been my priority. That’s why other companies are bombarding our team’s LinkedIns, that’s why some of our people were hired by large companies who are not able to develop their own talent or Facebook itself.
Strictly said, we are going way beyond SaaS business with the level of knowledge and expertise our CSMs provide to clients. They are not only experts in using our platform, but mainly in performance marketing on Facebook in general. In my opinion, this has been one of the key pillars of ROI Hunter’s success. Thanks to that, our clients are not only getting the top product but also a partner who can guide them in an extremely dynamic and fast-developing environment. I believe this is the right way to add value to client’s business and a number of case studies where clients praise our service only proves that.
Having the domain knowledge makes things way easier for a CSM. If you worked for Mailchimp, you should know how to do e-mail marketing well. If you are with Quickbooks, you should understand the basics of accounting and how the job looks like. It will make the client listen to you and you will be more relevant.
3) Commercial skills
I must admit that domain knowledge had more of my attention in the past than commercial & sales skills when it comes to CSMs. When I was a CSM myself, I hated to be seen as someone doing sales or even being close to that. That was a mistake. Client success is naturally a part of a commercial team, should have commercial KPIs and thus need skills to achieve them.
Currently, our CSMs are measured by the growth of managed revenue which clearly says what the focus is. I mean, it is nice to have a client with the highest NPS but if the same client doesn’t renew the contract or is not growing over the time, I wasn’t successful in adding value to his business.
The client might have liked me, but we didn’t succeed. As our company grows and the commercial team gets more professional structure, our CSMs had to learn that they own the commercial relationship with the client. They are not and they don’t want to be technical support, they are ensuring client’s success. That is measured by their book of business.
Thus, when looking for a new CSM I also check if they will be able to manage contract renewals, how would they upsell client or how they can identify the risk of churn.
4) Soft skills a good CSM needs to have
I already spoke about ownership and proactiveness. Given the nature of the job, a good CSM needs to have also other soft skills. Communication skills being probably the most important ones. Especially in the world where you don’t meet most of your clients in person, you need to be perfect in communication – in the spoken one, to make sure clients understand you well, can use your advice etc., as well as the written one. It gets tricky in a multi-culture region like the Middle East where you need to be extra careful in how the message is being accepted by the other side.
Presentation is another important skill to have. You will do platform demos, training, maybe speak at events or just present your findings to the client over the call or during QBRs. In all cases it is important you are confident doing so and you can build professional decks which will help you convey the message.
And I would say, client portfolio management is a skill on its own. To be able to prioritize which client should get your time, who to reach out to with what suggestion, is not an easy thing to do. You need to be able to estimate when to push on a client or when it is better to wait a bit. It is a big difference comparing to working on a client-side where you can focus on one account and one company only. As a CSM you need be able to do this at scale.
5) Strategic thinking makes a great CSM
Strategic thinking and planning are what – in my eyes – differentiate best CSMs from good CSMs. If you are able to elevate clients’ conversations to a level where they listen to you with a strategic decision, you have done well. It takes years to learn how to utilize the tech skills (I spoke about in #2) to provide strategic consultancy. But that will make you even more important partner for their business.
Best CMSs I’ve seen are not only able to think strategically for clients but also for themselves. They have a strategy for growing their portfolio, increasing adoption or contracts renewals. Junior CSMs just go and try. The best ones, think one or two quarters in advance and move based on that.
Please, share your thoughts or feedback about what the key CSM’s skills are!
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