A few weeks ago I was asked to give a presentation to explain to a new partner what Sysomos CSMs (Customer Success Managers) do, and what makes a good CSM.
The role isn’t different from what CSMs do in other companies. We are the main point of contact for the account and we help clients and end users take the best out of their subscription to reach their goals. Internally, we are also a powerful channel for customer feedback that has true impact in the development of the product.
It’s a mix of support, training, strategy, client advocacy, marketing and a bit of sales; all of it with the goal of: ensuring clients are successful (hence the name of the role), prevent churn and facilitate growth.
As per the skills, while preparing for the presentation I came up with an idea that would allow me to fill my slides with Batman references:
good CSMs are like Batman
The main reason is that we are actually meant to be the client’s personal super hero. We don’t try to sell them anything -we are there to help. We share the good news like updates and new features, and we help navigate through everyday challenges.
A good sales person helps build and maintain this heroic image of the CSM by taking some heat from us when things go south, because as a team we know that the relationship client-CSM is a key factor to prevent churn -and it puts us in a better place to grow the account. Many organizations describe that relationship as that of a “trusted-advisor”, making clear that the CSM is a voice that the client should always be willing to listen to.
So, what makes an outstanding, Batman-like CSM?
1 – Be Responsive
Batman always responds to the bat-signal. A CSM has to respond when a client reaches out.
Of course that can be challenging some times: when you don’t have the update from the product team that you need, or when you are busy with something else (equally urgent) for another client and can’t do the proper research/debugging right away. One thing that helps me show responsiveness is to send a reply within 30 minutes. Not necessarily with an answer or the solution to a problem, but just to acknowledge that I have seen the bat-signal and that I have their back.
The potential downside is setting the expectation that you are always available, but I find that if I simply do my best and not worry too much about when I can’t reply within those 30 minutes most clients end up understanding that I get to things as soon as I can -after all, even Batman is human under the mask!
2 – See Everything
Working in SaaS, you’ll hear this a lot: the CSM is the person that knows an account the best. And I believe that’s a good thing. So I try to make sure that I really am the smartest person in the team: researching the client, taking notes of their users and the different use cases, and keeping track of pain-points that slow them down.
This way, when I receive a question from a user I know exactly where they are coming from and the best way to help them. For example, if there is a bug that breaks their workflow I’m able to quickly come up with potential workarounds, because I know exactly what they need even if their email didn’t describe it in detail.
3 – Be Resourceful
Many people understand resourcefulness as having something like Batman’s belt with all the tools and gadgets ready to go. And that’s important -to be successful, a CSM needs to have access to the right tools, documentation, etc.
But to me, being resourceful is also when you face a problem for which there isn’t a solution yet and you just go to the bat-cave and engineer something new. If I know that the developers team is addressing my client’s pain-point int he next release but that it wont be in production until next month, I try to find or create a workaround so the client can keep working until the release is published (and here is when point 2 comes handy!).
4 – Adapt Quickly
On top of being resourceful, Batman also excels at adaptability –and so do CSMs. Always ready to change the plan and move in a different direction when needed. Think of the bat-mobile being stalled and Batman just taking off in the motorbike.
I think the best real-life example of adaptability is the client call that for some reason changes direction: it was going to be about solution A but now that doesn’t work for the project and solution B is a better option; it was going to be a training call and it becomes a brainstorm/strategy session with a demo of something new… a CSM just has to be ready to change gears.
5 – Be Strategic
Being able to adapt at any moment to face the unexpected should not be taken as a call to not be strategic when approaching account (and success) managing. As a CSM, I work with the sales account manager on a strategy for short, mid and long term; creating a journey for the account (the account is here and we want to go there).
This allows us to be proactive and get things ready: It’s a lot easier to go from point A to point B if you have a map, so we make our own map.
To involve the client, I like to schedule monthly or quarterly calls as a regular touch-point to receive client feedback and review new features and future use cases. I find this extremely helpful with accounts that are going through a harder time seeing the value of the tools, to ensure there is at least one call every now and then that is not a reaction to the users being frustrated with a specific project.
6 – Take Off the Mask
This is the one difference between CSMs and Batman (other than the pile of money to support all the R&D and engineering involved in being Batman).
Batman is the Dark Knight. He is the hero Gotham deserves, not the one Gotham needs. CSMs are the opposite: the hero the client needs, not the one they deserve.
A friendly, savvy client deserves a CSM that shares all the news and helps with everything, is constantly in touch…. but a savvy client doesn’t need that. They need space to do their job, and the occasional help or call with updates. They are good on their own, they don’t need to be constantly interrupted. I trust that they’ll turn on the bat-signal when they need me.
The opposite extreme would be a client that complains every day about bugs that are not bugs but user errors, maybe because they haven’t taken the time to learn how the tool works and expect that you do everything for them… they deserve to be ignored. But those are the clients that actually need their CSM the most. They need more training, more detailed and faster responses, and more hand-holding. And maybe some day they won’t need so much help.
So, as I see it, a CSM is meant to be the opposite of a Dark Knight. And a big part of that is that you don’t hide. You pick up the phone even if you know they are going to yell at you. And you don’t hide or delay news either. Being transparent might be a bad idea for Batman, but for a CSM transparency always wins long term, because the client needs to trust you. Plus it’s actually a lot easier to handle expectations if you just tell things as they are.
My pro tip here is to get used to really take off the mask and turn on the webcam when having calls with clients. There is something about seeing the other person’s face that automatically creates a stronger, more trusting relationship. There is a reason why onsite visits add so much value, and a video call is the next best thing.
7 – Be Resilient
And some times you just need to power through the rough times: a feature your client has been waiting for gets delayed to the next release, or there is a service interruption and as a CSM you can’t really fix it yourself, or you have four different deadlines to meet by EOD… and you feel you are going to give up.
But you don’t, because you are Batman and you can be drugged with poisonous gas and set on fire, and still find the strength to jump out the window and run.
If you are a CSM, what other skills would you highlight? And more importantly, Which super hero do you see yourself as?