Why CSMs Should Not Sell

By Loni Spratt

The Customer Success Manager (CSM) is the closest interface to the end user and succeeds through establishing relationships built on a foundation of trust and rooted in partnership. Though there isn’t a one size fits all definition of the CSM role, what can be universally agreed with is that an effective CSM, regardless of the product or service offering, is both provider and voice of customer simultaneously. The art of being a successful CSM is the intersection of clarity of purpose, detailed customer needs understanding, and mastery of the product culminating in a world-class customer experience. This recipe, executed appropriately, results in increased sales but is not a sales function.

Maintain Clarity of Purpose

The fundamental purpose of the CSM is to ensure that the customer is successful, and it is critical that this focus isn’t clouded by motivation for up-selling to satisfy the allure of high commissions. Driving customer value is the number one priority. Negotiations, pricing tactics and the nuances of the sales process can easily detract from maintaining this clarity and ultimately have a negative effect on the customer experience. A poor customer experience easily translates into customer churn, specifically logo churn. Pursuing increased sales may help in the short-term to mask revenue churn but very quickly turn into a numbers game in which the success of the customer is never achieved; the purpose of the CSM is undermined.

An Advisor Relationship Rooted in Trust

Customer intimacy is categorically critical to making customers successful. A detailed needs analysis and understanding of your customer is required to be able to perform as a CSM. They understand how their customers define success and strategically work cross-functionally to deliver results consistent with this definition of success.  In order to achieve this detailed understanding, the CSM must not only be able to walk in the shoes of the customer but be skilled at being an advocate for what the customer needs before they know they need it. Advising customers of new product offerings that could help them achieve their goals is very different than leading them through the sales process. Built on a foundation of trust, this relationship puts the CSM is in the perfect position to identify opportunities to up-sell but those opportunities should be passed to a closing rep to complete. Effectively, CSMs are lead generation for the sales reps when it comes to existing customers. The trusted advisor role is never compromised and the CSM’s intentions are never questioned.

Product Masters not Sellers

Mastery of product is also an important characteristic of the successful CSM and energies should be focused in that area instead of sales. In the customer’s eyes, the CSM is the go-to person, completely knowledgeable about the product; ready to help them navigate to success. Day-to-day activities can include training and onboarding, sharing best practices, leading quarterly business reviews and promoting advocacy, while an account manager or sales role is focused on meeting sales quotas and driving renewals. Though they operate complementary to each other, the skill sets and DNA of CSMs are different than those of their sales counterparts.

The CSM-Customer relationship is all about trust. This relationship is sacred and shouldn’t be clouded by sales quotas or the appearance of disingenuous motivation. Establishing and nurturing this relationship ultimately translates into high revenue retention and low logo churn. As a CSM leader, my primary objective is to ensure that there is no conflict of interest within the team. One sign that a CSM gets “it” is when he or she embodies the voice of the customer so much that it spills over into internal company debate and lines between user and provider are blurry at best. 

Loni Spratt - Loni Spratt is the Director of Customer Success at Entelo, a SaaS platform that leverages predictive analytics and social signals to help organizations find, qualify and engage with in­-demand talent. Prior to Entelo, Loni co-founded IntelliTalent, an online recruitment company powered by both technology and a team of expert recruitment sourcers. 

Thanks to our guest blogger Loni for providing this wonderful counterpoint to the post "Why CSMs Should Sell". The Success League is a consulting firm that works with executives who want to unlock the retention and revenue a top performing customer success team will bring to their business.  Unlike traditional approaches to customer service, we transform support into success by building metrics, goals and processes that enable customer success teams to perform at their peak. www.TheSuccessLeague.io