AM or CSM: What's the Difference?

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By Ashley Hall

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked, “What is the difference between an account manager and a customer success manager?” or “Why are they different?” or “What is is that you do again?” I might not need to continue grooming my customer success career! Lots of companies use these terms interchangeably, and some use one over the other. Or, if your experience is anything like mine, switch one out for the other. One thing is certain: Every company uses these titles a little differently. I am happy to share with you how I continue to navigate this path, and discuss why these titles are often confused.

Different goals

While both AMs and CSMs are both customer-facing roles, they are typically striving towards different goals and KPIs. An account manager is usually more sales-focused and working with clients on expanding their contract, cross-selling complimentary product offerings, or working through the renewals process. The CSM, however, is focused on retaining the client, along with their satisfaction and product adoption. The CSM also might be involved in technical projects or project managing professional services. The AM is likely tracking towards a quota where they will earn a commission or bonus percentage. Most CMS will be looking at a blended variable compensation package comprised of retention and customer satisfaction adoption measures.

Different approaches

In support of striving towards different goals, a CSM and AM will most likely approach various conversations differently. A CSM will be more focused on team adoption, technical details, and perhaps where things have gone wrong, or the client requires more support. These circumstances typically build up the story of whether the customer will stay on board for the long term. On the other hand, an account manager will be more focused on the business relationships at play and whether stakeholders are content with the service and open to discussions around expansion opportunities.

A little bit of both  

I think the sweet spot is where you can find a candidate that can perform all of these duties well. Being able to grasp the technical, while finesse on the business side, can make you a particularly strong contributor regardless of the title on your LinkedIn. I have carried both titles and would say I am more of a sales-driven performer but have a proven track record under both titles.

I find that account managers can get a bad rap for being “too salesy,” and only a titled CSM can be a “trusted advisor.” I am not of that school of thought and firmly believe a great salesperson is a trusted advisor, if they’re doing their job right.

What do you think?

Are you new to a CSM role or toggling from account management to customer success? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers a complete CSM Training Program which will provide you with practical tools to strengthen your professional toolkit, regardless of your title. For more information on this program and our other classes and workshops, please visit

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Ashley Hall - Ashley loves to lead account management and success teams; from training newbies to building processes out of chaos to working directly with customers. She is passionate about helping customers achieve goals. With an eye on the future she is a powerhouse in building scaleable frameworks that support and drive growth. Ashley is one of the founding advisors to The Success League, and serves as a regular instructor for the company's CSM Training Program. She also serves as a customer success manager for ProsperWorks, and brings her work experiences to her articles and classes. Ashley holds a BA from the University of Colorado, Boulder and enjoys living in San Francisco while traveling all over the world.