By Chad Horenfeldt
Not another meeting! You can typically judge how busy a CSM is by the number of customer meetings they have. Preparing for these meetings includes knowing the latest adoption data, product updates, renewal pricing, onboarding processes, what was discussed in the last meeting, the customer’s wedding plans - the list goes on and on.
It’s also critical to hit on key messages such as the value that the product provides, or a specific question that the team has been mandated to ask such as, “Is there any chance that you won’t renew?” CSMs need to set the right expectations - especially in onboarding - and need to master simple negotiation techniques such as bringing the conversation back to the customer’s ultimate outcome.
How do you ensure that your CSMs are bringing their best selves to these meetings and making time to improve their skills? The obvious answer is preparation time and practice, but let’s get real on this - how much time can anyone really allocate to practice? I’ll outline a three step process to up your CS team’s meeting game, and do it in a way that is conducive to a typical crazy CS schedule.
Step 1: Get On The Training Train
To prepare for typical CSM meetings (like onboarding, QBR, or renewals) you need to receive adequate training. This training may include how to speak to the revised pricing packages, new product changes, or different aspects of QBR metrics. You also need to document these processes and procedures. This will ensure that all of the CSMs on your team know how to deliver the key messages, and can handle themselves in the various situations they will find themselves in.
To help CSMs learn and retain new and modified processes, you need to go well beyond crafting an email or sending a Slack message. Something I repeat often to my team: “A process isn’t a process unless it’s written down.” If you want CSMs to learn new processes, you need to fully document what the expectation is.
Here is an example of what a typical training plan may be for CSMs on delivering a QBR:
Training course: QBR Overview. This is for new CSMs and may be delivered by a third party (such as the Success League) to help CSMs get a basic understanding of how to prepare and deliver an effective QBR.
Training course: Creating the QBR materials. This shows the CSM how to pull together the necessary QBR materials. This can consist of a more experienced CSM mentoring a new CSM.
Quiz: Using a test to ensure that the CSM has retained the core concepts that they have been taught.
Certification: The CSM would need to prepare a QBR and deliver it either live or in a mock setting.
Supporting materials. This is a document, often called a playbook, that outlines what a QBR should consist of based on the type of client, the cadence it should be performed and the various steps involved.
A training plan will typically require cross-department involvement including Product, Sales or Marketing. Get them involved and bake this into your training plan. This will also ensure that other departments understand the importance of this process and the value of it for the company.
When revisions to processes are made, leaders must clearly communicate what the changes are. A typical way to introduce these changes is during a weekly CS meeting. This should be followed up via written communication, and if the changes are significant, a re-certification process. In addition, larger CS teams may need new roles to support these initiatives such as a CS Operations Manager or an Enablement Manager to help document and roll out processes.
Training is time intensive and can be perceived as taking people away from the real work but just like it’s important to onboard your clients successfully, it’s important to nail CSM training so your team is setup for success.
Step 2: Take An Unconventional Approach To Practice
There are many comparisons you can draw between CSMs and athletes. CSMs need to be mentally and physically prepared for their role, and they need to bring it each and every day. Unlike the typical athlete that has a season where games may be spread out over time, the CSM doesn’t have that luxury. They have multiple meetings each day that can be very different from each other. While it would be amazing if CSMs could practice for each situation, that becomes extremely difficult if you need to execute against your goals and also have a life after work.
My recommendation is that you practice what you’ve learned on live customer calls instead of having designated practice sessions. Once the CSM has gone through the training plan, designate a specific customer meeting, such as a QBR call, as a live practice session. On that call have a more senior team member evaluate how the CSM performed. Create a defined set of evaluation criteria and have the evaluator go over it with the CSM after the call. For example, the following questions are rated from 1-5:
Did the CSM properly greet the client at the beginning of the call?
Did the CSM deliver the key messages?
Did the CSM adjust well to the customer’s tone?
Even if the CSM makes a few mistakes it shouldn’t be anything too critical. If the CSM needs additional help, you can repeat this evaluation process on a future call or set up some additional role playing.
By baking the practice session into your day-to-day client calls, you can improve the meeting skill-building of CSMs in half the time. The critical part to this is to review the performance after the meeting and determine the overall process improvements that need to be made.
Step 3: Review And Reflect
So, you’ve done the training and received a positive evaluation during a live customer meeting. You’re done, right? Wrong. A critical piece, often skipped over in the fast pace of CS life, is collecting feedback and reviewing it. The CS Manager or Operations Manager should seek out feedback via a survey or feedback session, and review. For example, a new CSM may have some valuable insights from their past experience on how to make the QBR process even better. In addition, your veteran CSMs may have detected areas where the team is having issues.
You can have a simple feedback session where you ask two questions: “What’s working?” and “What isn’t?” Listen to the feedback, make the adjustments and roll out new processes as needed. Your team is made up of smart and exceptional people. Take the time to listen to them.
As an added bonus, I’ve heard only positive things about new meeting recording technology like Gong. It cuts down the need to have CSM evaluators in meetings, and can help CSMs self-evaluate. You can ensure that certain keywords or phrases are mentioned, and track the improvements that CSMs have made over time. There are many many possibilities here for CSM teams that have yet to be uncovered.
Your Team Will Thank You
There is no question that a CSM’s schedule can look extremely daunting. There is so much you need to know and the stakes are extremely high. A missed opportunity to discuss a new product can prevent your customers from achieving more value from your product. A data point that wasn’t highlighted properly can lead to a client not achieving their expected outcome. A failure to set the right expectations can lead to resentment and possible churn.
CSMs can’t be perfect, but can perform at the highest level with the right guidance. You can maximize the time you have in your busy work week by continuing to improve your customer meeting skills. Start somewhere - your team will thank you for it.
Looking for other ways to help your CSMs streamline their work? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers a CSM Certification Program. Our classes offer insights and tools that are designed to promote the long-term learning that drives top performing teams. For more information on this and our other programs and offerings, please see TheSuccessLeague.io
Chad Horenfeldt - Chad is a customer success executive with 15+ years of experience building and developing high performing teams. Currently, he is the Vice President of Client Success at Updater. Prior to Updater, Chad held CS leadership positions at Bluecore, Influitive, and Oracle (Eloqua). In addition to writing for The Success League, he also writes regularly on the topic of customer success on his blog The Enlightened Customer.