CSM Role

Working in Zen: Balancing Your Effort Level Across Your Accounts

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By Amin Akbarpour

For the Customer Success representative who finds themselves on the road constantly, it’s easy to get lost in balancing client-facing activities, administrative work, and internal projects. We can’t always control the administrative tasks that are required in our jobs or internal projects that we need to drive, but we can manage how we spend our time with clients. I was recently inspired by this when a client mentioned during an onsite that it felt like they had to be our only client. I asked why they felt that way and their response was, “I feel like we’re constantly communicating with you, and not a day goes by without us getting something done on our checklist.” That response can be interpreted in a number of ways, but it made me think about how I’m balancing my time and energy across my book of business. Here are some ideas on how to best spend your time:

Logo Analysis

One way of organizing your book is by examining your current account list by the quality of the logo. Some questions to ask are:

  • Is it a Fortune 1000 company?

  • Are they a growing and emerging organization?

  • Have they won any accolades or received any public recognition?

  • Are they part of a strategic initiative that aligned with your company’s goals and objectives?

These are all questions you can award a point system to and figure out which accounts in your book should be higher priority vs. lower priority.

Relationship

Consider filtering your book by the relationship with your contacts. A few things to ask yourself are:

  • What’s our relationship at an executive level? Is our CEO friends with their CEO?

  • Do we share any common investors or board members?

  • Has the client been an advocate of ours or done a slew of marketing projects with us (references, quotes, events)?

  • Do we have a strong relationship with the day-to-day contacts and working teams?

The stronger the relationship, the higher you should prioritize the account.

Value

This one is the most obvious – what is their current annual contract value with your organization? Within this, I would also bake in a second number for “potential.” If they’re a client that’s in an industry you specialize in or they have a lot of programs you’ve identified as areas of opportunity, then declare that. I find the best thing to do is to estimate what that potential revenue looks like and assign it as a secondary value to the current agreement.

Ultimately, using these methods, you can develop a tiered ranking system of your accounts. From there you can organize your day and cut up time slots for your tier ones, tier twos, and so on. This will help you balance time and get the most out of your daily outreach. Please do not misinterpret this approach as an opportunity to ignore, or not give your best, to certain clients. It should serve as a framework for organizing your time and nothing more. As Customer Success professionals, we owe it to ourselves and the organizations we represent to provide the best service to each and every single one of our clients.

The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers an upcoming Key Topics in Customer Success CSM training program which includes such classes as Managing Your Portfolio and Time Management for CSMs. For more information on this program and our other classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Amin Akbarpour - Amin is a customer success coach and architect. With relationship-building at the core of his practice, he molds teams by instilling the necessary principles to transform them into trusted advisors. Amin is one of the founding advisors to The Success League and currently serves as an account manager for Persado. Amin is a University of San Francisco alum who now calls New York City home.

You Know You Should Be Doing Account Planning. Here’s Why.

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By Ashley Hall

Last year I covered the building blocks to structuring an impactful account plan. Now that you’ve got the basics down, I want to revisit why it’s vital and worthwhile to invest the time in keeping them up to date.

Keeps you organized and prepared

A well maintained, updated account plan is an incredible resource to keep you in the know and two steps ahead of your client. This document should be a one stop shop for reacquainting yourself of your stakeholders, their evolving success criteria or expected outcomes, and current projects or tasks. This means you don’t need to go digging in your success platform or CRM to get back up to date. Say the client calls you up out of the blue. With just a few clicks, you can pull up this document and be prepared for the action of the call. Not only that, it cuts down on your meeting prep time for scheduled engagements.

Supports your QBR schedule and is a system of record for your renewal event

Rather than having to go back and sort through your call notes or your CRM in order to prepare for a renewal conversation or QBR, your account plan is a great place to start. Updated accordingly, your account plan should be a record of recent successes, projects, and initiatives. As a living, breathing document it tells an ongoing story and can be utilized by you and others throughout the customer lifecycle.  

Aids in times of transition

Account plans are like the insurance policy for a success team. Things happen - people quit, leave the company, get sick, or even (hopefully!) get promoted. While we always wish for ample time for transition and formal handoff calls, we don’t always get that luxury and sometimes have to pick up the pieces while in motion. I always try to operate in a way where I am preparing for “if I were to get hit by a bus.” If something were to happen to me tomorrow, would my team be able to pick up where I left of and continue supporting the client? In the anticipation of the unknown tomorrow, prepare for it today by covering all your bases and thinking one or two steps ahead.

Keeps leadership and peers in the know

I’m not sure about you, but requests from your manager, the marketing team, the sales team, and sometimes even the board will come across your desk. Usually, the requests are urgent and will be top priority. Typically the requests will vary from “How is client “x” doing?,” or “Will client “y” do a marketing story with us?,” to “Would client “z” be open to being a reference for us?” Imagine having a library of these answers or stories at your fingertips. Rather than having to drop everything when a request hits your desk, in just a couple of clicks your manager or peer will have just what they’re looking for by referencing your account plans.

When it comes to account plans, don’t try to do it all at once. Start with just a handful of your clients or chose just a couple of data points to begin collecting and start building your library over time. I’ve started blocking 2, one-hour blocks throughout the week to spend time updating my account plans and have started looking forward to that time!

Need help becoming a more organized CSM? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers a comprehensive CSM Certification Program which includes such classes as Managing Your Portfolio and Executive Business Reviews. For more information on this program and our other classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Ashley Hall - Ashley loves to lead account management and success teams; from training newbies to building processes out of chaos. 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 is a senior account manager for Copper, and brings her work experiences to her articles and classes. Ashley holds a BA from the University of Colorado, lives in San Francisco, and and enjoys global travel.

The Administrative Work That Makes You A Successful CS Professional

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By Amin Akbarpour

In every profession, there are the flashy parts of the job and the more mundane, yet necessary aspects. A great example is any musical performer. The peak of their profession is performing live in front of an audience. Before they get to that point, however, there are countless hours put into practicing and fine-tuning their craft until it’s ready to be unleashed. Similarly, client interactions are the performances of customer success. With that said, it’s easy to think that the training, practice, and internal conversations we have are the “practicing and fine-tuning.” In reality, it’s the administrative tasks that prepare us best for performance.

Documentation

For every email, every phone call, and every meeting you have with a client, you should be jotting down notes. Whether it’s action items for yourself, useful takeaways on what the client is hoping to accomplish, or insight into the client’s business, these are all valuable nuggets that need to be documented.

How It Benefits The Team –  Solid documentation gives your teammates a central place to look at past QBRs, business cases, root cause analysis, and other beneficial documentation. It also helps provide a history of the relationship when someone is covering for you. Nothing is worse than having to fill in for a colleague and not knowing anything about the client you’re now responsible for. Don’t be that guy. Set your teammate up for success and ensure that your client doesn’t notice any lags in service.

How It Benefits You –  The reality is that logging activities helps you more than anyone else. It lets you store past interactions that you can reference in the future, use to study and remind yourself of key insights, and quickly cross reference to corroborate project details and commercial agreements. This should be especially top of mind for most CS reps right now. Why? It’s February and the beginning of the new fiscal year for most customers. As we’re trying to summarize the prior year’s accomplishments and strategize on how to build on what we’ve done, it’s incredibly useful to have everything documented in one easy-to-access place.

Standardized Processes

I have one word and one word only – templates. Whenever possible, try to build templates for parts of the administrative tasks that are set in front of you. Not only because it’ll help you be more efficient with your time, but because any type of standardization gives you a good baseline to compare multiple client relationships.

How It Benefits The Team – A standardized way of doing things allows for synergy and success across the team. Imagine that everyone on your team had a different agenda and delivery for QBRs. This would make it very difficult to come up with a common journey to guide clients through. Custom processes = more work, which adds up quickly when it comes to the cost of keeping a client. Giving the team templates and standardized resources helps save time, lower costs, and create a cohesive client experience.

How It Benefits You – Standard processes will save you time as you try to apply best practices across similar clients. A great example here is around data processing. Many customers in a single vertical will have similarities in terms of how they measure their business. That said, there is a slim chance that all of them will have identical goals and outcomes. Creating a template view of common KPIs allows you to quickly plug in multiple clients in a standardized way. What this gives you is the ability to look across an industry and search for trends and outliers based on the data. This can be shared with your client as an interesting nugget that could also create a new opportunity.

Customer Materials

As customer success professionals, we’re responsible for providing customer information to various internal parties. Whether it’s helping marketing get a client to commit to become a reference, lining up customer interviews for product, or helping your CS colleagues with a case study, there are a lot of requests for customer connections and materials. Keeping all the collateral on clients in one central place is critical in providing everyone with the information they’re looking for.

How It Benefits The Team – Keeping an up-to-date repository for customer materials helps eliminate the majority of these conversations. Your colleagues can easily go into this collection and find out if you have reference permissions with a specific client, or if there’s a case study, or what feature requests they’ve made and why. It helps them be more efficient, keeps them from having to wait on you to get back to them, and…

How It Benefits You – …it saves a tremendous amount of your own time! Keeping all of these resources in one place allows you to focus on value adding tasks for your clients instead. Not to mention the energy you’ll save not having to eye roll after receiving the same request several times each month!

All in all, it’s impossible to stress enough the significance of the administrative side of a customer success role. It’s with good habits here that we’re able to become better reps and be better equipped to put our clients in the best position to succeed.

Need help getting organized? 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 skills. For more information on this program and our other classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Amin Akbarpour - Amin is a customer success coach and architect.  With relationship-building at the core of his practice, he molds teams by instilling the necessary principles to transform them into trusted advisors. Understanding what's needed for organizational change, he translates theory and ideology into practice and habit. Amin is one of the founding advisors to The Success League. In addition to his work with The League, Amin currently serves as an account manager for Persado. Originally from Southern California, Amin is a University of San Francisco alum who now calls New York City home.

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 TheSuccessLeague.io

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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.

It Isn’t One Size Fits All - Customer Success Across Industries

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By Amin Akbarpour

Customer Success is definitely what we’d consider to be industry-agnostic. It exists in all sorts of organizations, albeit called different things like client services or partnerships. Customer success also serves all sorts of organizations. For example, a customer success representative could be working with clients in the consumer packaged goods space and the media and entertainment space simultaneously across their book of business. At times, it can be challenging applying best practices to clients within different industries. Sometimes you have to adjust your process a bit so it makes more sense to a particular client. If that resonates with you, what type of adjustments should you be ready to make?

Speak Their Language

Easily the one thing you should immediately be on the look out for is their industry or organization-specific vernacular. Every industry has their own dictionary and acronyms – think LTV in Retail or ADR in hospitality – and the quicker you understand and learn their business, the more likely the client is to trust you and view you as an expert. How can you expedite this process?

  • Your Colleagues: Talk to your coworkers! See if anyone came from the specific industry you’re now serving or knows anyone who did.

  • Industry Reports: A lot of big consulting firms publish industry trend reports that can serve as a great way of learning about a specific space. PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte often publish free reports you can find online.

  • LinkedIn: Run a search and see if you know anyone who could be of help in providing valuable industry information. Don’t forget to see if you can find 2nd level connections or alumni working in the sector that you’re learning about – it's a great opportunity to learn more about a specific space and to network at the same time.  

  • Your Client: First time serving a specific industry? Be transparent. Ask to have an industry knowledge-share session where you’ll learn about their business and terminology in order to better help them down the road.

This is not a “fake it till you make it” scenario. If you hear the client say something that you don’t understand, don’t be shy. Speak up and ask for clarification. It's much better to be on the same page than to create a façade of being all-knowing. After all, early in the relationship there will be plenty of things for you to learn, and most clients are understanding at that point.

Goal-Setting

A big retailer is going to care about different metrics and accomplishing different things than a tech company. Even within the same space, a well-established legacy player will have different drives than a rapidly growing newcomer. As you learn how their business works and what stage they’re in as an organization, you’ll be in position to know what types of questions to ask. Imagine you’re a paid media agency. Some questions of interest might be:

  • Do you have trouble tracking a customer’s engagement with your brand across channels over time?

  • What are past examples of exceptional initiatives you all have run? What have they looked like?

  • Are you mostly focused on retargeting and brand awareness efforts? What are you doing from an acquisition point of view?

I strongly recommend SPIN Selling as a must-read that’ll help you understand how to turn these situational questions into stronger, thought-provoking conversations.

Last piece of advice: make no assumptions. Always present what you’ve learned in past engagements with similar clients as a hypothesis and get clarity as to whether or not it applies to them. Just because most folks do things a certain way does not mean all of them will. Start applying these pieces of advice into your routine today, and see how quickly you can learn your client’s business!

Are you new to Customer Success or looking to improve your CS skills? 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. For more information on this program and our other classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessLeague.io

Amin Bio Pic.png

Amin Akbarpour - Amin is a customer success coach and architect.  With relationship-building at the core of his practice, he molds teams by instilling the necessary principles to transform them into trusted advisors. Understanding what's needed for organizational change, he translates theory and ideology into practice and habit. Amin is one of the founding advisors to The Success League. In addition to his work with The League, Amin currently serves as an account manager for Persado. Originally from Southern California, Amin is a University of San Francisco alum who now calls New York City home.