The role of a Customer Success Manager (CSM) is consistently ranked as one of the fastest-growing jobs in the world. LinkedIn’s 2020 Emerging Jobs Report put Customer Success Specialist at number six in the U.S. with a 34% annual growth rate. At the same time, spending on XaaS continues to skyrocket. Gartner’s latest cloud forecast predicts that XaaS spending will reach nearly $500 billion before the end of this year. More and more companies are making the move to XaaS, and Customer Success is the belle of the ball!
But being the belle of the ball has its drawbacks. Everybody wants to dance, and not all dance partners are really ready. Executives might realize they need a Customer Success organization, but if they don’t fully commit to doing it the right way, they end up with a half-baked plan that would trip up even the best dance partners. The result is often a rebranding of their current teams into CS roles with no formal transition, no training, and no real strategy for the success of Customer Success. Yikes.
Are AMs and CSMs all that different?
Congratulations! You’re a CSM now!
It’s distressingly common for organizations in the middle of this huge shift to XaaS to cut corners and abruptly change job titles of an entire department from Account Managers to Customer Success Managers with little to no fanfare. Forming a Customer Success team is more complicated than telling your AMs that they do Customer Success now. Being successful in one role does not necessarily mean you’re guaranteed to succeed in the other. There are key differences between AMs and CSMs that leaders need to consider. AMs tend to be sales-focused. Revenue is always top-of-mind. Customer Success Managers, on the other hand, should focus on the customer’s goals and what’s bringing the customer the most value. If these differences aren’t well understood, AMs in CSM roles could hurt your customer relationships more than help.
Harvard Business Review explains the issues that can arise when the two roles are confused: “[CSMs] straddle the gap between service and sales, between company interest and customer interest, and between product expertise and customer insight. When done right, CSMs are a powerful growth engine. Too often, however, customers perceive CSMs to be more interested in making sales than in driving their success. Inconsistency with the role’s title creates customer dissonance and distrust, threatening renewal and an expansion of the relationship.”
A smooth transition from Account Management to Customer Success
This isn’t to say that Account Managers can’t be great CSMs! There’s just a lot more to it than flipping a switch. If you’re thinking about integrating AMs into your Customer Success team, here are ten key elements to keep in mind to help the transition go much smoother for your internal stakeholders and your customers.
5 things to remember for internal stakeholders
Bridging the skillset gap
CSMs require different skillsets than AMs. Supporting and advocating for customers involves a much more hands-on approach than AMs are likely used to. CSMs need to understand the customer lifecycle, get to know what’s important to the customer at each stage, and be proactive about solving problems before they even occur. Make sure you’re not leaving these critical components of the role up to chance! Transitioning your team presents the perfect opportunity to invest in the CS-specific training and certification that these newly-minted CSMs will need to get them up to speed as quickly as your fast-paced business requires.
CSMs can come from many different backgrounds
Account Managers most often come from a Sales or business development background. CSMs can come from business development/Sales, or they can come from Support, Marketing, and even Product. Having a well-rounded CSM team with a range of strengths can benefit the organization as a whole. So, even if your primary source of new CSMs will come from your existing AMs, I’d recommend also considering applications from other internal departments, as well as new-to-you employees that may have been around the CS block a time or two before. You never know where talented CSMs are hiding.
Happy employees = happy customers
Cultivating a happy and thriving CS team is critical for Customer Success. It’s actually essential for every part of the business, but it’s particularly relevant to CS. Employees can’t thrive if they think they are AMs one minute and are suddenly thrust into the crazy world of Customer Success the next without proper context and training. Be ready to have conversations with your employees about the differences in these positions, and ask if they’re interested in the role. They may be excited about the opportunity, or they may want to remain in a more sales-focused area of the business. Plan to have multiple paths for your AMs to take their careers during this transition period, rather than limiting them to one direction.
Consider the compensation
When building a CSM compensation model that encourages the right balance of customer satisfaction and revenue growth, it can be tricky to find the sweet spot. As you consider the best structure and incentives for your CS team, remember that it wouldn’t be unheard of for the on-target earnings (OTE) of a CSM to be lower than that of an AM, largely due to the sales-focus of most AM roles. Make sure you’re calculating that ahead of time and factoring in a potential pay cut into your expectations of team members making the move, so you aren’t surprised by employees coming to you with this concern after you’ve already made the switch.
Change is hard
Fast or slow, change is tough on people. If you’re implementing a brand new Customer Success organization within your company, chances are you’re ruffling a lot of feathers. Legacy feathers. This includes your newly renamed AMs. If your employees decide they want to try their hand at being CSMs, give them time to adjust to the new setting. No matter how experienced they were at being an Account Manager, CSM is a new role. They’ll need time and support as they make the transition.
5 things to remember for your customers
Change is hard (in a different way)
Whether CS is an entirely new offering or you’re expanding it to new parts of your customer base, there will be a period of adjustment. Change is hard on customers, too. They may need extra reassuring, and yes, maybe some hand holding, even as you’re putting out fires behind the scenes. Maintain resources dedicated to facilitating all aspects of this transition.
Prepare your team to answer the tough questions
Your customers want to understand why they are suddenly talking to a CSM instead of an AM. How will this affect them? What will the long-term impact be? Will you start charging more? Your CS team should be well-versed in answering any and all questions that arise. Especially the tough ones. And please, I beg of you, tell your customers this is happening and why it’s happening before they suddenly see a new job title at the bottom of their primary contact’s email signature.
Churn might happen
Any large-scale organizational shift can impact customer satisfaction. Forecast a few bumps in the road as everyone gets settled into the new paradigm. You and your transitioning team are going to do everything possible to avoid causing any irreparable damage but be realistic about the fact that some of it may be unavoidable.
Give your new CSMs the freedom to be flexible as they handle customer issues during the transition. Both sides are learning an entirely new dynamic, and it won’t help if they need to adhere to rigid rules right off the bat. That doesn’t mean no guidelines – in fact, having Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) or CSM playbooks at the ready can be invaluable to new CSMs finding their footing. But make sure there’s room in those processes for them to raise their hand when they need additional support along the way.
Answer the tough questions, then answer them again. Then, maybe, answer them again. It can take a few tries to get your message across. By communicating to your customers about these changes early and often, you’re creating your best defense to combat any uncertainty or fear they may be feeling and reminding them that you’re here for them when they need it.