Beyond Just Being a "People Person" as a CSM

Beyond Just Being a "People Person" as a CSM

The goal of Customer Success is in the job title.

Customer Success Managers are, unsurprisingly, responsible for overseeing the success of their customers.

So why do most CSM job descriptions and interview questions focus on relationship-building skills?

Has anyone ever said they’re terrible at building relationships in an interview?

Of course not!

Customer Success professionals typically describe themselves as a “people person,” yet many CS leaders today will tell you that churn is the #1 problem they’re facing today.

I’m here to discuss this paradox and explore the skills that can make or break a CSM's effectiveness.

The Overlooked Importance of Business Acumen

If you’re exploring a career in Customer Success or have been a Customer Success Manager for years, you’ve probably seen the trend of over-reliance on relationship-building skills. Survey ten random job descriptions for CSMs, and all will likely emphasize relationship building as a pivotal skill.

Why is this, though? In my experience, this emphasis on relationship-building can sometimes overshadow an essential element: Customer Success Managers (CSMs) must do more than keep customers happy with their friendliness.

They must actively show customers the tangible value they're receiving. In the SaaS industry, there's a common misconception that the friendliness of the account team is the same as the value they offer. Such a belief can result in CSMs managing extensive customer portfolios, often because there's a reluctance to change account assignments.

This issue manifests in everyday scenarios, too. Almost every CSM faces moments of unease when needing to communicate with a contact’s superior, particularly in discussions about value and renewals. It might feel uncomfortable or like bypassing the regular chain of command, but engaging with decision-makers is vital. While this process can be jokingly referred to as “breaking up with your admin,” it's a necessary step in transitioning from a friendly role to that of a strategic partner.

Relationship building is incredibly important, but friendship does not make a customer sticky.

My Personal Experience: A Reality Check

As a new Customer Success Manager a few years ago, I’ll admit this got me. I was confident they would renew their contracts if I were on friendly terms with my customers and remembered their lives.

Why wouldn’t they? We were friends!

I quickly learned that friendliness did not equal success. The inflation of this skill continues to cause many new CSMs to rely too heavily on this skill in job interviews and existing CSMs to gauge their performance based on their relationship with customers.

Till Churn Do Us Part

Most or many of us have probably watched the Louis C.K. bit where he says, “No good marriage has ever ended in divorce.”

The same can be said for customers.

No successful customer relationship has resulted in churn (mostly)! But what does a successful partnership look like?

Defining a Successful Customer Relationship

A successful customer relationship goes beyond superficial knowledge. All too often, CSMs think that knowing their customer means knowing their pet’s name or remembering their past weekend plans. If you fall into this habit, consider asking yourself: Does this information increase renewal likelihood?

Personal details can be powerful tools for establishing trust or starting a conversation, but they do not make for a happy, healthy customer. True success lies in understanding and aligning with the customer's objectives in using your service or product. It involves setting clear success metrics and regularly tracking progress against these goals.

Consider a familiar scenario: joining a gym and working with a personal trainer. If the trainer takes the time to understand your fitness goals, habits, successes, and challenges, you're more likely to renew your membership than if they offered generic fitness advice.

This principle holds true in the client-customer Success Manager (CSM) relationship. The depth of understanding and tailored support fosters a truly successful partnership.

Key Skills for Today’s Customer Success Managers

The good news is that this is a relatively easy fix. I’d argue that prospective and current CSMs will be more successful in their careers by focusing on business acumen rather than soft skills.

Discovery: Getting to the Heart of Customer Success

What will make your customer successful? What projects are they working on? What is their board saying? What will make your contact successful in their role? This is all much more valuable than knowing their favorite band!

Data Storytelling: The Power of Metrics

Once you have the measures of success in place, act on them! Determine the starting value, benchmarks, and desired numbers– and run with it. Tell a story using the data you have to influence decisions about the product.

Systems Thinking: Seeing the Bigger Picture

What is causing some of the holdups? What are some of the driving factors? Consider everything you know about your customer as part of a bigger puzzle.

Conclusion: Demonstrating Value in Every Interaction

All in all, Customer Success Managers are meant to ensure that customers see value in their investment. While it may be tempting to spend your meeting time discussing the weather or vacations, remember that your client cannot use chit-chat in a business case to renew.

Make sure every interaction you have is rooted in demonstrating value and achieving success. This will ensure that you are truly doing the work of a Customer Success Manager.

Latest Posts