“Congratulations, the promotion’s gone through and you’ll begin managing the team immediately!”
I wanted to make the transition from a CSM role to manager for a long time. So hearing those words was more energizing than any coffee that particular Monday morning.
But how did I get there?
Through many mistakes, one thing stood out above all: I had to be a CSM to myself. To treat my career the same way I treated customers. I had to be my own customer and apply the skills I leveraged as a CSM to my career path.
Here’s what that looked like.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. You’re talking to a customer about what they want to accomplish with your product. They have lofty goals. You’re committed to working with them and being their advocate. But they still have to make a change. They can’t do things the same way and hope for a new result.
I was that customer. I thought that by doubling down on the same skills of being a CSM would be enough to differentiate me. I thought that being the best CSM I could be was enough to make me stand out for manager promotion. That those same skills and habits would achieve a different result.
Spoiler alert: they didn’t.
As with many customers, I had to use my CSM skills to convince myself I needed to change what I was doing. Being a great CSM wouldn’t be enough. Being a people leader requires different skills than an individual contributor. So I needed to realign my actions with my desired outcome, and “change manage” myself accordingly.
How did I decide what actions to focus on going forward?
As a CSM, it’s crucial to align with the right stakeholders. You make sure the Executive Sponsor’s desired outcome is accomplished. You identify and build up Champions who not only use your product but convince others of its value as well. You make sure you’ve got your finger on the pulse for the progress they feel they’re making. Not what you think should be going on.
I had to do the same thing. I needed to identify what the “Executive Sponsor” (aka my manager) was looking for in their next manager. I needed to know what outcomes they were looking for. How did I learn what that was?
Like with any other Executive Sponsor, you don’t make assumptions about what your manager is looking for. You need to do discovery and ask and dig into the specifics and identify your current gaps. A good manager will be able to be that guiding voice for you. They’ll define what they’re looking for. This looks different for every org, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Similarly, you need to identify and develop your Champions. These internal employees are able to exercise influence over the future of your career path. You wouldn’t neglect to build Champions within a customer, so you certainly shouldn’t neglect them in your career.
These are the other members of the org who can vouch for you. They will advocate for you and use their influence to see your advancement. They can vouch for the “value” they’ve received.
I was lucky to have a manager who was clear in her communication about what she was looking for, and a Champion who shared the value she saw me provide.
Seriously, I couldn’t have made this transition without her. I also developed my internal network of Champions so that when the time came for the business need, it was a no-brainer. I achieved the outcome the Executive Sponsor was looking for. I had Champions who spoke to the value I’d provided.
But there was one final piece missing.
How do you show this value and confirm the next step you want to take?
You’ve achieved the outcomes your customer is looking for. They have hit that key milestone. They’ve fully migrated to your platform. Their usage data is through the roof. So it’s time to make sure they know the value they’ve received.
It’s time for an EBR.
You gather all the relevant stakeholders. You make sure the Executive Sponsor will be there and that your Champion will be able to speak to your value. You put together a deck that clearly shows the impact achieved. You include relevant user quotes, portions of the product roadmap, and powerful data. You use all this to tell a story with a desired next step.
Maybe you’re looking to secure a renewal. Maybe you want them to commit to that expansion they’ve been talking about. Maybe you want them to provide a case study. Regardless of what the next step is, you make sure that the story you tell leads to that as the logical next step.
But the catch is you have to have actually delivered value first. Outcomes have to have been achieved. You can’t “fake it” at the EBR.
In our careers, we want to maximize those formal performance reviews (feedback talks, formal check ins, whatever name you use). This is a key opportunity to tell your story and highlight the value you’ve achieved. This is where you can highlight what your manager said they’re looking for and the progress you’ve made. This is where you can show the data on the impact of projects you’ve worked on. This is where you can share quotes from Champions who’ve received value from you.
Tell your story so that it seems obvious that when the time is right, the most logical decision is for you to make that transition. Without this key component, your manager might not see all the contributions you’ve made.
As we don’t expect our customers to automatically know all the value received, we can’t expect our managers to be aware of everything. We need to share that with them.
“Pics or it didn’t happen” applies to our careers as well.
But just like with a customer-facing EBR, you can’t fake this. You have to actually do the work and make the impact.
Once you have, tell your story.
Sometimes you do everything right with a customer, but they aren’t ready to take that next step. Do you give up on them and focus elsewhere? No! You double down on the value they receive because you know Customer Success is about the long term with your customers.
Our careers are the same way. Maybe you’ve done everything you need to, but the business need isn’t there right now. You don’t throw in the towel and look for the next opportunity. Our career is a marathon and not a sprint.
Continue to provide value to your manager and your team. Continue telling your story and highlighting what next step you want.
If you’re looking to make the move from individual contributor to manager, these are the motions that can help with that journey:
And if you’re a CSM reading this article, you’re already ahead of the curve.
You need to demonstrate your understanding of the SaaS industry during an interview. Here are the most common challenges SaaS presents and how to demonstrate you can handle them.
Are you looking to improve your customer success resume? This article gives you the top 40 keywords you should include in your resume and tips for incorporating them effectively.
Are you concerned about whether your customers like you? Stop worrying about being liked and instead focus on delivering value. Learn how to turn customer interactions into value-driven conversations that focus on your customer's needs and goals.