Making an Impact When You're Not in a Customer Success Leadership Role

Making an Impact When You're Not in a Customer Success Leadership Role

You did it! You landed your first role as a Customer Success Manager, congrats!

Regardless of whether you're making a career transition from another service-based role (more to come on that next time), or you're ready for a fresh experience, top CSMs have one thing in common:

A desire to make an impact.

I've always loved building relationships and helping people achieve their goals.

It's no wonder I found my way into Customer Success!

Throughout my leadership development, I've had the honor of mentoring many ambitious and passionate folks—many of whom think beyond their books of business.

One of the common questions I often get:

"How can I broaden the impact I have at my organization and be viewed as a leader?"

Here's the thing: Strong CSMs already have the skill set, but require a small mindset shift.

Because CSMs have so many responsibilities, they work with various departments and are at the heart of most SaaS companies; they're in touch with almost every department, something that most roles don't have.

And while some CSMs view this as an additional layer of responsibility, a strategic-minded CSM views it as an opportunity.

Since cross-functional leadership is often a secondary or overlooked component of a CSM's role, these areas of opportunity may not be obvious.

Here is a step-by-step playbook for leading without authority:

Build Internal Relationships

  • Find the low-hanging fruit & determine the shared mission.
  • Set one-on-one meetings with leaders from each function that touches Customer Success.
  • Get to know their personalities, challenges, roadblocks, and areas of opportunity.

This is your starting point for any immediate impact you can make as a leader across multiple departments.

Here are some common areas of opportunity that Customer Success shares with each department as a starting point for your discussions:

Six areas of opportunity within each department
Six areas of opportunity within each department

Help Others Reach Their Goals

  • Focus on what matters to the department instead of your own.
  • Most people make the mistake of approaching goals from an intrinsic perspective.
  • If you understand a department's goals, align your efforts with how they track results.

Feedback and data motivate product teams, while revenue teams and bottom-line results go hand in hand.

An example of this is when compiling product feedback.

Most product teams base their decision-making by identifying common themes and underlying pain points.

They're able to dig deeper than the surface -- level "requests" from customers.

So we could reframe the challenge:

How can Customer Success teams gain deeper insights during a QBR or customer interaction that could affect the product team’s decision-making?

This challenge is a perfect leadership opportunity.

How do we get the rest of the department to gather behind it?

Connect the Dots: Find Solutions at the Micro-Level

Digging deeper...

How can Customer Success teams drive deeper insights on a QBR or per-call level?

Often, I see CSMs opening conversations with customers by asking for generalized feedback to build rapport. However, this provides customers with an open-ended wish list and unrealistic expectations.

By aligning with general themes that the product team is already evaluating, you have a higher chance of increasing impact on your customers and Book of Business.

Potential Action Checklist:

  • Restructuring QBR decks to focus on themes with a consistent list of probing questions across all CSMs.
  • Collaborate with Product on training sessions around deeper questioning to get to the root of a pain point.
  • Bonus points for recording the session and then adding it to your onboarding documentation for new hires!

Share Your Work

I had to throw in a bonus to avoid the most common pitfalls I see from budding leaders.

Share your work with the people that can benefit from it!

Sharing what works for you with the team may feel you're giving away your secrets, but transitioning into a leader means that success is less about you and more about the success of your team.

When you share as an Individual Contributor, it builds trust within your team and allows everyone to look to you for insights they may not see on their own.

Keeping your insights close to the vest may help you succeed as an individual contributor, because leaders aren't afraid to share what they know.

Find the areas you can do this:

  • Ask to be included on the agenda at your next CSM meeting so you can share what is working and not working with the rest of the team on a recurring basis.
  • If you put together a document that helps you learn something new or streamline a process, post it in Slack or add it to your new hire onboarding or training process.
  • Find moments to be the voice of the customer in cross-functional meetings and make sure you have data to back it up by leveraging your CRM or CS platform.

Get Started

A major step in this process is to no longer see your role as a list of static responsibilities.

Customer Success Managers are in the center of most businesses.

Take advantage of this to build strong relationships across functions and make it your personal problem-solving playground.

As you build relationships within internal departments, within your team, and with key departments by sharing learning, you will set yourself apart as a Customer Success leader.

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