The Top Questions CSMs Should Ask Their New Customers

The Top Questions CSMs Should Ask Their New Customers

As Customer Success Managers, we need to understand our customers' businesses, goals, and success metrics in order to build trust and provide recommendations. We uncover this information by asking good questions. This is especially important when we’re launching a new partnership, whether with a newly assigned account or with a new stakeholder.

In the past, I gathered this information over time as I naturally built a relationship with my customers. In my current role, however, I own a much larger book of business (consisting of mostly onboarded accounts) and have less time with customers to uncover these details.

To combat this, I created a framework to maximize my initial call with every new contact. If you’re struggling to play catch up with your clients, read on!

Before we dig into the framework, let's talk about some important steps to help us prep for our upcoming call and make the most of our first impression.

Pre-Meeting Preparation

No one likes to repeat themselves. Spending a little bit of time before your upcoming call to review your team members' notes can go a long way. This might include:

  • Information gathered during the sales process (initial goals, pain points, etc.)
  • Notes saved during the implementation and onboarding process (progress made so far, roadblocks encountered, etc.)
  • Additional insights shared by the team (support tickets, NPS feedback, meeting notes from a previously assigned CSM)

Taking time to review any available information will set you up for success going into your call. You'll be armed with intel that will help you drive a more valuable conversation, while also proving to your new customer that they are being handled with care by your team and organization.

If you do not have internal notes to lean into prior to your call, dig into other resources such as LinkedIn or their company's website. Doing your due diligence to prepare in advance for your call is an easy way to build trust quickly and show your customer that you care enough to do your homework.

Going Into Your Discovery Call

Before I meet with a customer for the first time, I prepare my notes in advance using a framework that acts as my guide to ensure I am on track to gain the important insights I want to uncover.

The reasons I do this and why it works for me:

  • Provides a structure to follow
  • Gives the confidence to lead the conversation
  • Ensures I learn important and relevant information
  • Helps me refocus if the conversation shifts
  • Allows me to organize my notes for easy future reference

The framework is focused on five foundational topics which guide my questions during my introductory calls. Depending on your role and your organization, the information you value will likely vary.

Below are the five topics I focus on uncovering during my initial calls with customers.

  1. Their role and the organization
  2. The current use case(s) for the platform
  3. The tech stack
  4. Short-term and long-term goals
  5. Measuring success

Each topic guides the questions I choose to ask. It’s important to note that this is not designed to be used like a script, but rather a list of areas I want to better understand to be a good consultant for my customers.

Let's dive into each area and why each is important.

Setting the Stage

Before diving into questions with your new point of contact, set the stage with your attendees by reconfirming your agreed upon agenda. This might sound like...

“Thank you again for taking the time to connect today. As we discussed via email, the purpose for the call is to meet each other, put a face to a name, and kick off our new partnership. I’m excited to learn more about [customer’s company name] and how you and your team are using [your company’s product name]. As your dedicated CSM, I’m here to support your growth and ensure you’re seeing the value you expect from your investment, and I find the better I understand your business and goals, the better I can support you. With that said I have some questions I would like to ask you, and if you have any questions for me, I want to make sure we cover those as well. Does this agenda work for you?”

Topic 1: Organization and Role

As Customer Success Managers, we're often consulting on strategy and best practices relating to our software. Having an understanding of our customer's business allows us to provide the most relevant and effective recommendations.

Starting with broad questions about the customer's organization and their role is a natural place to begin an exploratory conversation. Some specific examples of information I want to learn during the conversation include:

  • What is the point of contact responsible for? For example, if you are meeting with a CEO, are they also handling sales activities for their organization or taking on other responsibilities?
  • What is the most important thing to your main point of contact and their company? For example, is the point of contact focused on lead generation? How about the company? Is the primary focus for the company aligned with your point of contact’s goals?
  • Does the point of contact manage a team of direct reports, are they a player-coach, or are they the sole person in their department?
  • Who are the customers of your customers? How do they reference them (customers, patients, guests, students)?
  • What is the product and the value proposition of that product? How is the product sold?

This is helpful to understand as it can allow you to tie your own company’s product to your customer’s revenue and potentially provide value to your customer in new ways they haven’t considered yet. For example, adopting a feature in the platform you represent that they haven’t considered using yet.

Some specific questions I use to get the conversation going include:

  • “I’d like to learn more about [company name]. As I understand it, the company [company description from their website or LinkedIn page]. Is that an accurate description?”
  • This is a great opportunity to show the customer I’ve done my homework. Ask them to confirm that the information I reviewed from my internal sources or gathered from my online research is accurate, and allow your new point of contact to provide any additional context that they would like to share.
  • “As I understand, your role is [title] with [company name]. Is that correct?”
  • Titles can change quickly, so don’t rely on LinkedIn as a source of truth. Again, show you did homework, but don’t assume the information you gathered is the most current or 100% accurate. Let your customer talk freely about their work and responsibilities.
  • “I’d like to understand the customer acquisition process for your team at [company name]. Can you walk me through the buyer’s journey?”
  • This may or may not be a relevant question to your specific product or offering. Depending on the software or product you represent, it may make sense to adjust your line of questioning to learn how your customer interacts with their clients related to your software.

Once I have a general understanding of the business and the team, I'll begin to drill down on more specific topics.

Topic 2: Current Use Case(s)

If you know where your customer stands today, you can focus on what matters most to them, including their most pressing challenges.

Some specific questions I want to be answered during the conversation include:

  • How many different departments are using the platform?
  • How are those different departments using the platform?
  • What is the general consensus among those using the platform? Are there roadblocks with some teams/users that might need to be uncovered? Are there some teams/users seeing more success than others?
  • Which features are being utilized?
  • Can the platform be used to support revenue goals directly? What business processes are already in place that support this?

Some specific questions to open the conversation include:

  • “I’d like to understand how you and your team are currently using [your product name]. Do you mind sharing an overview with me of how you’re using the tools in [your product name]?”
  • “Which other teams outside of your department are utilizing the tools? Can you share more information with me about their current processes?”

When discussing additional teams that use your company's software, it’s important to dive into this topic with follow-up questions to uncover any other important stakeholders. If you work for a company with a product that allows for various department heads to build out processes within the account, seek out opportunities to engage with those other stakeholders. Invite them to join a future call.

Protip: Take a look at the account's usage prior to your call with the customer and ask discovery questions based on what you find. For example, you might say, "Prior to our call, I looked at your account and noticed you are frequently using [specific feature for XYZ]. Could you tell me how your team uses that day-to-day?” By doing so, you can enrich the conversation and uncover additional insights the customer may not have thought to share.

Topic 3: Tech Stack

In my role, the company that I work for has an entire app marketplace of integrations for our customers to more easily connect their tech stack, and ultimately, their data. While I recognize this may not be the case for everyone reading this, regardless of the company that you work for, knowing the various systems that your customer uses in their day-to-day can be very helpful in allowing you to deliver value to your customers in a meaningful way.

Every company has a unique tech stack, and depending on the size of the organization, your point of contact may not even know all of the dispersed systems being used at their organization by their various teams. Some specific things I was to take away from the conversation:

  • What other tools are they and their team logging into each day?
  • How are those systems used?
  • How does the use case relate to the use case of using our software?
  • What feedback would their team share about using those tools for that use case; is this a pain point or source of frustration for the team?

Generally, I'm listening for potential opportunities here where the tools our system provides might be helpful for their team. I also think about how the different systems may complement each other if there is an opportunity to integrate the tools and potentially streamline their internal processes with shared data.

I also listen for red flags here if it sounds like another team is moving towards another tool that could replace the software I represent. This can easily come up in any conversation, and it's a gift to be able to discuss potential risks with customers who are willing to have a dialogue about it.

Topic 4: Goals and Objectives

Any opportunity you have to discuss the goals of your customer and map out their success plan with them is worth taking advantage of! Assuming you now have a sense of their current processes and tech stack, it's a great time to dig into what their current projects and planned initiatives are.

The details I want to uncover during this part of our conversation include:

  • What are the projects, goals, and new initiatives the customer is focused on right now?
  • What projects or new initiatives are planned in the months or years ahead?
  • What is the timeline for these projects?
  • Is there a plan in place for this project?
  • What is the expected outcome of the project?
  • Who is directly responsible for this project?

I like to have a general overview of these short-term and long-term goals, and then dig into the specifics. Questions I might use include:

  • "What new initiatives and projects are you and your team focused on right now relating to [software name]?"
  • "I'd love to hear more about the details of this project, and learn where I can provide support. Have you and your team discussed your plan to complete this project?"
  • "Which members of the team are involved in this project?"
  • "When you roll out this new initiative, what would you expect to achieve (increase in sales, saved time, improved efficiency)?"
  • "When do you expect to have this project completed and rolled out to your team?"

This is a good time to transition the conversation to success metrics.

Topic 5: Success Metrics

Knowing how your customers are measuring success is crucial. This includes how they measure success as a business, as well as how the success of your software or product is measured. Being able to monitor this as a Customer Success Manager is incredibly helpful in driving value for your customers and proving that the software you represent can deliver and drive results.

The information I am hoping to uncover here includes:

  • What metrics does the senior leadership focus on?
  • Does the customer have a weekly internal meeting where KPIs are discussed? If so, what are those metrics?
  • Are those metrics found in the software I represent, or is there another reporting tool that is required to track these metrics?

Because we were just discussing specific projects, the questions to transition the conversation might sound like this:

  • "Knowing that your team is working on [project we discussed], it sounds like a focus is on [time saved, revenue generated, etc.]. Is that fair to say?"
  • "I'm curious to hear how you're measuring that metric. Are you able to share more information about any reporting you're using to track that?"
  • "Are you sharing this information with senior leadership?"
  • "I'd love to learn if there are other metrics the team are focused on this quarter or in the year ahead. Are there other metrics the leadership team monitors on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis?"

Dig into how you help them get there using your software. Depending on how your software fits into these success metrics, you may be able to assist with reporting requirements that will help your point of contact shine in their next internal meeting. Provide guidance where you can and partner with your point of contact to report on the important metrics that set them up for success.

Final thoughts

This can be a time-consuming conversation, and you may not cover everything you want to know in that initial meeting with your new point of contact. Take thorough notes of the important details you've uncovered, and don't forget to include in your notes what you did not have a chance to uncover yet. Build on your notes when you meet with your customer next time.

These are the general areas of focus I've found to be the most valuable insights for me, but this may be completely different for you. I encourage you to consider what areas are worth exploring further with your customers and create your own framework to get to know your customers better.

Stay curious, ask for clarification, keep it conversational, and take notes! As you continue to work with your new customer, build on this foundation and update your records accordingly. Tracking everything your new partner has shared with you will allow you to deliver value in the future. Whether that be when you hear about a use case that your customer could benefit from learning about, a new feature release, or an industry-related article that they may enjoy. Putting in the time and effort to learn about and understand your customers better will generally pay off in the long run and make for a more enjoyable relationship with your customers.

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