What to Expect as a New Customer Success Leader

What to Expect as a New Customer Success Leader

Written by Brian Nicholls - Contributor for CS Insider

In 2014, I got called into my VP’s office. An opportunity to start a new team had become available and I was being offered the position. I was ecstatic at the opportunity to grow, manage, and lead! I spent the rest of the day on an emotional high, thinking about all the pros that come with a management position.

But on the drive home, my excitement turned to apprehension. Yes, I got to lead my own team, but now I was responsible for people other than myself. I would be held accountable for decisions that directly affected not only their careers but company revenue.  

I had tons of questions racing through my mind. Most of which did not calm my anxiety or stop my mind from wondering how I would succeed.

  • How will my day change?  
  • Will the same tactics that got me here help me succeed as a manager?
  • Will I be able to spend the same amount of time with my customers?

If you’re transitioning into a manager role, you probably have similar thoughts. From my experience, here are the major differences between being an individual contributor (CSM) and being a Customer Success Manager.

I believe if you are aware of these key pointers, you can plan how to handle them. Hopefully, this adds some calm and clarity to your transition.

Your Work Is No Longer About You

While there is an “i” (several actually) in individual contributor, there is no “i” in the word “manager”. I am not sure if the English language did this on purpose, but regardless the lesson here is that after the transition, your work is no longer about you as an individual. Your new job is to set up an environment where others are successful.  

This can be accomplished by teaching your direct reports what you did in the past (both good and bad), ensuring that they have the proper training based on their desire for growth, and understanding exactly what they want out of their careers.  

If you make your employees successful, you will be successful, and your company will be successful. When your company is successful, everyone involved is rewarded and thus completes the great circle of success.

Decision Making Becomes More Complicated

As a leader, the lens through which you look at decision-making will be different.  As an individual contributor, you make the best decision for your customer base. Leaders make decisions based on multiple sets of customer bases, if not the entire customer base.

I recall a specific moment when I was an individual contributor. A customer asked for a custom report based on the needs of their business. I made the choice to stay late that night and create it because I wanted to satisfy the customer.

About 18 months later, after moving into a leadership role, the same customer requested another custom report. We weren’t able to deliver on that report because it would take time away that we needed to build scalable reports to help the entire customer base.

You will not make everyone happy all the time. I encourage any new manager to ask: are you choosing the option that moves your company toward its vision, or are you just trying to appease everyone?

Your Time Is No Longer Your Own

Prepare for your calendar to become much less structured as a manager. When I was an individual contributor, I focused my time in structured ways to help my customers such as scheduled meetings, specific tasks to complete on behalf of the customer, and assigned projects.  

As a leader, there are two major differences in how your calendar will change:

  1. You will be asked for your time by others much more frequently. As a manager, others will put meetings on your calendar because they want your opinion on their work. This article won't cover the pros and cons of this or how to manage it, but be prepared for it to happen.
  2. You will need to ensure that you have uninterrupted time to think about the business, specifically the strategic items such as your customer journey map, onboarding processes, and other ways to increase value for your customers. Strategic planning is absolutely a part of being a leader and one of the hardest activities to find time for.  

But your organization and your customers will benefit from you finding a quiet place to think about your business on a large scale vs. the day-to-day.

Reflecting, contemplating, and planning is not as structured as a Zoom call or a formal meeting with customers. It takes practice to find the best ways you can have productive, focused thought.

For those who desire it, moving from an individual contributor role to a manager position is one of the most exciting moments in a customer success career. Your days will be different, but my hope is that learning about my experience will lead to your successful transition.  Now go get 'em!

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