Fixing Cars, Trendy Bars and QBRs
An (unfortunately) hot topic in the Customer Success community has been "what is the role of a CSM, and the customer success organization". I say "unfortunate" for a few reasons: 1. Most of this is armchair philosophy. Absolutist definitions that CSMs are consultants and relationship builders, or responsible for upsell and renewal, or strictly focused on adoption, ignore the fact that Customer Success in the Wild is messy. 2. These conversations, because of their sofa-like qualities, are confusing people both looking for roles, or creating job descriptions and building personas for who to hire. 3. This is leading to further misalignment between what Founders and CEOs want, How Customer Success Leaders view their organization, and CSM's expectation of what they should be doing. In the post, I'm gonna go gangbusters, mythbusters style. The hope of inspiring the people to use Design Thinking to craft CS in a way that aligns with your people, product, customers, and growth targets.
Myth #1: CSMs are Strategic Consultants, Always Anytime someone says something "is" this or "isn't" this, you should probably ignore their statement. The world isn't black and white. But, before throwing this one out, lets do a deep dive into why this may or may not be true, sometimes, in some cases, for certain organizations, with specific strategic priorities, and defined metrics, in certain areas. This is "myth" is mostly true in enterprise organizations. Here, the value chain is most complex, and execution is dependent on organizational alignment and change management. Having a CSM that speaks the language, and has operated in around big budgets and seasoned executives is incredibly valuable. These folks can advise on best practices, act as project managers to execute strategy, and translators to communicate vision and goals to internal and external stakeholders. If you buy that last paragraph, the implication is this role needs a few skill sets, and probably hearty experience understanding how giants move. No one said this role has to be one person, so a design question is How can we structure a role or function to solve all our customer pain points in the enterprise environment. Spoiler alert, work in teams. A much greyer area is working with more transactional products, which may have less configuration or customization, and perhaps are more focused in use case. In these cases, when designing your CS function and thinking who would make an awesome CSM, you should follow the data. For example, with low adoption - is it because setup is complicated, or because users are just not using the damn thing? Either answer creates very distinct design preferences for leaders. If setup is complicated, you probably need some training and onboarding specialists, who can execute an implementation with surgical precision. Process and tracking will be huge in this case. If it's the latter, your focus should be on behavioral coaching, customer marketing, and providing "nudges".
Reduce friction in actually getting value from your product, and find ways to remind clients of ROI. In either case, you probably want a "product person" CSM somewhere on the frontline to identify design and feature iterations that can reduce cost and improve ROI. Notice "strategy" wasn't mentioned once. It's still customer success, bro. Myth #2: Customer Success shouldn't own upsells Again, clearly false stated in and of itself. You're not going to have a "strategic consultant" and a dedicated AE if your ACV is <$5K. Leading metrics be damned, your CSMs are going to have some revenue metrics tied to OTE. When thinking of design for this type of role and. job spec, lets again Follow the Data. Why arn't customers converting on their own? And, why are you losing upsell or freemium/trial conversions in the first place? Perhaps its the big bucket we label "adoption", perhaps your GTM team isn't bringing in accounts that match your ICP, or perhaps your upsell strategy is too focused on quarterly targets, and not thinking of LTV. Whether you're farming your current clients using data enrichment, or using CSMs to improve adoption, being strategic isn't necessarily required for a CSM or CS Ops VP. Again, to add some caveat, with enterprise, your CSM probably shouldn't be the one getting the signature. If your DMs and key stakeholders think every QBR is going to be a stick-up, they're going to be less likely to get on the phone with you.
Myth #3: I know what I'm talking about Maybe I'm wrong, and this is all shenanigans. But, talking to CS leaders and CSMs over the last couple years, it's becoming more common that people say one of two things: "I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing, or how CS fits into overall strategy," or, "I feel I was catfished into this job, and now I'm a glorified (or gloryless). account manager" Either way, design thinking will take you far, kid.