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The 5 traits that separate a GOOD CSM from a BAD CSM

The growing focus on Customer Success and the important role it plays in renewals, cross-sells, advocacy, and more within organizations only amplifies the challenge of finding the right people to lead the charge.  The people that fill these roles need to have a specific skill set, but more importantly the personality, drive and passion to be on the frontline of shaping customer experience.

As we continue to grow, I’ve been thinking (a lot) about the traits of an ideal Customer Success Manager (CSM) and how to separate the good from the bad.  Customer Success blends techniques and skills that traditionally serve different functional departments (think account executive or customer support associate), but melds and adapts them in order to be successful.  As I was thinking about the characteristics of an ideal CSM, I began developing a list, which I’m sharing below with you.  I based my methodology off of an exercise and article debuted by Ben Horowitz about good and bad Product Managers and then Totango’s CEO, Guy Nirpaz about good and bad Developers.

Value Image#1 – A good CSM knows her customers and the value she is delivering to them. She understands her customers’ businesses and products, needs, problems, deliverables and goals. She can articulate why/how her customers’ customers are using her product and leverages that information to provide valuable insights and best practices to them.

A bad CSM only focuses on the tasks: managing the relationship, tracking phone calls, and having meetings. She turns her attention and care towards key users, often based on title and doesn’t ask the questions that dig past features and into the business problem a customer needs to solve.

#2 – A good CSM knows how to fight fires and has the toolbox to do it effectively. He proactively troubleshoots to gets customer issues solved, and relays and tracks customer feedback to the correct team – he fosters real change. He leads cross-functional teams and orchestrates them to effectively solve the issue.

A bad CSM hears customer feedback and lets it drop, patches issues but doesn’t investigate where they fit in the organization or tap into other teams to see feedback through to completion.  A Bad CSM is not a big picture thinker.

#3 – A good CSM is accountable.  She is active with her customer accounts and engages appropriately with each customer.  She can explain the status of a customer in terms of how to best deliver value to them – i.e., she runs campaigns to provide best-practice insights, she actively identifies and nurtures opportunities for growth, etc.  She also understands the importance of focusing on all users and not just the contract contact, adapting her communication for each user.

A bad CSM doesn’t feel ownership over her customer accounts.  She can’t explain a customer’s goals or identify their needs, her communication is based on her own goals and cycles, she log calls and considers the account managed. She relies on off-cycle personal touches only in an emergency.

#4 – A good CSM has deep product knowledge, he knows his product inside and out and knows his customers’ products. He is deeply knowledgeable about his customer base, their use cases and how they compare to their competitors. He expertly understands the inner-workings of the product, and understands its use from the customers perspective.  He anticipates trouble-spots and drives roadmap changes to address customer needs.

A bad CSM knows the basics of the product and is familiar with the sales pitch. He can’t use or deploy the product without a significant amount of help. He doesn’t know his customer base or his individual customer’s business well enough to match them with relevant use cases or best practices. – A good CSM is a communication conduit, she is an instrumental feedback channel to the product group and has her finger on the pulse of customer use, engagement and sentiment. She is the face of the company with a view of all of the relevant messages and how the customer consumes and engages with her.

A bad CSM doesn’t convey feedback because she doesn’t understand the impact of the feature request or doesn’t feel empowered to share. She is not the communication center you need, and doesn’t participate cross-functionally. She may only be familiar with the champion accounts and can’t choose an example that’s similar to the customer at hand.

As we have found, taking the time to hire the right CSMs is extremely important and worth investing in because they add strategic value to your company. They do so by identifying opportunities and deepening customer relationships by consistently ensuring that value is being delivered. The best ones are so passionate about what they do that you cannot imagine your organization functioning without them.

Do you have something to add to this list? What do you see as make it or break it criteria in hiring CSM’s? Let us know in the comments below.

Omer Gotlieb

Omer Gotlieb, Co-Founder and VP of Business Development of Totango, has been recognized as a top influencer and mentor in the customer success space. As the SVP of Business Development, he is taking Totango to the next level. He speaks frequently at Customer Success events, both locally and internationally, sharing valuable insights and experiences. Prior to Totango, he was the VP of Product at MTS, Director of Client Services at AtHoc, and other customer-facing roles at Addwise and Netvision. His specialities include churn management, business intelligence, and performance management.

  • Joshua Santos

    Great article Omer, couldn’t agree more!

  • Guest

    Nice. Should be gender neutral though.

  • Phil Nguyen

    I really like the comparison between good and bad CSM.

  • Shai Rybak

    Very insightful – thanks for sharing.

  • D Cruz

    Great info in these articles. Im currently applying for a CSM position and these articles have been very insightful.

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