Whose Success Is It, Anyway? Make Sure Your CSM Program Delivers


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When it comes to enterprise technology, the only constant is change. Virtualization, mobility, the cloud—words we were barely using just a few years ago—have become mainstays of the tech vocabulary. As technological advancements have changed customer expectations and the way we work with customers, there’s a growing need for new skills to grapple with these changes to ultimately drive customer value. As a technology sales professional, you have a tall order – you must be able to understand how digital technologies work together, how they benefit your customers and how you can help those customers facilitate adoption.

Along with digital business transformation come several technology factors that are converging to shift the landscape and relationship between vendor and customer.

One of these is the shift in purchasing power. What once was the purview of the customer’s IT organization in terms of driving the scoping and acquisition of IT solutions is quickly shifting to different lines of business (LOBs), such as marketing, operations or finance. IDC is projecting that fully 60 percent of IT purchases will come from other LOBs than IT, greatly reducing the influence of the IT department and the CIO in the purchasing process.

At the same time, enterprises are increasing adoption of cloud-based solutions. Off-premises, hosted by trusted partners—companies like Salesforce or Zenefits—as well as the major players like Oracle and SAP, are offering solutions that instead of being on-premises, hardware- and license-heavy deployments, are hosted in their data centers. This offers customers secure access to data and the ability to purchase just what is needed (such as seats, concurrent users, data size or transactions).

Your goal as a provider changes dramatically when the cost to deploy or evaluate is low (often just a nominal payment for a pilot program). Signing up customers is easy. A simple pilot program can be a low-cost, low-risk prospect for the customer, giving you a chance to show your strengths and your incredible product. But the downside is that this low barrier to entry also brings a low switching cost; thus, you are at risk of the next best thing displacing you, and of losing the account.

Understandably, then, you need a customer success role – often called the customer success manager, or CSM. It may also be called “enablement” or “adoption.” This is a resource that enters the equation after the deal has closed, stepping in to own effective deployment, mapping the product to the customers’ desired outcomes (or the reason they bought the product initially). The CSM validates that the product can deliver on the promised capabilities and value that was promised in the sales contract.

The second priority of the CSM is to drive awareness across the customer’s staff. Are the potential users knowledgeable about the product? Do they have access? Do they have enough access? Are there additional capabilities or features that they might use to improve their outcomes? Do they need training? All these are activities that can increase the value to the customer, making the product “sticky” and ultimately smoothing the process when it is time for renewal, or time to buy more options or even expand capacity.

The Pivotal Role of CSM

A CSM person or team will first determine the actual business outcome that the customer expected to purchase. Take the case of a marketing automation solution and the outcomes desired. Was it generating more leads? Was it to automate the lead-nurturing process? Was it to increase their collaboration and integrate sharing and email communications to streamline? Was it deep data analytics to help drive operational efficiencies? Regardless of what was sold, the customer success role is to ensure that the customer realizes the value that they expected.

The CSM team member has other important functions, including:

  • Adoption management – Tracking for actual use, watching for lackluster adoption of the product or service. If usage flags, it might be an indicator that the product isn’t meeting the customer’s needs, or that a competitor is trying to gain a toehold. An effective CSM will look for ways to increase usage and to drive additional seat or capacity sales.
  • Churn reduction – Losing customers is the death blow of service-based products. The acquisition costs can be relatively high, so preventing customers from leaving after a subscription ends is of paramount importance. Roadmap alignment, task analysis and writing the product/service into the plan of record are key ways that a CSM can greatly improve the likelihood of renewal and expansion of scope. Happy customers, easy-to-use products and delivering tangible benefits will drive higher lifetime customer value.
  • KPI tracking – Keeping an eye on performance, usage and adoption to ensure that the product is delivering value to the customer. The CSM team member will report to the customer’s leadership team and provide concrete evidence of the efficacy of the solution. This paves the way for the CSM to identify areas that the customer could expand the usage, either by purchasing additional capabilities, or to increase the utilization in the organization, increasing the value of the customer over time.

Creating Success

Digital transformation is creating huge disruptions in business environments. As more core functions (but not necessarily the key functions) are filled by the rise of enterprise-grade services, it is imperative for the vendors of these services to manage the satisfaction and success of their customers.

Repeat business comes from happy customers. A customer success manager’s job is to ensure that happiness by providing ongoing engagement and monitoring the usage of the product. The CSM role makes sure customers are getting the value they expected and checks for early warning signs of dissatisfaction. This feedback then helps product and engineering teams make upgrades and changes that improve the product and keep customers coming back.

Geoff Anderson
Geoff Anderson brings 20 year of tech product management and marketing experience in industries from semiconductor capital equipment, industrial measurement and test instruments, enterprise communications software, nanotechnology, and networking. He has extensive experience in marketing, product strategy, hardware and software development, cross functional team management, mentoring, business analysis, business intelligence, strategic marketing, and other relevant skills in organizations from less than 100 to more than 50,000 employees.


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