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What is a Customer Success Manager?

What does a Customer Success Manager do? And what skills do they need? What career opportunities do they have?

In this article (Table of contents)

A Customer Success Manager is someone who truly, consistently and perpetually knows and understands their customers. That means they’re embracing Customer Success as a business imperative. If you’re new to Customer Success, you’ll want to check our guide to Customer Success first!

What is Customer Success Management?

Ultimately, Customer Success is a company-wide business imperative which must come from the top-down (i.e. CEO) and be embodied by everything undertaken by each person in the organisation. Everyone in the organisation contributes and is responsible for Customer Success.

The Customer Success Manager is the co-ordinator and facilitator of ensuring the Customer Journey and experience is at the heart of all actions and decisions made internally.

There must be company alignment in order to achieve a seamless customer experience and journey, which leads to the achievement of customer outcomes and ultimately their success.

Customer Success within an organisation
Customer Success within an organisation

Ultimately, the Customer Success Manager is the internal advocate for the customer – they understand that Their Success = Your Success.

In this article, we’ll outline the role of a Customer Success Manager. What are their responsibilities, mindset, and career opportunities? And how do they fit into the organisation?

Responsibilities of a Customer Success Manager

A Customer Success Manager is someone who…

  • is responsible for driving retention and growth (e.g. upsells/cross-sells/new business referrals/case studies) throughout the existing customer journey.
  • always considers the impact on the customer with every action and interaction they and their company have through their product, service and communications.
  • understands the aims, objectives and outcomes of each and every one of their customers and aligns the Customer Journey to achieving these.
  • understands that by making their customer successful, they will make themselves and their own company successful.

Operatively, this translate to an array of different responsibilities that, traditionally, might have been taken care of by Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, or Product Management.

Many soft skills are needed for the Customer Success Manager: Understanding how the product/service can help customers achieve their goal requires a deep understanding of both sides of a transaction. It’s mandatory to understand the pains of the customer and the value you can offer them to solve these pains.

For this reason, a Customer Success Manager is the person in the organisation that should be the most familiar with the customer journey – since they’re the one guiding the customers through it, as a partner.

The Customer Journey: Guiding path for a Customer Success Manager

It is important to remember that everyone in the organisation should be aware of all phases, activities and interactions which occur along the Customer Journey.

It is NOT the role of the CSM to undertake all of the “customer” activities.

Marketing, Sales, Product, Training, Support and every single person in the company contributes and brings the expertise of their role to the relevant processes.

Customer Success in the Customer Journey
Customer Success in the Customer Journey

The Customer Success Manager, therefore, plays a facilitation and co-ordination role to ensure that the right actions are addressed by the relevant person/team at the right time.

They are the voice of the customer and the path to/from the customer. They provide feedback to the product team to improve and develop the road map from a customer’s perspective. They are the partner of the Sales department in developing the Ideal Customer Profile. They know which customer would make for a great case study.

Which traits does a Customer Success Manager need?

Customer Success Managers need the data-driven mindset of a scientist, paired with the skills for connecting humans. This is what we call the Customer Success Mindset.

Customer Success Manager Mindset
Customer Success Manager Mindset

Routes into being a CSM

Routes into CSM are varied as the skill-set required is also varied!

Roles of a Customer Success Manager
Roles of a Customer Success Manager

Historically, many CSMs had a background in consulting and/or project management. These disciplines also require cross-functional co-ordination, relationship management, building “success plans” and being a trusted advisor to their stakeholders (see below).

In addition, these individuals are usually commercially aware as they understand that referrals and repeat business (i.e. retention) are key to maintaining and growing their consulting portfolio.

In a growing number of cases, people with a background in Sales, Account Management and Business Development are understanding the true growth potential lies with Customer Success. They want to combine their outstanding commercial approach with the soft skills and partnership of the trusted advisor approach they see applies in Customer Success.

Finally, it is not essential to have years of experience in Customer Success or any role to become a world-class CSM. There are many transferable skills from all experiences, including through educational and personal ones. Most leaders hire for passion, hunger and humility first and will develop expertise and skills over time. Graduates, therefore, are also an increasing channel into the world of being a CSM.

Career Opportunities and Salary for Customer Success Managers

Due to the cross-functional and multi-discipline of the role, the sky is the limit for career progression and opportunities with many analysts now predicting that CSM is the new de facto route into the “top” role of Chief Executive Officer. If this doesn’t appeal (and it doesn’t to everyone!), there are plenty of other options. If you can think of it, then CSM is a good route into it.

Customer Success Manager Career Opportunities
Customer Success Manager Career Opportunities

Additionally, there is a growing trend of a new appointment to the C-Suite (top level executive team) in the guise of Chief Customer Officer. This is definitely a career path open to those of us who spend some of their time working in the CSM role.

Salary of a Customer Success Manager

The difference in seniority is also the reason for a big gap in salary for the Customer Success Manager. In many companies, Customer Success Managers will be entry positions, filled with graduates and junior employees, being led by more senior commercial managers. In these cases, the salary will be comparable to an entry-level position in Marketing or Sales, often accompanied by similar bonus structures.

However, Customer Success Managers that lead big teams will have the opportunity to gain salaries similar to Sales Managers or the Head of Sales. Sky is the limit.

How does the maturity of a Customer Success organisation affect the role of a Customer Success Manager?

The maturity profile indicates the types of activities in place and the role the CSM is playing and how they are perceived internally & externally.

Customer Success Maturity Model
Customer Success Maturity Model

In early-stage Customer Success organisations, they will be reactive and customer support or service oriented roles. The more mature a Customer Success organisation becomes, the more proactive a Customer Success Manager’s role becomes, eventually being able to lift referral and other growth opportunities.

As a Trusted Advisor, they have the position to work as a business partner. They are the voice of the customer, and equally they are able to challenge the customer to ensure the right plans are put in place, both internally and externally to achieve each other’s desired outcomes and goals.

Authors: Kellie Lucas and Tobias Liebsch