Ask any sales guy what’s the easiest way to get new business and he’ll tell you by selling to old customers. This is why good relations between vendor and buyer are the beating heart of any business.

Of course it’s a truism rather than a startling insight. The hard work comes in finding the secret to great, long-term business relationships.

The Customer Success Manager’s (CSM) job is to find this secret and make sure it’s applied consistently.

The CSM and the Subscription Economy

Kate Leggett writing in the Forrester blog, says that the popularity of the CSM is being driven by the rapid growth of the subscription economy which includes many cloud services like SaaS and PaaS providers.

Paying for IT infrastructure or software as a monthly expenditure instead of a substantial capital outlay is an unanswerable business case.

If a firm buys a million Euros worth of comms room with servers, storage and switches they’d have to take the full ride through the product life cycle, for good or ill.

With a SassS or IaaS subscription they can easily transition between service providers if they’re unhappy with what they’re currently getting.

So the imperative to retain customers and keep good customer relations is a lot more pressing if you are a cloud service provider.

The Customer Success Manager and the customer success team can get involved at the very start of the relationship cycle. They qualify leads along with the marketing team and hand them over to the sales people to develop and close.

Core Competencies

Once the lead is turned into a customer the CSM takes over to develop and sustain the relationship. The first contact they’ll have with the new customer is in the onboarding process.

In SaaS and cloud services companies, where the CSM function is becoming very popular, this means setting the customer up on the cloud or their proprietary platform.

In this phase the CSM’s core duties will also include ensuring the tools and solution’s architecture are designed and work to exceed customer expectations.

The next phase is to develop service strategy with the customer. The Customer Success Manager must be a product expert and collaborate with the customer in designing a strategy that would get the best out of the platform and provide clear recognisable value to the customer’s operation.

Throughout they have to be a product champion and might even be embedded in company’s site for a time.

Another important component of the Customer Success Manger’s job description is the focus on and understanding of customer experience analytics: both big data and not so big data are important to the CEM.

Data should capture all contact with the customer not only direct communication with the CSM but all contact between client and service provider. This would include things like website visits or engagement with vendor’s social media or calls to the company contact centre.

The subsequent data analysis could reveal which questions are being asked the most on a FAQs page or keywords repeated in numerous social media conversations. Or knowledge important to the sales people like the products or services the client is researching most online.

One tool used to measure the effectiveness of a CSM metric is called a “health score” by Kate Leggett. The “health” being measured is of course the health of the vendor/customer relationship.

It’s a figure arrived at by pulling in data from multiple sources and capturing all interaction with the customer.

The CSM would use a range of tools to collect these disparate streams of data and consolidate them in one hub. They would also produce reports that present a pulse check on the relationship and show historical trends.

Also, they would produce reports highlighting any weakness in the relationship that put it at risk of fracturing.

Analytics happening in real-time could flash up changes to the customer’s operation that demand a change in the service being delivered. Or to alert the CSM to a drop in the account’s health score.

The data could also be used to streamline workflows optimising the relationship. And just like other pro-customer roles the CSM can become a customer advocate inside the vendor organisation.

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Other Types of Customer Relations Roles

Companies have been giving serious thought to client relations for a long time and along the way they’ve created any number of roles dedicated to this very topic.

There are roles like technical account manager and customer experience manager out there but traditionally they have been reactive roles, where the incumbent has been a problem solver or an escalation point.

The Customer Success Manager, however, has not only to provide a solution to problems but has to add actual value to the customer’s business every day.

The technical account manager is a role that’s common in the new generation of cloud companies; the rationale behind it is to provide technical know-how to the customer and this allows them to profile the customer for sales opportunities. Selling is usually an essential part of the role.

Many account manager roles are primarily sales roles and despite all the best will in trying to be a “friend” to the customer, too many of them only phone their contact when they’re selling.

The CSM might have a degree of overlap with the technical account manager but with the former the sales imperative has been stripped out of it.

The CSM’s ultimate goal is of course repeat business but their conversation with a customer isn’t going to end in a clumsy sales pitch. Nor are they likely to chase customers for a PO.

Out in the IT industry the CSM is a function that has lots of variation around the same theme. John Solomon writing in The ChargeBee blog understands the Customer Success Manager as a broad category embracing a number of positions.

They could be a kind of technical account manager with an emphasis on relationship building. The technical expertise of a CSM is important because it establishes their credibility.

The sales element would be de-emphasised but they would always be monitoring customer contact for new opportunities.

The Customer Experience Manager (CEM) could be similar to a Customer Success Manager but usually the technological background of the CEM would not be as developed.

The CSM needs to offer tech expertise with up-to-date knowledge of trends in the industry and what the competition is doing as well.

In the subscription economy the customer’s success can’t be academic; if the vendor/customer relationship is going to be a healthy one it has to be long-term and the customer needs to beat their own targets.