How to spot a high-performing Customer Success Manager
One of the challenges I had in the earlier days of building out a Customer Success function was developing predictable renewals and expansion measures.
For context, this was when performance data was in the progress of being collected and historical could not yet provide sufficient predictive power.
If someone were to ask me today what’s the best early-day indicators of renewals and expansion, I would say that it is in the observable traits and behaviours of the Customer Success Manager.
There are five traits and behaviours that I have observed in these CSMs who consistently drive renewals, expansions and customer satisfaction. We mainly operated as high-touch B2B SaaS CSMs, but I believe this holds true for anyone in the profession.
From my observation, high-performing CSMs are…
Courageous and action-oriented
If I have to choose, this will be my pick as the most critical indicator of a successful CSM who will drive results.
A high-performing CSM may fear saying the wrong thing or looking stupid and choose to give it a go anyway. They are action-oriented as they know the best remedy to uncertainty and anxiousness is action.
Because they focus on taking action, they inadvertently create “luck” for themselves. Each succeeding try increases the likelihood of catching an expansion opportunity or critical information impacting renewals.
If a CSM only wants to do things that they can succeed at, they’ll eventually throw in the towel because as human beings we are more likely and often to be wrong than we are right.
Firm and flexible
High-performing CSMs embrace structure and processes as guides, not carved-in-stone rules.
For example, they would take the pricing plan as a guide but create alternatives that balance the customer’s budget and the company’s objective. They are firm with the customers on what can be delivered but never disappoint by doing their best to offer alternative values.
I have also noticed that customers have more respect for CSMs who are firm and flexible. They are more likely to seen as trusted advisors than those who would give the customers everything they ask.
Have an abundance mindset
Being genuinely customer-centric is on everyone’s lips but not necessarily practised. I’m not referring to tactical actions like avoiding jargon, favouring easy-to-understand words, or being a good listener.
If someone has an abundance mindset, they also tend to be a CSM who is genuinely customer-centric.
Why is this so? CSMs who operate from an abundance mindset see that there are always options and resources.
Because of this,
- They are more likely to believe there is a solution to any problem, which drives them to explore and take action. See trait 1.
- They trade instead of negotiating. Winning by Design explains that
“negotiating is pitting one side against the other. It’s an adversarial relationship where the goal is to get the other side to give up as much as possible. Trading is when both parties are on the same side of the table, finding a solution together. An example is offering something you both have in abundance, in exchange for something the other has that you find valuable, being fair for both parties”.
- They are not locked into a zero-sum game of needing to always “win” and look good, which frees them to be genuinely curious and ask plenty of questions to understand the customer’s pain points and needs.
- They embrace the limitations of the existing product and services as an opportunity to grow versus a crutch.
An abundance mindset puts the CSM more easily in the customers’ shoes in the pursuit of a win-win outcome.
Have a robust understanding of how the product works in the backend
The best performing CSMs spend time understanding the product’s technology to equip themselves to think through solutions for the customer.
This helps them to not over fixate on the existing product and services as the company’s only value. Instead, they hold the customer’s needs and the company’s overarching mission and do their best to devise solutions that creatively combine the two. They are not limited by the pricing plan and package menu they receive from their managers.
I noticed that these CSMs actively seek opportunities to build relationships with the engineering, product and data science team.
They always have a plan
The best CSMs always have a plan for the outcome they want to achieve.
They are objective-driven, spend time thinking about where they want to go and work backwards to achieve their goal.
10 out of 10 times, the high-performing CSMs I have worked with will follow the explanation of the challenges they are facing with a plan they would like to experiment.
The odds of them achieving their desired goal increase when combined with being courageous and action-oriented.
If I were building a team of CSM today, all five of the above traits and observable behaviours would be at the top of my hiring scorecard.
Are there any other traits or behaviours you have observed as good indicators? I’d love to hear them!