Recently we heard of a situation you might be familiar with: CSMs, possibly because of the way they’re thought of within the company, feel undervalued. They don’t know their worth.
It can seem like an ambiguous problem to tackle. So we recently sat down with Neelam Patel, someone we know has managed this dilemma before, to talk about where the issue comes from and how others can approach it with their teams. The following is an excerpt from our conversation.
Q: Where does this problem, of CSMs not knowing their worth, come from?
Neelam: I see this problem stemming from a few areas:
1) Imposter Syndrome. On the individual level, most everyone has imposter syndrome when they’re starting something new. CSMs aren’t the only ones who experience this. Everyone has basic self-worth work they need to do like, “Hey, I exist. Therefore I should be in the room.”
2) Diplomatic Role. CSMs are people who care about people, right? That’s a big reason why we hire them. But the problem with this kind of diplomatic role is that if you’re skilled, you likely won’t be seen or heard. Often the only time you’re called out is when you’ve made a mistake or there’s a fire. No one thinks about the glue, right? CSMs are glue—they hold everything together and only get seen when something breaks.
3) Misunderstood Department. Customer Success and the role of the CSM are often misunderstood, so CSMs can be seen by others in a company as “the person who helps make customers feel better” or a project coordinator.
If a CSM already struggles with imposter syndrome and on top of that, the words and actions within the company support those fears, a CSM is going to fail to see their worth. That's the problem.
Q: What can CSMs or their managers do about this?
Neelam: #1 Build confidence by leveraging your subject matter expertise.
You need to get to the point where you're like, “I have value in this room because I understand my job and understand that I have a position that is unique.” As a CSM, you’re a subject matter expert on the customer—you’re part of the only group in an org that understands the customer on a deep level.
One way to build confidence is to create value within your company. Use what you know about customers, what you’ve heard in calls, and bring that information to your team (“here’s how I’ve handled this” or “here’s a pattern I’m noticing”).
#2 Draw a straight line from yourself to revenue.
When you have nothing to do with revenue, you’ll often be treated as someone who has nothing to do with revenue. Most people in an org are tech experts and subject matter experts, meaning their entire job and reputation is based on being highly skilled in a certain discipline and knowing the deliverable that is the profit center of the company.
If I'm responsible for the profit center, the most important thing to the company, then I’ll be treated as such. Everything else is secondary. And that’s not because everyone at a company is a jerk, that’s just business. The closer you are to the money, the more influence you have.
For your self-esteem and to have greater influence within a company, attach yourself to revenue and start tracking it. Start answering some questions:
- What would it look like if your projects weren't there?
- Which of your customers is bringing in the most revenue?
- How much revenue would be lost if your accounts weren't covered?
- What industries are you contributing to?
- Is this customer's contract on a multi-year or single-year contract?
- Who or which department in the customer’s company owns the business decision for renewal? (You can ask your sales team for this information.)
This will give you the feeling of being responsible for the business.
#3 Know the product & how to help customers.
If CSMs don’t have the product knowledge to help a customer with a given request, they will often wonder, “What am I doing here? All these tech people know all the answers and I don't know anything.” This can be avoided with great product knowledge and understanding the common areas where customers struggle or places where they can find more value in your product.
You are also in a unique position to be able to translate to the customer in user-friendly terms. The more you understand from your “non-tech” perspective, the easier you can make it for the customer to understand as well.
#4 Think about your unique value.
I’ve had to do a lot of coaching, even with senior CS hires, about how out of the whole org, CSMs are the only ones who must wear two badges: 1) the company's badge and 2) the customer's badge.
As a CSM you're the only one with this vantage. Who else in the room at your company has the most intimate relationship with the day-to-day work and lives of your customers? You'll realize it's just you. You're literally a living, breathing avatar of the customer and nobody else can say that. Use this to your advantage.
#5 Track your impact.
The more you realize your value, the more you can vocalize it, so people “get” your worth.
If you’re able to share how a customer wouldn’t have renewed if you hadn’t done ‘XYZ’, a salesperson will start to think, “Wow, I want this CSM on my accounts because she always has my customers’ back.” People around you should know how the things you do help their paychecks.
As a CSM, you have a role that's 1) not understood by most people and 2) requires you to constantly advocate for yourself and educate people on how you’re worthy.
#6 Network and find a community of support.
It's helpful to network with CSMs at different companies to understand that you're not alone in your role. Partnerships will also help you think about how much your company values Customer Success. How does your company score compared to others?
A note from Chris:
Let's start with the root of the problem here, which is that if you’re a CSM and you don't own revenue for your accounts, then you don't own a number that matters to your company. No one cares. So the reality is if you don't own a number, you will be perceived as a project coordinator or Customer Support.
If you do own revenue, you will have power and influence within your company which you can use to pipe into conversations, share data & anecdotes from your customer accounts, etc.
Let's say you don't own revenue, but you still want to have a bigger voice in your company and you want to feel more valued. The most important thing that you can do is help bring the customer's voice into decision-making at the company. There are key decisions that happen over the course of the year without any customer input at all—it's crazy town. For example:
1) Product is making decisions about what features to build without understanding how much value it would add to customers' lives.
2) The Sales team is acquiring customers without deeply understanding the ICP.
3) Marketing is making decisions about pricing without knowing what's working and what's not working for customers around pricing.
4) Customer Marketing is coming up with content strategy without the knowledge of what customers need to help make their journeys more successful.
The next best thing that CSMs can do is to ask the same structured questions [see examples below] to all of your customers along their journey, and then summarize and share that information with managers and other leaders so that they can make better customer-centered decisions.
- How easy was it to set up and configure [your product]?
- How well does [your company] match what you expected from the sales process?
- How severe is the problem that [your company] is solving for you?
- How satisfied are you with [your company’s] support and success teams?
- How likely are you to receive value from [your platform] in the next 6 months?
A CSM understands their customers more than any other person in a company but without quantifying that understanding, it's useless. At that point, all a CSM has is anecdotes, which don't mean anything to executives. What you need is quantified data about the customer experience that you can share.
The best resources for Customer Success teams this week
The Power of Performance Reviews: Use This System to Become a Better Manager
“Done well, performance reviews improve performance, align expectations and accelerate your report’s career. Done poorly, they accelerate their departure.” Lenny Rachitsky, former Product Lead at Airbnb, offers a clear framework for a well-orchestrated performance review.
VOICE OF CUSTOMER
Who Is The Owner of The VOC?
Here’s an interesting discussion on which department should own the VOC program. Our opinion: VOC must be owned by a leader who is part of the executive team. Ideally, that leader is the CS leader since they’re closest to the customer, but it also requires the Customer leader to proactively deliver that information to other departments.
Is Your Customer Success Team Helping Or Hindering Retention?
Here’s a CMO’s take on how not to approach Customer Success. If you’re reading this newsletter, you’ve probably already thought about the points in this article. But it may still serve as a helpful reminder that CSMs must be aware of their customers’ time, and treat their customers like humans. (Hint: Checking in to “see how a customer is doing” right before renewal isn’t a great experience.)
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