For this week’s newsletter issue, we asked over 10 Customer Success leaders this question: “What’s one skill every CSM needs to learn to be eligible for a Customer Success leader position?”
Here’s what they had to say.
Rod Cherkas - Strategy Consultant and Advisor to CCOs at HelloCCO
CSMs need to demonstrate an ability to prioritize. For example, in their day-to-day roles, they need to prioritize how they invest their time and which clients to focus on. This is a critical skill to demonstrate you are ready for a leadership role.
In this position, you will be asked to optimize results across a wide number of levers. You will need to demonstrate that you can identify and focus on the most important areas, and be willing to let go or delegate others.
Shashi Aryal - Head of Customer Success at Prelude
Effective communication—it’s as simple as that. Everyone can communicate, but not everyone can communicate effectively. Customer Success is the voice of the customer and interacts with almost every department internally.
You also have to be bold, as you’ll continually have to challenge both the customer and the company to make positive impact; whether it be to drive adoption or innovation. Everyone has different communication styles and it’s important to be able to read a room and tailor your communication style accordingly. You want to resonate with your audience in your initial meeting, not the second or third. Your first impression matters.
A CSM needs to up-level themselves from being the hero CSM that every salesperson wants to work with. They need to establish themselves as a process and Customer Success strategist that each CSM leans on when they begin to develop account plans and adoption strategies. They should become the CS team’s go-to growth advisor.
It is one thing to win one battle, but as a CSM, you need to establish the vision to win the hearts and minds of all the go-to-market teams. This will put you on the top of the list when your organization begins to look for its next CS leader.
“A CSM needs to up-level themselves from being the hero CSM that every salesperson wants to work with.”
Sara Khafaga - Trusted Advisor, Growth Seeker, & Sales Retention Expert
Be empathetic! I learned this during my leadership role with Gartner managing a Customer Experience program across Australia and New Zealand. Empathy was the key success factor in working cross-functionally with different local and global teams, while collaborating, influencing, coaching, and managing operations across remote teams in different time zones.
Empathy is the capacity to place oneself in another's position which helps you establish and build social connections with others. Why? It improves productivity, boosts organizational growth, makes collaboration easier, brings out the best with a diverse workforce, improves reputations/personal branding, and leads to reciprocity of empathy across an organization.
Craig Wahl - Sr. VP of Customer Success at Boast.AI
Decision Making - It’s essential to have the ability and willingness to make decisions and try new things, knowing failure is part of growth. Taking action and being accountable for those actions will help grow you into a strong leader.
Curiosity - CSMs need the ability to continually ask thought-provoking questions. They need to be open to always learning more about their customers, peers, and those that report to them, which will consistently highlight areas of growth.
“It’s essential to have the ability and willingness to make decisions and try new things, knowing failure is part of growth.”
Cindy Greeratiyuth - CG Consulting
There is no ONE skill that a CSM needs to master to be eligible for a CS leadership position. Instead, there are many. Let me expand on a few crucial skills that a CSM must hone to be ready to climb the career ladder of leadership.
#1 The best CSMs are astute “Students of the Customers.” They are curious and eager to learn about their customers, the business, and how to align solutions to help customers achieve their desired outcomes and ROI.
#2 Emotional Intelligence is essential as a leader. CSMs must be able to connect, influence, and inspire the internal team and customers to achieve their respective goals. One of the ways to effectively connect, starting with your team members, is to learn the art of Radical Candor (i.e. understanding how to “care personally and challenge directly.”) If done correctly, this will enable people around you to do their best work while building trusted relationships.
#3 Skilled CSMs poised to be CS leaders often have great active listening skills. They believe in the motto “Seek to understand before you can be understood.” Active listening means listening and responding to improve mutual understanding.
“Leaders don’t have to have big titles to be great leaders.”
#4 CS leaders have diverse experience and strong business acumen. These qualities allow them to challenge the status quo in a skillful manner, have the intuition to ask the right questions, and identify the right problems to solve. I’ve found that CSMs with solid Consultative Sales, Account Management, or Consulting backgrounds are adept at this as they are trained in objection handling and navigating tough conversations with all levels, particularly at the executive levels.
#5 Another leadership skill that CSMs need to develop is critical thinking and data-driven decision-making. There will be lots of data. Depending on where your company is in its journey of data management and reporting, the best CSMs take the initiative to learn and rally the right resources to provide relevant data to aid in decision making.
High-performing leadership skills often include effective communication, the ability to influence, decisiveness, problem-solving, relationship building, and the ability to coach and/or mentor. But one thing to keep in mind is that leaders don’t have to have big titles to be great leaders. Like John Quincy Adams said, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader."
Farzad Khosravi - Sales, Growth, & Customer Experience Consulting
The one skill every CSM needs to learn to be eligible for a CS leader position is to move beyond focusing on traditional CS metrics and instead work towards departmental alignment and company goals. Too many CS leaders obsess over downstream metrics like churn, retention, and upsells. But this is overrated.
All of these metrics are determined by a whole host of decisions made months or years ago by your Sales, Marketing, and Product teams. They are multivariate problems that can't be simplified into single variate problems. True Customer Success is a collective enterprise spanning the entire company. You must identify, collaborate, and align with your entire company if you really want to impact retention, churn, and upsells.
Harsh Shah - Customer Success Manager at Woliba
The most important skill required to be a great Customer Success leader is taking ownership of process optimization. This means solving the most important problems your team, and company, face.
Within every team and organization, there can be a seemingly endless number of moving parts at any moment each with a different impact on different parties. Due to this, CS teams can struggle with lots of challenges, which decreases a team's efficiency.
"Too often, there are mountains of challenges at a company, but no one steps up to fix them."
Here’s an example. Imagine you work at a company where customers continually share issues or enhancement requests, but the team only provides temporary solutions. No one actually works to resolve the core problem. To solve this, you have to set up a core process first to gather feedback from customers. At particular events or points of their journey, you can reach out to them to gather this data, and after cleaning and filtering the data, you can work on permanent solutions.
As a part of this solution, you can grow your knowledge base by adding answers to any repetitive questions, creating educational materials, product enhancements, etc. After every such sprint, your product and support will become stronger. As a result, questions or concerns will decrease and customers will begin to seamlessly use your solution.
But too often, there are mountains of challenges at a company, but no one steps up to fix them. Too often, people say “it’s not my job.”
CSMs who are ready to take on a leadership role have a history of identifying unsolved problems, raising their hand to help solve those problems, and oftentimes see it as an opportunity to better the entire organization. This requires a problem-solving mindset and the desire to learn new techniques and tools. That’s why the best Customer Success leaders help their company grow by taking on ownership of process optimization.
Ivette Muller - Enterprise CSM at Friendbuy
I think one critical skill is empathy. To be really successful in this role, you have to be a great business partner—one that understands the customer, knows their challenges, celebrates their accomplishments, and cheers them on when it's tough.
Having experience on the client side has been invaluable as a CS leader. I've been in their shoes and now I can share my experience with them to help navigate their current situation. Sometimes the most valuable lessons come from my past mistakes! My clients appreciate that I have a common history with them and know I have their best interests at heart. My success is their success.
Gary Allum - Customer Success Manager at PlexTrac
The most important skill every CSM needs to have, especially if they want to become a leader, is humility. While, yes, it is a personality trait, I believe it is also a skill set. Let me explain—whether you’re speaking with a client, or someone who reports to you, reigning in your pride and being transparent enough to say "I don't know", can go a very long way.
Leading by example and showing humility in your dealings with employees will have a trickle-down effect and lead to your clients being treated the same way!
The best resources for Customer Success teams this week
3 Ways Tech Companies Can Thrive in an Economic Downturn
"Best practices are not convenience, they're survival." Here’s a must-read piece by TSIA’s Thomas Lah that digs into where specific departments (from Partner Channels, to Support, to Product Management, to Customer Success) can cut back and where they can find new revenue.
Why Now’s the Perfect Time to Retool Your Hiring Process and Get Creative
In this piece, the co-founders of Peoplism argue that even amidst these economically turbulent moments in history, right now is the best time to improve your hiring processes. Their step-by-step hiring outline is great right out of the gate with the first step being "Start with the job description — Don't just copy and paste."
Duplicate This Onboarding Process and Best Practices to Create Raving Fans
The art of customer onboarding is ever-evolving. Scan Gong's tips to ensure your team is providing a customer onboarding experience designed to create raving fans.
What the &%^! Is Customer-Led Growth?
Pulse 2022 is in a few weeks! Join me live in SF on August 18th at 2pm PDT to learn about why CLG is the only path forward in a hard economy. (Get 20% off with this code: PULSE22_SPEAKER20)