“I’m looking for best practices for career laddering”
“I need new strategies to retain top CSMs”
“I’m concerned about my CSMs getting poached”

If you’ve said any of these statements in the past year, you’re in good company. As the Customer Success department grows in prominence, businesses are forced to change their approach to developing and retaining top CS talent rapidly.  

That’s why we spoke with Chad Greenleaf, SVP of Client Services at AppsFlyer, about two career paths he’s successfully implemented. As Chad says “these ladders are presented here as a guideline for leveling and growth of the CSM role, and are by no means the ‘only’ or ‘best’ career ladder options. But each can be customized for an organization and should also be considered for parallel roles in Professional Services, Support, Education, Technical Success, and other roles in the broader Customer Success organization."


Individual Track

Associate CSM - Associate CSMs are entry level, either into the industry and/or at the start of their professional careers. Associates work under the direction of a more experienced CSM or under a Team Lead. Associates may work with less complex customer situations, with clearly defined tasks, and with Mid Market or SMB customers at scale. CS organizations would expect advancement from an associate role faster than advancement through other roles.  

CSM - This individual contributor is the backbone of the CS organization. This individual’s day-to-day responsibilities ultimately determine if their customers, and by extension their own organization, succeed or fail in a subscription-based world. CSMs can have a variety of responsibilities depending on the organization, but they are ultimately accountable for the customers’ success, satisfaction, and renewal. In some cases, they may also be responsible for product expansion within the customer organization.   

A CSM seeks to understand a customer's current state, desired destination, and the initiatives and software required to reach the destination (or attain the outcome). They link business value with their own organization’s product value and create visibility within the customer organization of what progress has been made. A CSM is an individual leader that drives a matrix team (both vendor and customer) to deliver expected value for the customer.  Great CSMs create advocates within their customers that are willing to speak positively about the software or product in public settings.   

Senior CSM - Senior CSMs are expected to achieve individual targets consistently and with little oversight. They are often assigned and used extensively in the most strategic or complex customer segments. They frequently mentor CSMs or Associate CSMs.  

“Principal CSMs are evidence that career success doesn’t have to follow the traditional management route.”

Principal CSM - Many consider this role to be an individual peer to managers, from a maturity and competence perspective. Principal CSMs are evidence that career success doesn’t have to follow the traditional management route. Achieving and exceeding individual targets and goals are a given. The Principal CSM is called upon to resolve challenging situations or customers in an effective and self-driven manner. They mentor other individual CSMs and are resident experts in one or many technical, product, or strategic subject matters.  

Senior Principal CSM - These are the most experienced CSMs at the company. They’ve demonstrated mastery in product knowledge, subject matter expertise, getting things done with other departments, and management of the company’s largest accounts. They consistently set the highest standards by which all other levels of CSM are compared.

Leader Track

CS Team Lead - Team Leads mentor individual CSMs in a formal sense, minus the HR and revenue responsibilities that a manager has. Team Leads set the pace and lead specific initiatives, areas of responsibility, and mentorship for individual team members. Programs with a Team Lead position use the role as a stepping stone for candidates who demonstrate management potential. A CS Team Lead normally serves as a player/coach.

“Programs with a Team Lead position use the role as a stepping stone for candidates who demonstrate management potential.”

CS Manager - This is the baseline or formal foundation of Customer Success leadership. Managers can still serve as a player/coach, but this role tilts more towards coach. This person has formal HR and performance responsibilities for a set team, and for performance of those individuals’ aggregate book of business. They serve as the first escalation point for CSMs with customers.

CS Senior Manager - More experienced managers may advance to a Senior Manager role. Senior Managers are expected to be competent and consistent in managing a team and driving that team to high performance. They will often be drawn by senior leaders for strategic initiatives with the organization or to mentor more junior managers.   

Director/Senior Director of CS - Directors often manage other managers, meaning they are the first role that must derive success from second-level leadership. Directors are responsible for individual and team performance across a larger span, including individual and financial success. They mentor managers and partner with other leaders in the broader field teams (Marketing, Sales) as well as the Product team to ensure customer success.   

VP/SVP of CS - Often responsible for an aggregate group of teams, regions, customer segments, or departments (CSM, Consulting, Support). VPs of CS report to the CCO, or if a company doesn’t have a CCO role, the CRO or COO. The VP sets strategy and is responsible for the successful execution of the department’s goals. They often contribute to strategy that happens at the CCO level and are an important executive touchpoint for customers. The VP ensures that customer sentiment and feedback make it to the C-level executives and product leadership team.  

“CCOs evangelize the need for the entire organization to be involved in Customer-Led Growth.”

Chief Customer Officer - The buck stops here as CCOs are responsible to the CEO, CRO, Product, and the Board for all Customer Success-related areas. A CCO drives organizational and go-to-market strategy for the CS group and ensures that different CS departments are working harmoniously towards the quarterly or annual goals set out by the CEO and Board. The CCO is often the executive sponsor in strategic customer relationships to ensure executive alignment. The CCO also ensures the organization continues to evolve and improve as customer needs shift and expand. CCOs also evangelize the need for the entire organization to be involved in Customer-Led Growth. 


The best resources for Customer Success teams



Fundamentals Matter

Janine Sneed, VP of Customer Success at IBM, makes a connection between CS and sports and explains how important it is to get the fundamentals right in each. This is the latest post on Janine’s new blog, Scaling Customer Success, which is a resource worth bookmarking. 

Read the full post



Why Invest in Customer Success Enablement

“When you make CSMs more effective and efficient, not only do they do better work, they have more time to do that work at that higher level of performance.” Here’s a post by William Buckingham, CS Operations Manager, Enablement at Delphix, with all the research to convince you to invest more into CS Enablement. 

Read the full post



How to Become A Customer-Led Growth Leader

We are stepping into the age of the customer and CS leaders must lead the charge. Join me during this session to learn more about Customer-Led Growth (CLG) and the skills you’ll need to implement this movement at your company.

Watch Now




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