Top 10 Skills of a 2020 CSM
Article by: Adrienne Radan-Lazic
Image by: Ariane Foucher
With a field like Customer Success that is always growing and shifting, it's not always clear which skills are most needed to excel in a Customer Success Manager (CSM) role. While it's always going to be important to minimize churn, maximize upsells and optimize customer experience, as people and organizations evolve, the skills required to be great CSM are going to evolve as well.
How do we know this? You told us!
In April 2019, CS in Focus sent a survey to wide range of Customer Success professionals and received almost 100 responses back (along with a number of Twitter threads), telling us exactly what they thought. So, without any further ado, here are the top 10 qualities of a great 2020 CSM, in the order of most-to-least votes.
We would vote for this one at #1 too. Software can be complicated, business strategies and priorities can change, and a silent customer is almost never a happy customer. For these reasons, strong communication skills are critical for any great CSM.
In trying to be a great CSM, it can sometimes be easy to lose sight of the customer's needs in favour of pushing forward with your own or your company’s agenda – especially if you believe it to be in the customer’s best interest. A great CSM will always consider their customer's needs first and foremost, and will be able to effortlessly put themselves in the customer’s shoes.
Strategy & planning
This is what separates the good CSMs from the great ones. A good CSM will be there for you for the day-to-day, will answer any/all of your questions, will schedule regular meetings and will be a delight to work with. But what are the goals of your business? Will those goals be the same in six months? A year from now? Great CSMs will work with you to develop a solid strategy that will not only make you successful today, but will ensure you continue to be successful as your business changes and grows.
Having an extremely thorough knowledge of the product is a key ingredient in becoming the customer’s trusted advisor. A great CSM understands their product deeply and is able to articulate solutions to problems, as well as guidance on how to use the product more efficiently, get more value, or simply have a better user experience.
Problems will arise. It's inevitable. And in working as a CSM at a tech company, there will likely be many problems that occur. To be a great CSM, you'll need to know how to diagnose, address, and solve these problems, or at least be extremely efficient about sourcing solutions from other people at your company.
CSMs have to manage diverse portfolios consisting of a wide variety of customers. Some demand a lot of time, some demand a little, and on top of client management, CSMs also often work on special projects, sit in on meetings with other departments, and manage support requests. Great CSMs are able to manage their time in such a way that their customer calls are efficient, they only join meetings they really need to be in, and they can address customer support needs based on priority.
Ability to persuade
Adoption of your product or service is critical to the retention, success and growth of an account, but change management is incredibly difficult. Often your customers don’t want to deal with anything new—especially if they're swamped themselves and especially if they weren’t even the ones who bought your product; they were simply told to use it by a superior. It's going to be up to the CSM to convince the end-users to take the leap and a great CSM will be able to build trust which they can leverage to persuade and negotiate with their customers (but only if it's in their best interest! With great power comes great responsibility).
More than just understanding their own product well, a great CSM will understand their customers' world too. If your product is designed for accountants and they're always talking about DSO (that's Days Sales Outstanding, or how many days past due an account is), then learn that. Understand what they're saying. Find out all you can about their industry so you can speak their language and build that relationship as a trusted advisor.
Software is getting more complicated and people are getting increasingly busy. Depending on your product and company, customer onboarding might take anywhere from half an hour to half a year. Project management skills are important if you’re going to develop a successful onboarding plan which you can share with your customers and use to track your progress.
Technical expertise is critical in being a great CSM. You don’t need to be a full-stack developer or a master of SQL, but most likely you will need to know about APIs, user authentication and database management. You’ll also need to know how to fix common issues that your customers might encounter, and you’ll need to understand your customers’ tech stack so that you can learn how the various tools they use interact with one another and where/how yours fits in.