20 skills Customer Success managers must have. Most organizations lose too many potential customers in the journey from prospecting to closing.
That’s why an increasing number now have Customer Success managers: a calculated role to hold prospects tight in the pipeline with personalized attention.
More than half of companies that have adopted Customer Success programs see a direct connection between what Customer Success managers do and increased income, according to research from The Customer Success Association.
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What was once a position just popular and prevalent in the SaaS industries is now an emerging tool in all industries to boost sales and customer satisfaction.
The role of the Customer Success manager
Ideally, the Customer Success manager (CSM) bridges the gap between sales and support. The sales journey usually starts with a salesperson or business development rep. When prospects become customers, customer support or service might join in the care. Along the way, a Customer Success manager is a single point of contact, helping people navigate the journey.
The Customer Success manager position doesn’t look the same at all organizations. At some, the CSM might work hand-in-hand with salespeople to contact, inform and support prospects.
At other companies, CSMs are part of an implementation team that includes sales roles and technical account managers who take customers through installation or first-time use.
And at other places, CSMs take on more of a sales administration role, easing the demand on salespeople and strengthening the connection for potential customers.
Regardless of the duties or role definitions, Customer Success managers need to master these skills.
Customer Success managers’ middle name could be communication. They need to make sure the right information flows from the organization and salespeople to prospects at the right time and place. They also need to get customers to communicate back to them – and relay that information to people and parts that need it.
CSMs need to speak and write well. Because there’s little face-to-face communication, CSMs spend most talking time on the phone. So they need to have a strong, competent tone. They need to use clear, vivid language
And CSMs write a lot every day through email, social media and chat. They might even contribute to sales and marketing content. They need solid grammar skills and command of their language.
2) Relational intelligence
People with relational intelligence read others quickly and accurately and use that “read” to connect and build rapport. It’s a vital skill for anyone in Customer Success.
Relational intelligence goes beyond finding a common connection. CSMs need to use this skill to align their messages with prospects’ needs and wants. They can identify prospects who prefer friendships in business and prospects who are just business – and then build the right relationship.
3) Mental fortitude
Dealing with prospects who might be reluctant, confused or frustrated can be tough on anyone. Dealing with those situations day in and day out is a reality for Customer Success managers.
They need a positive outlook (which is instinctive and can’t be taught). Enthusiasm and an ingrained concern for others can help guide them when prospects flounder, systems are slow, colleagues get testy and products fail.
4) Organizational accuracy
Customer Success managers need to be organized and accurate. They stay on task and follow through on commitments with the agility to change priorities when circumstances call for it.
How? They use tools to manage time and delivery of messages and promised actions. Deeper than technology, they have well-defined personal systems and existing habits for prioritizing and completing their work.
They don’t leave anything to chance. They have backup systems in place if the original plan fails, plus checks and balances to ensure things really did get done.
Customer Success managers can’t be meek. By nature of the job, they are commonly in situations where they must take control and make fast decisions based on pending or limited information and what they understand about prospects’ needs.
Some confidence is natural. The rest is gained through thorough, ongoing training and the autonomy to try new approaches, then learn from successes and mistakes without serious repercussions.
6) Relationship building
It’s equally important for Customer Success managers to build relationships with prospects and their colleagues. CSMs are integral parts of many teams within their organizations.
They must be willing to cooperate with other people and departments. They need to listen closely to others, offer constructive, valuable insight and accept guidance to make teams work.
Customer Success managers deal with colleagues and customers who are concerned about one thing in most situations: themselves.
That’s when CSMs need to draw on discernment skills to choose the battles to fight with colleagues and which demands they should give in to from customers. CSMs practice discernment by asking more questions so they understand why others are reluctant or combative. Then they respond to the underlying – usually self-serving – need in a way that everyone wins something.
8) Graceful navigation
Customer Success managers potentially face a lot of difficult conversations and situations – from money to accountability. Great CSMs need the skills to gracefully navigate these conversations and situations, addressing them head-on.
When CSM’s establish themselves as problem-solvers and advocates, they can naturally address those topics with a respectful, professional, matter-of-fact tone.
Customer Success managers have to actually like people. People in Customer Success positions don’t get easily irritated by others’ quirks, behaviors, habits and personality traits.
They need to be comfortable talking to anyone, regardless of their background or current conditions. They should genuinely be interested in other people and prove it by listening closely to and empathizing with others (more on that comes next).
Customers want to be heard, understood and validated. For that reason, anyone who works in sales needs to be empathetic.
Empathy in action for Customer Success managers is anticipating prospects’ pain points, knowing how prospects feel and articulating how they will make things better.
You might think Customer Success managers need to be skilled at multi-tasking, considering the number of email messages, phone calls, chats and visits they need to manage. They have a lot to do constantly. But research shows that most people are ineffective at multi-tasking: They can’t do many jobs well at one time.
CSMs need to be skilled at responsible-tasking: moving from one prioritized task to another so everything gets done well.
There’s little or no rest for Customer Success managers. They must react to prospects’ and customers’ requests and concerns. And when they aren’t doing that, they need to proactively gather more information to prepare for what might be next or stay ahead of another request.
The job keeps them busy. But CSMs are busybodies: They find valuable ways to fill limited downtime.
13) Strategic thinking
Customer Success managers are the ultimate problem-solvers. They carry prospects through most of the sales cycle. There are obstacles at every corner and they need to help prospects move around them – and prove how it easy it was to make that happen.
CSMs need to be able to identify issues and possibilities early and plan for each so prospects have more positive, rewarding experiences throughout the sales cycle. They also need to use strategic skills to stay ahead of what the competition can and will do to jeopardize the sale.
14) Analytical skills
Customer Success managers will handle piles of data every day. They need to understand where the information comes from, how it affects the customer journey and where they are with prospects in the journey, and what they can do with the information to move prospects closer to the sale.
They need to understand data from surveys, buying patterns, demographics, behaviors, engagement and feedback specific to their industry and customer base.
15) Professional agility
Customer Success managers work with higher level buyers and executives within their organizations. They need to quickly learn the ebbs and flows of business and finance. And they need to be able to relay that information up, down and across chains of command, often translating it so the audience at hand understands the impact of what’s being said.
CSMs need the desire and ability to learn business processes, organizational operations and company goals so they are always moving in the right direction.
16) Perceptive skills
Internal and external changes can affect the customer journey. CSMs need to channel perceptive skills to recognize changes in their product and operations and adjust the customer journey if necessary.
At the same time, they need to keep an eye on the horizon for changes – in demands, their customers’ needs and organizational challenges. Those often trigger a change that needs to be addressed immediately to keep prospects in the pipeline.
CSMs are like quarterbacks. They need to lead others, make play calls and help the team execute to ensure prospects move quickly and smoothly through the sales cycle.
To do that well, they need to tell others what needs to be done and when. They must walk a fine line, leaning to assertive and away from aggressive.
18) Counterintuitive thinking
Customer Success managers sometimes need to challenge their prospects … in a positive way, that is. They get to know prospects, their business, pain points and concerns so well, that they’re able to see unique solutions for them.
Then the CSMs need to push prospects to think in the new and creative ways to understand the whole value of what is being offered.
CSMs can’t give up. They often need to uncover the root cause of prospects’ and customers’ problems, then find the solution. Sometimes they need to share the problems with others who are better suited to help.
In either case, CSMs need to use resilience to follow up as many times as necessary to get to the bottom of the issues and satisfy prospects.
CSMs need some teaching skills – and a level of comfort instructing others. They might walk prospects through their systems and product or service trials. They often take new customers through first-time use.
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