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Head, Heart, Hands… A recipe for an outstanding Client Success Manager

Manager Success

What makes a good Client Success Manager (CSM)? I could answer that question with the sort of things you’d find on a resume: proper education, prior experience, technical expertise and so on.

But is that really enough? Is that really all it takes to make a good CSM?

Definitely not. Guiding your client’s success takes more than just the application of technical skills to a well-defined set of problems. There are intangibles, things you won’t find on a resume, that are every bit as determinative, if not more, of your success as a CSM.

Instead, consider a more holistic way to think about what a CSM is and what a CSM does. In doing so, I believe we’ll find a better way to identify a “good” CSM versus a bad one.

The Head

For the CSM, doing the job often depends more on how you know than what you know.

A successful CSM has to be curious. To really help clients succeed, you need to know what constitutes success for them. That means asking insightful questions and taking the time to actively listen to clients’ responses. Time should be spent by demonstrating your value to the clients.

If you are spending any time working on something that isn’t directly tied to demonstrating value to the clients, then you need to stop or deprioritize this activity. The primary goal is to help clients meet their objectives using the entire agency as a resource.

An excellent CSM is also an ordered thinker. They need intimate knowledge of each account, the client’s hopes, dreams, stakeholders, products, discreet revenue streams, markets and so much more. And they have to hold it all together without jumbling any of the moving pieces.

A great CSM must possess the relational knowledge that goes into navigating complex corporate structures on both sides of the B2B relationship. On one hand, that means integrating various stakeholders within his or her own organization. On the other, it means connecting clients with the different subject matter experts (SME) they need to solve their problems. A CSM needs to know how the puzzle fits to do that.

The Heart

A valuable CSM doesn’t just think their way to success.

They also need to empathize with their clients - not in a sentimental way, but in a way that allows them to “get inside their heads” and see the world from their unique vantage point. A CSM needs to embody the client’s distinct drivers so well that their analytics effectively become his or her own measure of performance.

Of course, this doesn’t mean lying prostrate before the will of the client. Instead, the CSM should know the analytics so well that he or she can effectively push back whenever the client goes against their own business goals. This cognitive ability makes the CSM more than a member of a marketing agency, it makes them a trusted ally.

The Hands

Head and heart matter. But without the practical know-how and expertise required to do the actual work, you won’t get anywhere.

At a minimum, this means intimate and extensive product knowledge. As obvious as this may seem, it bears repeating that a CSM’s ability to skillfully apply his or her company’s services to the client’s problem, directly impacts both client retention and any attempts to generate further revenue. In fact, one study found that some CSM’s are reducing customer churn to lower than 1%.

Let’s remind ourselves, CSM’s do all they can do for their clients, we must also remember that client success, and employee jobs, exist because our clients have choices. Clients are like subscription holders who can exercise their rights to cancel, and a CSM never wants them to do that. And guess what? It’s much easier to sell to your existing customers than new ones. 60% easier to be exact. Upselling and cross-selling are huge opportunities to bring additional profit, and they’re perfectly crafted opportunities for the CSM.

Beyond specific product knowledge, industry experience is another key component. To get inside a client’s head, see their problems from the inside and creatively envision new solutions, you need prior experience in similar spaces. A CSM may have a deep background in customer service, but without insider industry knowledge, they may never be able to serve those customers in the way they ultimately need.

And of course you have 1,001 other practical skills that go with being a CSM:

  • Onboarding
  • Support
  • Advocacy
  • Documentation
  • Storytelling

The list could go on for miles…


So what have I discovered? The best CSMs seamlessly blend head-knowledge, heart-empathy, and hands-on expertise. Without these, you may still have a strong employee but you lose the essence of what makes a CSM.

A head-smart sweet-talker with a boatload of empathy for the client’s goals and objectives will probably make one heck of a salesperson. But without the practical skills needed to walk the client through a problem situation, they’ll never make it as a CSM.

Or from another angle, an empathetic listening ear with plenty of product knowledge would make a fantastic client success manager. But without the high-level mental chops of a well-connected visionary, they still won’t cut it as a CSM.

In the end, a true CSM should always respond with “I do it all for you, (clients).”

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