So You Want to be a Customer Success Manager?

Don’t be fooled; you don’t have to be a developer to work in a fun, comfortable startup environment or to interact with innovative software and revolutionary ideas. Customer Success is a great field for folks who love tech but may not be highly technical themselves (like me). And for those of us who love learning new skills and being a jack of all trades, Customer Success can be a satisfying and challenging position.

As a lover and advocate for startup tech companies, I’m constantly — and enthusiastically — championing for the Customer Success field. Customer Success looks different in different organizations; managers have different duties and roles within the organization; and workloads and experiences vary greatly because customer bases come in many forms and interact differently with different products.

What is Customer Success, anyway?

Customer Success is a post-sales, client facing field invested in ensuring customers have a positive experience with a product and that they hit whatever goals they were aiming for when they purchased. Unlike Customer Service, Customer Success is proactive and involves anticipating the needs of the customer before they reach out and digs deeper than technical support or one-off problem-solving. Customer Success managers are required to onboard, train and strategize with customers and ideally build a strong and lasting relationship with clients by creating a top notch experience of a brand.

What does a CSM do though?

Day to day can vary by product, company and team size. At it’s core, Customer Success is proactive, strategic account management and many CSM positions focus heavily on account management duties. They’re given a portfolio of clients and are responsible for making sure those clients renew their subscription to a software by being a trusted advisor throughout the customer’s lifecycle. Those CSMs may also answer to metrics and get commission/bonuses.

Yet some CSMs don’t work with a renewing product or they work on a team so small and close knit that their performance is evaluated differently and in more aspects than just the customer’s lifecycle. I’ve chosen CSM positions only at small companies who need organizational structure, process design and planning in addition to relationship building and account management. I enjoy digging deeper into the customer base, getting things off the ground and running and answering tough questions about new terrain. But I also know some people who are a bit more salesey at heart, who love the thrill of working toward commission.

Both versions of the job are exciting for the right person and exploring the different requirements at different companies is key to finding the right CSM position for you.

Customer Success Managers have their hand in customer service, marketing, product, sales and growth as Customer Success is not only a department but an attitude and culture that should be spread company wide.

What makes a great Customer Success Manager?

A great customer success manager is:

  • Friendly and empathetic: While Customer success is not customer support, it’s common that a CSM will come across many disgruntled, confused and frustrated customers who are looking for solutions. It’s important to be have a helpful and service oriented attitude.
  • A great conversationalist: Small talk goes a long way with a sad, happy or neutral customer. And being good at small talk is a thing. (Pro tip: “How’s the weather out there?” is rarely a good go-to.)
  • A strategic problem solver at heart: Onboarding whole companies to brand new systems and tools takes patience and readiness — no two rollouts are alike and you’re bound to come up against never before seen or heard of issues. As a CSM, you’re expected to leap into action — even if taking action isn’t solving the problem yourself.
  • Collaborative: CSMs are the voice of the customer within an organization. A good CSM is expected to relay the concerns, grievances and satisfaction of the customer to the whole team — but a great CSM doesn’t just repeat information, they turn feedback into actionable insights.
  • A product expert: Customers expect their account manager to have the answers not only to product related topics but company related topics. You won’t just be asked “how does this work”, you’ll be asked “how long have you guys’ been around?” A great CSM is considered a leader in the space, at the very least, by their customers.
  • A customer expert: A great CSM never stops learning about their customers. Do you work in B2B or B2C? Those are two different types of clients who think and purchase differently and expect different things from companies and products. Knowing your customer is the only way to not only anticipate their needs but to connect with them and strengthen the relationship.

Are you excited or exhausted? (or maybe a bit of both?). If you’re still thinking about making a career move to Customer Success, go check out some job descriptions and see what jumps out at you under “duties” and “requirements”. No two CSM jobs are the same!

Want to break into Customer Success?

Book time with me here.

Millennial Career Strategist. Startup Professional. I befriend all office dogs. Not all #techladies code. :) Find me at

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