So, you’ve been a customer success manager for a few years now and are thinking about what’s next for you and your career. You’ve been very successful in managing your portfolio. You have low churn, consistent portfolio growth, high NPS, and have been helping your customers achieve ROI again and again. By all regards, you’re a very successful customer success manager.
So the next obvious step is to manage the CS team. Right?
But not necessarily.
How do you know if moving into management over a customer success team is right for you?
Here I will provide you with a few things to think through as you self-assess and decide your next steps.
Dig in on your “why”
When thinking about your career direction, always start with “why”. What motivates you? Why do you want to be a people manager? If your answer is “because it’s the next step in my career” or “because I want to make more money”, then there may be a different path for you. Moving into people management is 100% about the impact you can and will make in others’ lives and careers (positively and otherwise).
Yes, this will likely be a promotion for you. And yes, you probably will get a raise. But more importantly, you will now be responsible for others and their success. Sound like a big deal? It is! That’s why you need to dig in on your “why”.
Can you let go?
Your scope of responsibilities will change significantly. You will not have your own portfolio of accounts to manage. You will likely need to give that up. If managing a portfolio is something you love and are passionate about, make sure you are okay giving that up. You will go from managing a portfolio, knowing the ins and outs of that portfolio, going deep, to having a higher-level view of everything that is going on in the department. You will likely know a little bit about every account managed by your team but rarely get to go as deep as the CSM working with the account. You will be able to develop relationships with customers, but most will be surface level. Ask yourself if you are okay with this.
Who you serve changes… a lot!
You will now have three core customers you have to solve for:
- the customers who have purchased your service,
- your immediate team,
- and the business.
You will have to balance the needs of all three of these customers, which can be tricky.
As a manager of a team, not only will you deal with people issues, you will also have to partner with your team to think about customer strategy. To add to that, you will have to balance out the business needs (think renewals performance, revenue growth, balancing your team’s budget, and much more). You will context shift all day long.
A few things to think through are:
- How well do you deal with change and conflict?
- How do you feel about holding your team accountable for deliverables, and how would you do this without hurting morale?
- How do you help people navigate high-stress environments while remaining calm, empathetic, and strategic?
- How would you communicate a business decision that could impact your team’s morale? Or communicate a major customer churning that will cause a significant loss of revenue to the business?
These are all things managers have to balance and more.
Scope of influence
Yes, your overall scope of influence will grow, but so will the importance that you lead your teams in a manner that allows them a certain level of autonomy to have control over their outcomes. While it sounds easy when you have multiple balls in the air and have to make quick decisions, how will you balance out giving direction vs. directives?
Expert today, not tomorrow
Day one as a new people manager is just that, day one. You will go from being the expert in what you do every day to starting all over again. You will need to build trust and rapport while learning new skills. That may excite some, but it can be a painful process. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How important is it for you to be the expert at what you do? Building up the management muscle can take time. You have to be okay with that.
- Are you okay with admitting that you don’t know the answers to everything? Managers can often feel the pressure to have all of the answers all of the time. You will likely not be the expert out of the gate (and maybe never) and will need to have a strong strategy for how to navigate that.
Ability to flex between tactics and strategy
I have not touched upon it a lot, but a manager in customer success has to regularly think about high-level strategy (long-term) and the tactics (short-term) needed to move that strategy forward. If you are operating at an earlier stage startup, you will likely be working alongside your team to help drive said strategy. Being able to flex from strategic leadership to getting into the weeds can be tough. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How will you understand your customers’ needs (internal and external), strategically plan out how to solve those needs, and work through the tactics?
- How will you manage to swoop into the weeds when necessary and flex out to think about longer-term needs?
Soft skills always matter, but they matter more when you’re dealing with people.
How are your soft skills? Be honest with yourself. Soft skills can be learned, but in my opinion, they are harder to teach (harder, but not impossible). Not being strong in these areas could hurt your ability to manage effectively. There are way too many to share them all, but a few to assess for are:
- Empathy and Self-Regulation: You have to be able to put yourself in your team’s place. Understand what they are going through and how your decisions impact them. Along those lines, understand how your behaviors impact others and be able to self-regulate.
- Communication: Verbal, listening, writing, all of the communication skills are key.
- Resourceful – You have great problem-solving skills. You may not know all of the answers, but you can pull everyone together to figure things out.
- Growth Oriented: You know that you are not perfect and have areas of opportunity. You are open to receiving feedback and actively seek out ways to better yourself.
You will notice that I did not focus on the key skills that a customer success manager has as a requirement to manage a customer success team. The ideal individual should have a solid understanding of what a customer success manager does every day and how they can help drive mutual success. A few key CS-related skills managers should bring are:
- Understanding how to influence strategy
- Knowing how to mitigate churn at scale
- How to use segmentation to drive outcomes
- How to coach and partner with your CS team to develop skills
- How to build out an outcomes and ROI machine
- How to inspire!
- And more!
These are all important, but what’s just as important is that you can navigate the complexities around balancing out how you will serve your three unique customer groups. You need to have strong relational skills and understand that people management is more than just the next step in one’s career. It’s a huge responsibility to be taken with that level of seriousness and is not for everyone.
Of course, this list is not all-encompassing, and there are many more things you should think through. People management will require different skills and approaches at different companies. Be open-minded to the growth and evolution that will be required of you to make this leap successfully. And know that it won’t always be easy, but if done with an open heart and an open mind, it can be very rewarding.