A discussion on the fifth of fourteen tenets (or principles) of customer success management, as laid down in Chapter One of the book “Practical Customer Success Management”. The fifth tenet is “The CSM is a Researcher and an Analyst”
The 14 Tenets of Customer Success Series – Tenet 5: The CSM is a researcher and an analyst
This short article expands upon the fifth tenet (or principle) in my “14 Tenets of Customer Success” that are taken from my upcoming book “Practical Customer Success Management: A best practice framework for rapid generation of customer success” which is due for publication summer 2019…
Tenet 5: The CSM is a researcher and an analyst
In my book – Practical Customer Success Management: A best practice framework for managers and professionals – I set out 14 tenets (or principles) by which customer success managers can carry out their professional duties. All 14 of these tenets can be found in my LinkedIn article – The 14 Tenets of Customer Success – which can be viewed here:
This fifth tenet is:
The CSM is a researcher and an analyst
Its definition is:
In order to plan for and take effective action, the CSM must first understand the situation, which means the CSM needs to be able to uncover the right information and to make sense of it. The information that needs to be researched and analyzed includes that which relates to the customer’s business strategies and outcome requirements as well as its current situation. It also includes that which relates to the CSM’s own products and services and how they might be adopted.
Research and Analysis are Important
If the CSM is going to play their part in ensuring the customer experiences a positive journey then they need to make sure they are well prepared, and this is why my Practical CSM Framework Phase 1 is called Preparation.
Sometimes the CSM may be completely new to both the customer and the initiative the customer has purchased the CSM’s company’s products and services for. On other occasions the CSM may already be very knowledgeable about some aspects of the engagement – typically for example if they have engaged with the same customer before on previous occasions when the customer has made purchases to support either the same or other initiatives. Whatever the case, there are likely always at least to be knowledge gaps that need filling, since even if both the customer and the customer’s initiative are familiar to the CSM, as we saw in Module Two: Business Fundamentals, change is constantly occurring, and the customer’s business will be constantly reacting to that change by creating new and amending existing strategies and tactics to achieve existing or new goals and objectives. In addition, CSMs do not have total recall and will in any case need to refresh themselves so that all necessary information is to the forefront of their mind and assembled in an orderly fashion prior to engagement with the customer’s stakeholders.
Where to Go for Research Information
The first step in preparing to engage with the customer is research. There are three basic categories of places to go to in order to learn information relating to the customer and the engagement. These are:
- The CSM’s own company
- The customer
- Everywhere else
The first and most obvious port of call to learn about the customer and the engagement is from the CSM’s own corporate information systems and personnel. In particular there is likely to be information held about the customer in general and about this specific interaction on the sales and customer relationship management (CRM) systems. CSMs should therefore make sure they have access to these systems and know how to use them effectively. In terms of personnel, the obvious port of call for information would be the customer’s account manager if they have one, or if not then whichever sales person or team were involved in and responsible for making the sale. Additional colleagues who may be able to assist includes any solution engineers and architects, product and service specialists, and/or professional services managers and specialist consultants who have been involved in helping to determine customer requirements, select products and services, design solutions, and so on.
The second most obvious port of call to learn about the customer and the initiative they are working on is the customer itself – meaning of course those of the customer’s personnel who are stakeholders with interests in and responsibilities for the initiative itself and the relationship with the CSM’s company. The problem however is that if the CSM goes to these people early on before they (the CSM) are well prepared and indeed in order to get themselves prepared, they run the risk of annoying or frustrating the customer’s stakeholders who may feel that as the customer it is not their role to help prepare their supplier’s customer success managers in order to make them useful, but instead would expect those CSMs to only come to them once they already are prepared and therefore already useful. There may (indeed likely will) be some reasonable space for validation of information and provision of new or additional information by the customer, but it is reasonable for customer stakeholders to expect that the CSM has done their groundwork first before coming to them. Maybe the CSM won’t know everything, but the expectation that the CSM already has a solid grounding in the engagement and that it won’t take much time or effort to get them completely up to speed with any missing details is a reasonable one for customers to have.
Finally, and for background research on the customer’s organization and its industry, customers, competitors, as well as external drivers that may be influencing it right now or in the near term future, the CSM can turn to the rest of the world via the Internet. Many sources of information exist on all sorts of topics that may relate either specifically to that customer or more generally to their industry, region, customers and so on which the CSM can explore in order to get a good background understanding of the customer and its position and direction of travel.
Selecting and Validating Information
It’s one thing to possess information, but it’s quite another thing to know whether that information is both accurate and up to date. Validation refers to the process of checking information to make sure that it is indeed accurate and up to date.
Validation of information takes a number of different forms, dependent upon the type of information to be validated. As a general rule of thumb information pertaining to the customer (eg its organizational hierarchy, its strategies, its initiatives, its outcome requirements, its workforce, and so on) would need to be validated by a relevant customer stakeholder who holds the subject matter expertise and/or authority to do so. Similarly information pertaining to the CSM’s own company’s products and services, the contract between the customer and the company, details about professional services being provided and so on, would need to be validated by a relevant company stakeholder who holds the subject matter expertise and/or authority to do so.
However, before the CSM starts attempting to perform any information research or information validation activities, they should first of all stop to reflect upon which information really needs researching, which information needs validating and which does not.
The point of thinking about information in this way is that few if any CSMs have too much time on their hands and not enough things to do. Researching information in the first place takes time and effort, and validating information takes more time and effort again. So the rule is, CSMs should make sure they only spend time researching and validating that which is useful to them, and information that is useful now should take precedence over information that is useful later. There is no harm in finding out or validating additional information whilst you are learning the essential information you really need, but the focus should always be on the information you really need.
Too much time spent researching or validating additional information that is either not required yet or simply just “nice to have” can slow the engagement down unnecessarily, leading potentially to outcomes either missed or attained less quickly and/or efficiently, leading in turn to customer dissatisfaction.
CSMs should make conscious decisions as to what information they need to research, what information they need to validate, and when they need to prioritize their time to perform these tasks. Being organized in this way enables CSMs to be aware of what is known, what is not known, what needs validating and what does not need validating at any given stage of the engagement. This ensures that the initiative can continue to move forwards at an appropriate pace and without risking any problems occurring due to missing or inaccurate information, but at the same time not going slower than necessary due to an overly large burden of unnecessary research and validation activities.
Next Week’s Tenet: “The CSM is a consultant and an adviser”
The next article in this series will be on tenet number six which is “The CSM is a consultant and an adviser”. In this sixth tenet or principle we will compare the role of the consultant and adviser to that of the decision maker, and we will discuss the importance of providing the right types of help and advice to customer decision makers to enable them to make high quality decisions regarding the onboarding, adoption and value realization processes that their company needs to undergo in order to attain their desired outcomes from the products and/or services they have purchased.
About the Author
Rick Adams is an independent author, trainer and consultant, specializing in helping technology companies deliver measurable business value for their customers. Adams has over 25 years’ experience of working in the IT industry, including owning his own startup software-as-a-service business which he sold in 2012 to focus on writing, training and consulting. Having delivering training and consultancy to many hundreds of businesses and thousands of technology professionals in over 30 countries across four continents, Adams is now based in the rural west coast of Ireland where he lives with his two dogs Zeus and Terri.
Adams’ recent work includes the development and delivery of a global certification program on customer success management for Cisco Systems Inc. He is currently working on a book titled Practical Customer Success Management: A best practice framework for managers and professionals which will be published by Routledge in the summer of 2019. His current interests includes helping individuals and companies develop best practices in customer success management and in business outcomes focused selling.