A discussion on the fourth of fourteen tenets (or principles) of customer success management, as laid down in Chapter One of the book “Practical Customer Success Management”. The fourth tenet is “The CSM Understands the Customer’s Business”


The 14 Tenets of Customer Success Series – Tenet 4: The CSM understands the customer’s business

This short article expands upon the fourth 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 4: The CSM understands the customer’s business

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 fourth tenet is:

The CSM understands the customer’s business

Its definition is:

Whilst the CSM may never know as much about a customer’s business as the customer themselves, they need to make sure they know enough about that business to be able to understand how their own company’s products and services can add value for that business and to provide contextualized help and assistance to the customer in planning for and undergoing product/service adoption and in measuring the value gained from doing so.

What do I Mean by This?

As we have seen from the previous tenet about understanding the customer’s business, CSMs need to be good at conducting research. Of course it’s not just the customer’s business that CSMs must know how to research. They must also be able to perform research about their own company’s products and services and potentially about third party offerings that complement their own company’s offerings which the customer may also be purchasing and implementing.

In addition, the CSM will need to research into a wide range of topics, and especially into the needs of the people who will be impacted by the products and services the CSM’s company is providing and/or by the wider initiative that those products and services are supporting, as well as into the options and availability of training and certification for those people. One final aspect of research that is essential for CSMs to perform is research into KPIs (or key performance indicators) for measuring progress towards outcome attainment.

Researching this information is the first step, but having found the information, the CSM then needs to make sense of it. This of course is the analysis aspect. CSMs need to be comfortable with applying the most commonly used business modelling and project management tools – such as the Business Model Canvas and the RACI Matrix – to the information they research in order to make sense of it and to be able both to plan the CSM’s own activities and to report meaningful information to others.

Why is It Important?

The purpose of research and analysis is to provide understanding. Understanding cannot take place unless the facts are first uncovered and validated (research) and then their meaning absorbed and appreciated (analysis). Needless to say, if customer success managers do not understand the facts or what those facts imply about a specific challenge, then they are not best placed to help the customer with overcoming that challenge.

Researching the Customer

Customer success managers should be well versed with an understanding of where to go to for researching information about the customer. 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.

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 themselves
  • 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.

Next Week’s Tenet: “The CSM is a researcher and an analyst”

The next article in this series will be on tenet number five which is “The CSM is a researcher and an analyst”. In this fifth tenet or principle we will start diving into some of the key skills that customer success managers must master in order to perform their duties successfully, starting with the skills of research and analysis and in particular the skill of knowing not just what but also both when and how much research and analysis to perform.


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.

He can be contacted via LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/rickadams01/, via Twitter at https://twitter.com/RickAda84728077 or by email at rick.adams@practicalcsm.com.