A discussion on the last of fourteen tenets (or principles) of customer success management, as laid down in Chapter One of the book “Practical Customer Success Management”. The last tenet is “The CSM should Do as Little as Possible – Ideally Nothing at all”
The 14 Tenets of Customer Success Series – Tenet 14: The CSM should Do as Little as Possible – Ideally Nothing at all
This short article expands upon the fourteenth and final tenet (or principle) in my “14 Tenets of Customer Success” that are taken partially 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 14: The CSM should do as little as possible – ideally nothing at all
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 fourteenth tenet is:
The CSM should do as little as possible – ideally nothing at all
Its definition is:
This final tenet is partially humorous but also partially a truism since in an ideal world there should be little or nothing that the CSM needs to do. In this ideal world much of the work that a CSM is normally involved with will already have been completed during the pre-sales process, and much of the remaining work will be completed by a well informed and sufficiently skilled and resourced customer adoption/change management team. It may not come as a surprise to learn however that we do not live in an ideal world, so in reality there will generally be plenty of work for the CSM to do. The true secret of a good CSM lies in spotting where the knowledge and skill gaps lie and what hasn’t been done that needs to be done, and in doing the work to plug the gaps and get the necessary tasks completed.
What on Earth is he Talking About?
When I published the first article in this The Fourteen Tenets of Customer Success series on LinkedIn back in February 2019, I was very pleased that it generally was well received, with some great positive comments about the tenets and their usefulness to CSMs. However, there were maybe just one or possibly two comments where the reader disagreed with me, and these disagreements were with Tenet 14: The CSM should do as little as possible – ideally nothing at all. This perhaps is not too surprising, because to greater or lesser extents I think the first thirteen tenets are all to a greater or lesser extent fairly self-explanatory as to why they might serve as a good principle by which a customer success manager could be guided in their professional life. On the other hand, the final tenet or principle is at best a little more ambiguous in its meaning and needs a bit of unpacking to get at what I was trying to say.
The point I was trying to make is that much (arguably all) of what CSMs do is work that only needs to be done because of limitations within the customer, or the supplier, and/or the solution that make it necessary for a new, special role called “Customer Success Manager” to be formed, whose entire duty is to make sure customers get the success they are looking for out of the solution they have purchased.
But customers have been buying products and services for hundreds or even thousands of years, right? So why do they suddenly need a “special person” to be appointed as their CSM to help them make the products and services they have chosen to purchase actually work for them?
From a logical standpoint, one would think that by this time, customers would have developed systems and processes to ensure they identify their needs correctly, buy the right solutions to fulfil those needs, and then implement those solutions in a way which ensures that they do what they’re supposed to do in terms of returning the value they were intended to return.
Equally, surely by now, vendors would have developed products and services that were simple to understand, straightforward to implement within the context of a customer’s business and easy for users to start using to generate their desired value with.
Yet, after (as we have just said) all this time – these hundreds or arguably thousands of years of customers buying solutions and suppliers supplying solutions, instead of it now being easier to understand the challenges, select the right solutions, choose the right supplier, make the right purchase, implement the solution, adopt the solution and finally generate measurable and provable value from it, if anything it seems to be harder!
What on Earth is going on?
The Answer is “Complexity”
The answer of course is complexity. Despite rumors to the contrary I wasn’t there to know for sure, but my guess is that stone age, iron age and bronze age people probably did not need to have a CSM assigned to them when they “purchased” a hand axe, a pair of boots or a piece of jewelry to ensure they onboarded, adopted and realized value from their axe, their brooch, or their boots. Even in more recent historical times, the purchase of a plough (or plow for North Americans), or a loom, or a similar tool was about as complex an investment as any normal person was going to make.
The exceptions perhaps were the engineers who were employed by generals to invent siege weapons and such like, and the navigators who were employed by navies to help them explore and chart the world as accurately as possible, and maybe one or two other similar such roles. But of course we are talking here about very exceptional roles – people who were effectively in the employ of the king or the emperor or other such ruler, and who perhaps ultimately paved the way to the 14th Century Renaissance period, where invention and innovation really began to take off in Europe, and ultimately to the Industrial Revolution in the 18th Century, and finally to the new revolution of globalization, information technology and the Internet which has given rise to the multinational corporation and to the highly sophisticated and technological world in which we now reside.
Even looking back merely to seventy years ago we see that there was no such thing as “the computer” in the sense that we understand that term today. And if we double that number and go back just a hundred and forty years, then Edison was still tinkering with his lightbulbs and it would take another fifty years or more before most people had electricity in their homes. Oh how times have changed – and oh how fast they have changed!
So my point is this; for better or for worse – and I suspect that there’s a mixture of both in there somewhere – we now live in a world that has rapidly increased in technological sophistication and complexity in just the last one hundred to one hundred and fifty years. Arguably this expansion has greatly increased over previous historical periods where the pace of change was far slower, and goodness only knows where our civilization will end up in say another hundred or so years, given just how far we have come from a technology perspective in this previous time period. And (and this is the point I guess) because of all this massive and rapid expansion in complexity, we have reached the point where there is just so much complexity that it now makes sense to employ an expert whose specific role it is to help customers get the value they desire out of the purchases that they make.
As I explained in my opening paragraph within the “definition” I provide for this tenet or principle, in an ideal world this role would not be necessary because customers would know what they want and need, products and services would be created in a way that made them simple to use, and customers would find it simple to select, purchase, implement and use the right solutions to generate the value they were looking for.
The Customer Success Manager as the Spider in the Web
There are many people who are subject matter experts. There are subject matter experts (or SMEs) in marketing and selling, in strategic consulting, in business administration, in people management, in financial decision making, in change management, in project management, in education and training, and of course in each product and service that is created and sold. Most (perhaps all) of these roles are technical in that the person with the subject matter expertise knows the facts and understands the implications of those facts relating to their particular field of expertise. Thus the senior manager knows how to formulate business strategy, the security specialist knows how to ensure the network is not hacked into, and the service manager knows how to make sure the service remains available and continues to provide its service at the appropriate levels of quality and quantity.
My suggestion is that the CSM is also a specialist, but a specialist of a different kind. They are a specialist in understanding all of these worlds of specialization and more. Enough about them not to make them an SME in each one – patently that would be impossible to achieve – but enough to make them useful to the customer and ultimately to their own company too of course. Enough to act as a guide, as a facilitator, as a consultant, an adviser and a helper to the customer as they go through the sometimes complex and often difficult task of onboarding, adopting and ultimately realizing value from the solutions they purchase from the CSM’s company.
In other words, the CSM is akin to the spider in the middle of the web. They are not the person who knows everything – the customer’s stakeholders understand the customer’s business better than the CSM will ever do, and the supplier’s product specialists will understand the products better than the CSM will ever do, and so on – but they are the person who understands what needs to be done when it comes to value realization from the products and services their company sells. The CSM’s role therefore is to make stuff happen – sometimes by doing things themselves to facilitate that, but oftentimes by acting as consultant, adviser, introducer, facilitator and project manager to the customer to enable things to be done by others – those who hold the relevant subject matter expertise and whose contribution happens to be required at this time and in this context to enable the next step forwards to be made towards value realization for the customer, and therefore towards value ultimately being returned to the CSM’s own company in the form of contract renewals, additional purchases made, advocacy secured and so on.
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.