A discussion on the ninth of fourteen tenets (or principles) of customer success management, as laid down in Chapter One of the book “Practical Customer Success Management”. The ninth tenet is “The CSM is an Influencer and an Enabler”
The 14 Tenets of Customer Success Series – Tenet 9: The CSM is an Influencer and an Enabler
This short article expands upon the ninth 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 9: The CSM is an Influencer and an Enabler
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 ninth tenet is:
The CSM is an Influencer and an Enabler
Its definition is:
Whilst the CSM is not generally the formal leader within an engagement, they most definitely need to have strong leadership qualities, especially the abilities to influence people and to enable activities to occur. Strong interpersonal skills including rapport building and forming trust relationships are also important, perhaps especially because the CSM may not be seen as the “person in charge” but yet still needs to influence others in order to get the job done.
Why the CSM Should Not be the Formal Leader
Generally speaking, the customer success manager does not have a senior leadership role, and does not have a team reporting to them whom they can instruct to carry out whatever tasks the CSM decides need to be done. Instead, the CSM will oftentimes find themselves to be either at a similar seniority level to or more junior than those that they are working with, and of course many – perhaps most – of the people they work most closely with are not even from their own company and instead are customer employees.
Paradoxically however, it is oftentimes the CSM who has the knowledge, skills and experience to be able to determine (or at least have valid input into) both what needs doing and also how it should be done. This is because the seasoned customer success manager brings both their specific subject matter expertize around onboarding, adopting and realizing value from their own company’s solutions and their experience of having actually performed these tasks before (sometimes many times before) in similar situations with previous customers, to the current customer engagement.
On the face of it then, we might think that in an ideal world, the customer’s lead stakeholder (the person I refer to as the SPL or senior project leader) or other senior authority figures within the customer organization should relinquish their authority over to the customer success manager and put the CSM in charge instead of themselves. However in reality, even if this were to happen (which it won’t), this would be the wrong decision.
Why is this? The answer is because of ownership, relationships and wider subject matter expertise and experience. Let’s take those one by one. First comes ownership. From a psychological perspective, the more a person or group of people take ownership and responsibility over something, the more likely they are to care about that thing. As a supplier, we want our customers’ stakeholders to care as much as possible – ideally deeply and passionately – about their company’s initiative and about using our products and services to help attain that initiative’s desired outcomes. We therefore want to encourage the customer to take ownership rather than trying to take ownership ourselves, since this is going to aid this process of getting the customer to care more deeply about what happens and therefore to commit more fully to making the initiative successful.
Next on our list was relationships. Whilst the CSM might have the right knowledge, skills and experience to perform a leadership role, what they probably do not have is the right relationships. What relationships are we talking about here? Well primarily we are talking about the relationships that the customer’s SPL or other key stakeholders will have naturally formed over time with each other and with other employees within their organization. There may be a lot of different people within the customer’s company who will be impacted one way or another (ie either directly or indirectly) by changes that will occur within the company due to this initiative taking place. Whoever leads the initiative therefore is going to need to rely upon those internal relationships in order to know who to approach about what things and also in order to influence the desired thinking, decision making and ultimately activity in these other people. The CSM on the other hand may not even know of these directly and indirectly impacted employees’ existence at the start of the initiative, let alone have developed any sort of trust relationship with them that would enable them to successfully identify, communicate with, inspire and lead those people.
Finally comes subject matter expertize and experience. The subject matter expertize and experience that the CSM has relates to their companies solutions and how those solutions can be onboarded and adopted in order to generate value. This is important stuff that they bring to the table. However, the other side of the knowledge and experience equation is knowledge and experience of the customer in terms of its vision, its strategies, its culture, its capabilities, its resources, its challenges and priorities, its personalities, its working practices and so on. However well a CSM might get to know a customer organization over years of working alongside it, the CSM will never know that company as well as the company’s own employees know it. This “contextual” knowledge and experience again is why it makes sense for the customer’s SPL or other key stakeholders to take the leadership role, not the customer success manager.
Influence, Enablement and Informal Leadership
Whilst I am not for one moment suggesting that a senior leader’s role is an easy one (because it isn’t), I do think it’s true to say that senior leaders do have one advantage inherent within their role, and that is their level of authority that is inherent from their seniority. A higher authority level gives you the ability (plus the responsibility that goes with that ability of course) to give directions to others in the organization who are junior to you and who report to you. This means that those people will be more likely to listen to you, will be more likely to believe you, and will be more likely to do what you ask them to do.
As we have seen above, the CSM does not have these advantages and for various reasons does not even want to be the formal leader. However, even though they are not going to be the formal leader, they will still need to informally inspire and lead others. These “others” include both their own colleagues (for example account managers, subject matter experts, professional services specialists, customer service managers, and so on) and the customer’s employees (for example business decision makers, function and/or process owners, team leaders, power users, subject matter experts, and so on).
If you add it up, there can in more complex engagements be quite a list of different stakeholders from a wide variety of roles and backgrounds and with potentially a quite varied range of beliefs and opinions about what the initiative even is let alone what works needs to be done, how it should be done, and what their own role and responsibilities should be.
For some people, it might be primarily about influence. For these people, they have the ability to perform whatever role or tasks the CSM wishes them to perform, but it’s a case of motivation. For these people it’s all about influence – finding the way to get them to want to (ideally) or at least be prepared to (at a minimum) do the things that the CSM wants them to do (and perhaps sometimes to not do the things the CSM wants them not to do too). To influence someone you need to know them and know their feelings and opinions. If you know what they like and dislike about the initiative and understand their motivations then it will be easier for the customer success manager to find ways to influence them to do what needs doing by showing them how by doing so they get what they want too.
For other people, it might be more about enablement. For these people, it’s not necessarily that they require the motivation to perform the required tasks, it’s more about them requiring the ability to perform them. This might be real or perceived. In other words, it may sometimes be the case that all is needed in terms of enablement is some encouragement and emotional support of the “I believe in you, and I know that yes you can do it, and I am here to help you” variety that can help someone to perhaps perform a task that they have not performed before and which they are nervous or hesitant about. For others it is more practical assistance that is required in order for them to be enabled to perform the activity. This could be all sorts of things from finding the time to do it, to having training on how to do it, to being given the budget to do it, to goodness knows what else. Whatever they lack in this practical sense, it is up to the CSM either to supply it themselves or to liaise with others who can supply whatever is needed so that this person is then fully enabled and can get on with doing the work that they have been set.
Next Week’s Tenet: “The CSM is a planner and a project manager”
The next article in this series will be on tenet number nine which is “The CSM is a planner and a project manager”. Planning and project management are two critical aspects of most CSMs’ jobs. If you want to get stuff done then you need a plan, so planning needs to take place both in terms of creating your own plans to meet desired outcomes for yourself, your team and your company, and of helping customers with their own planning needs to meet their outcome requirements around activities such as onboarding, adoption and value realization. Of course once a plan has been created and (where necessary) approved, that plan has to be followed, and that’s where the CSM’s project management abilities will be tested.
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.