A discussion on the third of fourteen tenets (or principles) of customer success management, as laid down in Chapter One of the book “Practical Customer Success Management”. The third tenet is “The CSM Knows How to Adopt, Use and Realize Value from their Company’s Products”


The 14 Tenets of Customer Success Series – Tenet 3: The CSM is a subject matter expert in how to adopt, use and realize value from their company’s products and services

This short article expands upon the third 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 managers and professionals” which is due for publication summer 2019…


Tenet 3: The CSM is a subject matter expert in how to adopt, use and realize value from their company’s products and services

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 third tenet is:

The CSM is a subject matter expert in how to adopt, use and realize value from their company’s products and services

Its definition is:

The customer is already a subject matter expert in how to run their own business, but the reason why a CSM can add value for a customer is that they have subject matter expertise in the products and services that this customer has purchased. Specifically, that expertise lies in the adoption and value generation processes that customers need to undergo in order to attain the maximum return on their investment

What do I Mean by This?

I was reading some research that was conducted recently by a company that asked its customers what they valued most about that company’s customer success managers. The customers responded that one of the most valuable things about their CSMs was their subject matter expertise in the CSM’s company’s products and services. Some people expressed surprise at this, their thinking being that what customers wanted less of was a focus on the selling company’s products and services and instead what they wanted more of was a focus on their own company and its specific vision, strategy, initiative, needs, problems and requirements.

It did not surprise me however, and that is why I have put this expertise as number three in my list of 14 CSM Tenets.

It’s not that it isn’t important for CSMs to understand their customers’ businesses – it definitely is important and we will be discussing just exactly that in Tenet 4 – it’s that customers do already know their own business very well indeed, what they don’t already know but need to know is how to get the products and services they have purchased from the CSM’s company onboarded, adopted and fully utilized so that they start generating business outcomes from them. This does of course require an understanding of the customer’s own business because this is the context in which those products and services will be onboarded, adopted and utilized. But it also requires an in depth understanding of the products and services themselves. It’s important to clarify here what I mean by product or service knowledge. CSMs do need at least a basic understanding of the product or service itself ie what it is, what it does and how it does it, etc. However what they also need, and what they should be specialist experts in, is in how to implement and use those products and services to generate value, and how to measure that value as it is generated. This is the specialist knowledge that customers want to be able to turn to their CSMs for.

Why is It Important?

Customers know their own business (or should do), and salespeople and/or product or services specialists know which products or services to sell. At the end of the day then, the customer should at least in theory end up having purchased the right products and/or services, they being the ones that will get them the outcomes they are looking to attain. But… in order to attain those outcomes it generally speaking is not sufficient simply to purchase the products or services, nor even to install, configure, manage and maintain them. Those products and services need to be utilized and what is more they need to be utilized in an efficient and effective way. Only then will the customers’ outcomes be attained.

But here’s the twist – not only do CSMs need to provide advice and assistance to customers, they also need to help them turn their ambitions into plans and then execute on those plans to turn those plans into a reality. This is where the CSM’s levels of knowledge, experience and professionality gets tested. CSMs must not only be good communicators and relationship managers, and must not only be great product experts and business consultants but on top of all of this they also need to be fantastic project managers, leaders, innovators and problem solvers. Not too much to ask eh!

In short then and put very crudely indeed (since in reality it’s often a lot more complicated than this)…

Knowing and defining the problem (or opportunity) and selecting the right solution provider = the customer’s responsibility
Determining or creating the right solution and getting it sold, installed and configured etc = the salesperson’s and product/service specialists’ responsibilities
Knowing how to onboard and adopt the solution in order to attain the outcome, and knowing how to measure the outputs from using the solution in order to calculate and report on the value being realized, and making sure it all happens = the customer success manager’s responsibility

What Does This Mean?

What this means is that the customer success manager needs to make sure they are armed with the right knowledge and experience to assist the customer through the processes of onboarding and adoption and on into the longer term processes of continually using those products and services to generate value, so that the value can be measured and reported on. The CSM is the missing link that enables the customer to absorb the newly purchased products and services into their existing business capabilities (people, process and tools) and even sometimes into brand new capabilities, and to use them efficiently and effectively to generate higher quality results than they were previously able to do before. In a sense, the CSM is like the missing link in the chain – the link that joins the supplier’s products and services to the customer’s business capabilities and enables business productivity to take place.

Next Week’s Tenet: “The CSM understands the customer’s business”

The next article in this series will be on tenet number four which is “The CSM understands the customer’s business”. As we have seen in this tenet (or principle), customer success managers must have not just product or service knowledge, but the right type of product and service knowledge to help customers with onboarding, adopting and generating value from these products and services. However, this can only be done well if the CSM also understands the context in which those products and services will be used, and that context is of course the customer’s own business.


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.