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


The 14 Tenets of Customer Success Series – Tenet 12: The CSM is a pragmatist

This short article expands upon the twelfth 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 12: The CSM is a pragmatist

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 twelfth tenet is:

The CSM is a pragmatist

Its definition is:

It is perfectly reasonable for customers to desire to see a return from their investment in our products/services. But sometimes the customer (or specific stakeholders within the customer organization) may have unrealistic expectations. Perhaps sometimes even our own colleagues may also have ideas that are impractical or unworkable for one reason or another. The CSM needs to remain realistic about what can be achieved within the timeframe, budget and whatever other resource and situational limitations exist.

What is Pragmatism?

Pragmatism is the quality of being able to hold realistic expectations and proactively work towards fulfilment of realistic goals, even when others around you and indeed when you yourself perhaps, would prefer it if other, more desirable expectations could realistically be held and other, more desirable goals could realistically be attained.

I would suggest that the very role of the CSM and purpose for existence of customer success management at all is in itself a highly pragmatic one. I would also suggest that CSMs need to themselves use pragmatism in their dealings with customers and their stakeholders and to some extent even with some of their own colleagues.

Pragmatism and Goal Setting: Whose Goals are We Working On?

For customer success managers, it is often the case that the goals they are principally working towards are effectively not their own goals, nor even their own company’s goals, but the goals of the customer organization and/or of the specific customer stakeholders that the CSM is engaging with for a particular initiative. That’s not to say that the CSMs do not have their own goals as well – for example the goal of ensuring the customer renews their service contracts, or the goal to maximize product utilization by the customers’ end users – but the principal goal of the CSM is simply the goal to make sure the customer achieves its goals. This is because if the customer achieves its goals for the initiative it purchased the CSM’s company’s products and/or services to help them with, then this means it is getting what it wants and needs from those products and/or services and is therefore more likely to continue to purchase those products and/or services, to purchase additional products and/or services, and to recommend those products and/or services to others through advocacy.

In short, CSMs are in the business of helping their customers to attain their desired outcomes, and in so doing they help their own company by increasing the chances of these customers renewing service contracts, repurchasing products they have bought before, purchasing new services and products they have not previously purchased, and acting as an ambassador and advocate to help the CSM’s company attract and win business from other customers. Put bluntly:

“In order to achieve our own goals, we first have to help our customers to achieve their goals.”

I would suggest that this realization is in itself a very pragmatic one, and hence I would describe the role of CSM as being in itself a highly pragmatic one. We cannot simply ask our customers to renew their service contracts or to make repeat purchases of our products and expect them all to do so just because we want them to – the world doesn’t work like that. Instead we have to work hard to help them attain their stated outcomes and then to show them how our solutions have helped them in that attainment. By doing this we are following a very pragmatic strategy for achieving success; we are aligning our own outcome requirements with the outcome requirements of our customers, and then by helping our customers achieve their outcomes we end up achieving our own outcomes as well. Simple, pragmatic, effective.

Pragmatism and Time Management

There is another aspect of pragmatism that I think is very important for at least the majority of if not all CSMs, and that is pragmatism around time. The fact of the matter is that for the vast majority of CSMs there are very many calls upon their time from a variety of directions, such that it would be entirely impossible to do everything that everyone wants the CSM to do, and even if it was possible it still wouldn’t leave any time for doing the things the CSM him or herself wants to do. So the pragmatism here is around setting one’s own and others’ expectations about what can be achieved in any particular timeframe. And if you don’t mind me being honest here, can I suggest that not all CSMs are very good at this?

Why do I say that? Well, my experiences of meeting many hundreds of customer success managers from a wide variety of different sizes and types of organizations and from all regions of the world has shown me that people tend to gravitate towards the role of customer success manager because they are the type of people who enjoy proactively helping other people. For most CSMs, helping others is a central and important component of their work, and they really get off on it! In short, CSMs like to say “yes” when they are asked for their help.

That in itself is not the problem of course, since an attitude of helpfulness and a willingness to do so is very much a positive attribute which we would want to have present in all CSMs. So where does the problem come from?

The problem comes from the combination of this helpful and “can do” attitude, when immersed into a situation and culture of excessive demands

There is a lot of discussion at the moment about “burnout” within the customer success management profession, and I would like to suggest that one at least of the causes of this burnout is that CSMs are being put under unreasonable pressure of excessive workloads, caused not by any ill will or malice, but by a combination of what perhaps could be described as “unfortunate” circumstances. These being the combination of:

  • An as yet immature and rapidly changing profession in the first place, where the role of CSM is constantly being adapted and innovated (and by the way change in and of itself is stressful)
  • The difficulty in setting targets and goals when as yet insufficient data exists to know what level to set them at, and/or when changes keep occurring that mean the targets are constantly being moved
  • Lack of practical resources and support internally, that mean that CSMs are often left to “work it out for themselves” rather than having good quality training and coaching available to them, coupled with a lack of well thought out, pre-existing systems and processes to fall back on
  • The “too many masters and not enough time” syndrome that CSMs experience when multiple managers from within their own organization plus customer stakeholders as well are all asking the CSM to prioritize their time to work on their own requirements

Let me be clear – I am not blaming anyone for the above situation, I see it more as just a combination of unfortunate circumstances, any one of which could be manageable on its own but when combined tend to reinforce each other so that the overall effect can for some CSMs at least be quite powerful. By the way, I’m not trying to say that other roles in sales, marketing, engineering or what have you are also not difficult or do not also come with their own trials and tribulations. I fully realize that all jobs have their problems. The issue for CSMs I think is the relative newness of the role that means there just are not realistic expectations both from inside the role and from outside the role (for example senior management) that act as pressure valves to release some of the pressure CSMs might feel they are under.

So with this in mind the second aspect of pragmatism I would recommend to CSMs is that of time management and setting expectations with others as to what can be done, how much of it can be done and when it can be achieved by. Alongside the “can do” attitude, the CSM might have to learn the “can do, but on this basis, or to this standard, or by this timeframe” response to requests for their help.

In my book Practical Customer Success Management: A best practice framework for rapid generation of customer success I spend a fair amount of time discussing time management models such as RAPEA (research, analysis, planning, action, evaluation) and also discussing how to divide time between multiple, simultaneously held customer engagements, all of which may be at different stages of their journey. This is done in Chapter Two: Readiness for Customer Success Management, where there is a section titled How will you plan and manage your time?, and also in Chapter Three: Customer Success Management Tasks, Tools and Techniques where there are sections titled The RAPAE Task Model – a way to categorize CSM activities and also Understanding the Critical Path that CSMs who are looking for some best practice guidance on time management may find useful.

Next Week’s Tenet: “The CSM proactively seeks further sales opportunities”

The next article in this series will be on tenet number thirteen which is “The CSM proactively seeks further sales opportunities”. Whilst I am not an advocate of turning CSMs into sales people per se, I do very much believe that it is the duty of every CSM to use their knowledge and understanding of both their own company’s products and services and the customer’s business and technical needs to identify further opportunities for which the CSM’s company’s products and services might be used by the customer to gain additional value. These opportunities should be passed to the Sales team to follow up with the customer as necessary.


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.