Good Customer Success Manager/Bad Customer Success Manager
3 min read

Good Customer Success Manager/Bad Customer Success Manager

A customer success-themed riff on Ben Horowitz's classic post.

This is very clearly inspired by Ben Horowitz's post titled, "Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager." I used to be a product manager and that particular post felt directed at me. I'm hoping this post will feel directed at CSMs (Customer Success Manager) out there that want to do and be better. One more point before we dive in: this is focused on "high-touch" customer success management. Many of these points may not make sense in low-touch environments.

Good CSMs partner with sales. Bad CSMs complain about sales. Good CSMs know how their sales counterparts are compensated and act accordingly. Bad CSMs don't think it's their problem. Good CSMs know why the customer purchased the solution before it's sold. Bad CSMs wait for a blind hand-off and conduct another round of "discovery." Good CSMs leverage and add to the positive relationship built by sales. Bad CSMs have to start over and build goodwill from scratch.

Good CSMs focus on their customers' business metrics. Bad CSMs focus on their solution's adoption metrics. Good CSMs know how their stakeholders are incentivized. Bad CSMs behave according to their own incentives. Good CSMs build a plan to impact the customer metrics that matter. Bad CSMs build a plan to make their solution "sticky," regardless of outcomes achieved. Good CSMs know the landscape their customers operate in as well as the customers themselves. Bad CSMs focus on the landscape of their own competitors.

Good CSMs know how to leverage their company's resources to drive customer outcomes. Bad CSMs stick to a script. Good CSMs can adapt on the fly. Bad CSMs are quick to point out "bad customers." Good CSMs know when to pull in what type of person. Bad CSMs try to do everything themselves. Good CSMs are problem-solvers. Bad CSMs are problem avoiders. Good CSMs create solutions when one isn't obvious. Bad CSMs let themselves get stuck.

Good CSMs do what they say they're going to do. Bad CSMs touch base once a quarter. Good CSMs put as much focus on the journey as they do the destination. Bad CSMs give customers a map and let them figure it out themselves. Good CSMs communicate in a way that resonates with each of their customers. Bad CSMs populate the same generic form for each customer. Good CSMs are proactive. Bad CSMs are reactive.

Good CSMs design business reviews to be beneficial for the customer. Bad CSMs run business reviews focused on them. Good CSMs treat business reviews as a chance to teach and learn. Bad CSMs treat business reviews as a chance to talk about how great they are doing. Good CSMs respect stakeholders' time. Bad CSMs behave like they're the only thing the stakeholder has to worry about. Good CSMs tell the truth in business reviews. Bad CSMs avoid news and information that isn't favorable. Good CSMs seek out negative feedback. Bad CSMs seek out positive feedback.

Good CSMs drive to renewals through value delivery. Bad CSMs treat renewals as a transaction. Good CSMs know the economics of the relationship. Bad CSMs let other people worry about the numbers. Good CSMs design and track leading indicators for their relationships. Bad CSMs collect and analyze data when it's too late to make a change. Good CSMs tell a value story in the language of the customer. Bad CSMs show up with spreadsheets.

Good CSMs know what success looks like for each of their customers. Bad CSMs treat every customer the same. Good CSMs think about how to get their stakeholders promoted. Bad CSMs think about how to get themselves promoted. Good CSMs prioritize key performance indicators for each customer. Bad CSMs assume every customer cares about the same metrics. Good CSMs know where the gaps in their solution are and builds a plan around them. Bad CSMs avoid gaps and hope the customer doesn't notice.

Good CSMs understand the levers of their solution that drive the most impact in a given situation. Bad CSMs don't care enough to understand their solution. Good CSMs know which milestones should be achieved in which order and why. Bad CSMs focus on adoption as quickly as possible. Good CSMs focus on building momentum and customer wins. Bad CSMs focus on activity that makes them look good in internal updates. Good CSMs communicate regularly with R+D and professional services. Bad CSMs stay in their lane.

Good CSMs bring valuable insights that challenge customer stakeholders. Bad CSMs do whatever the customer tells them to. Good CSMs are capable teachers that can tailor the message as needed. Bad CSMs repeat the company marketing material. Good CSMs are willing to engage with non-believers. Bad CSMs look for people who don't push back. Good CSMs are constantly honing their skills and diving into new situations. Bad CSMs chase the familiar.

Good CSMs make their company smarter through continuous learning from the field. Bad CSMs resist changes in approach. Good CSMs know how to operate with an experimental approach. Bad CSMs wait for someone to tell them, "The Way." Good CSMs make other CSMs better. Bad CSMs operate on islands. Good CSMs contribute revenue to their company. Bad CSMs are cost-centers. Good CSMs know a million ways their company could be better. Bad CSMs assume the status is quo is perfect.

Customers answer the phone when a Good CSM calls. Bad CSMs get sent to voicemail.

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