When should companies invest in Customer Success Managers (CSM)?  Or put another way, why shouldn’t Sales perform this function?

A friend and former co-worker called recently with this question.  After an acquisition, her new leadership team felt that Sales already owned and performed the customer success (CS) function.  Management’s perspective was that adding a CS function duplicated work and added unnecessary cost.

So how should a company determine when (or if) a separate CS team makes sense?  From my perspective, Sales and CSMs should work together on complementary activities that allow Sales to focus on growth. A separate CS function will be beneficial in 3 account relationship scenarios – repair, sustain, and grow. 



Misalignment – if your company promises more than they can deliver, hire CSMs.  In this role, CSMs offer palliative assistance and, by adopting the customers’ perspective, they act as change agents to close the alignment gap.  The CSM role in this scenario is to collate similarly encountered problems (or wants) and advocate for change with the product development or delivery team. 

Note that CSMs should not take technical issues and solve specific problems.  They may act as a customer advocate to speed resolution along but should leave the technical details to the Support and Care teams.



High Product complexity exists – if the product implementation is complex or if there is likely to be organization resistance to adopting it, hire CSMs.  In many companies, Professional Services Consultants address implementation complexity.  However, the problem does not end there.  In the real world, people face a myriad of competing products to complete their jobs.  As good as the Consultants are, training is not the same as learning.  A skilled CSM acts as a bridge to help users get value from the product long after the consultant leaves.


Adoption resistance – if an organization is likely to resist product adoption, hire CSMs.  Many products promise efficiency, which in many organizations translates to layoffs.  If that unfortunate connection exists, how many people do you think will use the product?  Not many, but that passive resistance will be strong enough to kill any chance of renewing a product, cross-selling, or other forms of growth.  CSMs can help find the early adopters, define the value proposition, market the tool internally, and demonstrate results.



Corporate growth plan – for customers with budgets or high needs for adjacent products and services, hire CSMs.  CSMs’ focus on deepening customer value makes them trusted resources positioned to add more sales into an existing customer (at an affordable price-point).  If the adjacent products are complex you can always use CSMs as a lead source.  They can identify the needs and connect buyers and sellers.  I prefer this last model because it marks a distinct difference between people paid commission and those whose sole role is customer value realization.  (I may be in the minority in this view.)

The main difference between CSM and Sales in the context I’ve been discussing is one of goal motivation.  Sales will always want a satisfied customer.  But the effort to reach that state has high opportunity costs and can monopolize Sales energy such that your new logo and/or cross-selling efforts stall completely.  If that argument doesn’t sway your thinking, consider that asking Sales to function in a customer care and service role is VERY expensive in terms of fixed plus variable compensation. 

The pivot point is to align CSMs to activities that are complementary to traditional Sales activities of selling and growing.   Yes, Sales could do all these things, but wouldn’t you rather have them closing new business?

Why Customer Success Managers are Sales’ BFF
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