Should Customer Success Managers (CSMs) be responsible for revenue and expansion?
A common tension point in the world of Customer Success is whether the true intent of CS roles is to just be as helpful as possible to customers – or to sell to them. In our conversation with Jackie Rousseau-Anderson, Chief Customer Officer at BlueConic, we discuss the pros and cons of both sides of the argument:
1. The relationships CSMs have with customers make them most equipped to be successful in revenue- and expansion-related activities
I hear this argument all the time: that because they’re so close to the customer, CSMs should handle contracting. I’d challenge that the relationships CSMs have with customers make them the most equipped to support revenue- and expansion-related activities.
In reality, renewals and expansions can’t happen in a silo. CSMs and Account Managers (or Account Executives, depending on your organization) should partner together closely on revenue goals.
This also relates to the debate of CS as a cost center. Customer Success leaders should be aligning themselves to revenue metrics, and be managing to revenue goals, whether you own the expansion component or not. Leaders who are tied to revenue are more likely to be on path to the upper ranks of the C-Suite, specifically the CEO role. Whether you have your sights set on the CEO position or not, Customer Success should have a voice in the C-Suite if you’re trying to establish and maintain a customer-centric organization.
Another reason I would challenge other CS leaders to get more involved in revenue responsibility is because your team is with the customer every single day.
You know how they operate, you know their personalities, you know their challenges, you know their successes. It’s so natural to have expansion conversations when they know that you are there to make them successful every day; the expansion comes naturally.
2. However, owning revenue can create a conflict of interest that is evident to the customer, jeopardizing an important aspect of that relationship: trust
There’s a stress point with customers that runs counter to developing a trusted partnership, especially when the CSM is solely responsible for the revenue component of the account. Conversations about how to maximize product value become suspicious, with customers wondering, “Are you helping me? Or are you trying to sell me?”
We’ve heard that a lot from our customers with other platforms that they use, they tell us, “We wouldn’t want to get on the phone [with other vendors] because every time we tried to bring up a challenge or a problem, our CSM would say, ‘Oh, well, we have this other product functionality, feature, whatever… let me sell it to you.’”
If that’s how your CSM team operates, the customer will naturally put up walls and it’s counterproductive to establishing that trusted advisor position that the CSM should be striving for. If the customer thinks that every time they bring you a challenge, you’re going to try to find some part of your platform or tool to upsell them, then you lose that trust.
3. CSMs partnering closely with AMs is the winning formula to balancing trust and revenue
I will die on the hill that CSMs and AMs should be separate functions; I feel very passionately about that. And so in our org, they are separate functions, closely aligned and collaborative, but separate. CSMs are really the ones who are working with our customers and translating their business challenges into functionality in the tool on the platform itself. They’re partnering with customers to ensure they can maximize their investment in a customer data platform (CDP) while also ensuring our relationship (and renewal status) are on solid ground.
Account Managers are responsible for making sure that the renewals are committed and securing upsell and expansion opportunities. If there are additional business units or brands within an account that we’re working on, then the Account Managers are responsible for landing and expanding those ones. Because of the nature of a CDP, it’s critical that the customer’s organization is aligned on the overall goals and progress of their digital transformation project. The Account Manager is responsible for ensuring the right individuals across the organization are engaged in the CDP initiative and that we’re supporting the broader company goals. If we’re focused on making customers successful everyday (through a joint effort of the CSMs and AMs), then the expansion will come naturally.
Strategic, well-executed partnerships between CSMs and AMs benefit the customers and the business.
Thanks to Jackie for opening our eyes to both sides of this argument.