Are customers more willing to spill the tea to their CSM since they know they aren’t just there to sell them something?
Gone are the days of Growth At All Costs.

Now more than ever companies are focusing on Profitable Efficient Growth.

In this case, it’s teamwork that makes your customers’ dreams work.

Post-sales teamwork at that → Customer Success & Account Management working together towards retaining and expanding their existing customer base.

If you’re thinking about standing up a CSQL program and don’t know where to begin, just getting started with one and want practical tips, or are already riding the CSQL train and need to troubleshoot to get it working better…. The Ultimate Guide to CSQLs is just for you!

Here goes!

What’s a CSQL?

Simply put, a Customer Success Qualified Lead (CSQL) is a potential sales opportunity identified within your existing customer base. These are customers who have already shown signs of success with your product or service, and are likely to benefit from additional offerings or increased usage.

CSQL Breakdown:

  • Source: Leads identified by customer success teams, professional services, or onboarding/implementation teams.
  • Criteria: These are existing customers who show signs of potential for growth, such as high usage rates, satisfaction with the product, needing additional features or presenting a pain.
  • Closers: CSQLs are passed on to their commercial counterparts - Account Managers or Account Executives to further strategically investigate and ultimately win the deal.
  • Value: CSQLs are seen as high-value leads because they are pre-qualified and have a higher conversion to closed won compared to new leads. They also represent an opportunity to increase revenue from existing happy customers.

Laurie Parish, a Principal Customer Success Manager at BMC explains how she goes about surfacing a CSQL:

Why have a CSQL process?

Higher conversion rates

  • Because CSQLs are pre-qualified and have a demonstrated need, the conversion rate from lead to sale is typically much higher compared to MQLs. This translates to a better return on investment (ROI) for your sales efforts. We learned at Gainsight Pulse 2023, that CSQLs have a 300% conversion rate over MQLs.


Lower acquisition cost

  • Since CSQLs are identified within the existing customer base, there's no need for expensive marketing campaigns or outreach programs to acquire them. The customer success team can leverage more targeted and cost-effective methods like QBRs, in-app messaging, personalized communication, or success webinars to nurture CSQLs.

Faster sales cycle

  • The sales cycle for CSQLs is often shorter because the customer already understands the core value proposition. The focus can shift to demonstrating how additional offerings address their specific needs, leading to faster conversions.

Improved Customer Lifetime Value

  • CSQLs represent existing customers who are happy and successful with your product. By nurturing these relationships and offering them additional solutions, you can extend their engagement and increase their overall value to the company. This focus on customer retention through CSQLs lead to overall stickiness!


The Art of Storytelling in CSQLs

LP says it best, it’s all in the story you tell:

Navigating the Balance between CSMs & AMs

Now let’s get back to how teamwork make’s your customers’ dreams work.

The post-Sales team, comprised of Account Managers (AMs) and Customer Success Managers (CSMs), plays a crucial role in fostering positive relationships with both each other and with customers. Ideally, they work in unison to create an exceptional overall customer experience.

However, a potential imbalance arises when one role prioritizes customer lifetime value (CSMs) while the other focuses on account revenue (AMs). CSMs aim for retention and product adoption, while AMs concentrate on upselling and cross-selling additional products. This can create a sense of misalignment.

“It’s widely known that sales people in general kind of have a bad rap. They can come across heavy with their commission breath, even though everybody knows business is business."

I’m not saying this is the truth, but it IS a stigma. Quotas are very real and every company has ‘em, including the person you’re selling to.

Though, why would a customer trust their ‘deepest secrets’, so to speak, in the hands of a person with a commercial/sales focus when they have access to a CSM who doesn’t necessarily have the ‘I gotta get that quota’ mindset?

Are customers more willing to spill the tea to their CSM since they know they aren’t just there to sell them something?”

Source: Navigating the Delicate Balance b/w CSMs & AMs in the Post-Sales world

A CSQL process is a great way to balance this dichotomy → the CSM would be speaking more often with the customer, hear a pain/intent that could be solved with a product they offer and log it as a CSQL to be passed along to the AM.

The AM then has good reason to reach to the customer about that lead with context in mind from the CSM.

There’s two things worth pointing out here:
  1. The CSM should only log a lead when they know it’s a qualified one. Really making sure they’re doing the leg work to deep dive on the subject with the customer and be absolutely certain it’s something worth pursuing BEFORE even mentioning it to an AM. The ‘Q’ in CSQL.
  2. It’s integral for an AM to keep a strong relationship and constant communication with the CSM of their accounts (and vise versa) - that way they can work together to find the best possible solution unique to each customer’s needs and the real business reasons behind it.

This teamwork approach seems more balanced:

  • Customer Advocacy: Customers benefit from having a dedicated CSM who acts as their internal advocate. This CSM ensures their needs and concerns are understood and addressed by the company.
  • Trusted Sales Partnership: Customers also gain a trusted partner on the sales side in the form of the AM. This AM prioritizes recommending solutions that are relevant and strategically aligned with the customer's unique business situation, rather than simply pushing every new product available.


CSQLs: The Problem Child

CSQLs sure seem like they could be the answer for generating cheap, high quality and high converting leads that could big time boost pipeline for expansion teams.

Have we found the golden ticket? ….what’s the catch?!

CSQLs the leaning tower of… lead-sa?

CSQL programs can be a freaking BOON for Expansion pipeline, but, if you're not careful, they fall over spectacularly.

Failure mode 1: pipeline is not pipeline is not pipeline

If your CSMs log a CSQL every time a customer sneezes and it sounds like they said the name of a premium add-on, you're going to end up with your pipes clogged with Stage 0s, but no movement. Identified does NOT equal qualified. Make it easy for CSMs to flag potentials, sure, but keep pipeline ownership with your AMs: they're in control.

Here’s some actual footage of when the Q in CSQL stands for Questionable:

Failure mode 2: incentivizing on number of CSQLs logged, not on conversion to Sales Accepted

The symptoms are the same, but this is even more pernicious: incentives are misaligned, which potentially ruins the internal relationship in addition to rendering your early Expansion pipe useless. Don't make it harder to do the right thing. Incentivize on conversion to opportunity, not on logging the CSQL. There’s a lot to be said about quotas too - should CSMs have a CSQL quota? Yay or nay?

Well, in our humble opinion - Nay.

Quotas can actually make your CSQL process worse, not better. Closed Lost CSQLs seem to have a special habit of being logged at the end of the month, and conveniently at the end of the quarter too. 🤔 Could this be because we pressure CSMs to log a minimum amount of CSQLs per quarter?

Source: How to make CSQLs close better with data science?

Failure mode 3: the telephone, it is broken

CSMs (and Onboarding specialists, and ProServ folks, and and and etc.) are not Sellers, so they don't pick up on more subtle buying signals in their conversations. Sure, you can train'em (and ought to, if they're curious), but that's not really the point: you try watching the same TED talk with your partner and talk about it afterward! Willing to bet that you'll be amazed at how differently they interpreted what they heard vs how you did. Point is, interpretation is subjective, so it's best to leave it to the owner, instead of passing along context second-hand.

Fred explains why context Goose Chasin’ is a total and utter waste of time:

Source: CSQL programs can be a freaking BOON for Expansion pipeline LinkedIn Post by Masha

CSQLs Gone Wild: A Cautionary Tale

With all of that in mind, it’s easy to see that a well-meaning attempt to create a CSQL process can very easily backfire if you’re not careful.

If CSMs aren’t properly incenti vized or aren’t spending the time qualifying leads deeply enough, CSQLs will start piling up, clogging pipeline and ultimately getting ignored by the account management teams.

Leading to The *dreaded* Gap of Sadness™

The Gap of Sadness is created when expectations for highly qualified leads from CS mismatch reality.

The road to the gap is paved with good intentions to be fair:

  1. Folks start out with a few ad hoc CSQLs that are highly qualified and convert incredibly.
  2. High fives all around!
  3. Execs: “Oooh we should formalize this into a process!”
  4. The hope is that we’ll be able to scale it, getting lots of CSQLs while still keeping quality high.
  5. WARNING: what actually happens is lots of CSQLs, but very few are qualified.
  6. Congratulations, you’ve fallen into the Gap of Sadness where AMs learn to ignore CSQLs ‘cause they are waaaaaay too noisy.
  7. As a result, real gold opps get thrown out with the sand.

ICs think the CSQL program is stupid and disengage; Execs dub it a failure and scrap the whole thing.

Everyone walks away thinking, “We tried it and it didn’t work!”


Source: The Gap of Sadness

Falling Victim to the Gap of Sadness™?

There there friend, this way 👇

How to Avoid Missing CSQLs

1. Clear goals

Where is the bottleneck in your post-Sales process? Is it “not enough pipeline”? Is it “too much pipeline but it’s not qualified”? Identify the pain (ideally, with the teams involved) and commit to the clear intention to fix it. Knowing where you’re trying to go is half the battle.

2. Clear incentives

My thinking on SPIFFs for CSMs to identify CSQLs is continuing to evolve. I used to be a “SPIFF ON CONVERSION” (so GRR+SPIFFs) aficionado, now I might be a “just incentivize on NRR” fan. The right answer is, as always, “it depends” — specifically, on your goals from above. Choose wisely!

3. Clear roles, responsibilities, ownership

Have VERY clear roles, responsibilities, ownership, and rules of engagement. Don’t try to have “co-” anything (in my experience, co-ownership results in no-ownership — but owners PLUS helpers works great). You need very distinct owners, helpers, and SLAs defined (e.g., “all CSQLs reviewed by AMs within 2 days, otherwise escalated to manager”).

4. Clear review cadences

Weekly pipeline reviews with managers is table stakes. Hashing out specifics in 1:1s is even better. But the point is, if no one is checking in on the goals and intentions of the program and progress towards it, nothing will happen — people are BUSY. If you want to avoid “internal-meetingisis” I feel you, but then you’re going to need tooling that allows for this async (see point 7) — but don’t skip thinking through this.

5. Continuous improvement

On a cadence that makes sense (monthly? quarterly?) review your results and tweak. Not enough CSQLs logged? Consider loosening your qualification criteria a bit and review next cadence. Too many CSQLs logged? Consider training up CSMs to ask really good questions (pro-tip: you don’t actually have to make this “Sales” or “Discovery” training — turns out user research and design thinking drives at exactly the same thing). CSQLs sitting there too long?

6. Tooling support

Consider hiring something like Glowstick to make it easier to log, review and qualify CSQLs at scale. Notice how this is the last bullet? That’s ‘cause putting tooling on top of a CSQL program that doesn’t work isn’t going to magically fix it — it will require a thoughtful approach. If you wanna jam on this, we’re here.

TL;DR: Just because your CSQL program isn’t working doesn’t mean you should give up on it. Successful CSQL programs consistently source quality expansion leads and opps b/c they have great practices in place.

Source: How NOT to do CSQLs Part 2 LinkedIn post by Masha


Glowstick & CSQLs

Have a decent CSQL process but still need a little help from your friends? Concerned that opportunities could be slipping through the cracks?

Glowstick can help by bridging the gap between your Customer Success and Account Management teams by using AI to seamlessly augment their workflow. Our Founding Designer, Shruti Gupta will take you through a quick demo of how you can achieve this with Glowstick:

Here’s a screenshot if you’re needing a closer look:

Mini Case Study: Gainsight <> Glowstick

Gainsight is a good example of a company who has a good grasp on their CSQL process and are using Glowstick to help mature their process & augment the workflow of both their Customer Success teams and Customer Account Management teams using AI!

Ben Stidham, the Sr. Director of Account Management at Gainsight, explains:

Curious at how Glowstick could help your CSQL process? Talk to Sales here.

Read the full conversation