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Customer Success is not Account Management!

Originally published (Sept 19th 2017)

Within the relatively new world of Customer Success there are a lot of opinions and thoughts around the true definition and how we can deliver true value to our customer base.

Attending a fantastic Customer Success Conference in Dublin last week (Customer Success Europe) provided an invaluable opportunity to hear from others in similar positions around the theory of customer delight, recurring revenue streams and adoption models for example. One thing that has become apparent though, is that there is some discrepancy amongst CS leaders in their belief that Customer Success Managers should or should not be responsible for a revenue number or target. Having spent a large number of years working in Account Management, I always find the debate very interesting. My personal belief is that any Account Manager worth their salt should know their customers inside out, as if they work at that organisation. Granted, this is difficult if an Account Manager has 50 or 100 customers, but then I don’t believe that’s true Account Management anyway – it’s merely reactive customer service with an Account Management title. True Account Managers will understand what their customers are trying to achieve, their objectives and their business, so they can provide the best solution for the customer. They work with the customer in a ‘win-win’ relationship to recommend the right solution, which in turn results in customers being loyal to the company in return. This is an art that generally speaking, people with great sales and interpersonal skills will master.

Customer Success for me is all about helping the customer get the most from your software (or product) so that they achieve the best possible results against their objectives, it is very different to Account Management. It is the proactive 'how' when customers want to achieve an objective. There is a clear line and the role should not hold a revenue target in my view. I would trust that if a real partnership is formed, then the customer will ultimately renew their subscription and retention rates will grow organically. From a business perspective this will mean that recurring revenue will make up 70% or 80%+ of revenue and is only topped up by the inevitable cross sell that comes from Account Managers in the form of new opportunities. It actually does not matter if this is for a small number of high touch accounts, or replicated across a vast base of customers where more automation is in place, the principle is the same.

Account Management is not dead and should still be treated with the respect it deserves. Account Managers help support customers and provide the best solution for a customer to achieve their goals. Customer Success in its own right is a newer discipline, but one that still needs to be mastered in a different way to help customers use software or a product. By all means target your CSM’s but surely this should be based on adoption of the software, or aligned with customer objectives. Target them around the health score of a customer rather than the direct revenue that is attributed back to them.

As always, customers are informed and know exactly what they want. If anyone thinks that renaming an Account Management team to Customer Success, and then focusing on all the same areas will harness results then I’m confident they’ll end up short. As per Einstein’s quote: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Changing a name is not something different and true Customer Success is a whole lot more than that!

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