With economic storm clouds gathering and companies showing signs of tightening their belts, it’s an intimidating time to plan your next career move in tech.
Despite this, at least one department in every technology company has found its time to shine: customer success. This relatively new business field dedicated to retaining and expanding existing customer accounts has hit its stride recently and shows no sign of slowing down. If you’re eying a career move in technology, it’s an enticing opportunity.
Customer success is in the spotlight because the smartest and most successful businesses have become laser-focused on the recurring revenue that customer retention generates and increased customer lifetime value. Although keeping an existing customer has always been cheaper than acquiring a new one, the value of customer success is becoming ever more obvious as new sales threaten to slow. A company’s existing customer base offers an opportunity to expand accounts with additional upgrades, additional licenses, or new leads within other departments of your customer’s company.
The heart of a customer success department is its team of customer success managers (CSMs). They’re the customer’s trusted advisors and advocates from the point of sale onward, tasked with helping customers achieve maximum value to earn their continued loyalty. It’s a hybrid role combining relationship building, challenging the customer, upholding accountability, and growing revenue.
If you’re new to the field, you’ll need to focus on building and honing the skill set to match. Here’s what your career in customer success will depend upon.
3 Skills Essential to a Customer Success Career
- Negotiating skills.
- Consulting skills.
- Task management and prioritization.
1. Negotiation Skills
Customer success people tend to be empathetic problem solvers, which often leads to the erroneous assumption that customer success is about advocating to give your customer everything they ask for.
In reality, it’s a case of meeting in the middle. Although you need to do right by your customer, you also need to do the same for your own company when it comes to financial discussions and other requests. Here, negotiation skills are critical.
For example, you may need to negotiate a renewal in which your customer asks for a custom feature from your development team that makes sense to them, but not to your company. The feature and the effort building it will take may not be transferrable to the rest of your customer base. You’ll need to explain that, although the customer’s request is valid, building the component doesn’t make sense for your company — while still keeping your renewal conversation on track.
2. Consulting Skills
Surely if your customer enjoys having you as their CSM, they’re more likely to renew, right?
Alas, too many people come to customer success thinking that customer happiness is the top metric. Of course, relationships matter, but customers don’t renew because they like you. They renew because you and your product deliver ROI and value.
The CSM’s role is to understand what this looks like for each customer. What are they trying to achieve? What are their key performance indicators? A good CSM asks the right questions and follows up to tease out the nuances of each answer, creating a measurable definition of success on which both customer and CSM agree.
A consultative approach enables relationships focused on value. In the future, if your usage data tells you a customer isn’t using a critical feature, for example, you’ll understand how to introduce it in a context that resonates. You can match the feature to a specific business objective. You can share examples of how customers with similar goals have used it.
These are the outcomes that drive value for your customer, revenue for your company, and greater loyalty than that of a relationship based on personality alone.
3. Task Management and Prioritization
Can you juggle three, four, or five tasks at once? That’s great, but so can most people.
Customer success takes more than an aptitude for multitasking; you’ll need to quickly assess the scope, workload and value of projects, prioritize them, and hand them off to the appropriate team in your company if they don’t contribute to your business objectives.
I advise CSMs to ask themselves the following question before tackling a project: Does answering this question or engaging with this request get me to the renewal? If the customer’s request is for something new or something they want to do or improve upon, the answer is typically yes. At this point, your consulting or negotiation skills come into play.
If not — and typically here, the problem is that you’re being asked to troubleshoot something that’s broken — your support team is better equipped to handle it. Knowing when to direct a customer to support is essential to avoid becoming the customer’s go-to for transactional, everyday questions, which is a reactive rabbit hole that inexperienced CSMs often find themselves in.
How to Learn Customer Success Skills
A great company will train you as a CSM through a learning platform, customer success coaching, and pairing you with a seasoned veteran. You can increase your chances of joining or transferring to the team by learning the fundamentals beforehand, however.
My advice? Go and find a great CSM. If your company has a customer success team already, find the CSM who’s consistently hitting their numbers and targets, and buy them a cup of coffee or go out to lunch. Figure out what they’re doing right. I guarantee they’re succeeding not just because their customers like them, but because they’re effective.