For those just joining our blog series CSM from the Trenches, welcome. This series, now a community for frontline Customer Success Managers (CSMs), discusses trends, best practices, and advice that can help the frontline.

Being on the CSM frontline allows us to directly influence the success of our clients. I love that; as our clients are successful, we’re successful. Each day we learn from the trenches what it takes to make clients happy and successful.

Let’s move forward with this week’s blog post!

3 Essential Pre-onboarding Principles

On April 18, 2018 I introduced a presentation called “3 Essential Pre-onboarding Principles” at a local Customer Success meet-up in Utah. While that presentation focused primarily on practical examples tied to the principles, I thought I’d compile additional thoughts in form of a 3-part blog as part of CSM from the Trenches.

Those 3 essential pre-onboarding principles are as follows:


  1. Develop, Document, and Strengthen Customer Lifecycle Plans
  2. Ensure Customer Onboarding Readiness
  3. Identify Key Individuals, Influencers, and Contacts


For the sake of this 3-part blog, I’m going to refer to pre-onboarding as the time prior to kicking off a client relationship, bringing them onboard, or beginning an implementation. This period serves as an excellent opportunity to set and build relationship momentum, as well as set both you and your clients up for greater, future success.

This particular principle, however, requires consistent effort throughout the entire customer relationship and, much like my other principles, is not a one-time activity.

Principle 3: Identify Key Individuals, Influencers, and Contacts

Ensuring customer onboarding readiness (see principle 2) includes understanding who your implementation owner, key stakeholders, and relationship influencers are. As previously discussed in that principle, Because of limitations on the pre-sales side, you may have to do additional work to gather information related to a client’s current environment and capabilities.

Pre-onboarding serves as an excellent opportunity to capture or align contact-related information. Remember that often those who make or hold purchasing power are not the same as those who end up owning implementation.

For that reason, among others, it’s important to identify key individuals, influencers, and contacts.

High and Wide

Dave Blake, Founder and CEO of ClientSuccess, encourages CSMs and CS organizations to go “High and Wide”. He explains,“the concept [High and Wide] references the goal to develop as many relationships as possible high and wide within your customer’s organization. Rather than having the entire relationship hinge on one or two lower-level contacts that have little to no influence or buying power, broaden your scope to develop as many relationships as possible throughout the organization. Not only will you strengthen the overall relationship, but you’ll also uncover other opportunities to add value in their business that may result in expansion revenue.”

At a minimum, I’ve found that it’s important to track the following (1) relationship / implementation owner or key contact, (2) executive sponsors (who they report to), and (3) other stakeholders.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What contacts are you currently tracking?

Key Characteristics to Consider

Understanding your the characteristics of your contacts is equally as, if not more important than simply identifying them. It’s critical for CSMs to be able to know the following about those who they’re engaging with:

  • Role
  • Influence
  • Pulse
  • Relationship

Below is a diagram that can guide you as you look to strengthen your footing inside a client relationship.

For example, if you have a strong relationship with a normal user, it may not matter how much they like you at the end of day if they have little to no influence on the renewal.

If there is a gap – fill it! Work to go high and wide to build meaningful relationships with and for your clients. Identify those who do have a high influence on the relationship and drive positive results and business impact.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Which contact/role has the biggest impact on the relationship?
  • Who are the contacts (or roles) you should be tracking?
  • What are 2-3 ways you can strengthen the way you identify key individuals or contacts?


These steps are an excellent starting point if you are looking to set both you and your customers up for greater long-term success, but are certainly not comprehensive. By taking the time to identify key individuals, influencers, and contacts you’ll be able to focus on the value you’re able to provide to each customer.