Customer Success is still a relatively young discipline, and as a result, leadership teams are often unsure about where it fits into their organization. Companies that don’t want to miss out on the trend of branding themselves as “customer-centric” might consider repackaging an existing team, like Account Management, as Customer Success. This would be a short-sighted move since Customer Success and Account Management are distinguished by more than just a naming convention. Customer Success teams drive user adoption and engagement through onboarding, training, and a compelling user experience. Account Management teams build relationships and align the value their products can bring with the customer’s goals. Companies that only have one team or the other will find it more difficult to manage critical phases of the customer lifecycle. This inevitably leads to higher churn rates and missed expansion opportunities. With so much of a company’s long-term success riding on retaining and expanding their current customer base, having both teams is a necessity.
The work of Customer Success and Account Management teams is so interconnected that it can be difficult from the outside to note where one begins and the other ends. This is because there is never a clean handoff from one team to the other. Their responsibilities change throughout the customer lifecycle, but even when one team is at the forefront, the other is not far behind. The rest of this post will outline the responsibilities of each team during different phases of the customer lifecycle.
Phase I- Contract signed (Day 0 – 7)
A key focus for Account Managers (AMs) is building strong relationships with their customers. AMs will tell you that one of the best parts of their job is building meaningful professional and personal connections with their clients. These mutually beneficial relationships come from a foundation of mutual respect and accountability. When AMs are brought in post-sale the first question they should ask the customer is “what outcome do you hope our company will help you achieve?”. The obvious answer will be a list of goals and success metrics that were created during the sales evaluation process. But AMs often need to dig deeper to uncover the motives and incentives that will drive a customer’s behavior. Is this launch part of a special project overseen by the CEO? Are they hoping to pass this project off to a lower-level colleague? This context will be important as the AM builds this relationship moving forward. To ensure there is accountability on the customer’s part, the agreed upon goals and success criteria should be clearly documented.
Phase II- Implementation and onboarding (Day 21 – 45)
Once the AM has an understanding of what the customer is hoping to achieve, a Customer Success Manager (CSM) is tasked with tying these goals into a launch plan. This project plan details how the two companies expect to meet these goals through specific milestones and launch stages. Implementation and onboarding are critical to setting customers up for success. Getting a new product integrated into a company’s spiderweb of internal systems and workflows doesn’t happen over the course of one 15 minute phone call. Products on the periphery of these core systems find it hard to generate adoption and demonstrate ROI. Effective onboarding demonstrates the product’s value to the end user. CSMs will spend the majority of their time in this phase focused on driving adoption and engagement with end users. To scale this 1: many relationship, Customer Success teams look for ways to leverage data and systems to drive a compelling user experience across a broad user base. These systems should allow your Customer Success team to impact almost every user in some fashion. The AM’s primary contributions during this phase are to secure leadership buy-in for the launch plan and keep all parties up to date as things progress.
Phase III- Maintaining success (Day 45 – 200)
Creating a simple framework that details which person will be managing each aspect of the customer lifecycle and relationship post-launch reduces ambiguity and confusion for customers. CSMs handle all training and optimize the integrations between systems. AMs demonstrate value across the customer’s organization. They manage all strategic business conversations such as QBRs, discussions around price, and are the escalation point for any major issues. Ultimately, the AM is the customer’s key point of contact. Over the course of the next few months, the CSM and AM work to ensure the customer has been successful towards reaching their goals. The two teams regularly brainstorm strategies to improve ongoing product adoption and engagement. The AM continues to maintain a positive business relationship between the two companies. AMs provide internal feedback on what features and systems will be necessary to support their current customers in the future. CSMs work closely with the Product team to address user pain points.
Phase IV- Upsells and cross-sells (Day 200 – 230)
AMs and CSMs are able to identify opportunities for additional product usage and cross-sells because they have such a clear sense of the value their products bring customers. If their company offers another product that the customer would benefit from, or their products can successfully support an additional use case, only then should the AM initiate an upsell conversation. These upsells and expansions make Account Management a key source of new revenue, with the median SaaS company bringing in 15% of new ACV from upsells and expansions. With this upsell, the process starts all over again from Phase II.
Customer Success is much more than just a feel-good name for Account Management. Companies who support their customers with both Customer Success and Account Management teams allow each team to focus on how they can best serve the customer. AMs do this through building 1:1 relationships, while CSMs empower companies and end users to be successful. Unless companies invest in supporting customers across both dimensions, they will not be able to effectively optimize their customer’s success in a way that coincides with their own.