In the day-to-day business dealings of a Customer Success Manager (CSM) and customers, the main interactions are typically with end users, project leads, or decision makers. Executives from either side of the relationship are rarely involved in onboarding or implementation conversations unless there is a very good reason. That being said, sometimes executive involvement is necessary to move projects forward or overcome roadblocks throughout the customer journey.

For CSMs, it can be tricky to know when exactly to pull executives in from either side of a conversation – after all, you don’t want to blindly overreact, nor do you want to let critical issues grow out of control.

Here are some situations that warrant executive interactions, as well as some tips on how to build comfortable, executive-level relationships with your customers.

When executive involvement can help:

So, what kind of situations warrant interaction or mediation from a C-level representative? One of the biggest things to remember is that these situations don’t always start with the customer. Many times, customer issues are a result of something internal from a vendor side.

The first thing to remember when involving executives is to never outright blame or pressure the customer. Even though it very well may be an issue on their side, the customer always comes first. Bring up the topic of executive involvement gradually, without putting your customer on blast. Consider reaching out via phone to your project lead or decision maker about needing to speak with their executive instead of bringing it up on an all-team call. If you run into any of the following situations with customers, it’s time to call in executive support.

  • Your customer goes dark. Unfortunately, no matter how well a customer relationship is going, customers are always at risk of going dark. Many times, customers go dark without any red flags or roadblocks. If a customer goes dark, plan a meeting with executives from one or both companies present. This can help jumpstart forward movement and get the ball rolling on both sides.
  • There is an issue on either side of the aisle. If a customer escalates a problem up to their C-level executives, it’s not uncommon to bring in an executive from your team as well to mediate the conflict. Remaining open and transparent with customers and executives can help build confidence in your team and your product.
  • An internal roadblock means your team won’t be able to follow through on a deliverable. If your team realizes that a project won’t be finished in time or you might fall short on a SOW, you need to tell your customer ASAP. This could be a good time to get an executive involved on your side, just in case there are further questions to answer or other procedures to discuss.
  • A final reason to involve executives in your customer interactions is to increase their knowledge of your products or services. The more executive-level advocates your team has, the more stable and long-term your partnership will be. Think about hosting executive-focused training sessions or a customer kick-off meeting with executives from both teams to really forge a strong bond right off the bat.

Involving executives is easy – if you keep it High & Wide from the beginning

At ClientSuccess, we like to encourage teams to build relationships with customers ‘High & Wide’, aka developing as many relationships with as many people as possible, as high up and as wide as possible. As a CSM, your tie to an organization shouldn’t just be limited to the handful of individual users you’re trying to onboard.

When strong C-level relationships are forged early on in a partnership, it makes having difficult conversations a little easier. Sometimes, having these high & wide relationships in place early on can also help avoid any of the situations above where executive input may be needed. The more people in a customer organization who know your team and what you’re trying to accomplish, the more people who are available to chime in or give guidance when needed.