Customer Success Manager at Coorpacademy: an octopus at the heart of business!
By Yaël Dahan, Customer Success Manager at Coorpacademy for 3 years.
Because the job of CSM – Customer Success Manager – has the wind in its sails, and because it is particularly strategic here at Coorpacademy, I wanted to share which missions enliven us on a daily basis. It will allow the curious to better understand the job, and the ones who want to start a career in this extremely employable job to have a better view on what they would do.
It’s a reality: the CSM job is really sought-after in startups and also sometimes large corporations. Actually, any company with a large account in B2B  business model will need CSMs to take care and pamper the big clients.
A CSM, to do what?
In ‘Customer Success Manager’, there is Customer.
The Customer Success Manager manages a reduced portfolio of accounts with a ‘qualitative’ approach – on the contrary, Customer Support manages the masses with a ‘quantitative’ approach (users, learners in the case of Coorpacademy). In this particular case, clients are CAC40 companies and interlocutors are high-levels managers (C-level, like CHRO or CDO). The CSM’s goal in to ensure the clients are satisfied and to grow the revenue within the account portfolio.
To achieve this sales-oriented target, the CSM has a transverse job including different missions and a wide set of assignments. In a tech company like Coorpacademy, the stake is that the implementation and the use of the product are in line with the needs expressed by customers.
How does the CSM build a success story with the client?
In ‘Customer Success Manager’, there is Success.
The biggest criteria of success is to position yourself as a client partner on a project with a strong strategic dimension. The implemented project must be completely integrated in a plan which brings together the maximum of involved parties and have a lot of visibility within the company. Every initiative putting the project in the spotlight bode well, for example:
- Members of the top management speak in video interviews,
- An ambassador program is implemented in order to multiply the impact of any communication
- The project promotes the best learners or is part of an incentive plan…
And any other idea which creates a ‘Wow’ effet!
On the contrary, it’s not hard to notice it when the project is not considered as strategic for the company. I’ve seen newsletters listing, without any agencement or consideration – all HR initiatives conducted internally, where training platforms appeared like the umpteenth project drowning in a plethora of other projects, like ‘Never eat alone’ or the ‘Solidarity Rounding’. It’s not easy in that case to get noticed in the communication plan.
Once you became the partner of the client in a strategic project, the key to success is in the good management of the project (in Customer Success Manager, there is Manager). It starts with defining clear objectives and KPIs of success. Without objectives, how would you know if the target is reached or no? It may sounds obvious, but some projects start sometimes without any clear and defined targets. The whole thing becomes blurry, and it’s hard in that case to set up an action plan. It’s then the role of the CSM to force the discussion and make the client think of the ‘Why?’ Why this project? What is its goal?’ ‘Which need does it fulfill?’ With answers to these questions, the CSM will then have the opportunity to bring an action plan aligned with the goal of the project!
Through the project life, the CSM stays data-oriented to demonstrate the good use of the product and the alignment with the initial target. There’s no secret: a tool – if well used and not left in limbo – proves its value. Customers also like to do benchmarks: they like to see what their peers are doing in other companies and see which companies are doing better than them. If the CSM is good at what he does, he can find ‘good things’ and ‘less good things’ regarding the competition, to value the customer but also identify rooms for improvement (‘You’re very good here, but X is better than you there, they’ve implemented this with us, should we try to do something similar?’)
Furthermore, a CSM must be solution-oriented: never say ‘it’s not possible‘ but: ‘if I understand well, here’s your need, and I suggest we do this…’ You must be creative to always find solutions without creating as many tools as there are clients to maintain your business scalability. When the client asks features that are not in the internal roadmap, you must be firm. The CSM as a pedagogue can unveil the best arguments: what usually works is to inspire the client with a long term vision, which takes the project in the long time – strategic and visionary – and doesn’t need right now the very specific customization the client wants.
Finally, being one of the interfaces between the company’s internal and external world, the CSM has a pivot role which brings him to always work with the other departments in the startup. I’ve read one time the CSM was compared to an ‘octopus’ which always interacts with all the different teams. It’s an analogy that seems very appropriated to me!
Why is the CSM an internal octopus?
First of all, because the CSM has a lot of insights to bring to the Product Team.
Because the CSM has a great comprehension of his clients’ stakes through daily interactions and analytical studies, the CSM has a pretty good knowledge of how the product is perceived by the client. The CSM is the one often reporting to the Product Team by doing a state of play on new expected features, frustrations or evolution needs. The stake for the CSM is to take a step back on what the client needs by evaluating the global value creation, hence questions like: ‘Are there other clients having the same feedback on the use of features? Would the evolution be relevant for other customers?’
Because the CSM needs the Marketing Team to collaborate on thought leadership missions.
The marketing is a key allied of sales teams and CSMs and it is for me a very strategical topic. It is thanks to an active collaboration with the marketing that the CSM can start the process of becoming the client partner. A lot of actions are possible: put the client’s story in the spotlight through interviews, business cases, integrate the customer to a Premium Club through regular inspiring and qualitative gatherings, or participate to the clients’ own events (Digital Days, seminars, conferences, etc.) Coorpacademy positions itself as a thought leader evolving in a rich ecosystem, with continuous sharing of relevant insights on the corporate digital learning market.
Once we’ve said all this, how can we describe the day of a CSM?
I don’t know if I can speak of ‘typical day’ regarding the variety of assignments. But if I try to sum up the time spent usually (there had to be numbers in this article) on a regular day, I’d say the CSM spends:
- 35 of the time for customer relationship (follow-up meetings, steering committees, understanding the needs, identifying upsell opportunities, etc.)
- 35% of the time for project management (software management, highlighting training programs and courses)
- 20% of the time being the octopus, interfacing with other departments internally
- 10% of the time for administrative work (CRM management, billing, etc.) – Not what we like the most, but it allows us to do good forecasts, so pretty useful 😉
What about the difficulties?
Monday morning, 8:10 AM, the phone rings, it’s your client, panicking: “There are errors 500 in production and we’re supposed to launch the new program this morning!”
The first difficulty for a CSM lies in the very nature of tech startups (bugs happen!) and particularly for SAAS (Subscription As A Service) products in which product evolutions and new features happen for each clients the same way. I’ve had to face exasperation from some clients (“I don’t want this course / I don’t want this new feature”). The key here is to react: I’m taking care of your issue as an urgent matter and see what can be done (50% of the issue is tackled when it’s prioritized). Then, a good organization with the Tech Team is essential.
The second difficulty is that there’s a real need to prioritize. We don’t get bored as a CSM! So we need to prioritize in terms of what brings rooms for opportunities and development. The CSM has something to say about the investment of his time regarding the customer level in the Customer Journey. For example, POCs (Proofs of Concept) or launch management is paramount and strategic: the CSM has to be very involved at the beginning because it is a critical phase on the long term. And this is very interesting too: launching new projects is a very exciting phase!
Finally – and it’s no groundbreaking news – we need to handle sometimes unhappy or demanding clients. The CSM learns how to manage complex situations, learns how to say no in a constructive manner: the CSM will suggests solutions or will explain the vision of the startup to send messages. It’s not easy everyday, but not the hardest, as there are on the other side very interesting discussions everyday – where everything goes well. And this is also a good thing: clients’ demands are a great strength to make the startup better, because they require the startup to take the good calls regarding the market and its evolution.
A few words to conclude:
The job of CSM is strategic, employable, eclectic with numerous and various assignments and a strategic positioning. I think that a good product with a high quality accompaniment of the customer is the major asset for a startup on its way to success, and represent the condition for a premium service. The job actually got a lot more value in the past years, and evolved a lot since I joined Coorpacademy at the beginning of 2017. At that time, the CSM was mostly taking care of very operational missions (tool configuration for example, or support and creation of custom courses). Progressively and thanks to the creation of new jobs supporting the CSM, it became more of a Key Account Manager according to the current job definition on the work market.
I recommend this job to everyone who want to have a strong customer focus and a transverse job with high responsibilities. I’ve seen very beautiful projects, some ‘for the greater good’ with an impact on society; I’ve seen users that were fans of the product, thrilling and captivating talks, and the evolution of a job that keeps showing its value!
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