CSMs - Product Experts or Relationship Manager??

Emily Caccamo
Emily Caccamo Member Posts: 6 Seeker
edited August 14 in CS Org Conversations
Hi everyone, 
I am the Senior Manager of Account Management at a growth company in healthcare IT/SaaS. Our company is at an inflection point where we are growing very quickly due to the release of new products and rapid growth in our customer base. The current CSM structure is that each CSM serves as the designated point of contact for all of our customers for ALL products that customer has purchased from our company (currently 3 products). This means the CSM is expected to maintain a very in depth level of knowledge of all three of our products, which are very different from each other and solve very different problems for our customer base. 

I went to leadership to propose that we move to a product specific CSM model so that our CSMs can continue to be subject matter experts and provide more value to our customers, without having to face the dilemma of being a "jack of all trades, but a master of none". The obvious downside to this model is that the customer no longer has 1 dedicated point of contact for all matters with our company, but now has the potential to have 2 CSMs vs. 1 CSM. 

The majority of leadership liked the idea, with the exception of our CEO. Our CEO feels that it is important the customer has a dedicated point person at our company that manages the entire customer relationship. I don't disagree that that is important, but our CSMs can't play both roles - the relationship manager, AND the product expert on all products. 

I'd love to hear how others have tackled this issue, or what type of structure you've adopted when you've reached a similar inflection point. Do we think providing a dedicated subject matter expert to assist with driving outcomes by product is more important than a dedicated relationship manager? Vice versa? 

Really appreciate any insights and guidance on this topic.

Comments

  • Heather Hernandez
    Heather Hernandez Member Posts: 2 Navigator
    edited February 2022
    Hi Emily,

    What an interesting challenge! Here's my two cents:

    Prioritize the relationship above all else. I think your proposed new system is the best way to accomplish this. Let's see if we can bring your CEO around... 

    What I'm curious about is whether behind your CEO's directive (1 CSM per site), there is a greater concern about the site having a streamlined, convenient, unified and delightful customer experience. I would have a 1-1, "why" conversation with your CEO: ask more questions about their experience (or anticipatory concerns) around the model of more than 1 CSM per site. I bet better understanding exactly all the fears here will help you to both find common ground and get productive. You both want successful customers. Once you understand more of the details behind the CEO's stance, leverage all of your best CS skills to make sure their concerns are heard and acknowledged and validated. Then I think you'll be in a better position to better explain why this new system will work best for your team and your customers. As long as the 3 customer CSMs were communicating and coordinating closely, I feel strongly you can provide an integrated and delightful customer experience. It sounds like it would allow for better relationships with the unique customer teams for each product segment, and overall better service. As long as your team absorbed any customer confusion and took it on themselves to pass along insights/complaints/requests/feedback, sites would be getting more attention. [A useful book to read for this conversation is Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss -- it's much less about negotiating than you would think and more about listening and empathizing. It's not too long either. Tools like "tactical empathy", "late night DJ voice", "curiosity", "black swan"... will likely serve you well in influencing this situation.] 

    On top of providing better product expertise, your proposed structure will also allow for better attention to your customers and improved coverage. There's a little bit of built-in redundancy that will be helpful in better listening to customers, catching problem areas, providing multiple coverage options when a CSM needs to take time off (you have both customer relationship experts as well as other product experts in house to support)... it's a great move to scale up relationship management. 

    If the CEO continues to be unwilling to budge. (Oh boy!) Then another option would be to make it very clear what the trade-offs are with continuing on the default path, and what you need to be successful. Here's a quick brainstorm from me --I'm sure you can hone these and think of the right ones. In order to meet your shared objectives for happy customers [uncovered during your "why" conversation with CEO], your CSMs will need:
    1. CS will need to invest XX% of their weeks investing in product training (taking them away from customers). [This % could be large given 3 product areas with 3 solutions -- potentially even 50%. Curious what your analysis would show.] That means less availability for customers, less time spent building relationships. and less time for on-the-ground need finding and problem solving.
    2. You will need more resources from product (prepare to field 3x the questions on product). We need more FAQs, pamphlets, quick templates... [you may need this anyways as you scale]. You may want to consider building out internal roles to improve the processes, trainings & communication between product & CS.
    3. We are going to need more CSMs total since the book of accounts manageable will become smaller for each CSM. [Due to 3 product teams/basically 3 different clients per site, and also the time spent learning products.]
    4. Perhaps it's time to start a jr program where there is a supporting role for each site CSM. A CS Associate can help manage some of the administrative work and begin to gain experience to become a CSM (across 3 products). This could lessen some of the burden and allow CSMs to focus on the important things. 
    5. Retention Program /Hiring considerations - CSMs often got into the space because they love relationships. We did not necessarily hire them bc they love spending 50% of their time learning products in depth. That is typically less than 20% of the job. Let's figure out how to navigate that successfully moving forward. People do their best work when they love what they're working on.
    6. New CSMs will need a longer time for onboarding onto 3 products. 
    7. As a heads up, we will face some vulnerabilities. For example, if we have a weak CSM at a site, it might be tough to figure out training needs, or site concerns. Additionally when a CSM transitions to a new role or leaves, the site will lose their point of contact for all 3 products--so it will be a much larger transition for the customer. [Redundancy of having multiple CSMs at a site could minimize these risks a bit.] 
    My bias towards your first proposal is clear -- but I think that a second strategy could work as long as you make it clear what you need. You sound like a thoughtful manager. Sending you lots of power to navigate these scale challenges. 

    Would love to be in touch and continue to bounce off CS insights with each other. 

    Sincerely, Heather Hernandez

    VP of Customer Success, Alara Imaging 
    M: 562-665-9456
    E: heath[email protected] / [email protected]
  • Jeff Heckler
    Jeff Heckler Member Posts: 79 Expert
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    edited February 2022

    Correct, @Emily Caccamo, your CSMs can't be all things in this scenario with increasingly complex deployments and multiple products.
    Of the top of my mind, consider building:
    1. CS COE: Customer Success Center of Excellence
    2. Beefing up Support
    3. Maximizing digital and asynchronous engagement channels
    4. Creating a TAM (Technical Account Managers) role and sub-group and team of pooled resources
    5. SMEs for Products and customer verticals
    6. Professional Services (revenue generating)

  • Josh Loe
    Josh Loe Member Posts: 4 Navigator
    edited February 2022

    Emily,

    The way I've done this in the past is to bring in a SME and put them on the Success team as a Customer Success Engineer (CSE).   I had the best luck in finding these in the support department as they have in-depth knowledge of the product.    The CSE would jump on calls when a CSM would be stuck on an issue a customer brought up, or needs more help in explaining how X feature/function works.   Pretty much utilized the CSE of a jack of all trades.   

    So you would still keep your single point of contact, the CSM, and bring to calls a CSE if the CSM needs some additional support.    Also, if you're having CSM's handle support-related questions you should try and get them out of that motion as it is a pandora's box that should remain closed!    That is of course if your CX structure has Support team members.

    Hope that helps Emily,
    -Josh

  • Mike Sasaki
    Mike Sasaki Member Posts: 1 Navigator
    edited February 2022
    Hi Emily,

    It depends on how closely related the 3 products are. If the products are closely related, it makes sense to have 1 CSM. The other thing I'd consider is the maturity of the 3 products. The more mature, the easier it is for 1 CSM to manage all 3 products. The last thing I'd consider is the cost to revenue for each CSM and all CSMs. Your CEO may want to see that it makes sense financially or at the very least there is a 5 year plan to scale the CS org, but first you must start with 1 CSM per product in order to make customers successful.
  • Emily Caccamo
    Emily Caccamo Member Posts: 6 Seeker
    edited February 2022

    Thanks, Heather for this extremely thoughtful and valuable feedback. You provided some really [really] great points that I hadn't even considered, such as the transition process being much less severe if one CSM was managing the entire account. I also like the idea of a Jr. Program. We are really trying to build upon the CSM career trajectory, and having more layers within the department for growth is definitely something I've been taking a closer look at to help with retention of CSMs due to better (and clearer) career growth opportunities. 

    I am going to bring this feedback back to my Exec and see if we can revisit the conversation with the CEO with these points in mind, and understand where we might be able to come up with a compromise that everyone feels good about.  I will definitely let you know the outcomes, and looking forward to continued sharing of ideas. :)

  • Emily Caccamo
    Emily Caccamo Member Posts: 6 Seeker
    edited February 2022
    Hi Jeff, thank you so much for your input. I am definitely interested in hearing more about the Customer Success Center of Excellence. This is somewhat of a new concept to me - have you implemented this at your current (or previous) company on your team? What did that look like? Appreciate the additional information that you might be willing to share.
  • Jeff Heckler
    Jeff Heckler Member Posts: 79 Expert
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    edited February 2022

    I've twice created CS COEs inside of my CS orgs, owned by the CS Ops team.
    From this positioning, we drive cross-functional initiatives, shared data-driven projects, collaborative learnings, and revenue team deliverables.

  • Amanda Regan
    Amanda Regan Member Posts: 3 Navigator
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    edited February 2022
    I have a lot more questions for you...
    1. What are the CSM's responsibilities? Are they doing support, training, onboarding, renewals ... and more?
    2. Are the CSM's complaining or demonstrating that they cannot handle three products? What does the team say they need?
    3. Are the CSM's broken up by tier? How many accounts are they handling at each level?
    4. Do most customers purchase all three products or is it broken up with one product being primary and the others being purchased occasionally? 
    5. Do customers onboard and implement all products at the same time? 
    6. How do you currently handle cross-selling? Is it a CS responsibility? 
    I went through this exact situation last year and learned a ton! Without having a greater understanding of your current setup and the reason you are looking to change, I don't feel comfortable giving concrete advice. I'd be happy to jump on a call and talk it though with you. There are things to consider from the emotional standpoint of the current team as well. I can't tell if you are in charge of the CS team based on your title, so I also am curious about that.
  • Jay Nathan
    Jay Nathan HLAdmin, Member Posts: 108 Gain Grow Retain Staff
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    edited February 2022
    I like @Amanda Regan's additional questions. One more I'd add: are all of the products purchased out of the same buying center within the customer? Or different economic buyers?
  • Emily Caccamo
    Emily Caccamo Member Posts: 6 Seeker
    edited February 2022
    My answers to your questions (and @Jay Nathan's as well) below. 
    1. What are the CSM's responsibilities? Are they doing support, training, onboarding, renewals ... and more?
      1. CSMs are responsible for renewals, success planning, goals & outcomes tracking, building references, upsell and business expansion, lead generation for sales, and customer satisfaction (NPS). They do not do the implementation and initial onboarding, but are responsible for any training and onboarding needs post-implementation if needed. We have a dedicated support and implementation team that is not a part of the CSM team.
    2. Are the CSM's complaining or demonstrating that they cannot handle three products? What does the team say they need?
      1. Yes. I have spoken to each team member pitching them the idea, and everyone was strongly in favor. There have been concerns with the ability to stay sharp on all three products and all the details and nuances of each. Everyone feels like they can't keep all the details straight, which results in a ton of questions to product and engineering teams about how things are supposed to work. 
    3. Are the CSM's broken up by tier? How many accounts are they handling at each level?
      1. They are not broken up by tier (but I am currently exploring this option as well). Right now they are broken up by territory - so customers are assigned to each CSM based on whether they are in the state within their territory. I definitely want to change this and go towards either a tier based model, or a model where customer effort and bandwidth is more heavily considered. 
    4. Do most customers purchase all three products or is it broken up with one product being primary and the others being purchased occasionally? 
      1. It is hard to say at this point because the 3rd product is so new, and so we only have a small handful of customers that have all three products. We do have quite a few customers who have 2. I'd say it is about 50/50 1 product or 2+ products right now. 
    5. Do customers onboard and implement all products at the same time? 
      1. No, products are rarely purchased and implemented at the same time. They are contracted separately as well (we don't have "packages" where multiple can be purchased at once). 
    6. How do you currently handle cross-selling? Is it a CS responsibility? 
      1. Cross-selling was largely a CSM responsibility last year, however managing a pipeline, and handling over 130+ customers per CSM was too much in terms of bandwidth, so this year, we decided to remove the pipeline management and instead the CSMs are responsible for lead gen (cross-sell/upsell), but those opportunities are handed to the Sales team to close and manage. 
    7. One more I'd add: are all of the products purchased out of the same buying center within the customer? Or different economic buyers?
      1. It varies. I'd say it usually comes from the same buying center/economic buyer, but not always. Depends on the customer and the structure of their company (hospitals in this case). The actual users/main contacts of the technologies can, and usually do, vary however. 
    I hope all the additional information adds additional context. Really looking forward to hearing your lessons learned from going through this process, and would be happy to schedule a call to discuss more if you are open to it. :)

  • Emily Caccamo
    Emily Caccamo Member Posts: 6 Seeker
    edited February 2022
    And yes, I am in charge of the CSM Team. The CSMs report directly to me, and I report directly to the SVP of Commercial (Commercial team includes the CSMs and Sales). Since I joined the company, the role has changed from a traditional account management role to a customer success manager role. The reason the department is not called "Customer Success" is because Customer Success is what the Support and Implementation teams have been called historically, and so the departments names have been grandfathered. I hope that helps clarify!