Being an effective CSM is hard. In some ways, being a Product Manager can be harder. How do you collect and synthesize all the data from the market at large, competitor strategies, and the needs of your existing customers into actionable insights? Then, how do you augment and balance all this with your internal company and personal vision for future products and revenue growth? That’s why many of the best Product Managers now partner so closely with their Customer Success teams. As a result, they more consistently create exceptional products and services that don’t just solve immediate problems for new users - they also anticipate the needs of existing customers to create a flywheel for expansion and growth. Moreover, this partnership prevents gaps from forming in capabilities and relationships for ever-present and watchful competitors to exploit. While not all PMs have learned this valuable lesson, let’s review how CS teams can best serve those who are ready to engage and win.
Save the forest, not the trees
Few things frustrate PMs more than a CSM persistently pushing feature requests and bug fixes for “special” customers, which too often means “customers whose ARR retention is the responsibility of that CSM”. If you’re a CSM, don’t do this. Just because your customer has a high priority problem, it doesn’t always mean this should be a high priority for your company overall. Don’t automatically try to make it one. If every CSM at your company is trying to see who can yell the loudest for their own book of business, not only will key opportunities be missed in the noise, but your Product and Engineering teams will start tuning out the field teams altogether. This may lead to more serious errors down the road that hurt everyone.
Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes it is absolutely critical that you raise awareness and push hard for specific issues impacting your customers. For example, if that customer is a large percentage of your company’s revenue, or has a track record of being the leading edge of finding bugs or needing capabilities that also impact your broader customer base. But how often is this the case? Don’t abuse your skills of persuasion or “connections'' to advance requests from your book of business just because they are from your book of business.
Insights are a team sport
Now that we’ve covered what to avoid, let’s look at how some CS and Product teams are collaborating to get to the next level. Most CSMs are in more frequent contact with customer stakeholders and users than most PMs, and often achieve greater candor over time, allowing them a much higher fidelity pulse to listen to and learn from. As a result, CSMs are uniquely positioned to help the PM team connect the dots across all your company’s users’ challenges and goals. CS teams should embrace and leverage these relationships and the discoveries made. CS leaders should encourage their teams to be constantly talking amongst themselves to identify patterns of needs and problems across the entire customer base. Things that might not show up in the standard metrics used by PMs or called out in various focus groups, and only become apparent when revealed to CSMs through regular cadence calls, QBRs, and requests for advice. By sharing this information along with combined perceptions, CS teams provide PMs with cross-cutting insights and areas for deeper investigation they would otherwise miss.
Through these best practices, unnecessary churn caused by excessive yet undetected friction in product workflows can be avoided. Even more importantly, your business will be able to see and take advantage of more opportunities to solve adjacent user challenges and drive new revenue.
Marc Phillips is a software service delivery and business strategy leader committed to creating customer value and fostering high performing teams. Currently, Marc works with global enterprises as a Senior Customer Success Manager at Mezmo, a log management and observability data pipeline platform.