Three Activities Effective CSMs do to Grow their Accounts

Photo by Ales Maze on Unsplash

Don’t wait for growth to come knocking on your door, cause it probably wont.

One caveat before we get started: This article is geared towards Customer Success professionals working in SaaS B2B or B2G, and strategically on a set of larger accounts (usually dubbed ‘enterprise’ customers). Customer Success Managers (CSMs) who oversee large quantity of smaller clients in terms of average annual account value (ACV) will inevitably have to leverage more automation and in-app messaging where possible, templates and snippets galore, as well as ol’ fashion, outbound campaigns to grow their accounts at scale. But don’t be discouraged, there are some helpful pointers for you here as well.

1. Create Your Tiers

“If all your customers are special, no one feels special.”

Have you prioritized your customers? Taking into consideration multiple inputs: product ease of use and deployment, number of accounts being managed, renewal dates, and combined ARR of your portfolio (to name a few variables), the most effective CSMs create their own tiers and associated “touch plans”. “Touch plans” refer to the number and types of engagements you want to employ on specific segments of your portfolio.

Know which accounts need more attention over the next 3–6 months. Photo by Edvard Alexander Rølvaag on Unsplash

Why is this so important?

Inevitably every CSM, likely on a daily basis, will be faced with an onslaught of competing tasks. For example, Customer A has brought up a functionality on your platform that isn’t working properly this morning. Tomorrow, you have a business review with the much larger Customer B and still need to prepare the presentation. But your product team is asking for feedback on a new feature they’re prototyping. Additionally, lets not forget you’re onboarding a new account and working on some custom assets to assist with the deployment.

Faced with these common day-to-day challenges and competing priorities, having a clear hierarchy of clients in your book of business helps cut down on the guess-work with who gets priority when it comes to your time. It eliminates any feelings of guilt associated with not responding to a certain client within a given time frame.

There are tons of email tricks that can be deployed, such as pausing your inbox, tagging emails, etc. to keep priorities in check and avoid the temptation of responding to a lower value call-to-action. But at a basic level, know which customers get the lion’s share of your attention, list them out or tag them as such in your CRM, and revisit your hierarchy on a regular basis (I like quarterly).

2. Account Planning

“Clarity will set you free”

For each account you need to understand, document, and remember the basics:

Focus your efforts. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
  • Why did they purchase the product? What were those initial pain points and business drivers?
  • Where are they in their customer journey? What have they done to get to this stage?
  • What does product and feature utilization look like?
  • What is the competition, if any, within the organization?
  • What does your network look like with the account (e.g. how many champions, decision makers, IT personnel, etc. are you in contact with)? Where are your gaps in terms of relationships and stakeholder buy-in?
  • When is their renewal date and when are they entering into internal budget cycle discussions?
  • Have you considered if current news and events may be affecting their business?
  • Most importantly: Where do you need to get this account in 3–6 months?

If you don’t have realistic insights into your customers, mapping out what they may be able to buy next will be a shot in the dark.

3. Create your customers’ buying journey

“Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.” — Seth Godin

Ok, you have your priorities in order. You understand your customers. You have an educated guess as to which ones have the biggest growth potential or are most at-risk. You’re now ready to prescribe activities according to their use case, and based on the relevant metrics and tools at your disposal.

Start with a brainstorm

Everyone loves a good list. Photo by Hugo Rocha on Unsplash

What are all the weapons in your arsenal? Does your platform have the ability to send out tailored in-app messages? Do you have contact information you can use to promote new features to a cohort of end users (or potential new users)? Do you have an account champion who can connect you with a key- contact at a different line of business? Can customer plans be upgraded to include new functionalities (and added value)? Start with a list and run it by your team to see if there are any gaps or missed opportunities.

Hopefully you’re in a good position both in terms of CS tooling (metrics, messaging apps, content creation platforms, etc.) and customer contacts, because having a number of options at your disposal is an obvious plus, not to mention it allows for greater testing and experimentation over time.

Choose the activities that get your accounts where you need them to be in 3–6 months from now.

From there it’s a basic matching exercise. Look at your prioritized accounts and, given the data and insights available on each one, which of your (hopefully many) potential courses of action has the highest likelihood of getting the account where you need it to be?

The human brain’s hippocampus lets us envision the future. Pick out those activities that you suspect will likely “taste” the best. Overtime, you’ll well know your favorite flavors. Photo by Vinicius “amnx” Amano on Unsplash

From my experience, this is where the “art” of CS comes into play. Initially you’ll likely pick out growth activities that don’t work for a myriad of reasons. Perhaps the same playbook will work on another account, or the timing was simply off. As long as your tracking results and updating your CRM, you should be able to learn from your experiments and get better at prescribing the correct course of action at the right time to your prioritized accounts. If you’re measuring, art slowly turns into science.

Depending on the activity chosen, you might also need to work collaboratively with your marketing department, product managers, or others on the account team. Getting buy-in will be easier — you’ll be able to clearly outline your hypothesis, citing current account value, metrics, and your rationale for taking this specific set of activities.

Regardless of how many new opportunities result from your efforts, contextualizing your customers in this way and explaining why you’ve elected these specific actions will make you look like a rock star in the eyes of your growth-oriented sales leadership.

You are now well on your way to creating growth and not waiting for it to come to you.

Just make sure whatever is decided, it is abundantly clear who “owns” what on your team, and hold them accountable to completing their tasks by an agreed upon date.

As CSMs, I encourage you to stay involved in closing the opportunities you’ve generated. Many organizations elect to have commercial discussions handled by professional sales reps, as inherently there is a bit of tension when money enters the picture. CSMs by nature tend to inculcate a client-first mentality, whereas effective sales reps (as the theory goes) naturally think about their own needs and the needs of their company first. I believe this is an outdated mentality and set of assumptions, but this will be the subject of of my next article (so stay tuned!).

Regardless of your team’s configuration, closing opportunities that involve current customers will be more effective with CS involvement. Help sales create a better proposal or presentation, perhaps by providing end user feedback and testimonials, or by highlighting new client pain points that have evolved over the years. Sales and CS, working effectively together, can be powerful.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, my first on Medium. Please comment and add your thoughts on how your organization has found success in proactively creating growth through your CS function. For latest news and updates, follow me on Linked-In, where I’ll begin posting best practices and infographics regularly.

Passionate about growing and scaling companies by building an incredible Customer Success and Sales program. Writing on tech, travel, dance, and photography.

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