The SaaS model of business is regarded the world over robust, scalable and highly profitable. The two main areas driving growth and momentum are customer acquisition and customer retention. Customer acquisition is typically spearheaded by the Hunters or the Sales Executives while Customer Retention is led by the Customer Success Manager and/or the Account Manager. Often I have seen that there is an overlap between the Customer Success Manager’s (CSM) role and that of the Account Manager (AM). While the AM drives cross-sells and upsells taking cues and direction of the CSM, the CSM on the other-hand has more teeth in the game since they drive adoption, engagement, education, retention apart from driving cross and upsells. This duality has often led to situations of sub-optimal work-flow, challenges from the Client side in that the Account Manager magically appears during cross-sells and upsells, and navigation through more than one SPOC from the clients angle.
The one question to ask is who among the AM and the CSM is competent to handle growth and the answer is both since the AM typically converses with the Decision Maker while the CSM converses with stakeholders across the spectrum including the decision makers.
The next question then becomes rather important. Who among the AM and the CSM is in a better position to lead growth and the answer now tends towards the CSM. The following paragraphs will now dive into more details in this statement.
The role of the CSM is to ensure that the client is able to reach the objectives decided upon at the beginning of the year. This entails the CSM and the AM to reinitiate discovery, ensure provisioning of products and services, Education, Adoption, design of the Customer Success Plan with clear metrics and milestones, embedding of robust governance mechanisms (Reporting, Operational Reviews, Strategic Reviews, QBRs etc) thus leading to renewal and growth. Its important to understand that the CSM has a vital role in all the above stages. The sum-total of time invested by the CSM in all these activities is far greater than the AM hence the CSM is in a better position to drive growth.
The resulting affect of time invested leads to greater face time with the stakeholders and hence deeper and impactful conversations. It is to be noted that the primary role of the CSM is to become the Trusted Advisor to the client and in this endeavour, the CSM becomes the goto person for anything the client might need be it additional subscriptions, additional support, customized programs, strategic advice, operational insights, sharing of best practices, connects with industry experts, executive connects and so on and so forth. This unique position of the CSM allows him/her to drive growth centric conversations.
360 Degree View
The CSM is found at all the junctures of a client journey be it at strategic junctures, operational or administrative. This provides the CSM a vantage point to have a perspective of the clients needs and requirements while also keeping in mind the strategic goals of the SaaS organization. The fact that the CSM invests considerable time, is seen to be the trusted advisor and is perched at a vantage point that provides a crystal clear picture of client and organizational objectives, enables the CSM to make decisions that are well aligned and objectively driven. The CSM has a point of view of the Decision Makers, the Influencers, the Internal Champions, the Program Managers, the Power Users and the End Users. This aggregated view is absolutely important to take informed decisions
The aggregation of Time Invested, Being a Trusted Advisor, having a 360 degree view ultimately leads to having a firm seat on the table on the clients side. The client, while driving complex programs and objectives, also seeks simplicity in the relationship and that typically takes the form of having a Single Point of Contact from the SaaS Firm. The CSM is at the unique position of being that point and this is not from the formal layout of the hierarchy (else the AM is the SPOC) but from the combination of both formal and informal paths of communication and engagement.
The sheer quantum and breadth of communications with the CSM and the client makes its far easier, simpler and confidence inspiring to have the CSM drive the next level of growth and cementing a stronger relationship which is a bedrock of any business strategy.