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CSMs are at risk.

CSMs are at serious risk.

Not because of recession but because of how a CSM gets positioned in customer engagements.

A typical sales cycle starts with the Sales team identifying a prospect, pre-sales demonstrating the necessary value of the product, and the services team customising and deploying at the customer site and the support team operating it.

What is the role of CSM in this chain? Typically CSMs are introduced at the kick-off of a customer engagement, when services are near completion and operations start. A CSM in their current role is, at best, a co-ordinator, a messenger performing non-technical program management. Even when issues happen, a CSM needs to take the help of Delivery or Product to unplug the issue.

Frankly, do our customers need such a function? Given the rapid adoption of Digital CS, Personalisation, and automation in eliminating most peripheral work, why do we need CSMs?

This question is coming up more often lately, at times of recession when most functions that do not directly add value are being let go.

Recession or not, there will always be a need for CSMs - someone who is a customer frontend on behalf of the company. Without such a function, a SaaS model will not be setup for continued function.

The question therefore, is not whether we need CSMs but how to reposition and rebrand CSMs.

First of, Customer Success Managers need to rise to the role of a consultant for the customer. This would mean that they are subject matter experts in the chosen field. Not any normal SME, but the kind that can say, "The Buck stops with me ." Which then begs the question, what is the difference between pre-sales and CSMs? Or what is the difference between delivery and CSMs?

This is where the shift needs to happen towards up-levelling CSMs. The CSMs must be people with domain expertise that matches up with the collective skills of pre-sales & account management.

Why so? Let us explore pre-sales a little deeper. Pre-sales is a function that bridges the technical knowledge and the hands-on experience that is otherwise missing in a Sales representative. Before winning a deal, pre-sales is the consultant in a typical sales cycle. Pre-sales is the technical authority or the domain expert.

Therefore, we need to start leveraging pre-sales functions into CS more than we do. It wont be wrong if CS reports into pre-sales and:

  1. Transition some of the pre-sales into a CSM role

  2. Merge pre-sales and post-sales into one. The new CS functions involve Consulting, Delivery, and Services/Support. The person in the consulting role is the erstwhile pre-sales, now continuing the overall technical account management & also the part of CSM into one. You call them CSM or whatever. But let the person in charge to solve a problem be not just a messenger. Thinks of something like below. CSM by itself is an integration of pre-sales & TAM, with enough help from Architects and service engineers.

This repositioning of CSMs and the removal of demarcation between pre-sales and post-sales helps organisations with the following:

  1. Earning and sustaining customers' trust because the entire team offers baseline expertise.

  2. There are no more messengers, and customers can look up to anyone on the team to raise concerns

  3. Value is delivered through uniform vision and understanding of the customer landscape.

It is time for Customer Success to further raise its value by cutting down coordination functions (such as CSMs) and putting real meat inside the skin. This will result in customer success delivering on what it was initially meant to be. A central customer delivery function that accentuates the value of the product, sales, and marketing all in one team.

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