What Is a Customer Success Manager & What Do They Do for a Business?

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Swetha Amaresan
Swetha Amaresan



Every member of your customer success team should prioritize the customer's needs and goals. That's why a customer-first strategy is essential for businesses, regardless of the industry they belong to.

customer success manager who's eager to meet her clients

However, how do your employees know what customers want and need? Especially when only a few of them get the chance to directly interact with customers. Even frontline workers, like customer service agents, only interact with customers who are focused on individual, short-term needs.

In many cases, it's necessary to hire someone whose job is to understand your customer base and focus on solving long-term needs. For most businesses, this person is called the customer success manager, or CSM.

In this post, we'll discuss what a customer success manager is, what skills are needed to be an effective customer success manager, and how this position benefits a business over time.

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Think of the CSM as a mentor for your customers. They explain the sales process and ensure everything runs smoothly after a purchase. If customers have a question, they can directly ping their CSM and work with them to resolve any pressing issues.

While the main job of a CSM is to build relationships, this involves performing a variety of tasks for your customer success team. In the next section, we'll list a few of these functions, as well as provide the skills needed to execute them properly.

What Does a Customer Success Manager Do?

The main responsibilities of a CSM are covered in the job description below.

From pre-sales to post-purchase, CSMs complete a variety of tasks and create a mutually-beneficial relationship with your customers. Take a look at a few of those responsibilities in the section below.

6 Responsibilities of a Customer Success Manager

1. Advocate for the company.

Since a CSM works one-on-one with customers, they have an opportunity to significantly influence your customer base. They act as personal cheerleaders for your business explaining to customers why you can meet their specific needs. This positive reputation will not only keep your customers satisfied, but it will also encourage them to refer their friends.

2. Onboard new customers.

Onboarding is one of the biggest priorities for CSMs. That's because it's extremely important to educate customers on how to use your product. Onboarding should focus on features they need to learn, based on the projects they aim to complete. This way, they can get up to speed as fast as possible and be one step closer to achieving their goals.

3. Follow up on renewals.

The job of the CSM is to create loyal, repeat customers instead of one-time users. This is why renewals are key for this position. CSMs should keep track of customer product expiration dates — whether they be monthly, quarterly, or annually — and follow up with customers to renew their contracts. Without following up, you risk potential churn which impacts your customer retention rates.

4. Encourage upsells and cross-sells.

Another way to increase a customer's lifetime value is through upselling and cross-selling. CSMs are dedicated to fulfilling customer goals, which creates an opportunity to introduce premium products and services. When customers are ideal for an upgrade, CSMs can meet with them to explain why the additional purchase will be helpful. Since your CSM will have a rapport with the customer, they'll be more likely to trust your team's advice.

5. Build relationships between customers and the support team.

There are some questions customers will have that aren't the responsibility of the CSM. Technical issues, minor product problems, and basic business questions should be geared towards your customer support team. CSMs should foster a relationship between customers and support, making it easier for users to solve small or short-term problems.

6. Be the voice of the customer.

As someone who works directly with customers, a CSM should feel responsible for advocating their needs. They need to have an in-depth understanding of customer likes and dislikes about your products, which can be discovered through surveys, reviews, referrals, and more. CSMs should organize, analyze, and share this information with other departments to ensure your company's decisions always consider the voice of the customer.

Now that we know what a customer success manager does, let's review the skills needed to be an effective CSM.

The following section has been segmented into two categories: skills that are essential to the customer success manager position and skills that are nice to have but won't necessarily make or break your career in customer success.

Necessary Customer Success Manager Skills

Below are the skills that you will definitely need to be a successful CSM.

1. Customer-First Mindset

Like any customer service job, the customer should always be at the forefront of your attention. Their success equals your success, and the more you can invest in their needs and goals, the more successful you’ll be in this position.

Building detailed buyer personas using concrete evidence from marketing analytics data definitely helps here — you can’t adopt a customer-first mindset if you don’t know anything about your customer’s needs and pain points in the first place.

Understanding how different customer segments behave and what they expect from a product or service is key to helping them achieve their goals. 

2. Communication

Customer success is all about proactive communication. The sooner you let the customer know about their opportunities to improve, the more likely you are to earn their trust and ensure their success. 

Part of this is being able to communicate effectively as well. If you can’t clearly define why a customer should do something or purchase a particular product, they’ll be skeptical of your intentions and will likely pass on the opportunity.

3. Relationship Management

Relationship management refers to how you interact with customers over time. Most customer success managers have ongoing relationships with their customers, unlike frontline reps who typically work on one issue with one customer at a time, then move on to the next. As a CSM, even if you solve one problem for a customer, you need to be prepared for the next roadblock that comes their way.

4. Industry Knowledge

It’s hard to earn your customers’ trust if you don’t know anything about their business or workflow. The more you understand the industry your customers are a part of, the more you’ll be able to relate to their needs and goals. This will also help you come up with creative solutions that are unique to the customer’s situation as well as their business.

5. Problem Solving

As a customer success manager, you’re viewed as an excellent problem solver. Customers look to you to solve their issues and clear roadblocks that challenge their success. In this role, you’ll need to think on your feet and provide solutions that satisfy both short- and long-term needs.

6. Managing Expectations

Part of being a problem solver is managing expectations. While you certainly want to meet every need the customer has, there are going to be scenarios where this isn’t possible. When this does happen, you need to manage the customer’s expectations so they don’t feel let down by the solution you’ve provided.

7. Empathy

Empathy is a core component of any customer service role. The more you can relate to what your customers are going through, the easier it will be to identify effective solutions. Even if you don’t have any experience in their industry or role, you need to be capable of understanding the emotions that customers are feeling when they reach out to you.

8. Active Listening

Active listening is the practice of listening to what your customers have to say then repeating it back to them in their own words to show you understand what they meant. Active listening builds rapport with customers because it shows that you genuinely care about their success and understand the frustration or confusion they’re going through.

9. Teaching/Mentoring

Oftentimes, the customer success manager is viewed as the product expert. Since you represent the company, you should know its products inside and out and be able to teach others how to use them as well. The best teachers can effectively communicate advice in a way that’s easy to understand, interesting to hear about, and relevant to the listener.

10. Technical Skill

Similar to the point above, it’s not just enough to understand your company’s products; You need to have a feel for all of the products your customers are using in their day-to-day work as well. This will give you a sense of their workflow and how you can help them utilize your company’s products to their fullest potential.

11. Reading and Writing

This one might seem obvious, but hear me out. Most CSMs aren’t working face-to-face with customers — unless you count Zoom. Most of the time, you’re emailing back and forth with customers and occasionally hoping on a call to talk through high-priority items. With the bulk of the communication being done via email, your reading and writing skills need to be proficient in order to be successful.

12. Strategic Planning

The best CSMs not only teach customers how to use their products, but also how to use the company’s products to achieve a short- or long-term goal. 

Take HubSpot, for example. Our customer success managers don’t just teach you how to use HubSpot, they ask about your marketing campaigns and your sales strategies, and they think critically about how HubSpot’s products fit into those processes. 

Not every product is used in the same way, and often how a customer uses a product depends on their unique needs. As a CSM, your job is to identify the larger goals that customers are working towards and provide ideas for how they can use your products to achieve them.

13. Time Management

In a perfect world, you would only have to work with one customer at a time. But, most customer success teams deal with multiple customers simultaneously, and CSMs are typically responsible for managing several accounts all at once. This means you need to manage your time effectively and be capable of multitasking. After all, you don’t want a customer to feel like you’re spending all of your time with another client, and that their success doesn’t mean as much to you.

While these are the skills that you absolutely need to succeed in a customer success role, let's look at some advanced skills that aren't necessary, but definitely nice to have.

Advanced Customer Success Manager Skills

14. Data Integration

We get it. If you’re like me, you got into customer success because you’re not a math whiz. The idea of crunching numbers and creating spreadsheets isn’t typically your cup of tea, but it could be the skill you need to convince a customer that a potential solution will benefit their business. It’s hard to argue with data, and the more you can use it to back your reasoning, the more likely customers are to trust you.

15. Persuasiveness

You would think that customers are eager to talk to their CSMs. In reality, some are skeptical and believe their customer success manager is really just a sales or marketing rep in disguise. 

In this role, you may work with a customer who often pushes back against your advice. In which case, it helps to have some persuasion skills that can sway the customer onto your side. Once you show them that your solution is the right way to go, they’ll start to trust you more. 

16. Project Management

Since you’re working with multiple customers simultaneously, you’ll need to manage several projects at once. Remember, your customers likely don’t know each other, so they don’t really care that you were working with another customer when you missed a deadline. Their project is what’s most important to them and staying on top of deadlines shows that you’re as invested in their goals as they are.

17. Creative Thinking

Not every problem is going to have an obvious answer. Sometimes you’ll need to get creative to find a solution that works for your customer. Part of this is knowing your customer’s resources and what they want to accomplish. Once you have an idea of what you can use to solve the problem, it becomes easier to identify creative solutions.

18. Cross-Selling and Upselling

As a CSM, you’re certainly not a sales rep. Your job isn’t to close deals or promote products, but rather guide customers to success. 

Sometimes, however, a customer can’t succeed without a particular product or service. If they have to pay for that solution, the CSM is one of the best people available who can convince them that this purchase is worthwhile. After all, you know your customer’s needs inside and out, so you can explain how that product or service is the missing link for their success.

If you're considering a career as a customer success manager, or thinking of hiring one for your business, take a look below to see what the average salary is for this position.

Customer Success Manager Salary

Here is the average salary for a customer success manager in the United States according to three sources: Glassdoor, Payscale, and Indeed.

  • According to Glassdoor, the national average salary for a customer success manager in the United States is $81,414. This salary can range from about $55,000 on the low end to about $126,000 on the high end.
  • According to Payscale, the average salary for a customer success manager in the U.S. is $69,699. This salary ranges from about $48,000 on the low end to about $110,000 on the high end.
  • According to Indeed, the average salary for a customer success manager in the U.S. is $61,660. This salary ranges from about $55,000 on the low end to about $85,000 on the high end.

There are some roles that are very similar to the customer success manager. These roles have the same responsibilities and description, but just a different title.

Let’s review some of those roles as well as their salaries below.

Customer Success Specialist Salary

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a customer success specialist in the United States is $51,573. This salary can range from about $33,000 on the low end to about $81,000 on the high end.

Customer Onboarding Manager Salary

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a customer onboarding manager in the United States is $49,105. This salary can range from about $30,000 on the low end to about $81,000 on the high end.

Senior Customer Success Manager Salary

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a senior customer success manager in the United States is $95,689. This salary can range from about $63,000 on the low end to about $145,000 on the high end.

Client Onboarder Salary

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a client onboarder in the United States is $90,551. This salary can range from about $63,000 on the low end to about $145,000 on the high end.

Customer Success Operations Specialist Salary

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a customer success operations specialist in the United States is $77,632. This salary can range from about $49,000 on the low end to about $122,000 on the high end.

Customer Experience Manager Salary

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a customer experience manager in the United States is $53,355. This salary can range from about $30,000 on the low end to about $96,000 on the high end.

Becoming a Customer Success Manager

At the end of the day, the best customer success managers simply care about their customers. They know what their customers are working on, what goals they have, and what they hope to achieve with the company's products.

Armed with this information, CSMs foster short- and long-term success by pitching new ideas for how customers can use their products and solving problems before the customer even knows they're there.

Apply for a job, keep track of important information, and prepare for an  interview with the help of this free job seekers kit.


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