Recognizing Your Own Impact
I will never forget a number of years ago back when I was at Eloqua and was called into my manager’s office. I was first worried that I had done something wrong. I had been toiling away with a number of our smaller customers in the Austin, Texas area working many long days and nights. I was slightly surprised to hear that my role was now changing. I was asked to step up and manage some of our largest and most valuable enterprise customers. I remember being extremely excited yet slightly terrified.
I think what I enjoyed the most about the moment was the recognition for my hard work and the passion that I had for the company and our customers. I didn’t really think much about how I had achieved that milestone at the time – it just sort of happened. I knew our clients were achieving value but wasn’t conscious of what exactly of my own impact. It wasn’t until years later after I became a leader and coached others that I understood some of the elements that led to that role change. There were a combination of elements that I instinctively did that every CSM should be aware of. I wanted to share those with others in this post.
Myth: Career Progression Means Moving Up the Ladder
I had the pleasure of interviewing some of the best and brightest leaders in Customer Success in NYC recently. This panel included: Samantha Burkley, Senior Client Success Manager at Updater; Malicia Basdeo, Director, Strategic Accounts at Bitly; and Elizabeth Quispe, Director, Customer Success at Alpha. While it’s clear that the profession of Customer Success is on the rise as evidenced by LinkedIn’s recent most promising jobs report, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to land a job. It also doesn’t mean that it’s easy to progress in your role. Hard work alone isn’t going to cut it.
After reflecting on my conversation with these three amazing people, it became clearer to me what I didn’t realize way back when I was grinding away with my Austin clients at Eloqua. Here it is: there is no clear career path in the world of Customer Success. You shouldn’t look at your career as a ladder but more of a climbing wall. You need to focus on building your skills – hard and soft – and understanding where your strengths are. Here is the advice that Sam, Malicia and Elizabeth shared from their own careers. I hope you enjoy it.
20 Ways to Accelerate Your Career in Customer Success
1. Be Curious
Elizabeth outlined how she dove into the bowels of the Smartling product when she started there to learn the intricacies and hidden best practices. This is all about being curious. As Elizabeth mentioned during our conversation “always try and find out more and more”.
2. Leverage Your Strengths
You may be skilled in customer service from your job in the food industry or you may have deep domain experience from a prior role. Whatever it is, use those strengths and be confident in them. Malicia described how she used her domain experience in fashion to break into one of her first roles. Use what you have and keep learning.
3. Keep Learning
It’s hard to make the time to learn new skills or hone existing skills. Guess what? No one said it would be easy. There are no hacks to accelerating your career. You must keep learning. To be a better customer success manager, review the amazing webinars, recorded presentations, blog posts and now books that are out there. Learn about the industries of your clients (this helps build trust) and read up on tools that may make your job easier. Work with your manager on personal learning goals and get someone to keep you accountable to these (accountability partners).
4. Become a Trusted Advisor
Sam described how she built trust with her clients by demonstrating her knowledge of Updater’s products and helping them achieve their desired outcomes. She became an expert not only on the Updater product but also the industry of her customers.. It’s also important to become a trusted advisor within your organization. Become that person that others can depend upon and set the example for others to follow.
5. Be Prepared
One of the main differences between a low and high performing CSM is how prepared they are. Plan out your week ahead of time. Know which customers you need to meet with and what prep is required to make the meeting successful. During an interview, you may be asked by each interviewer if you have questions for them. Know who you are speaking with and come prepared with unique questions. Companies want to see your preparedness as it’s critical to the role. Don’t stumble your way through each day – plan ahead and be ready.
6. Be Creative
There is no clear definition on what it means to be a CSM. You need to think outside the box and try different tactics. As Elizabeth explained, the more creative we are, the better the chances we can make the CSM role something we truly enjoy. Always be creative and think about how you can make your role better for your company, your customers and for you.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Have Tough Conversations
If you are afraid to confront people both internally within your organization or externally within your customer or partner organizations, you won’t get very far. I learned from my conversations with Malicia and Elizabeth that you shouldn’t fear these tough conversations as long as you are respectful and set the right expectations. They weren’t afraid to have those tough conversations and either should you.
8. Set the Right Expectations
Elizabeth described how she was too transparent at times with clients. She would relay incorrect timelines on when a new feature would be ready as an example. She learned to underpromise and overdeliver by providing more realistic timelines and setting the right expectations.
9. Ask for Help
Sam described a situation when she asked her manager for advice to create a strategic plan for one of her company’s largest customers. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness – it’s a demonstration of strength and trust. Done correctly, seeking advice from others will build bonds with others and accelerate your skill growth. This also applies to leaders – ask your team for assistance and input. Show some vulnerability. In Sam’s case, the client really appreciated the approach she outlined which led to massive expansion. This leads to our next item on getting results.
10. Get Results
To stand out and gain trust with management you need to deliver and “show them the money!” Elizabeth recalled how she took the initiative to get customer references for sales and customer case studies for marketing. This brings value to your company and gets you noticed. Always think about what the business needs – it may not be explicitly written in your job description.
11. Show Initiative
In order to get the best results in your current role, you need to take the bull by the horns. No one asked Elizabeth to get case studies or references – she went after them as she knew they would be valuable to the business. When Malicia was handed her new accounts, she reached out proactively to her client contacts and ensured they were set up for success.
12. Build Relationships Across the Company
An early mentor of mine, Jeff Pedowitz, gave me some of the best advice of my career. He told me to go to other departments and ask them how I could help them. This not only builds relationships with other teams and helps you gain influence, it can also give you exposure to new roles that you never knew existed and guide you along the climbing wall of your career.
13. Don’t Make a Rushed Hire
While it may be tempting to fill a new role right away, you need to ensure that you are following a thorough recruitment process. Don’t hurry through the interview process. Elizabeth mentioned that hiring the wrong person can have a detrimental impact on the team and you will regret it later.
14. Lead From the Front
If there are major changes occurring within your company such as a key person leaving, a downward spike in churn or a new competitor that came out of nowhere, you can bet that your team is aware of it and probably scared. It’s at these times when leaders need to be front and center to address questions and be that calming voice. As Malicia said, “as a leader, you need to step forward”. Even if you aren’t the official leader, you can set the right example by taking on a new initiative to address a downward trend, offer help if other departments need it or just stay positive and prevent others from freaking out.
15. Stay Humble and Be Gracious
While you do want to stand out, always and I mean always keep your ego in check. If you are having an impact, people will know and you will get the recognition you deserve. In addition, Sam reminded everyone to demonstrate gratitude and thank those that have helped you along the way.
16. Be Available to Your Team
As a leader, people are counting on you and you can’t just be heads down or have your earphones in. You need to seek out input from others as well as make time to interact with the rest of your team. People are counting on you and you need to be there for them.
17. Network and Learn from Others
You need to broaden your perspective by going outside your work circle to seek advice. As an example, Sam meets with peers outside of Customer Success to understand how they tackle certain challenges. Elizabeth reaches out to Customer Success professionals around the world and offers assistance first before asking for it. As she says, you need to “give something to get something”.
18. Be Adaptable
Customer Success is changing all the time. As Malicia explained, that’s what makes it so exciting but you need to be flexible and adapt. This is inline with Carol Dweck’s theory of having a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. You need to be open to change if you want to grow.
19. Be Patient
To build the right skills and habits of a high performing CSM takes time. Experience must be earned. At times, you will need to put your company and team before your own goals. Be patient, work hard, focus on the right things and it will payoff for you in spades. Remember: think of your career like a climbing wall, and not a ladder.
20. Keep Challenging Yourself
Sam wrapped up our session with the advice of “keep challenging yourself”. I thought this was the best advice of all. You should never settle if you want to progress your career.
I’m not saying that you need to follow all 20 of these tips correctly to progress in your career. I definitely made my own mistakes along the way and still do. You should be aware of them though, and consciously incorporate as many of you can into your day to day if you truly want to grow. To echo Sam’s last point of challenging yourself, you need to keep learning, keep pushing, stay focused, and stay curious. Expose yourself to as many areas within your company as you can so you can gain experience and influence.
Where you go from here is really up to you. Get your climbing gear on and get out there. I wish you the best of luck.
Chad is a Customer Success executive with 15+ years experience building and developing high performing Customer Success teams. Currently, he is the Vice President of Client Success at Updater. Prior to Updater, Chad has held CS leadership positions at Bluecore, Influitive and Oracle (Eloqua). Chad has been named to Mindtouch’s top 25 Customer Success Influencer list in 2017 and 2018. He writes regularly on the topic of Customer Success on his blog The Enlightened Customer.Chad Horenfeldt