The Ideal Candidate
I would propose that a customer-centric, top notch sales professional makes an ideal CSM. Here are my top 10 reasons why (okay, 11 reasons), in no particular order:
1. Excellent Listener
An adept sales professional is accustomed to listening actively to the customer, including hearing spoken and unspoken issues or concerns. Often, even a difference in one’s tone of voice on a phone call can be detected. For example, if something seems off, one can say, “I sense this isn’t a good time, would it be best to reschedule?” Sensing what goes unsaid, and noting emotional cues goes a long way in building rapport.
It is critical to understand that the customer is always right, even when it clearly seems not to be the case. The customer’s point of view is valid as it is their perception – and needs to be heard and acknowledged. By digging deeper, one can understand how the perception (or misperception) came about and then address it directly.
3. Time Management
An intelligent salesperson understands there are constantly-shifting priorities, and is accustomed to juggling many tasks of varying importance. Time management and prioritization are critical and, as such, the best salespeople have an innate grasp of urgent and important time management principles*. This skill translates well to Customer Success. Competent Sales and Customer Success professionals make sure to handle critical and urgent issues, as well as important tasks.
4. Voice of the Customer
In Sales, as in Customer Success, it is important to be the voice of the customer. For example, when I was a Channel Manager supporting Latin America, I was the partner’s liaison to all departments within the company. This included handling issues with tech support, finance, shipping, and generally helping resolve challenges relevant to business in the reseller’s geography. On one occasion, there was a billing issue where the communication had broken down due to the language barrier between the finance department and the reseller. Things were getting tense to the point at which the reseller was likely to be prohibited from placing future orders. On behalf of the customer, and in part due to my Spanish language ability, I was able to get the issue straightened out and back on track. They truly appreciated my responsiveness and dedication. In fact, on their next visit to the corporate office, they presented me with a beautiful necklace as a thank you for the judicious support I had provided. It’s so key to be an advocate for the customer within your organization, so customers know you have their back.
5. Good Ethics and Trustworthiness
Unlike the stereotypical salesperson who would sell their grandmother to make quota, the most intuitive and strategic Sales reps understand that it isn’t about giving the customer exactly what they want or telling them what you think they want to hear; it’s about being realistic and transparent when it comes to what can and cannot be done. If you’re not able to do exactly what is asked, being attentive and sincere, as well as credible and trustworthy will go a long way. It’s important to set appropriate expectations; customers respect timelines that are realistic or even conservative. It’s always better to under promise and over deliver.
6. Dealing with Challenges and Unhappy Customers
Salespeople are known for having thick skin and being accustomed to receiving rejection. Being comfortable speaking with an unhappy customer and handling challenges by listening, understanding the situation, asking pertinent questions, and confirming one’s understanding of the situation before attempting to resolve it or offer solutions is paramount. Of course, follow up and resolution are essential as well.
7. Good Judgment, Reliability, and Business Acumen
An intuitive Sales professional understands the importance of meeting the customer where they are. There are times it is appropriate to pause and take a few moments to get to know your customer as a person, which helps strengthen the relationship. There are other times when brevity is essential. Following through on commitments and demonstrating reliability will build trust in the relationship. It is important to have good instincts and work independently to handle challenging situations, and also know when a situation requires escalation.
8. Metrics and Documentation
All Sales reps are accustomed to metrics and goals (AKA quotas!). Additionally they are (or should be) accustomed to documenting customer interactions in Customer Relationship Management platforms, especially Salesforce.com. It is important to know what has been discussed previously, as well as to plan ahead for the next discussion. It can also help when other departments need to understand the history of the interactions with the customer.
9. Finds a Win/Win for the Customer and the Company
The most successful Sales reps, as well as Customer Success Managers, are able to come up with creative solutions. Another example from my own experience has to do with email campaigns for resellers. There was a local reseller who really wanted to participate in a new campaign program, but was convinced that it would not work with his particular scenario. We talked through what would be typical, and he explained why it would not work. I then suggested a solution addressing his concern. He seemed surprised and said, “Yes, that would work!” As a result, we were able to proceed with the campaign. Not only was it extremely successful, providing several solid leads and ultimately new business, it also made him an avid enthusiast of doing campaigns going forward.
10. Technical Aptitude
Any credible salesperson worth their salt will be knowledgeable in the company’s products and be a resource for the customer. Without this, they will not be able to build confidence or understand how to meet the customer’s needs, while also meeting their own corporate goals. Being interested in technology and taking ownership, not only of initial ramp up, but also of continuous learning, is essential. In addition, it is critical to understand the core business of the customer’s company. The more understanding one can demonstrate of this, the better.
11. Enjoys People!
Superstar sales reps (and, I dare say, Customer Success Managers) enjoy interacting with people, including establishing authentic rapport by getting to know the customer and understanding what are the customer’s challenges and priorities. They are delighted by delighting the customer; they can recognize when it is appropriate to enjoy a moment of levity, to let the customer vent or to share personal information in professionally acceptable way.
If you hire Customer Success Managers and are lucky enough to encounter a former high tech salesperson who may have been a “hunter” in a past life, but is now dedicated to Customer Success, who is passionate about, and dedicated to, helping customers achieve their goals, while increasing your company’s bottom-line….I would hire them in a nanosecond!
* Versions of the “urgent/important matrix” are credited to Dwight D. Eisenhower and Steven Covey
Jane Higgins is a result oriented Customer Success and Channel Sales professional who is as passionate about innovative technologies as she is about helping customers be successful. She has a demonstrated track record of building strong relationships with customers, partners and cross-functional teams, which adds customer value and improves the bottom line. She is known for finding creative solutions and being a team player as well as having an unsurpassed customer focus and positive energy. She is actively pursuing her next job opportunity.Jane Higgins