Advice to a young CSM

I have been in the field of customer focus for over 30 years and working for over 40!  From time-to-time I am asked what have I learned and what advice would I give to someone early in their career as a CSM.  Here’s a few things (in no particular order) that have aided me through my time in customer facing roles.

Customer success is great schooling

A CSM (as I understand the role) is a business coach, a relationship builder and a sales person.  Focus on what the customer is trying to achieve and how you can help them.  Learn about the link between what your product does and the operational and financial performance of your customer’s business.  This is great prep for running a team, where you have to blend relationship, motivation and business performance skills.

Customers aren’t always right but they are always the customer

If you are a good CSM you know your product and the domain it serves better than most customers.  Be confident in your advice and firm in what you expect of you customers.  Your job is to help them get results and that sometimes needs you to take charge.  Brush up on your assertiveness and remember, always be polite.

If the CEO doesn’t get it, find a new CEO

I have preached this to anyone who will listen for over 20 years.  A former CEO I worked for, Sir George Cox, then at Unisys, said “You are either customer focused from top to bottom or you’re not customer focused at all.”  George practised what he preached.  Too many CEOs say the right thing but then fail to back that up with what they do.  Don’t waste your time if the boss doesn’t get it.  Go and find a CEO that backs up fine words about customer focus with actions and investment.  You will achieve more and your working life will be far more enjoyable.

“It’s your attitude, not your aptitude that determines your altitude.”

Borrowed from Scot Andrew Carnegie (of Carnegie Hall, NY fame) these words reinforce the importance of behaviours in shaping your future.  You need to demonstrate perseverance, humility, a willingness to learn and be open to change.  A good boss can develop the skills and knowledge you need to be great but only you can shape the raw material.

Be eternally curious – never stop learning

Curiosity is the seed of learning and one thing I can say after 40 years in work is that next year, something will be different and next decade, things will be very different!  I always wanted to learn new things; I still do.  Why do we do it that way?  How do others do it?  What are the things on the horizon that might make a difference?  How does this fit into the bigger picture?  Don’t limit your learning to narrow fields.  Most significant breakthroughs and ideas have been sparked from completely unrelated fields.  One topic must be on your list: how and why people think and behave the way they do.

Never be stinting with kind words when they are deserved

A pat on the back is only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants but miles ahead in results.”  Recognition need not involve cash, fancy dinners or trips away, although they may have a role to play.  I learned this from Alun Jones, former CEO of TNT Express Parcels in the UK who would send hand-written notes to employees when he heard of good deeds done.  I borrowed his idea and in one company, I had printed (at my own expense) some post cards with appropriate pictures on one side.  The other was blank save for a small message “Customer Success: Powered by Superstars.”  I would hand write thanks and congratulations to staff for their efforts and achievements.  I bet some of these cards are still on recipients’ desks.

Do your job well.  Give it all you have got or get out

Sports people say ‘never leave anything on the field of play’.  What they mean is don’t have regrets afterwards that you could have given more.  This ties back to the importance of attitudes.  Mistakes are expected, just make sure you learn from them, but not giving it your best is not on.  You are letting down your customers, your team mates and your employer but most of all you are letting yourself down.  If you stop enjoying what you are doing; get out and find something else.

Stick to your values and never jeopardise your reputation

I have learned that the most important asset I have is my reputation.  I shape that, no one else and it has an enormous impact, perhaps not immediately but eventually.  I have a clear set of values that I will not compromise.  People have asked me to do or say things that are not true or not are the wrong thing to do.  The easiest and sometimes the most profitable thing to do would have been to accede.  I didn’t.  You might lose a little in the short term but compromising your values will cost you much more in the longer term.  Your actions will follow you forever.  That doesn’t mean that I have been whiter than whiter but I would like to think my failings in this regard have been far fewer than the times when I have done the right thing.

Set your life goals and go after them aggressively

I am not going to give you a method for goal setting; there is a whole industry dedicated to that. Suffice to say you need goals and must implement the actions to achieve them.  Think of a hierarchy of goals; start with a ten-year, top-level goal and break that down into supporting, shorter term goals.  Don’t think about your top level goal in financial terms but what you want of life. Money is a means to an end. Don’t give up on your fundamental goal but recognise that you might have to change tack from time-to-time to achieve them.

Think before a big decision but don’t put it off

I have made a few big decisions in my time.  Moving my young family overseas for work, leaving full time employment to set up my own consultancy; starting a SaaS business.  There were always reasons not to do these things.  The act of making the decision brings a freedom; your focus shifts to how to make your decision work for you, whatever it may be.  Yes, think carefully through the pros and cons but the worst thing to do is to miss the opportunity by not taking the decision.  Remember, the grass is often greener on the other side, provided you give it care and attention.

I could go on but I think these are the key things.  I might write another piece about all the mistakes I have made but I am not sure there’s enough time!

Customer Success 2.0: The Charter

NOTE: Updated Feb 2018

In thinking about what was wrong with customer success, I started with a simple premise: software should be easy to use and deliver the outcomes customers buy it for ‘out of the box’, without other interventions.  When I started talking about this, some said it was idealistic and it was not possible.  Everyone has customer support and increasingly, customer success teams: it’s accepted wisdom; best practice.

I don’t agree.  I certainly don’t claim that product based customer success is easy but without lofty ambition, we all too often inflict bad software and unmet objectives on buyers the world over.  As George Bernard Shaw once said “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”  I’ll stick to being unreasonable.

I sketched out the broad brush of CS2.0 in the following statements:

  • Product is the primary vehicle for delivering customer success.  The need for a large CS team could indicate significant product shortfalls.
  • Product-led customer success guides and supports the customer in making the organisational changes they need (process and people) to best exploit your product.
  • Product/market fit is achieved when you have successful customers, not just buyers
  • A single view of the customer is a must have.
  • The CS metrics that really matters track the number, scale and speed of customers achieving their goals.
  • CS is built around a view of ideal customers common across the company.
  • Customer success is a quota carrying, revenue generating contributor to growth.

Not part of the core charter but in my list, I noted “If the CEO doesn’t get customer success; the customer won’t!”   I also added “It doesn’t matter what you call it; what matters is what you do.”

The seven elements of the charter will guide my blogging activity.

Do you think others should be added?  I tried to keep it to its essence but readily admit, I might have missed something critical.