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12 essential traits for every successful Customer Success Manager (part 2)

Part 2: Secondary traits/skills

In part 1 (LINK)  of this article I addressed some key characteristics of the Customer Success Manager (CSM) role. I also listed out five key traits a successful CSM must possess.

In part 2 I am discussing seven key traits or skills I believe that a successful CSM should master in order to differentiate from colleagues and establish a unique brand.

I wanted to point out that just because I categorize the traits below as ‘secondary’ it does not mean that they are any less important.  It’s just that these ones are more of learned skills which by themselves are not going to make someone a true success without the essential traits listed in part 1.

6- Time management: Given the scope of the role it shouldn’t be a shock that CSMs will always have more to do than there is time to do them. Therefore, to be successful at the role the individual must be brutal in setting and following priorities and managing time.

There are people who are naturally more organized than others.  But I think you can dramatically improve anyone’s use of time through training, tools and ongoing coaching.

We include time management best practices and exercises in many of our Customer Success and sales ramp up programs.

7- Program management: as mentioned above most of CSM’s responsibilities are about working with and through others to achieve objectives.  This means that the CSM has to be able to effectively engage and manage many activities, people, resources and tools over time. CSMs need to have the experience and training on how to best set objectives, manage time and resources, delegate, allocate responsibilities, document, follow-up and achieve milestones.

Even though I don’t suggest that every CSM needs to be a certified project manager (e.g. PMP) but he/she certainly needs to have the skills and good sense of how to manage programs & deliverables.

8- Conflict management: When there are competing priorities and KPIs there will be conflicts along the way. This often puts the CSM in the center of having to manage conflicts among departments, individuals or organizations. For many of my clients with CSM teams, conflict resolution is a daily or even hourly occurrence that demands immediate and decisive action. The CSMs must be very comfortable in working in such environments.

It is true that some people are naturally better at dealing with conflicts than others. But the right training, practice and coaching could dramatically improve someone’s effectiveness in conflict resolution. Based on our clients’ requests we include conflict resolution in many of our CSM programs.

9- Solution knowledge: Trust is the foundation of any successful customer engagement. One way to gain client trust is to show one’s technical expertise in offering the right solution. As a solution advisor the CSM needs to know his/her solutions well enough to help clients make the right decisions and maximize positive business impact through effective adoption.

Teaching CSMs about solutions is probably one of the most straight forward challenges to address.  However, we still see many organizations failing to offer the right solution enablement through the right channels at the right time. There are many tools and channels to use in enabling one’s team around solutions.  It is mostly question of commitment and resources to make it happen.

10- Sales Skills:  The CSMs rely on their ability to influence client decision making, which is ultimately what selling is all about.  CSMs are successful when the client adopts and expands the use of the vendor services.  Solution expansion often will not happen without CSM’s active follow-up and influence of client decision making.  In other word, the CSMs need to possess sales skills.

Since Vital Strategies has extensive experience in ramping up and accelerating sales teams across industries we have a rich, structured and highly effective set of sales programs for the CSMs.

11- Executive conversation: some people (especially with technical roles) may not like what I have to say here, but I believe that long term real customer success can only come from positive BUSINESS impact and not technical or process improvements alone.

What I mean is that if your solution only makes a system run faster or process more efficient without improving other business indicators such as top-line, bottom-line or customer satisfaction then you are not any closer to customer success than before.  Understanding the organization’s priorities, missions and objectives requires the CSMs to continually engage and communicate with the executive level stakeholders. At the minimum initial adoption, scoping and QBR meetings should include relevant executive stakeholders to make sure alignment and executive support.

Having the skills and comfort level to communicate with the organization’s leadership is not a skill set that most average employees possess.  This is a skill set that needs to be acquired through training, experience and coaching.

In our typical CSM programs we address business acumen skills to help CSMs understand the basics of executive language.

12- Analytical skills: It is no surprise that CSMs will deal with a lot of data on daily basis.  Therefore, they need to be comfortable with data analysis and interpretation. CSMs often need to analyze heaps of information, turn them into valuable data and derive valuable insights that could lead to client becoming more successful.

A competent CSM will have an eye for surveys and customer research. He/she will use this information to build accurate client profiles, and view of their experiences and expectations. Effective data analysis empowers the CSM to create a more objective, data driven client success roadmap.


I hope you found this article useful.  Please share your thoughts and comments. Always keen to hear and learn more.

Mark Ghaderi is an author, sales coach, mentor, entrepreneur and social selling evangelist with twenty five years of driving business results across the globe.

Vital Strategies Pte Ltd. Provides Revenue Growth Services to companies across the APAC region, helping organizations to grow their top line through digital transformation and improving sales and customer success execution.

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