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12 essential traits for every successful Customer Success Manager (Part 1)

The explosive growth of the subscription economy and the cloud as the preferred way of consuming software, hardware & services has made Customer Success Manager role the fastest growing job in the world! In the past five years CSM’s have come into their own as more companies either create new CSM teams or add them to their existing departments.

Either way the impact of this role on the survival and success of subscription-based businesses cannot be overstated.

For a business with subscription business model where 80% to 90% of the revenue comes after the client signs the contract, the vendor must remain engaged to ensure ongoing ‘VALUE’.  So enters the Customer Success Manager, with the goal of making sure that the client gains enough ongoing value from the vendor’s solution to keep paying for the service.  Furthermore, it often falls on the CSM to cross-sell and upsell new solutions by showing his/her clients even more value by signing up for new functions and services.

As tens of thousands of new startups and large traditional vendors scramble to beef up their customer success teams the competition in finding & hiring the right candidates has intensified. But what are the key traits you need to look for in your candidates and who will be best fitted for your business?

At Vital Strategies we have been helping leading technology companies on-board, enable and empower their sales & CSM teams with the right skills, methodologies and tools.  One thing is clear, a customer Success Manager role encompasses a host of unique functions and responsibilities.



Here I like to list 12 traits & skills I have found to be crucial to success in the CSM role.  You may use this in your recruiting efforts or leverage it in building your own set of performance metrics.

Since this article is a bit long I have broken it down to two parts.

In Part 1 we look at five traits/skills that I would categorize as Non-negotiable traits since I see them as  core traits that any new or existing CSM should possess.

In Part 2 (LINK) I will list seven traits or skills that I categorize as secondary traits as for the most part one could learn or be trained on them.

With that said, let’s get started with non-negotiable traits:


Non-negotiable traits:

1- Communication skills: The CSM job is all about working with others and generating the best outcome under circumstances.  This requires the person to have excellent communication skills (both verbally & in writing).  Listening skills is the most important element here.

As I suggest this trait is non-negotiable from the get-go, but there are techniques and tips that you can teach a CSM, such as active listening or understanding how to interpret body language to further improve one’s ability to communicate.

When recruiting you want to make sure you look for the candidate’s ability to express his/her ideas. You certainly could and should offer scenarios and examples where you see the candidate’s effectiveness in communication, especially under less than perfect scenarios.

2- Empathy: Having empathy for clients will have a big impact on what and how a CSM will do things to ensure client success. For me, empathy will come from one’s true passion for his/her work and desire to help others succeed.  Empathy will compel CSM to be proactive and anticipate challenges, take ownership and invest the time and attention to find the best path forward.

Even though empathy & compassion is a human characteristic, I believe that in a professional setting, the environment (in this case the organization) will either elevate or suppress this human characteristic through its people, processes, tools and most importantly its culture.

You can improve empathy by improving someone’s listening skills which will result in better understanding of client’s business & priorities.  In our Customer Success programs, we often include Active Listening training with exercises.

Another very important factor to help your CSM’s (and your sales executives) to better understand and conned with your clients is giving them the opportunity to walk in their client’s shoes and experience what their clients experience.

In many of our CSM and strategic selling programs we conduct customer persona building and Day-In-A-Life of CXO activities to get the attendees to better understand and relate to the client’s world.

3- Lifetime learner mindset: I don’t need to tell you how fast the world around us is changing and how much information is thrown at all of us on daily or hourly basis. We all recognize that if we want to stay relevant, useful and productive we need to continuously learn and adapt to an ever-changing world.

CSMs often work with multiple clients with different businesses and unique challenges that require new and innovative mindset, strategies & solutions. In order to help clients succeed the CSMs need to have an open, curious & agile mind that drives them to seek out best solutions.

When recruiting for the position you certainly want to know the applicant’s mindset about being a lifetime student and look for proof of proactive self-improvement and education such as certifications, social & community activities, progression in previous roles and relevant industry knowledge.

One of the theories that I believe could help in identifying the right candidate is the Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck.  Her research has shown that people often have either a Growth Mindset or Fixed Mindset, with the former being a much more suitable mindset for the CSM role.

4- Team player & collaborator: The CSM role is all about working with and through others.  Since the role involves touching on multiple departments and individuals with diverse interests and agendas if the CSM is not able to engage with and leverage all resources (both at client and internal team members) he/she is bound to fail sooner or later.

Being a collaborator and genuinely enjoying working with others are partly a personal trait but that does not mean an organization with the right culture, tools and processes cannot further support and enhance these traits.  In my work I have come across many organizations that want to improve collaboration and communication within teams and CSMs, however they lack the right tools and processes (or culture) to allow it to happen.

While recruiting for the role you really want to see evidence of the candidate’s past projects and experience in working well with others and listening to what they say and how they say it when sharing stories.

5- Positive mindset: CSM’s often have a broad set of responsibilities and are required to engage with multiple internal and external parties. This only means more complex engagements with ample opportunity for problems to arise. Without having a positive attitude and a ‘CAN DO’ mindset the role becomes a lot more challenging.

Like a sports team captain or symphony conductor the CSM is often leading and coordinating multiple people with different (and sometimes conflicting) roles. Having a positive attitude is highly desirable in order to look beyond challenges and envision a better future.

Being a positive person also is a great asset when it comes to socializing and engaging with others.  Nobody likes to work with someone with negative attitude.

Click here to see PART 2 of this article covering seven crucial secondary traits/skills needed to be a successful CSM.

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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