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3 Important Differences Between a Customer Success Manager (CSM) and an Account Executive (AE)

For all of us working in the SaaS space, the constant barrage of new acronyms has become somewhat of a joke over the years. With so many letters used to describe simple job titles, it’s not uncommon for the base meanings of these roles to get lost in translation. This is especially true for Account Executives and Customer Success Managers – two roles that work extremely close with customers (and each other) and tend to be rolled into one when thinking about customer account management 

While Account Executives (AEs) have been managing customer accounts for many years now, the rise of the Customer Success Manager in the SaaS space has created some overlap – and confusion – between the two roles. The first thing to remember is that your team should have a dedicated resource in both roles working with customers as they have two very different goals. 

Here are three important differences between CSMs and AEs:

1. CSMs are focused on helping clients reach their platform or product-specific goals while AEs are focused on upsells and/or renewals. 

The number one difference between the two roles is the goal at the foundation of each: CSMs are there to help customers achieve their goals and see value with a platform while AEs are often looking to drive new or renewed business. In this way, one can look at the role of an AE as an extension of the sales or business development team while CSMs are fully entrenched in the services realm.

2. CSMs typically gauge success on metrics like usage rates and NPS scores while AEs are driven by bottom-line revenue goals. 

While the reporting structure of an AE and a CSM depends on the specific organization, the roles typically leverage department-specific metrics to track success. Because CSMs are usually under the Professional Services team, they track things like product usage, contact engagement, account sentiment, and things like that. AEs, on the other hand, leverage more sales-focused metrics like revenue, ARR, and upsell potential to gauge success.

3. While AEs are heavily involved during pre-sales, sales, and upsell conversations, CSMs manage the entire lifecycle of a customer account. 

One of the most visible differences between the two roles is the amount of time spent dealing with customer interactions and engagement. CSMs are responsible for the entire lifecycle of a customer relationship and often act as an overarching project manager for onboarding, implementation, training, and ongoing value. AEs, on the other hand, really are only brought in for the more ‘sales-focused’ conversations and engage with the customer on a case-by-case basis.

Determining how your team will handle the relationship between a customer, an AE and a CSM is typically done on a case-by-case basis. While some organizations like to have CSMs just loop in an AE when needed (like when a customer has expressed interest in a potential feature buy-up) other organizations keep both positions informed on the health and value of a customer on an ongoing basis. 

How your team manages these relationships will also depend on the way your customer success organization has developed high-touch or low-touch customer relationships.

You can learn more about the differences between Customer Relationship Managers and Account Executives with these additional ClientSuccess resources:

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