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Five Skills Every Successful CSM Needs in 2021– and How to Develop Them

Customer success departments have been through the wringer in the last year or so. This year has been nothing short of a rollercoaster from having to manage customers in a fully remote capacity to deal with multiple instances of unexpected churn. While it has always been clear that CSMs are built a little differently than most (dealing with customers is, after all, not for everyone), this year has brought out some of the best traits in the profession across the board.

Here are five essential skills every successful CSM needs to have in 2021, with tips and tricks on developing these skills this year:

Skill #1: Flexibility

Flexibility has always been a critical CSM skill, but the past 15 months have highlighted just how essential it is for customers. From pivoting project plans to implementing new ways a product can deliver value, CSMs always need to be on their toes. Being flexible might not always come easy to CSMs who often like to control situations that are, quite simply, out of their control. The next time a problem arises that brings some panic, take a step back and see if a slight change your team can make in a customer plan to pivot in a new direction.

Skill #2: Communication

It may be impossible for a CSM to be too over-communicative with customers or internal teams. Ensuring everyone is on the same page is essential for customer success, and CSMs are often the quarterback of sharing account information. It is a good practice to engage with customers at least once a week, or maybe bi-weekly if they are a more hands-off customer. Just a simple email reaching out to check in is okay. The same goes for your internal team to ensure things are running smoothly and that nothing slips through the cracks.

Skill #3: Relationship Management 

While this may seem like a no-brainer (CSM work is, after all, all about relationship building!), it is often surprising how many CSMs fall into the position as a next step or fall back in their careers. CSM work typically involves technical aspects combined with communication with customers and internal teams, making it sought after by many. But if you don’t have relationship management skills – aka being able to work with customer executives, communicating high-concept ideas succinctly, and mitigating customer issues when they come up – it can be hard to succeed as a CSM.

Skill #4: Sales (or sales-adjacent) Experience 

While customer success management in no way involves sales (this is more account management), it is a good idea for CSMs to have some comfort with having sales-focused conversations. When it comes to customer success work that involves upselling, expansion, and growth conversations, CSMs should be comfortable introducing these topics or speaking to them at a high level. Down the road, CSMs can bring in account managers to get into the nitty-gritty details. CSMs can work with account managers or their sales department leaders to expand their skillset and comfort level. 

Skill #5: Empathy 

Empathy may be one of the most essential skills a CSM can have, which has become even more apparent over the past year. Putting yourself in your customer’s shoes, seeing your product through their eyes, and experiencing customer conversations from their side can help better understand your customers and how they are engaging with your team. Developing empathy skills happen over time, and practice does make perfect.

Want to learn more?

You can learn more about developing successful CSM skills with these resources from ClientSuccess:

Announcing ClientSuccess Goals: Deliver Measurable Results for Your Customers

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