Sep 6, 2019

Read Time 6 min

CSM Confidential – Part 2: Dealing with Internal Challenges


account executive challenges

Being a Customer Success Manager is difficult enough. 

Based upon the premise that customer support should be more proactive than reactive, the value of CS cannot be understated. Between responsibilities like onboarding, advocacy, upsells and renewals, Customer Success Managers (CSMs) have cemented themselves as drivers of corporate growth. 

That said, thriving in this relatively new discipline is not always easy. Between difficult Account Executives, a lack of executive buy-in and other challenges, being a CSM isn’t always a walk in the park. Wondering how CSMs really feel about some of the intricacies of working in CS?  

Continue on to read our second installment of CSM Confidential – where real-world Customer Success practitioners give their unfiltered responses to some of the most challenging, frustrating and cringeworthy situations that every CSM experiences. 


Dealing with a Difficult Account Executive. You Know the One – That Coworker Who Treats Customer Success as Their Personal Secretary. 


For a CSM that’s occupied with the day to day requirements of account management, it’s frustrating to deal with an Account Executive who doesn’t respect your time. Whether missing meetings or treating you like a secretary, situations like this aren’t easy to navigate. Is it better to call out a misbehaving AE and hope the message resonates? Or are there softer approaches for dealing with a difficult colleague? 


“This was a problem I faced all to often at previous organizations. Difficult Account Executives and a lack of a salesCS partnership is detrimental to everyone. In fact, this can becoma major problem for any organization that’s looking to grow. 

One approach to consider is having new AEs shadow an entire implementation. They key is to get AEs involved from the Kickoff call to the Go-Live date – even if they’re just observing the process. This helps our sales counterparts understand all the work that goes into a successful implementation. It also gives them an idea of the day to day activities we’re involved in to keep our customers happy. 

Giving Account Executives a front row seat to the entire Customer Success process can make all the difference. In my experience it has helped our sales counterparts understand why we are so busy and why we can’t respond to every request.”  

-CSM, Cloud Software Company 


Another CS practitioner echoed these comments. They also highlighted the need for mutual understanding and suggest creating a living document that lays out expectations.  


I find that a difficult AE is typically the result of one or two things… miscommunication or a lack of clear-cut responsibilities. When you’re part of a fast-growing startups, these situations are bound to occur. After all, processes in fast paced environments are frequently made on the fly. Regardless of the specifics, there is some type of disconnect.  

Consider creating a document that can serve as a “source of truth” for your internal Sales and CS operations. This can take lots of forms but most importantly it should outline joint accountabilities and properly manage everyone’s expectations. These issues may just come down to a lack of understanding on an AE’s part – a document like this can go a long way in this situation. 

As a bonus it provides a medium that helps demonstrate exactly why CS is so busy. I’ve found this helpful when fostering mutual respect.” 

-Implementation Specialist, SaaS Startup 


Sales and Marketing Have Their Own Budgets… How the Heck Do We Get One? 


For a practicing CSM, it can be hard to remember a time where Customer Success wasn’t considered a driver for corporate growth. As the role has matured, more executives have realized that Customer Success is not just glorified support. CS has quickly cemented itself as an essential part of SaaS organizations. 

While it’s hard to dispute the impact of Customer Success, some organizations do struggle with appropriately funding their team. So how do you deal with an executive team who would rather invest in Sales and Marketing? 


“Your search for budget should highlight the goals of your CS team and how they can drive success across the entire organization. It’s important to frame additional budget as not only a ‘win’ for customers, but a win for other parts of the company (including Sales and Marketing!) This is where a ‘CS is Everywhere’ mindset can come into play. 

As a start ask yourself: What will additional funding help the CS team do (reduce churn? increase upsells? add efficiency to the team?) Secondly consider how these initiatives line up with your company’s overarching goals (growth, customer satisfaction and so on.) 

Coming armed with stats and a roadmap to success will help make your case. Few executives will say no to an investment that is poised to pay dividends.” 

-CSM, Cloud Software Company 


Our second respondent echoed this idea. Don’t just think about what additional budget can do for your team. Rather consider what can it do for the entire organization. 


“Regardless of your organization’s size, you’re likely competing with others for budget. This is even more pronounced in larger organizations where budgeting is a long, formal process.  

Many of us [CSMs] are no stranger to this – whether duking it out with our colleagues in support, sales, marketing and other strategic areas, the fight for budget is very real. 

When working to receive (or increase!) your budget, I take three things into consideration: 

  • The Company’s Big Goals (How can CS play into these or help achieve them?) 
  • Who Can be a Champion (Who can act as an internal cheerleader? Is anyone in particular excited about CS tools or procedures?) 
  • How Does CS Positively Impact Other Departments (How does CS support other teams? i.e delivering product recommendations to your Product Team, etc.)

 I’ve found that these are three concepts that help justify the need for a budget – they also fit in nicely with your leadership’s budgeting thought process. In addition, for those who feel threatened by CS, be sure to highlight that CS supplants their efforts – it doesn’t reduce them!” 

-CSM, Cloud Software Company 


Responding to Executives Who Don’t Think CS Is Essential: Why Can’t Sales and Marketing Fill the Same Role? 


Since Customer Success is relatively new, confusion still exists around the role. It may be tough for those new to CS to understand why Sales and Marketing teams can’t fill the same role. So how do explain how essential Customer Success is? 


“Commonly, executives that are not in-tune with the customer-first mentality struggle with the idea of Customer Success as a philosophy and see it as a potentially wasteful business unit. The most important thing is to drive the idea that Customer Success contributes to bottom line of the business – a concept that Executives (and Investors!) understand quite well. 

Remind them that it is much cheaper to retain a customer than bring on a net-new one. While other units within the organization might drive leads (Marketing) and close deals (Sales) – there is a critical third component that leads to massive business expansion – which is expansion of existing customers (Upsells/Cross-Sells) and Referrals to new sales. I would argue that Sales and Marketing do help fill some of the needs – but not all – of the customer. 

This can be achieved by the Customer Success mentality being adopted company wide. The customer experience does not start or stop with one department. Rather, all things must be considered: 

  1. Marketing helps connect the people to the brand. They assist in educating the space, identifying opportunities for teams, and managing a wide array of other customer-facing and public-facing collaterals.
  2. Sales helps to ensure that the customer is a proper fit for the organization. For example, if a customer comes in with a desire to get in the Wall Street Journal by purchasing your product but your solution is a Media Contact Database designed to give them an avenue – it’s up to us as Sales professionals to set proper expectations about what it would take to bridge that gap. (e.g. Providing the data while it is not guaranteed that they get that placement in the Wall Street Journal).
  3. Customer Success ensure that the promises made by Marketing and Sales are absolutely delivered on with your Product and helps to tie the entire experience together by delivering on the customer’s outcomes and goals. By staying close to the customer, intervening at the proper time to ensure they achieve their goals, and refining the process when something looks amiss is what will allow the company to grow 3x, 5x, and 10x. 

Ultimately, Marketing and Sales focus on closing deals. Customer Success focuses on delivering the end-result and ultimate value proposition as quickly and in-line with goals as possible.”

-Customer Success Strategist , Software Startup


Another CSM added that taking a conscious approach can make all the difference. As they explain, when justifying CS, determine what best appeals to your decision makers. 


Winning executive buyin is an ongoing issue for most teams. Sometimes we think about justifying CS as an initial obstacle. This is far for from the truth – gaining buyin is constant process. With changing corporate priorities, along with leadership arrivals and departures, you should always be ready to justify CS’s role.  

While investments in Sales and Marketing are typically a no-brainer, Customer Success is still emerging as a driver of corporate valuation. This problem is particularly apparent when it comes to startup. While budget may be tight, these organizations are often those that can benefit most from Customer Success. A lot of people are still learning the value that CS provides…thankfully the numbers don’t lie. 

CS should always be working to demonstrate their value and differentiate themselves from other teams. This is key to not be thrown into the bucket of “something sales and marketing could just do.” I’ve found that the best way to do this is to figure out how you to appeal to each specific CS doubter.’ Ask yourself – is this executive analytical? revenue oriented? customer oriented? Frame your argument through the lens that appeals most to members of your executive team.”

-CSM, Emerging Technology Company 


Internal difficulties can be a formable challenge for both seasoned CS veterans and new CSMs alike. Whether dealing with troublesome account executives or a lack of executive buy in, a calculated approach is a must when dealing with internal challenges. 

While there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to these conversations, take comfort in knowing that CSMs before you (and well into the future!) will experience similar challenges.  

Ready for more unfiltered views on life as a Customer Success Manager? Subscribe to the Fighting Churn Blog and stay tuned for our next installment of CSM Confidential, or check out part one of the series if you missed it. 

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