A Guide to Client Success Career Paths


Published November 16, 2022

Client success is one of the fastest-growing and most in-demand areas of the tech industry. There are many different types of client success career paths, each with its own set of responsibilities, skills, and knowledge.

Here's a guide to the different types of client success job roles.

Client Success Manager

A client success manager (CSM) is responsible for overseeing a company’s relationship with a specific client. Stepping in as a deal is agreed, their job is to ensure that a company’s clients are satisfied with its products or services. This involves guiding clients through sales into the support phase, ensuring a smooth client journey.

Strong, direct relationships with clients are the central feature of a CSM’s job. They work closely with clients to understand their needs and pain points, and develop strategies to improve client retention and satisfaction.

A CSM teaches their clients about the company’s products and how to get the best use out of them. In this sense, they’re almost a mentor for the client, helping them to grow their business using the tools the company provides.

Their key tasks include:

  • Bringing new clients onboard, talking them through the process and expanding upon their product training.
  • Acting as a communication channel, advocating for the company to the client and for the client to the company.
  • Building productive relationships between clients and the support team.
  • Identifying client needs and the opportunities they provide for the company.
  • Contacting clients about renewals, to make it more likely that they stick with the company.
  • Encouraging upgrades, upsells, and cross-sells.

Ultimately, the CSM’s goal is to help the client succeed, on the basis that this will lead to greater profit for the company. Like most of these  roles, it’s relatively new and has emerged out of the growth of software as a service (SaaS) business models. In 2020 alone, the number of roles like this rose by 34%.

Key skills include:

  • Communication.
  • Relationship building.
  • Analysis.
  • Deep knowledge of products.

Client Training Specialist

A client training specialist develops and delivers programs that teach clients how to use a company’s products or services. They design training materials, such as manuals, videos, and webinars, and conduct training sessions to ensure that clients are able to use the products or services effectively.

Key responsibilities include:

  • Leading training sessions for clients, to provide them with the skills and knowledge to use the company’s products.
  • Adapting training programs for different audiences, including businesses using different versions of the same products.
  • Developing training materials for their own use and for colleagues. These can include manuals, exercises, and presentations.
  • Updating training materials in line with the product roadmap.
  • Managing program evaluation processes, taking feedback from trainees and using it to improve future courses.
  • Training other training specialists, so that they can deliver courses.

As a specialist, a client trainer is likely to be called on by different teams to provide the resources and courses they need. They deal with a client just long enough to train them, then move on to the next task, but may work repeatedly delivering the same course or supporting the same products for different audiences.

Key skills include:

  • Verbal communication and presentation.
  • Clear, accessible writing.
  • Pedagogy, especially training methods for modern workplaces.

Client Engagement Specialist

A client engagement specialist is responsible for developing and executing strategies to increase client interaction and loyalty. They work with clients to identify their needs and develop plans to keep them engaged with the company. They also work closely with other teams within the company, particularly account managers and CSMs, to brief them on approaches to client engagement and to ensure that the company is taking a consistent approach.

The ultimate aim of this is to reduce client churn, as well as to upsell and cross-sell products and services. While an engagement specialist is less likely to make that sale themselves, they lay the groundwork to keep the client on board and make the sale possible.

Their key tasks include:

  • Developing an engagement plan.
  • Educating colleagues on the best approaches to keep clients engaged.
  • Collaborating with cross-functional teams to spread best practice.
  • Analysing data to see which techniques are working and which clients most need attention.

Key skills include:

  • Communication.
  • Creativity.
  • Relationship-building techniques.
  • Organisation.
  • Empathy.

Client Insight Analyst

A client insight analyst collects and analyses data to understand client behaviour. They use this information to develop strategies to improve client satisfaction and retention.

This is a complex and often technical job. The best client insight analysts draw on a wide range of perspectives, using a mixture of numerical data, qualitative information, and psychological insights to understand the behaviour of clients. They then turn this into reports with practical recommendations that help colleagues create better operational and marketing strategies. The aim is to understand what motivates customers, then use this in support of business interests.

Key tasks include:

  • Analysing and interpreting client data from a wide range of sources, including company databases.
  • Communicating the resulting insights to other departments.
  • Providing input to improve marketing strategies, and possibly evaluating these strategies in light of client behaviour.
  • Protecting the quality of data through quality assurance and setting standards.
  • Providing expert advice on the software and statistical tools suitable for other teams.

The high stakes and technical skills involved mean that there’s a lot of demand for good client insight analysts. The growth of big data and AI analytical techniques will only add to the spread of skills required in the coming years, and to the demand for analysts.

Key skills include:

  • Statistical analysis.
  • Psychology.
  • Qualitative data analysis.
  • Coding, including SQL.
  • Problem solving.
  • Presentation, to explain their insights to others.

Sales Engineer

Sitting between sales and product development teams, a sales engineer provides technical support to a company’s sales team and helps in explaining and selling technical products to clients. Like many client success careers, this involves understanding both the clients’ needs and the potential of the company’s products, to translate between the two and find new ways for clients to make the most of the products.

Sales engineers sometimes work closely with clients to understand their needs and match them with the appropriate products or services. This is often done in collaboration with sales teams, who bring stronger sales experience but benefit from a sales engineer’s technical experience.

It’s a job that requires more imagination than the title implies. Finding novel ways to meet client needs while translating between the different assumptions of clients, salespeople, and engineers can make the job both challenging and rewarding.

Key tasks include:

  • Meeting with customers to discuss and assess their needs.
  • Expressing technical possibilities and limitations in layman's terms.
  • Identifying ways that products can meet clients’ needs.
  • Preparing technical presentations on key products, for themselves or sales teams.
  • Making recommendations to and collaborating with developers to adapt products to client needs.
  • Using technical and scientific expertise to provide credibility to the company’s products.
  • Training sales teams on the technical aspects of products and how these can be used in selling.

This role is particularly common in companies connected to complex technical or scientific fields, where a higher degree of technical specialty is needed to understand, explain, and use products. Sales engineers may need to understand the specific scientific fields involved.

Key skills include:

  • Technical skills relevant to the company’s products.
  • Sales.
  • Working with others.
  • A relevant technology or science education.

Implementation Specialist

An implementation specialist uses their technical knowledge to help clients install and configure a company’s products or services. They work closely with clients to ensure that the products or services are set up correctly and are working, so that the client can make good use of the products and have a positive experience.

To do this, implementation specialists work with clients to understand their unique needs, priorities, and challenges. Based on this knowledge, they act as a liaison between engineers and the client, often playing a hands-on role in configuring the software. They customise systems to suit the client, importing data, modifying interfaces, and altering metrics. They may provide relevant training in using the system or help to shape the deliverables of training specialists. They are often the primary point of contact for a new client.

Key tasks include:

  • Gathering information on client needs while setting expectations with the client.
  • Helping the client choose the right products or services.
  • Turning clients’ needs into meaningful recommendations for setting up a system.
  • Setting up and testing new software.
  • Working with clients on system configuration.
  • Training the client team on new systems.
  • Acting as a consultant to clients learning to use new systems.

Key skills include:

  • Technical knowledge of software and coding.
  • Attention to detail.
  • Training skills.
  • Budgeting.

Account Manager

An account manager is responsible for maintaining relationships with a company’s clients. They work closely with clients to understand their needs and develop plans to create success for each client.

While a CSM is focused on strengthening the client and developing a long-term relationship, an account manager is more driven by the bottom line. Sitting somewhere between sales and support, their job is to retain clients and grow revenue. The role is often more reactive in its nature, and action tends to cluster around the time when renewals are due or upsells available, rather than communicating regularly across the client journey.

Because they’re developing less in-depth relationships, account managers tend to work with a larger group of clients, while deploying more limited resources. They are more likely than a CSM to refer clients to other business functions for support and are more likely to be involved in identifying potential new clients.

Key tasks include:

  • Generating sales, primarily through upselling and cross-selling within existing accounts.
  • Solving problems faced by clients using the company’s products and services.
  • Acting as a communication channel between the client and the company.
  • Building productive relationships between clients and the support team.
  • Identifying client needs and the opportunities they provide for the company.

Key skills include:

  • Understanding of business.
  • Sales.
  • People skills.
  • Communication.
  • Problem solving.

Client Success Director

A client success director is responsible for developing and executing the client success strategy for a company. They determine the path that will be followed to keep clients engaged and retained.

The director’s leadership is the cornerstone holding together the work of those in other roles listed here. They provide direction and oversight, coordinate efforts across teams, and find opportunities to improve.

While leading the client success department, they also work with other business functions within the organisation to cover the critical overlap between client success and all relevant teams. They also ensure that the client success team is aligned with the company’s overall goals.

Key tasks include:

  • Setting the strategic plan for client success and associated teams, including upselling and cross-selling strategies.
  • Recruiting and managing client success teams.
  • Liaising with leaders of other departments to coordinate client success efforts with sales, marketing, technical support, and product development teams.
  • Educating other directors and departments about client success efforts.
  • Optimising the client journey, looking for gaps to be filled and areas for improvement.
  • Dealing with escalated client issues.
  • Analysing and report on client success performance.
  • Building relationships with executives from key client companies.

Key skills include:

  • Leadership.
  • People management.
  • Sales.
  • Strategic planning.
  • Communication.
  • Process improvement.
  • Technical understanding of company products.
  • Analysis.

An Emerging Field

If some of these roles sound similar to each other, there’s a reason. Client Success is a relatively new field, emerging from the growth of the current tech market. The market and this field are developing fast, so existing roles are constantly evolving and new ones emerging.

Because of this, the lines between some of these jobs are very unclear. One company’s product manager might be doing very similar tasks as another’s sales engineer. The crossover in skills and duties means that there’s plenty of potential to shift from one of these career paths into another. Give it another ten years, and the roles may have shifted again, but many of the skills and responsibilities will remain the same. As long as software services remain important, so will client success teams.

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