Published March 1st, 2023
Client success teams are critical to maintaining and growing revenues, so supporting them is essential to a business’s success. Doing that means equipping client success managers (CSMs) with the tools and techniques they need to make their part of the business successful, and that means CSM enablement.
In this article, we’ll look at:
CSM enablement is the process of ensuring that client success managers (CSMs) have the knowledge, skills, and tools they need to be successful in their jobs.
Giving a fancy title to something so basic might sound like unnecessary jargon, but there’s value in having a label for what we’re looking at. The term CSM enablement provides an umbrella for talking about a range of processes and activities, making it easier to discuss these specific issues in this specific area of the business.
So what comes under this label? At a fundamental level, the answer is anything that can equip CSMs to do their jobs better. This includes:
To contribute to CSM enablement, it’s important that all of these come in a form that’s helpful for that specific job. Disability awareness training is important for anyone, no matter their role, and CSMs should receive it. But just because it’s training CSMs receive doesn’t mean that it’s CSM enablement, because it doesn’t directly relate to the CSM role.
So what is included in CSM enablement?
Briefing on the company’s products and services is an important part. Even if the CSM is never going to use these services themselves, they need to understand what clients face and how those products work. CSMs need to know not only the basics of the products but where they can go for more information on the details of what, how, and why. CSMs can’t possibly know everything about every product, but it’s crucial that they can find information quickly, or guide their team to the information they need.
As well as being informed about the company’s products, CSMs need to be trained in how best to support clients. This means learning about communication, expectation management, and all the other factors that go into good client service. Knowing all about the company’s services is of no value if you can’t communicate this clearly and concisely, understand what clients want from your products, or find ways to keep those clients calm and comfortable if there is a challenge.
CSM enablement is about the specific clients you have, not just the abstract version of clients that training is built around. To be effective in their role, CSMs need access to client data, so that they can understand client engagement and behaviour, not just around a specific interaction but in the bigger picture of that client’s experience. They need to be able to put the pieces together to understand and meet client needs.
And because client engagement is so fundamental within client service, CSMs need the tools to help them track this. Suitable software tools, feedback systems, and data are all important. It’s only by measuring client engagement that CSMs can judge how successful their efforts are, where there are areas for improvement, and how they can better serve client needs.
CSM enablement is important because it allows client success managers to be more effective in their profession. It gives them the tools, techniques, and information to be effective not only as direct representatives of your company but as leaders of teams who manage client relationships.
When client success managers are properly enabled, they can provide clients with better information and support, and can send feedback from clients to the appropriate parts of the business, providing a smooth and effective communications channel. All of this means that they are able to provide better service to their clients, leading to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.
But they don’t just do their own work better; they improve that of the people around them as well. A properly enabled CSM will enable their team, by training, advising, supporting, and guiding them. They will create a whole group of people better able to meet customer needs and to support each other in their work.
All of this comes through understanding the clients. CSM enablement can help client success managers to better understand the needs of their clients. They can look for patterns in the behaviour of clients, both individually and as a group. This allows them to develop more effective strategies for addressing those behaviours and needs and for giving clients what they want, sometimes even before they know that they want it.
This leads to revenue growth. We’ll look at the details of this later, but for now, it’s safe to say that clients whose needs are recognised and met will be happier, increasing loyalty and sales, which boosts revenue.
CSM enablement should provide everything needed to help CSMs succeed in their roles, from equipment to training to ongoing support.
This starts with identifying and supplying the best tools for their job. In the digital workplace, this mostly means software and technology, and can include:
To enable your CSMs, it’s not enough to simply accept the first product you hear of. Research the different options and select tools that are suitable for the specifics of your industry and your business.
As well as the right tools, CSMs need the right resources. This includes human resources, in the form of a team large enough to effectively service all your key clients.
There’s no point having top-notch tools if you don’t know how to make effective use of them, so a large part of the job of CSM enablement is providing CSMs with the training they need. Some of this may come from in-house, especially if you have a large enough enablement or training team to cover a variety of bases. But it’s often more cost-effective to seek external training, bringing in skills that your company lacks.
Training can include:
Think carefully about what information, skills, and attitudes you want to support in your CSMs, then seek out or create training materials specific to those. In the same way that there’s no point in training in an irrelevant type of software just because it’s a database, there’s not much point in training to support a mass consumer base when your role will involve a small number of executive clients, or vice versa.
But enablement isn’t a process that you can complete and then step back from. CSMs need ongoing support, if possible from a dedicated enablement team. How much support you can provide will of course depend upon the scale of your business, the available budget, and the professionals you can attract. But while this type of support can seem costly, it will benefit you in the long term, as the costs are recouped in improved revenues from satisfied clients.
We’ve established the activities that make up CSM enablement, but how can you go about creating it in an effective way?
It’s hard to work towards a goal if you don’t know what it is. A lack of clarity is likely to create inconsistency and frustration for everyone involved, so start by defining what success looks like.
What level of support will your CSMs have?
How will they work with clients?
What type of response will this draw from clients?
How will this be reflected in measurable data that you can use to check that your efforts are paying off?
Without a clear understanding of what success looks like, it will be difficult to enable your CSMs to be successful, so be specific on this definition of success from the outset. Share your definition of success with your team and check that it aligns with how they view their work. Make sure everyone is on the same page and ready to start.
Once you know what success looks like, you need to turn this into clear goals for your team to follow. These won’t just be the endpoint but will be the steps you take along the way. When will specific training be sourced and provided? What data systems should everybody be using and by when? How are you going to interact with the client success team and how often?
As always when setting goals, these should be SMART:
As we’ve already discussed, training in all its forms is a critical part of CSM enablement. Your CSMs can't be successful if they don't have the right training and resources.
Start by working out what training and resources the CSMs need, and divide them into two groups: fundamental and nice to have. Those in the fundamental group cover the essentials of the job, where things will go wrong if CSMs do not have those skills and knowledge. Nice-to-haves are the things that will improve your work but that you can do without if need be.
Having assembled these two lists, you should start by focusing on the fundamentals and making sure they’re in place. If, in looking for those, you see an opportunity to pick up a nice-to-have then absolutely take it, but don’t put effort into sourcing those until the fundamentals are established.
The first place to look for training and resources is in house. Look for anything on your list that you can already provide from within the company. This should be easier, quicker, and more cost effective to arrange than the rest, providing a great starting point.
Once you run out of internal resource, look for a place you can source from externally. You’ll need to balance quality against cost, but remember, it’s worth paying more up front if you’ll get more useful results in the long term. Results can be inconsistent, so prioritise providers that you or your colleagues have experience with and where you can vouch for the quality of what they’ll provide.
When you source training externally, you should also create a plan for how to spread the learning within your organisation afterwards. Getting someone who’s been on a training course to train colleagues in the skills they’re learned isn’t just a cost saving measure, it’s a way for that person to reinforce their own learning.
No matter how good a training course is, people are going to forget things they’ve learned, especially the fine details. Provide written resources they can refer back to later, whether that’s slide decks from presentations, how-to guides, or notes taken on an external course. That way, the learning remains accessible for the future.
Similarly, when providing new resources such as specialist software, make sure that the instructions are easily available to all team members who need them. It’s often easier and quicker to look something up than to work it out.
Once your team has access to the training and resources they need to do their job well, they can get on with the job. At that point, the role of enablement changes. While you’ll need to keep checking on goals and resources, making sure they’re fit for purpose and providing replacements when needed, the onus shifts to observing and influencing ongoing work.
It’s important to hold your CSMs accountable for meeting their goals and providing excellent client service. Without accountability, there’s much less motivation for people to stay focused on those goals, and much less opportunity to identify and remedy points where things go wrong.
Make sure you have a system in place to track progress against goals. Data on performance of CSMs should be available to you, to the CSMs, and to the leaders you report to. That way, the CSMs can track and respond to their own individual performance, and you can see how they’re progressing. Whether team members can see each other’s performance will depend upon the culture of your business and the personalities of the people involved. What works as a powerful motivator in one place can be a driver for disfunction in another.
Part of holding people accountable is giving feedback, so your processes should also provide a way to do this, including both regularly scheduled feedback and an approach for when something needs to be addressed immediately. Think carefully about how you’ll present that feedback, especially when it’s negative. You need to be clear and consistent, but if the feedback feels like an attack then the recipient is more likely to become defensive than cooperative, and it could sour your ongoing working relationship. Be ready to focus on the opportunities for improvement ahead, but willing to state the problems in the here and now.
Both regular feedback sessions and specific interventions can easily slide into focusing on the negative. Even when that doesn’t happen, human brains are wired to notice the negatives more than the positives. It’s therefore very important to praise and reward success, so that CSMs feel appreciated and positive about their work.
Recognise and reward your CSMs when they reach their goals and provide excellent client service. Draw attention not just to successes but to what specific things were good, so that others can take lessons and inspiration from them. Both publicly and privately, let people know when they’ve done well, as this will help motivate them to continue doing their best work.
Like many things, CSM enablement involves a lot of hard work. So what makes it worth the effort, beyond the satisfaction the work itself can bring? How does CSM enablement drive revenue growth?
The answer starts with better service.
By providing the necessary tools and training to CSMs, enablement ensures that they can deliver a high level of service to clients. They know what the clients need, how to deliver it, how best to communicate, and what to do when there is an issue. They’ll take a proactive approach to clients rather than just dealing with crises as they crop up.
This means that the client gets more of what they want and feels better about how it’s delivered. The client also has a more pleasant experience dealing with your company. This experience in turn increases client satisfaction.
All of this leads to increased revenue through repeat business, as clients are more loyal when they know that they receive good products and services. They might not know your sales and deployment teams so well, but their positive experience with your CSMs will lead them to trust your company as a whole.
Enablement can also make CSMs more effective at upselling and cross-selling to clients. Because clients know and trust them, and because they understand clients’ concerns, it’s easier to find both an angle for the pitch and a receptive audience. The clients you already have are generally going to be more receptive than new ones, as they know your company and understand the value of its products. CSMs can make the most of this opportunity.
With the right training and tools, enablement can help CSMs to identify opportunities to upsell and cross-sell to existing clients. This involves spotting opportunities to bring up other products or to sow the seeds of interest in services the client doesn’t currently have. It means noticing when an upgraded version of a product might be better and knowing how best to explain the difference. It means having a grasp on your company’s range of products and what they involve. But it also involves knowing when not to make the pitch because the client has other concerns.
Training CSMs for this can lead to increased revenues in a very clear, direct way.
Finally, enablement can help to ensure that CSMs are able to effectively retain clients.
Some of this comes from the simple impact of client satisfaction: the more satisfied clients are with your service, the more likely they are to stick around.
But there are also more direct elements. With the right training and tools, enablement can help CSMs to identify the clients most at risk of leaving the business. They can then take steps to prevent this from happening.
As well as identifying individual issues, analysis can be used to spot broad patterns and use them to keep the whole client base happier than they would otherwise be. Best practice and client delighters can emerge from enablement tools and training, strengthening the ability of CSMs to prevent client churn.
This means that you retain revenue that would otherwise be lost through clients leaving. It also increases your ability to make cross-sells and upsells, because more of those customers are retained and therefore available to re-sell to.
CSM enablement empowers critical client service teams to deliver exceptional service to their clients. This drives client happiness and leads to higher levels of client retention and an opportunity for increased upsells and cross-sells. To do it effectively you need to invest time and training, but when done right, CSM enablement can help your revenues to soar.