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3 Project Management Skills All Customer Success Managers Need

Project management skills help Customer Success Managers rise

People have started to notice that similarities exist between Customer Success Manager (CSM) roles and Project Manager (PM) roles. This is especially true when you consider a CSM's on-boarding responsibilities and the CSM's need to foster inter-departmental relationships in order to get things done for the customer. Given these similarities, the question then becomes do CSM's have the necessary skills to succeed. Overall, there has been little industry focus on project management skills training for CSM's. To get started, here are 3 project management skills that will take your effectiveness as a CSM to the next level:

1. Requirements Analysis: Requirements analysis is about learning to ask deep questions and then shut your mouth. The point of this exercise, after all, is to listen to the stakeholder's answers: in this case, your customer's needs. This doesn't mean jotting down a few notes about the what or the how. It means really listening with intent to understand the deeper meaning and unspoken connections behind your customer's stated needs. Jane may say that she needs a monthly report with the latest adoption numbers but what she's not saying is that she stuck her neck out for your company and her manager is not pleased with the perceived slow rate of progress. For a CSM, the ability to sense and pull out a customer's unspoken needs can be the difference between a thriving account and a churning account.

2. Risk Planning: Under the account management era few people considered risk planning a necessary skill. The reason for this is simple, account management was focused largely on reactionary tasks. If a customer called in to complain, they were serviced. If a customer wanted to place a new order, they were sold to. By stark contrast, the customer success era is all about being proactive. Being proactive means learning to anticipate customer needs and guide customers to preferred outcomes. Equally important to guiding customers in the right direction is steering them away from the wrong direction. Learning to anticipate risk (positive or negative) and then proactively mitigate those risks will help you stay out of a reactionary, firefight mode and give your customer's their best chance of reaching the promise land.

3. Managing Up: Influencing people with higher titles and greater responsibility than you is an art form. One of the most important aspects of managing up is earning the trust of higher ups. Trust building with executive audiences comes from transparent and consistent communication. Execs don't have time to be in the weeds. At the same time, they need to feel confident that they will be consulted when a situation goes sideways or information changes. Consistent, appropriate, and to-the-point communication goes a long way toward earning trust and with trust comes influence. These same tactics can be used to earn the respect of your customer's C-Suite. Imagine how much easier your life as a CSM would be if your Customer's Management Team not only liked you but also trusted you. That kind of influence makes it much easier to navigate downturns and to guide customers toward the best practices and calculated risks that will enable their success.

Now, it's your turn. Email us at and let us know what project management questions you're dying to have answered.

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