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The responsibilities of the customer success manager and account manager overlap but there is a whole lot of difference between the two. Read on.
With the evolution of product-based SaaS companies, customer success has taken an upsurge as a new business function. When it comes to the difference between customer success manager vs account manager, most of the companies mistake account manager as a traditional form of CSM. While this is delta true, there is a whole lot of difference between the two which do not overlap. And we are going to uncover that in this blog. Let’s begin with exploring both individually.
A customer success manager is the primary role in customer success. Their job is to fulfil customer success’ goal which is to help clients achieve success through the product. They work with clients hand in hand to help them navigate their journey towards product adoption, account renewals and expansion. They engage proactively with the client and always a keep a keen eye on their usage, should they require any assistance or enhancement in their experience. CSMs are the main point of contact for the customer and deal with whole lot requirements of clients to help them succeed.
Account manager is mostly relevant in service-based companies where they work closely with the clients. Their involvement with the client is limited during specific events like onboarding, QBRs, monthly calls or simply need-based support. Account manager do not get involved in client’s day-to-day operations and possess a limited knowledge of the client’s domain. Their territory is well-defined which doesn’t transcend beyond the scope of their own service to the customers. Yet, they act as a single point of contact for the customers and keep the authority and capability to get their jobs done when required.
CSMs and AMs vary in different areas of responsibilities and approaches they carry towards their jobs. The background of the two has also been different. CS is a relatively new function that has come up with the growth of the SaaS industry. Account management has always been present even in manufacturing or engineering services. Let’s see the basic differences between the two.
The role of any account manager is to ensure customers renew their contracts, upsells and cross-sells for the company. They are the main point of contact for the customers. They exist to solve the problems of the customers so that customers don’t have to deal with different employees. It saves their time from explaining the same problem to different employees.
Customer success manager is also responsible for all of these but there are some nuances involved. The main goal of a CSM is not all of the above responsibilities but just one – making a customer successful.
There must be a goal which customers want to achieve by using your service. It can be bringing efficiency in their process, scaling business or saving cost. Whatever goal a customer has, CSMs make sure that customers achieve that. They make customer’s goal their own. And when they are able to deliver on those goals, renewals and account expansion is a natural outcome.
Account managers usually come into action only when customers need them. Whenever a customer is stuck somewhere during the usage of the product, AM comes to their rescue. They solve customer queries when needed and keep the customer account free from any glitches.
CSM includes the same responsibility but the approach towards dealing with customers is different. They are proactively involved in solving customer issues and most often they enhance the customer experience. Sometimes, e.g. customers are not even aware that they are taking a longer route to use a product feature. CSMs can see that and guide them towards better usage of the product.
CSMs are not just there to solve customer issues, they are also engaged in customer education, customer onboarding, product adoption, and brand advocacy, basically in all the stages of the customer journey.
As soon as the customer is done with the sales process, the CSMs introduce themselves to the customer. From this point onwards, they are responsible for nurturing the relationship with the customer in every phase of the customer journey. They guide the customer along each phase and eventually lead them towards becoming a brand advocate.
AMs have an in-depth knowledge of your product and company. They are ones fully aware of the process involved in renewals, upsells and cross-sells. They sometimes get the technical issues also resolved for the customers, either by themselves or through a technical specialist.
CSMs are responsible for all of these points including a basic knowledge of client’s domain too. Since they are more involved in helping customers achieve success, they keep a fair amount of knowledge of their domain too. This helps them give contextual solutions to the client’s problems.
In the case of enterprise customers who tend to stay longer in business, CSMs eventually learn a lot about their business. They are able to see more holistically and comprehensively how their product is adding value to the customer’s business. With time they become adept in giving personalized solutions to the clients. This becomes a great competitive advantage for the SaaS companies that makes the customers stay for long.
They have to look into various areas like company, product, client and solution environment. Below illustration shows all the sub-areas under each of these categories.
Based on more than 5000 professionals sharing their salary information on LinkedIn, the average annual salary of a CSM is around $72,000 in the United States.
Clearly, if you will compare the salary of customer success manager vs key account manager, the KAM average salary is much higher. Reasons being, it is still more widely accepted role in service industry especially offering on-premise enterprise solutions.
While both AMs and CSMs are there to serve the client, CSMs have a wider vision than AMs. They are not just tied to their day-to-day service to the clients, but also to the long-term goals. CSMs have to lead the customers through various phases of customer journey and nurture relationships with them. It eventually culminates in turning a customer into brand advocate. This brings more customers to the company with whom the same cycle repeats.
Furthermore, CS is also a company-wide philosophy. Hence, CSMs often collaborate with marketing and sales teams to bring more relevant customers. This increases the customer lifetime value which has a direct impact on the valuation of your company.
And finally, the product management team is not left behind to incorporate customer success values. CSMs collaborate with product managers too to share the feedback of the end-users. Based on this feedback, the product management plans for the release of new features and re-adjust their roadmap if needed.
The simple answer is Yes. Customer success managers are responsible for building long-term relationships with clients. When they are involved in giving solutions to the clients, their goals should be clear – to help clients achieve success.
However, when CSMs are also involved in negotiations with clients for upsells and cross-sells, the client trust is affected. Clients might think that CSMs are involved in helping them only with an intention of business expansion. While this is true indirectly, CSMs role is to genuinely help clients. The upsells and cross-sells negotiation must be left to the account manager.
Account managers can be a good source of help for resolving customer issues instead of CSMs who are proactively involved in keeping customers happy. A good CSM makes the life of an AM easier and vice-versa. Hence, both the roles can work in tandem to facilitate the growth of a customer account.
Q 1: Who earns more money: customer success manager or account manager?
A 1: The pay scale of both these designations are totally contingent upon the industry type, the location you are working, and the type of organization (MNCs or small-scale organization). In the ideal world, it has been found that account managers have a much higher package than customer success managers. The reason for that is they work in sales, where they have the opportunity to earn more incentives for the success of each account.
Q 2: Which is the more popular designation of the two: customer success manager or account manager?
A 2: Customer success still has not reached its due in the industry, but its time will come in the near future. But, at present, account managers are considered today’s salespeople. Due to their role and the pay scale involved, account managers are more popular than customer success managers in specific scenarios. But customer success is slowly but gradually growing in prominence. We will see its popularity grow to new heights in the coming years.
Q 3: Should account management be part of customer success?
A 3: As we have already looked at the difference between account managers and customer success managers, both the designations are poles apart. Hence, if you try to make account management a part of customer success, it will only harm the results achieved by both departments individually. The best thing for an organization is to have two separate fields of disciplines with different designations for it to reach new heights.
Companies must avoid repainting the account manager role to a customer success manager. While few of the responsibilities overlap, a customer success manager role is constantly evolving.. Companies must form a new team for customer success instead of restructuring their old models.34
Account management has served well in traditional settings and can continue to do so. But when it comes to SaaS companies, customer success is indispensable. All the core responsibilities of customer success managers have evolved to address the common challenges of a modern SaaS company. Hence, the ideal solution would be to keep both the roles if companies can afford it. If not, then going with the customer success solution is a more advantageous position.
Shivani is a talented CS manager with the skillsets to elicit, scope and manage end-to-end B2B SaaS project delivery. She has a keen interest in depicting her learnings in customer success by writing resourceful blogs and articles.
Published October 20, 2020, Updated March 01, 2023
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