Customer Success | 6 MIN READ

Demystifying the Difference Between Customer Success Manager vs Project Manager

Customer Success Manager Vs Project Manager: How do their functions, skills, roles and responsibilities differ from one another? Read on to find out.

Simran Mohanty
Simran Mohanty
May 15, 2020


customer success manager vs project manager
Source: Medium

And to really get into an efficient customer success program, it is pertinent to know the key differences between the customer success manager vs project manager. Here, we shall be discussing some of the bullet points that illustrate why both the managers are needed!  

While it is a customer success manager who renders a real-time sales approach, constituting relations with the extant customers, he is also the one to understand the company and product goals in depth. It is up to the customer success manager to help the customer meet those goals on a daily basis.

Also, the manager must ensure to thoroughly understand each customer in order to champion throughout the entire customer journey. The role of a customer success manager (CSM) is not usually a fee-based service but rather a value-added one.  

Whereas on the other hand, project managers focus on the implementation aspect, implementing information systems to a business environment. Further, he also sees that the entire project adheres to the time frame and budget guidelines.

A project manager (PM) brings in a separate department which zeroes into resolving the potential threats to the company, churning out practical solutions for the same.  

Here is enlisted a few such bullet points to elucidate on the topic further: 

Goals and Objectives  

The prime objective of a CSM is to solicit help to their clients, aiming for higher business strategies. However, the goal of a PM is to get as many upsells, renewals, and cross-sells as possible. Also, CS managers usually have success metrics that are tied to those of their customers. Project Managers, on the other hand, have a pre-requisite sales quota to achieve.  

Both of these types of objectives/goals serve the same underlying purpose: which is to generate revenue and retain customers. However, by relying on different metrics, the two schools of thoughts differ in a surprisingly significant manner.  

Longevity of Time 

A CSM is involved through a larger portion of the customer’s life. Be it in implementation, helping customers set up the software as a service (SaaS). In contrast, a PM takes care of most of the actions, occurring near the end of the customer lifecycle.

Renewal, cross-selling, and upselling do not usually happen until a customer is already a steady source of income. They might be involved at the beginning of the process too, but most of their interactions with the customers are likely to be later.  

Management Skills 

Typically, CSMs look after the basic project management tasks in the procedures of extracting and delivering promising values to the customer base. PMs, delve into the more advanced project management tasks having a detailed analysis of risk assessments and project plans.  

Training and Development  

Needless to say, the manager who handles the department of customer success is more likely to have access to a larger range of activities, as they have more resources at their disposal through the customer lifecycle.

From implementation and onboarding to expansion and renewal, the vital role that Customer Success Manager plays is to render help to customer problems. This simply means it is a requisite to inculcate a larger set and success to more resources. For example, if a PM receives a request for providing training on a service or a product, they would most likely refer that order to another team dealing with the concern.  

Reactive Vs. Proactive 

This is one such distinction that comes up, almost without an escape when this particular difference between customer success manager vs project manager arises. A PM is rather reactive.

The actions are mostly dependant on the requests generated from the customers or it is based on a renewal timeline. This does not mean that they usually take a backseat or wait for customers to queue in, it’s just that it is more like a part and parcel of their work.  

Well, in contrast to this, it is seen that customer success teams are quite proactive. It is because they need to anticipate their client’s problems and thus have to be in close contact.

Most of their work includes reaching out to clients, finding out the troubling issues, and figuring out ways to solve. They also need to have an extensive understanding of the customer’s issues, goals and perspective. This will grab the highest ROI out of the given product or service.  

Measure of Success 

A measure of success drives a close call from both the managers. While, PMs have client renewals as their sole marker of success, mainly due to a paucity of differences in priorities and resources. Quite unlikely, for CSMs, their measure of success is directly tied to a customer. The customer success team is incentivised to facilitate benefits such as ROI and enhance productivity to impact the business in a positive way.  

Final Take  

As companies evolve, it is kind of expected to see blurred lines between duties, responsibilities and titles in between customer success manager vs project manager.

Both of the roles will continue to exist. But what really matters is dependent on the organization, the product, and the implementation lifecycle. At the end of the day, it all boils down to how is your company structured.

Creating the kind of a long-term relationship that a CSM seeks is crucial to generate customer loyalty and revenue. Note that some customers will defer to the PMs when it is time to get upsell and receive renewals.  

But the two are not exclusive – they both need to work as a team, they both need to be active and successful in a simple company. The vital thing point is to not conflate them in their respective roles.  

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Originally Published May 15th, 2020, Updated December 30th, 2020

Simran Mohanty

Simran Mohanty

Simran hails from the content marketing backdrop with extensive knowledge in blogs, articles, and technical whitepapers in the non-fictional domain. She uses her 'gift of the gab' to explore new possibilities on her way and to make an exquisite impact on her readers. In her spare time, she likes to read journals on artificial intelligence or play with her cute kittens. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here.

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