From the Experts: Climbing the Ranks in Customer Success Leadership

As the customer success field evolves, the need for management and executive roles has become crucial but often proves a difficult position to fill. Professionals looking to fill these roles must start developing strong strategic management skills and have a clear understanding of what it means to be an effective, standout leader in the space.

What does it take the grow a career in customer success? In our webinar From the Experts: Climbing the Ranks in Customer Success, the panel discussed tips to advance in your role. Elizabeth Italiano, Manisha Marberry, and Sherrod Patching all shared their insights into the question of:

What are the traits and skills you need to grow a customer success career, and how do you overcome challenges along the way?

Here’s what we learned: 

Customer success managers need to be data-driven

Sherrod Patching, Chief Customer Officer at Leadspace, kicked off the conversation around what skills you need to succeed in customer success. She noted that being data-driven is “incredibly important” so that you can “[look] at the data across your customers and [make] decisions based on what the data is telling you, not just based on fire, or based on potentially emotion.”

Elizabeth Italiano, Managing Director of WnTD Partners, echoed Sherrod’s thoughts. “I really believe you need to be analytical and data-driven.” She adds that being data-driven is particularly important “when you’re in a leadership role, trying to advocate for your customers, trying to make a case for your team, or trying to develop a strategy.”

Manisha Marberry, Director of Customer Success at Sprinklr, added that customer success managers also need product knowledge. “It’s important to have some technical knowledge of the product because if your role includes driving value and driving adoption, it’s much harder to do that if you don’t truly understand the products that you’re trying to get people to adapt to.”

The best customer success managers can think on their toes

No matter how great your customer success processes are, you’re bound to be thrown a few curveballs. That’s why Elizabeth shared that as far as hard skills go, “problem-solving is a big one. You absolutely need to be a problem solver and think strategically.”

Sherrod added that for her team, “how we implement something is consistent, yet we give room for them to be able to come up with creative solutions for customer problems.” This tells us that problem-solving isn’t just about going by the book; it’s also about being able to write the book as you go and think outside the box for tailored solutions.

To level up, you need to think strategically and tactically

While customer success managers work one-on-one with users each day, they also need to be able to see the big picture. During the webinar, the panel discussed the idea of taking both a “micro” and “macro” view. 

The best customer success team members can switch between strategic and tactical thinking and dicussions. 

“Being able to have a business conversation with a CMO and keeping it high level enough that we’re truly talking about vision and not talking about the nuances of something. And then literally in the next sentence [being] able to dive in and talk about a data point and the variables within a data point with maybe one of your champions” is incredibly challenging, adds Sherrod. 

But it’s such an important skill in advocating for the needs of your users as well as your team or organization, which is critical as companies become centered on customer success.

Empowering customers to do it for themselves

Another challenge that the panelists have faced in their careers is allowing themselves to be “hands-off” at times. Manisha’s background in account management at an agency meant she was used to doing everything for her clients. In her previous jobs, “anytime a client reaches out and they need something you are the doer, you are the executor.”

When you transition into a customer success role, Manisha believes that “it’s about empowerment. Truly empowering your customers to learn the technology and showing them how to use technology” is your primary goal. “I have to admit it was really difficult for me to let go of those reins, but over time I knew that if I wanted to avoid burnout, it was the only way, was to really see my role as a strategic advisor, as an empowerer of the platform.”

You have to find a balance to avoid burnout

The topic of burnout in a customer success role emerged a few times in the discussion. Elizabeth shared how she learned the hard way the impact of burnout. 

“[As a consultant], the way I was working with my clients wasn’t scalable. And I learned a lot about scale in that year. But essentially what happened is I was working 80, 90, sometimes more, hours a week and this was for months on end, and I completely burned out. I mean like crashed and burned. And it affected me personally and professionally. I got to the point where I recognized my quality wasn’t as high in my work, my resiliency was low, my positivity, which is usually pretty high, took a big hit.”

To move past that and create better habits for the future, Elizabeth said she “learned how to listen to my body, my mind, to take breaks.” Her experience with burnout made Elizabeth passionate about educating others on scalable practices, adding that “I don’t want to see anyone go through what I went through in that stage of burnout.”

One idea that made itself apparent as the webinar panelists discussed the progression of their customer success careers is that the role demands a unique combination of art and science. Being able to switch between the big picture and small details while finding the balance between helping customers as much as you can while avoiding burnout is critical to a successful career in this field. 

Want to hear what else the experts had to say about climbing the ranks in customer success? Access the full webinar From the Experts: Climbing the Ranks in Customer Success here.

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