The Difference between Customer Success and Account Management

Customer Success is not Account Management.

In fact, there are 9 things Customer Success is not, and Account Management is one of those things.

Traditional Account Management is old, outdated, and will hurt your relationship with your customers while failing to help them achieve their Required Outcome.

But I’m getting ahead of myself… let’s dig into the difference and why knowing the difference is incredibly important.

For context, on Friday, May 5, 2017, I did a Customer Success Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Facebook live. It was awesome. The video (audio only… sorry) is embedded below and below that is the transcript (edited for better readability) that answers the question.

Customer Success and Account Management

Benjamin piggybacked on Katie’s question. “What are ways that you divide work and responsibilities between account managers and customer success managers in organizations that have both? Also, what are ways to effectively map complex customer journeys?”

Benjamin asking a couple of questions in one question there. We’ll separate those out. The first question was how do we separate account management from Customer Success.

Account management, let’s be really clear. At least so you know where I’m coming from, when I hear account management, what my definition or what I think of it is really renewals and expansion, literally handing those account level functions of upsells, of closing more business with a customer, adding things to the customer account or handling the renewal.

The first question was how do we separate account management from customer success. Account management, let’s be really clear. At least so you know where I’m coming from, when I hear account management, what my definition or what I think of it is really renewals and expansion, literally handing those account level functions of upsells, of closing more business with a customer, adding things to the customer account or handling the renewal.

Account management, let’s be really clear. At least so you know where I’m coming from, when I hear account management, what my definition or what I think of it is really renewals and expansion, literally handing those account level functions of upsells, of closing more business with a customer, adding things to the customer account or handling the renewal.

Those functions have to happen whether it’s the Customer Success Practitioner doing it or whether it’s a dedicated account manager doing it. Doesn’t matter. Those things have to happen. That said, at some point, you will probably end up with either

That said, at some point, you will probably end up with either needing those functions to be done more frequently. More frequent expansion or more frequent renewals or you will run into situations where those things as you maybe move upmarket, move into just different industries, those things become more complex.

I always say if all it takes to renew or to add something to an account is to push a button, the customer success practitioner should do that. Who cares? As it becomes more complex, you might need to have a dedicated resource do that.

Really the only time when this matters is when those things are happening so often that it would take away from a Customer Success Practitioner’s job of making the customer successful to handle those things or the complexity is just too much for a customer success practitioner to handle.

Really the only time when this matters is when those things are happening so often that it would take away from a Customer Success Practitioner’s job of making the customer successful to handle those things or the complexity is just too much for a Customer Success Practitioner to handle.

You shouldn’t ever separate account management and customer success because you think a customer success practitioner handling renewals and upsells would hurt the trust with the customer. That is a garbage reason to separate them.

That is a garbage reason to separate them. It’s basura. It’s lixo.

I think the reality is if renewals and upsells in your company would hurt trust with your customer, that’s a bigger issue. You’re doing something wrong. You’re doing something customer negative. You’re being nefarious in your actions. Don’t do that.

If I am a customer success practitioner and I’m not comfortable with selling, I’m not comfortable with negotiating, whatever … By the way, if there’s really a lot of hardcore negotiating, you may need to have a dedicated resource that’s just really good at that, but again, it shouldn’t be about trust.

Trust should be there across the board. If we’re doing things that could hurt trust, it doesn’t quite matter whether it’s the customer success practitioner that’s hurting trust with the customer or the account manager that’s hurting trust with the customer, our company is hurting trust with the customer and that’s a bad thing.

What we want to make sure of is that we’re all doing things that are customer positive. It’s just maybe we need an account manager to handle those things.

What I want to be really clear about … This will help any of you that have customer success practitioners that don’t want to sell, don’t want to handle any of that, the renewal or whatever or if you, yourself, are a customer success practitioner and don’t want to do these things. Think about it this way.

I used to say renewal and expansion came from a successful customer. That’s not wrong because the reality is a customer that is not successful is not going to buy more. They’re not going to renew, at least not for very long. They might do that while they’re looking for another solution.

It’s not wrong to say that expansion and renewal come from a successful customer, but when I said that originally, what I started seeing, unfortunately, some companies do is to say, “Well, okay, if that’s the case, then all I have to do is find a successful customer and I can try to shove product and services on them when they don’t need it.” No, that’s not it at all.

I evolved my thinking there. I evolved how I talk about it. My thinking was always in line with what I’m about to say, but I wasn’t articulating it appropriately.

Think of it this way.

In order to for our customers to be successful, to achieve their desired outcome, they have to renew, they have to consume more of our services, buy more of our add-ons.

They have to at some level, at some point, expand their relationship with us. Our customers are always evolving and growing. That’s what we want. I don’t ever want a customer to be the exact same today as they are in a year.

That doesn’t make any sense.

My customers should be growing and evolving. Our relationship with the customer should be growing and evolving as well.

That is Customer Success-driven Growth.

In order for our customer to be successful, they may have to consume more of our product. They may have to take other services. That’s just part of their growth. That may or may not happen in that arbitrary time box that we call a contract.

We have a 30-day renewal on a subscription. We have a one-year contract. That’s just the financial contract that we put in place. Are all of our customers going to achieve their desired outcome within that arbitrary time box? Probably not.

That means in order to achieve their desired outcome, our customers will have to go past a renewal. They will have to go through some expansion. That’s just the way it is. That’s awesome.

If you are here to make your customer successful, you have to be comfortable with having the conversation about expansion, having the conversation about upsell.

With upsell, it’s actually relatively easy to make that something that just happens. It’s all about orchestrating. It’s all about managing expectations. It’s all about having that relationship and really teeing things up.

Ultimately, these things whether you separate them out into various functions within the company, it’s all within that relationship that we have with the customer.

It’s all about making them successful.

I hope that gives you a little bit more context.

About Lincoln Murphy

I am a Customer Success Consultant focused on Customer Success-driven Growth. I wrote the Customer Success book which you can buy at Amazon. If you need help applying Customer Success-driven Growth principles in your company or would like me to speak at your event, please contact me. Also, connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

Comments

  1. “You shouldn’t ever separate account management and customer success because you think a customer success practitioner handling renewals and upsells would hurt the trust with the customer. That is a garbage reason to separate them.”

    Spot on.

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