Why CSM Positioning is so Important (and How to Fix it)

The customer’s perception of why the Customer Success Manager (CSM) exists in their world, and how the CSM is distinguished from other Individual Contributors (ICs) and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) the customer will work with, is called Positioning.

Think of it as the position the CSM holds in the customer’s mind.

Positioning impacts whether the CSM is viewed as strategic (or not), how the customers treat the CSM, whether they listen to the CSM, and whether they’ll hold up their end of the Joint Accountability agreement.

Ideally, you want to be seen by your customers as that proverbial strategic partner or “trusted advisor.”

What that means, is you want them to see you as someone that can help them achieve their business goals.

Let’s get involved in this…

Source of Inspiration

We started another 3-week CSM training program at Impact Academy this week, and for this course, the first week is all about Positioning.

We talked about what to do to reposition yourself if your customer sees you as only “glorified” support or just their assistant.

One CSM from Finland said they feel they’re positioned as a “problem solver” and that it’s super-frustrating to be boxed-in like that, not being able to really help the customer succeed beyond fixing issues that come up.

Luckily, our live training means we were able to brainstorm some ways for them to reposition themselves.

Positioning Matters

CSM Positioning is one of my favorite topics we cover in all of our CSM training programs because it’s so fundamental to the success – or failure – of a CSM and their ability to help the customer be successful.

It’s also something that the CSM can immediately start taking action on and quickly experience a positive change in the customer’s perception of them.

But it’s also hard to hear stories of frustrated CSMs that have been positioned poorly – by their colleagues, the customers, or even themselves – and how it makes their job so much more difficult.

You’re Positioned Whether you Know it or Not

Your customer will come to the table with a position already set for you as the CSM.

Everyone has biases they bring with them into new relationships – business or otherwise (whether we want to admit it or not) – and your customers are no different.

This preconception might be based on previous experience working with other vendors or just based on some made-up idea of what a CSM should do.

Sometimes Bad Positioning is an Inside Job

This is why it’s so critical that the CSM’s team members that work with the customer before they get to the CSM must work to correctly position the CSM in the customer’s mind.

Those responsible for positioning the CSM before the customer interacts with them might include the Salesperson, Sales Engineer, Technical Account Manager, and/or Onboarding.

Of course, CS leadership is ultimately responsible, since they set the positioning of the CSM in the minds of the rest of the company and explain why that positioning is so important.

That all said, the CSM cannot simply exist at the mercy of everyone else’s positioning (or lack thereof).

Control your Narrative

The CSM has an opportunity (and responsibility) to position themselves, either along with – or in spite of – the way other people position them with the customer.

And the reality is, CSMs positioned incorrectly – regardless of why this happens or who is responsible – will be viewed as simply glorified support, product specialists, the customer’s assistant, etc.

Once that bad positioning has been set, it’s difficult to change.

It’s not impossible, it’s just difficult.

It requires a deliberate focus and, ideally, a proven framework to leverage.

How to Fix Bad Positioning

If a customer sees you only as a product specialist, their assistant, a “problem solver,” or otherwise positions you inappropriately, and you want to change the way they view you and become more of a strategic partner, there is one sure-fire way to reposition yourself.

Get the customer to talk about their goals.

If they see you as simply a product specialist (which sounds fine until you’re stuck there), ask them about their higher-level goals so you can ensure they’re using the product in a way that will help them achieve those goals as efficiently as possible.

If they see you as simply a problem solver – which again sounds nice until they disengage because they don’t have any problems right now – tell them once these problems are solved, you’ll need to sync on their business goals so you can ensure they’re using the product in a way that is going to help them achieve their goals as, you guessed it… efficiently as possible.

Yes, there’s more to it. We literally spend a full week on this in our CSM training at Impact Academy.

But, focusing on their goals is a great place to start repositioning yourself.

About Lincoln Murphy

I invented Customer Success. I focus primarily on Customer Engagement. Learn more about me here.