CSM Chronicles: The Most Successful Way to Challenge Customers

With Nick Maroun, Senior CSM – Strategic Accounts, Writer.ai

With over 13 years of Customer Success experience at companies like Airtable and LiveFlow, here’s Nick sharing his secrets to cracking the Customer Success code.

How do you define Customer Success? 

Until a few years ago, Customer Success focused purely on adoption and usage. This was rooted in the belief that it is important to give customers what they want – and to make them happy. 

But here’s an important consideration:  As a CSM, is your job to make customers happy or to make them successful?

As Customer Success has matured, there’s been a strong pivot away from focusing on raw usage and moving to value realization or ROI for customers. 

If your VP or executive sponsor can articulate why a customer should invest in your product and the outcomes it can drive for them – you’ve succeeded as a CSM.

What is the most difficult thing about being a CSM? 

Positioning yourself well enough to be able to challenge customers.

When I first got into CS, it seemed like the goal was to say yes to the customers. It was a struggle to get out of just doing what the customer wanted and to politely push back on them. You have to be able to both hold customers accountable and challenge them.

Any tips, tricks, or hacks you'd like to share with fellow CSMs that helped you uplevel or made things more efficient?

Focus on honing your business acumen. It boils down to researching each account and business extensively to ask yourself: What does the company do? How would I approach it as a founder? What are the key considerations for starting a business in that industry?

I also invested time in listening to podcasts featuring founders. Ultimately, as a CSM, you need to be able to think like a business owner or founder. Knowing how they think, speak, and talk about their business will help you command executive presence and make you more effective.

As a CSM, are there any things you dread or don’t enjoy about your work?

Building decks/presentations or project plans, sometimes even sending follow-up emails. 

I'm much more passionate about having human conversations – I just prefer to get on the phone and talk.

Any tools that you use in your work? Are you experimenting with Gen AI in any way?

I use Gen AI extensively for writing emails and building presentations. 

My biggest challenge is the “blank page problem” - feeling the pressure to get started. AI has been great for that – you give it a few prompts and you’re 60-70% there. Then you just step in to add the finishing touches.

The other day, I used it to help me with bullet points for a customer ROI framework I was building.

Can you think of a time when you did something out-of-the-box to deliver value to a customer?

A critical aspect of CS is that you need to advocate for the customer internally. 

In one of my stints, a high-profile customer experienced a series of product outages. Internally, our company did not recognize that this was a big enough problem – since the system was down only for a few minutes.

I raised the issue internally with the CEO and CRO to highlight the seriousness of the issue. I even had to get through to the engineering team and influence them to reprioritize the road map over the next quarter, to focus on the issue. 

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