Do You Need a Customer Success Manager or an Account Manager?

customer success manager vs account manager

Let’s set the scene…

You started a company. Congratulations! You are part of a team that is productive, innovative and growing. Sales are soaring, and you need to hire some key team players to keep the momentum flowing smoothly and customer satisfaction high. You’ve explained your position to a couple of your corporate colleagues. Some suggest you need a customer success manager. Others recommend an account manager. You are not quite sure you understand the difference between the two positions. Is there a better time to hire one versus the other?

This article will discuss:

  • The definitions of a customer success manager and an account manager

  • The skill sets a customer success manager, and an account manager bring to an organization

  • Clarification of when it is best to hire for each position

To determine if company goals would be better achieved by hiring a customer success manager or an account manager, it is important to define each position. A clear definition of each working title can provide clarity into the skill set each potential candidate will bring to the table.

What is a Customer Success Manager (CSM)

A customer success manager (CSM) works closely with customers by observing their interactions with a product. The CSM will be by the customer’s side at each phase of interaction with the product to ensure that all challenges are addressed immediately and that the customer is left with a positive experience.

What is an Account Manager

An account manager oversees customer sales accounts by taking an active role in introducing the customer to new products and services that may support their business goals. The account manager will attempt to build upon each sale and service by maintaining customer relationships and sales quotas.

Different Skills, Different Certifications

Both customer success managers and account managers carry many similar skill sets. Relationship building is integral to both job descriptions. Also, most CSMs and account managers require a bachelor’s degree or higher to be considered for their role, so their median income earnings are quite appealing.

Customer Success Manager Skills

Customer success managers are data collectors and analyzers. They run programs to evaluate the interactions between customers and products. CSMs educate, advocate, and evaluate for their customer. Their ultimate goal is to garner brand-loyal customers for life. Customer success managers are highly skilled in observing and listening. Certification is not required, but it is recommended. SuccessCOACHING offers a notable CSM certification-training program.

Some of the skills required for a customer success manager include:

  • Working with clients to map out their goals and develop strategies

  • Onboarding and training new clients in the use of products

  • Assisting in the design of a product on behalf of a client

  • Leading meetings between clients and information technology professionals

Account Manager Skills

Account managers are product pitchers. They service a large number of customers and use tactics of promoting, selling, and upselling products to their clients. Account managers contact new or existing customers to sell products based on external research about a company or client. Typically account managers have excellent communication skills and do not require certification.

Some of the skills for an account manager include:

  • Demonstrating new products or campaigns to clients, emphasizing how they can help the client company reach its productivity or marketing goals

  • Managing sales renewals and leads

  • Serving as a liaison between a client and an organization's operational/internal teams

  • Working with other departments to execute a campaign for the client

  • Cross-selling related products to returning clients to complement or update products and services they already use

When & Who to Hire

Who should you hire and when? Hire an account manager when you are looking to build relationships that increase sales to existing clients. Hire a CSM when you are interested in increasing user adoption, expanding, and improving retention.

Whatever position best suits your company goals at the moment, hire someone who exhibits excellent communication, listening, and relationship-maintaining skills.

Key Takeaways

Your company is growing and you need to hire a relationship manager. Ask yourself:

  • Do your goals align with the product and challenges from a customer perspective? It would be best if you considered hiring a customer success manager.

  • Do you need to grow promote, sell, and upsell products to more clients? You probably should consider hiring an account manager.

The answers to these questions will help you to determine the best hiring fit for your organization.

Do’s & Don’ts

  • DO research your company goals before beginning a candidate search process for a customer success manager or account manager.

  • DON’T hire a candidate for either position without some experience, education, and/or training.

  • DO recognize the importance of each role in your company’s long-term growth strategy.

  • DON’T hire one person to fill both roles.

Sarah Pike

Sarah Pike, M.B.A., is a freelance marketing copywriter based in San Diego. She enjoys writing about business, fashion, food, healthcare, leadership, motivation and technology.