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Partners: Encourage Customer Adoption with a CSM

As partners become more dependent on recurring revenue, keeping customers becomes just as important as acquiring them. And in the cloud world, keeping customers is all about adoption.

Which means that you need someone on your team who is dedicated to helping customers realize the value of your solutions all day, every day.

While the role of customer success manager, or CSM, may be new to some types of partners, they have a long history in the Microsoft channel. In the Dynamics world, CSMs (with the acronym more commonly meaning "customer sales managers") have always played a key role in the organization. Yearly renewal of maintenance agreements, continuing education and add-on product sales were an essential part of the relationship with ERP and CRM customers, as well as a substantial revenue stream for the partner. With cloud applications, those same three drivers -- renewals, education and add-on products -- justify the role the CSM.  

The CSM's work kicks in after the initial sale. "The reality is that once the salesperson closes the deal, they need to move on to the next opportunity," said Kimberly Gordon, Microsoft's director of customer reference and advocate program for the United States. "There needs to be initial coordination between the salesperson and the CSM to make sure the deployment is going well. Then the CSM's role becomes very important to nurture a continuing relationship with the customer."

The role of CSM is unique in a technical services organization because it isn't a pure sales role and isn't a technical role. "A CSM serves as the clients' advocate, bringing their perspective to every aspect of the partner's operations," explained Tina Featheringham, client success manager for Pittsburgh-based MSP and Dynamics partner Vertical Solutions. "I am not sales, I am the technical person, but I bring all the pieces together."

"If the customers don't love the products, they won't use them," said Featheringham, who has a long and highly awarded career managing Microsoft customer accounts. "My job is to help them understand and harness the power of the applications."

Featheringham's most effective educational tools are the applications themselves. "While webinars with screenshots are fine, it's not like showing the function in action," she said. "I use Skype for Business for most of my calls. I can share my desktop and show them exactly what I am talking about."

With products that are in a state of continual change, like Office 365, staying ahead of your clients to educate them is no small task. "You have to keep yourself informed and there's no magic fountain," Featheringham said. "These days I get most of my information from following the Microsoft product blogs. And I spend some time every day going through RSS feeds to get the nuggets of information."

One creative way that Featheringham engages with clients is to ask them to keep a list of things they "hate" when they are first using an application. "Nine times out of 10, I can show them that there is a different or better way to do those tasks that they will love."

Staying connected to the technical side of the organization is critically important to success for the CSM. Featheringham works closely with the Vertical Solutions engineers to identify common issues that customers are having or to come up with solutions to special situations. Through their collaboration, a recent call to the help desk for support of an FTP site problem turned into a migration to OneDrive.   

In addition to the daily education of individual users, Featheringham schedules quarterly high-level meetings to make sure clients are realizing the full value of the applications. "We can add more value if we help our clients think proactively about how the software can help achieve their goals," she said. "These conversations go a long way to build our long term relationships. When we understand their business and goals, we can really impact their productivity and growth."   

For partners looking to grow recurring revenue streams, it comes down to math. You have to keep the customers you have while you continue to add new ones. More and more partners are recognizing the importance of dedicating resources to each of those goals separately. Salespeople who are good at acquisition are unlikely to be good at proactive customer nurturing. The CSM's role is to drive adoption of the applications and strengthen the clients' relationship with your organization. When done right, it's an investment that will pay for itself many times over.

How are you driving user adoption and building customer relationships? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share the knowledge.

Posted by Barb Levisay on June 01, 2016 at 11:38 AM