Many Customer Success leaders think that their team should not sell. This is wrong and holds them back. For Customer Success to have a seat at the table, they should own revenue.

We have launched and transformed several Customer Success teams. Typically, for new teams, the focus should be on onboarding, value messaging, and renewals. To effectively execute on this, we develop the talent profiles, build playbooks for the team, and design compensation plans. But many Customer Success leaders stop there, even in their long-term views. When we show a roadmap to where a Customer Success team handles the expansion sale, we consistently hear “my team can’t sell, because then we will not be trusted advisors.” For Customer Success leaders to be credible with the commercial leadership team, this hesitation is something they must overcome. Customer Success professionals can be trusted advisors and contribute to revenue.



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How Do We Define a Trusted Advisor?


Let’s examine the “Trusted Advisor” definition, by David Maister. The three components are Credibility, Reliability, and Intimacy. Customer Success professionals are uniquely positioned, relative to traditional account managers.


Credibility – Customer Success professionals have industry experience, and many times have done their client’s jobs.

Reliability – Customer Success professionals have many regular interactions with clients, which provide opportunities to show clients that they can be counted on.

Intimacy – As Customer Success professionals get to know, and in some cases, help design client workflows, they are uniquely positioned to understand the client, and therefore create better solutions.


The key difference for Customer Success professionals is that the above are divided by the individual’s self-interest. To put it quite simply, intent matters, and this is why Customer Success professionals are trusted advisors. Customer Success professionals have demonstrated that their primary objectives are delivering on the client’s outcome and providing an excellent customer experience. Ultimately, this is the most significant factor in making Customer Success professionals Trusted Advisors.


When we think of our buying behavior as consumers, which leads to B2B behavior, we want to buy from Trusted Advisors. In relationships with certain professionals, while they make money by selling you things, you trust that their primary interest is making sure you achieve your goals and that you have an effortless buying experience. You choosing to buy from them is a natural conclusion, and you don’t feel like you are being “sold.” Insurance agents, investment advisors, attorneys, surgeons, and other professionals understand this dynamic. They also know that any failures in putting the client’s interest first are the fastest way to end their career.


Where Does Revenue Ownership Reside?


Ultimately, Customer Success Leaders should own a revenue number. This does not necessarily mean that all Customer Success professionals have a “selling” component in their job description (or compensation plan). Customer Success leaders use Purchase Intent Modeling to determine the right coverage model for the account base. A well-executed ROAD model allocates time and resources appropriately, including those CSMs who are best equipped to handle expansion opportunities.


  • Retain – These are accounts where there is limited potential to sell more, but the revenue is significant and must be retained. These accounts should have senior professionals (CSMs or sometimes CMDs), with a one:few coverage model, who do a great job of value messaging and proactively handling renewals. These individuals will not frequently handle cross-sell or up-sell transactions.
  • Opportunistic – These accounts also have limited potential, and also have smaller revenue. These can be entry-level professionals (Customer Success Associates), and are more of a one:many coverage model, as the risk of losing any one account, are limited.
  • Acquire – These accounts have relatively small revenue today, but a tremendous potential to buy additional solutions. Here a more tenured Customer Success professional who is skilled at onboarding and value communication. However, this is the best usage of an Account Manager. The Account Manager handles any expansion sales but is frequently referred by the CSM or Senior CSM who handles the account. These CSMs are interested in taking a more prominent role and learning the sales motion as part of their career development
  • Develop – This is generally the highest paid Customer Success role, as these accounts have significant revenue and a large purchase intent to buy more solutions. Frequently, they were previously paired with an Account Manager in Acquired accounts but now can handle these expansion sales effectively. Often, these roles will have a higher percentage of their compensation at risk and will stay with these accounts longer.


You can see suggested compensation plans for Customer Success Professionals here. As your Customer Success team scales, there will be individuals who carry a revenue number, and this is good for all parties involved. For your buyers, this will result in a higher chance of achieving their goals and a better customer experience. For the Customer Success professionals, this leads to additional opportunities. Lastly, B2B companies will see increased revenue growth.


Download the CS Compensation Tool Here


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Fred Penteado

Guides private equity portfolio companies in a variety of industries on how to make their number.

Prior to joining SBI, Fred held a variety of leadership positions with multinational Fortune 50 companies. He has worked in product/program/channel management, sales operations, and served as a Chief of Staff.



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