Customer Success Manager vs Account Manager – What’s The Difference?

Customer success and account management are often confused with each other, even though there are strict lines that seperate the two fields.

In this article, I’ll explain what differentiates a customer success manager and an account manager from each other. Let’s start with a frequently asked question:

Is a customer success manager an account manager?

No, a customer success manager (CSM) is not an Account Manager (AM), but they both share the same basic goal: To have successful and satisfied customers and to keep revenue coming

However, they have different approaches and responsibilities.

But before we start talking about their differences, let’s see what each of them do:

What does a customer success manager do?

A customer success manager has the responsibility to make sure that a product helps customers achieve whatever goals they have. Goals like increasing revenue, saving money, increasing efficiency, and so on. A CSM is there throughout the whole customer lifecycle and you can even say that they’re mentors to the customer. They guide customers through onboarding, implementation, and help them in getting the most out of the product. 

Their main focus is to build close-long term relationships with clients as long as they continue to work with your company, and this relationship building is what creates customer loyalty. 

Another thing about customer success managers is that they are proactive, which means that they work hard to solve issues and problems before they arise.

Since they are involved in multiple phases of the customer journey, they can see what customer problems are most common, which problems affect multiple clients, and then collaborate with project managers to solve those problems to keep clients happy. 

“Have you ever gone out to eat and were overwhelmed by the menu? And what you really want is someone to help you decide? That’s how I view [Customer] Success. [We] look at the picture in its entirety; what will provide immediate gratification as well as long-term stability. Success members accompany the customer on their journey and stick around for the entire lifecycle.”

Delores Cooper, Customer Success Associate at Zendesk.
what does a customer success manager do

Now let’s take a look at what an account manager does.

What does an account manager do?

An Account Manager has the responsibility to do renewals, upsells, and cross-sales. They also are required to come into action when a customer needs them, for example, if a customer gets stuck somewhere, the AM comes to save the day. They have an in-depth knowledge of the company and the product, and when a client has questions about how some features work or when they want to renew or upgrade their subscription, they contact AM. 

Also, account managers work closely with the sales team to make sure that the service or the product, the client bought, fits the client’s needs.

By 2023, 25% of organizations will integrate marketing, sales, and customer experience (CX) into a single function (according to Gartner).

COVID-19 has intensified demands on executives to work cross-functionally. This will become even more important for customer-focused functions such as marketing, sales, and customer service.

Organizations that combine their customer-focused functions will be better able to identify, support, and nurture customers throughout their journey and brand experience. 

United functions would also have revenue-generating accountability and shared responsibilities for customer journeys and outcomes.  

Here are some other responsibilities an AM has:

  • work with marketing and sales teams to prepare sales pitches and presentations,
  • design media proposals and marketing strategies,
  • write client reports,
  • and communicate client agendas to other staff members.
what does an account manager do

How is customer success different from account management? 

I will compare them in different sections, so you could paint a better picture of the differences:

1- Same Goal Different Purpose 

As I said at the beginning of this article, their goal is to have successful and satisfied customers and to keep revenue coming, but they have different purposes.

The main purpose of an Account Manager is to be there when customers need them and to get renewals, upsells, and cross-sales while a Customer Success Manager’s purpose is to focus on customers’ goals and to make sure your product helps customers achieve their goals.

2- Different perspectives

From the AM’s perspective, renewal is crucial in a SaaS business, so resources should be dedicated to making and re-making the sale.

And from the CSM perspective, recourse should be dedicated to giving as much value as possible and making a customer satisfied with service and everything because if he is successful and satisfied, the renewal will come naturally.  

Also, since the CSM are involved throughout multiple phases of the customer lifecycle, they have a unique view of the problems and potential problems. 

This unique view enables Custom Success Manager to see problems that may arise and turn them into saved dollars, for the customer, and your company. 

3- Involvement 

Customer Success Manager is there since the beginning of the customer lifecycle, making sure customers learn how to use the product to get the most out of it, and helping them with onboarding and implementation. 

They also help them with training.

Because they are involved in all these things, they have a smaller group of customers. 

Since renewal, upsells and cross-sells don’t usually happen at the beginning of the customer lifecycle, most of the time the Account manager will spend with the customer is likely to be near the end of the life cycle. 

However, an AM might get involved in the beginning if customers need them, but that doesn’t happen often. 

4- Different skills

Account Managers have in-depth knowledge about your product and your company, but they know less about specific customers. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean they are less valuable, this means that they just have different roles to play. For example, if a customer has some technical issues, account managers are the ones who take care of them. 

Customer success managers also have in-depth knowledge about your product, but they also have in-depth knowledge about customer company and their goals, so they can anticipate customers’ needs and give them advice that will help them succeed and achieve goals they have. 

Empathy is also something CSM needs to have to develop long-term bonds with your customer. 

5- Proactive/Reactive

We cannot talk about the differences between Customer Success Manager and Account Manager without mentioning their proactive/reactive distinction, which is the most obvious one.

I already told you earlier that customer success managers are proactive and I also explained that that means that they work hard to solve issues and problems before they arise.

They also must be proactive to anticipate customers’ needs and to be there before customers need them. 

On the other side, we have generally reactive account managers. And don’t get me wrong when I say that their job is to be there when customers need them, this doesn’t mean that they sit and wait for customers to come to them.

The account manager is reactive and only provides support when customers ask for it, but this can become a problem if there is an issue they not aware of. 

To better understand this proactive/reactive distinction, here’s one example:


When an Account Manager gets an email or support ticket from a customer, they usually respond within one business day. Customer Success Manager, on the other hand, helps customers by delivering projects that take a lot of time to put together. 

6- Metrics 

Metrics that are applied to Custom Success Manager are often very different than those applied to Account Manager.

The Account Manager, for example, has a sales quota and has to get as many upsells and renewals as possible.

And Customer Success Manager metrics are usually tied to those of their customer, they might be measured by return-on-investment that customers achieve using their company service or product.

Should Customer Success Manager and Account Manager Co-exist? 

Yes, they should. Customer Success Managers are accountable for building long-term relationships with customers.

However, when they get involved in negotiating with a customer for upsells and cross-sales, customer trust can be affected. So upsells and cross-sales should be left to the Account Manager. 

What is a must for Customer Success Manager and Account Manager to  work together? 

A Customer Success Manager and Account Manager must communicate and share information throughout the whole customer lifecycle. 

Not only will this help them understand customers’ unique goals, but it will also help account managers to be aware of when is the best time to pursue upsells and cross-sells.

This information sharing will also help with delivering value. For example, when metrics such as time spent in the application, feature access, and usage rate are reduced, CSM’s can intervene to enhance product engagement

Conclusion

It’s easy to think that, when you land a customer, the hard work ends. In reality, the struggle really begins when you have to win customers’ trust, build a solid relationship with them, and enable them for upsells and expansions.

That’s why you are required to have both the account management and customer success departments in your company, coexisting in beautiful harmony.


Frequently Asked Questions


Do customer success manager or account manager make more money?

Although it differs according to industry, location, and company; account managers get paid better than customer success managers simply because it’s sales and there are incentives for being successful.


Should account management be a part of customer success?

The motives of customer success and account management are very different from each other, so it would harm the results achieved by these departments if they merge. Instead, they should coexist in a company.


Which is more popular: customer success manager or account manager?

Account managers who are the salespeople of our time can be more popular in certain situations because customer success is not a widespread practice.

Osman Koc

Osman is the CEO and Co-founder of UserGuiding, a code-free product walkthrough software that 2000+ companies trust in their user onboarding.