Is CSM Just a Fancy, New Title for AM? – with Stephen Sunshine

Jordan speaks with Stephen Sunshine about the different roles that assist customers in transitioning from point A to point B, as well as how to add layers C and D when they are prepared to do so.
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Show notes

It’s all alphabet soup: AE, AM, CSM, SDR, PS, and more. 

Roles and responsibilities tend to morph and shift between each of these titles, depending on the company. 

So what is customer success’ role versus account managers or professional services?

Stephen Sunshine, VP of Sales at AlertMedia, says it doesn’t matter what the title is as long as we’re all working together to get customers from point A to point B and then layering on C and D when they’re ready.

He shares his ideas on this, plus how comp plans could work and the future of sales with RevOps Therapist and CEO and founder of Greaser Consulting, Jordan Greaser.

Jordan  00:00

Hello everyone, this is Jordan, the owner and CEO of Greaser Consulting. On today’s episode, we have Stephen Sunshine coming on to talk about customer success and account management, talking just down that vein of what do they look like as silos? How do those worlds come together? And we ultimately start talking about in today’s sort of shifted economy, the market has changed and expansion, and maximizing the value in the accounts you already have is going to become a major focus. How do SDRs actually fit in that? How do these roles all sort of work and coordinate together? Because the days may be… I don’t want to say completely gone… of these massive revenue teams just trying to get new business, grow at all costs, and potentially a more thoughtful approach of when we get in, how do we maximize the investment we have where we already are? So I’d encourage you to just lean in, enjoy. And here we go.

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Jordan  01:14

Hey, everyone, I got Stephen with me today. Go ahead and introduce yourself.

Stephen  01:19

Yeah, thanks, Jordan. So Stephen Sunshine, Vice President of Sales Account Management at AlertMedia based out of Austin, Texas. And yes, super, super excited to be here. Thanks for having me on the show.

Jordan  01:32

Yeah, I appreciate you, you jumping on today. And we were reminiscing before we got started today. I think we did Texas barbecue together. And I can’t remember which city that is. And I think the last time we saw each other was some big… it was like a legal conference of all things in Minneapolis. So when we hopped on today, Stephen, let me know that I’m a little bit hairier than he remembers. I’ve, I’ve I’ve actually been stepped out for a little bit working on some, some different studies on my own. So I may not be as business fresh as I used to be.

Stephen  02:08

I mean, you look good. Don’t get me wrong. Oh, just just hairy.

Jordan  02:12

Yeah, I’ve, I’ve let myself go in these past few years. Yeah. But I appreciate the compliment there. But I know, today we’re going to talk a little bit about customer success and account management. And, and you were talking even before we hopped on today, there’s, there’s sort of a shift occurring, there’s some new things that people are trying to think about and work through. So instead of me, you know, sort of framing a point, why don’t you let everybody know, like, what is it that you’re even talking about as you’re talking about success account management, some of the shifts you’re seeing and how organizations are running?

Stephen  02:48

Yeah, you bet. So, you know, I think it’s something that has been evolving over time. Probably more, you know, in the SaaS realm, perhaps in some other areas of enterprise software that I’ve dealt with. I think there’s, for years, right, companies have had these large account management teams. Some of us, you know, from back in the day may have said, “well, that was an inside sales team versus an outside sales team.” But I think today, the way it’s coming out in the wash is, you know, we’ve got, we’ve got new business teams going out pulling in new logos; we’ve got account management or growth teams. There’s different names for these expansion teams that are working with the customer after the fact to cross-sell and upsell. And then there’s customer success, right? Who’s, who’s in charge of all of the, the enablement. There, they help out with whatever, there’s a variety of things, they do a huge, huge amount of work to get customers happy, stabilized, enabled, etc. And then there’s also renewals, right? So there’s another leg on that stool. And sometimes those renewals are managed by CS; sometimes are managed by account management. Sometimes they’re their own, their own or their own unique team. But I think that the, the intersection of those teams is really where the rubber is beginning to meet the road, and how do we work together to, to go with the customer through their journey through their lifecycle, and really help them along the way to be the best users of our applications that we can possibly make them and continue to cross-sell and add value to their business.

Jordan  04:29

Well, I’m gonna get in trouble for this statement, but how I’ve seen the world in the past… When I say this, I’m not even talking about like, right now, I’m saying in the past, it seemed like account managers were sort of treated like order fillers, right? Like, hey, they see if they get the facts, right? “Hey, I need 10 more of this.” Okay, I ship it out. The CSM? What’s interesting that I’ve run into at least was smaller tech companies, seems like the CSM has been tasked with with the implementation of whatever the product is, the enablement that you talked about, the renewal, and the account management and the on-site if they need it, and bla, bla bla bla bla. And so it seemed like account management for a long time, at least in my experience, and I’m thinking more of like earlier stage tech companies, like what was their place? You know what I mean like, your CSM was kind of doing all of this. So what does account management doing? It sounds like you’re talking about, there’s even been a little bit of a shift recently. So I’m curious to hear A) am I off on what I’m saying here and B) like, what is that difference between those two departments that you’re seeing out there?

Stephen  05:39

Yeah, no, I actually think, Jordan, you’re kind of hitting the nail on the head. And, you know, this is a, this this whole process that we’re talking about, this evolution, if you will, has its own life cycle over time. And, and that’s what I was kind of alluding to also that, you know, if you go back 10, 15 years, 20, whatever. First of all, I don’t think there were CSMs I don’t, I don’t remember meeting anybody or knowing anyone who quote-unquote, was the CSM going back 15, 20 years; it was simply account managers. And, you know, maybe there was inside sales, there was SDRs, and there was Field Sales, etc. But, but today, yeah, I think you’re right, that, again, depends on the organization. There’s a lot there’s probably still a good amount of those folks that are just fulfilling orders, maybe those they made a request for the order comes in from CS, maybe it comes in from a, you know, an inbound marketing lead, or what have you, could even go through like part as part of a renewal cycle, right? Someone knows they have a renewal coming up, they reach out to the CSM, or whomever and say, “Hey, can we get some more of this, that or the other thing,” right? And, and I think we’re where we’re going with it anyway, is we’re trying to get to a point where our entire organization is being much more proactive in our, in our posture with the customer. And in the way I’ve kind of articulated in the past to the team and other organizations is, we really want to be the first people, you know, the first entity that that customer calls, when they have a problem to solve in our realm, right? So it doesn’t matter what we do, whether it’s ERP, or at AlertMedia, it’s, you know, emergency communication, threat intelligence, etc. You know, when I was at Outreach, you know, it was thinking about things like, you know, sales intelligence, and how do we, how do we move the pipeline forward, or, you know, opportunities, you know, leads, etc, whatever. We want to be the person that the customer thinks about when they have problems in that area that they need to solve. And the only way to do that is for all of us to be engaged all the time, in a cohesive manner. And really working as a, as a unified account team. And I think what you were describing earlier is more of that siloed approach where it wasn’t so unified, maybe CS kind of owned the world, and the field sales folks were kind of doing their thing. And maybe there was an inside account manager who would you know, just get a fax, or whatever it was, you know, the old, the old joke about faxes. Have you heard that one where it’s like, you’re talking to the guy and the guy says, “Can I send you a fax?” And then the person says, “Oh, we don’t have faxes where I live”, and he says, “Where do you live?” “Because I live in this century, like, no one’s doing…” Sorry, I digress. But yeah, I think you’re hitting the nail on the head. I think it’s changing. I think it’s changing.

Jordan  08:33

Yeah, well, on that topic, though, the… sometimes I wonder, like, you talked about how there was only an account manager that you never even met a CSM. Like, like, how much was it that just account managers became CSMs. And it was like, we just got a fancy new title, or there really was a brand new function that came about and then now we’re realizing, well, we segregated the rules too much and maybe we need to get a little bit more together. Sometimes I feel like we literally just reinvent the same thing and put a new name on it. I think SaaS is perhaps like the guiltiest of all: SDR, BDR, ADR, MDR… what the, you know, you get the idea. Like, did, did account managers just become CSMs? Are they really new functions that we’re just thinking differently about?

Stephen  09:19

Yeah, you know, I would say that I’ve worked with account managers a lot in the past. And in thinking back to my days at RSA and Dell, we didn’t have CSMs; we just had account managers. And, and I think the other area here that we’re, we’re forgetting, and I’m remiss about bringing up is, you know, CSMs are also fulfilling, in many organizations, roles where previously you had professional services working in that respect, because I think you mentioned this about implementation or training or whatever. And I think it depends on the organization. I think some of the more you know, recent SaaS organizations didn’t need heavy PS teams or large PS teams or large PS implementations. And, and its product by product, right, it just really depends on the level of care and feeding in that product that I think determines the level of professional services engagement. But, but I do believe just circling back to your statement, I do believe that it really is a valuable and worthwhile segregation of duties to say, hey, you know, CS is really going to focus on enabling and engaging the customer at the product level, to ensure that they are able to use it, understand it, and get the most value out of that product. That to me is not what the account manager’s role is; the account manager’s role is more to help them with contractual things that reside within the MSA, how they’re doing against, you know, let’s say their, their limits, you know, their application limits; they would work in partnership with CS to say, “hey, you’ve exceeded your limit; we can help you with that”, or new product sales. So again, cross-selling, or, you know, when we get to the enterprise level, how do we help you across your organization not only understand what you, what you’ve got, but talk to you about the things that you don’t have and filling out that those, those white spaces so that we can better help you achieve your goals. So I think the segregation really is a benefit. But the… it’s not always easy to, to realize that; you know, it takes time to get all the organizations singing from the same hymn book.

Jordan  11:36

Well, you just, you just talked about, it’s important to segregate the roles, but a little bit earlier you were saying “Yeah, but we don’t want to be as siloed.”

Stephen  11:44

Right, right. We got to work together. We got to work together.

Jordan  11:47

Yeah. So like, what does that pragmatically even mean to say, “hey, like, let’s segregate it. But let’s not be in different silos?”

Stephen  11:55

Yeah, no, no, I mean, I think I think you can have both. I mean, clearly, we have sales and marketing, and we have PS and right we, we may…

Jordan  12:02

Yeah, they get along. Sales and marketing really get along.

Stephen  12:05

Finance, we’re all one big happy family. I don’t think it’s any different than, than any other those larger kind of orgs, if you will, or parts of the business. I see it as the go-to-market team. You know, that’s, that’s the way I look at it; I think you’ve got it, you know, whether it’s whether implementation services are part of CS or PS, let’s you know, let’s not worry about that. But I think that’s where it all begins, right? And you got to think about the customer’s lifecycle and their maturity, and, and that’s actually a really powerful component too. But if everyone’s going in with the same concept of “look, we’re just going to help move you from point A to point B. And as we add C and D, and as we move you along that line, and you get better at using the application and broader and deeper into your, into your entity, your company, you’ll get more value. And we’ll continue to layer upon that year over year as we as, we release new products and features, etc.”

Jordan  13:02

How do you do compensation? Right? Because at the end of the day, this is like the famous thing that you tell everybody in sales, right? I mean, if you build a comp plan, people are going to figure out how to maximize the comp plan. Yeah. And so you can, you can accidentally build a comp plan that has somebody clicking button A all the time because they make a bunch of money, but it leads to no sales, right? Like, you get the idea: how do you structure the plan that’s going to dictate the behavior that people drive toward? And if you’re segmenting these roles, and account managers are the ones that are actually fulfilling the sale and they’re doing whatever. CSM is really in there doing the enablement side and making sure everything’s, everything’s hunky dory. Like who actually gets credit for the sale who’s compensated, who’s quoted at what. So if we’re going to be singing the same song from the same hymn book, as you put it, like how do you structure comp plans in this environment where they’re all ultimately, all ultimately up for the renewal? But you have very different or across sale, for example?

Stephen  14:02

That’s a great question. You know, and I think the famous consulting answer of “it depends.”

Jordan  14:10

Yeah, good job. You got that one nailed.

Stephen  14:12

You’re a consultant; you know.

Jordan  14:13


Stephen  14:16

I think, honestly, I think it depends. And I think it not only depends on those, whatever groups you have in your, in your organization, like, do you even have CS; maybe you don’t even have CS right? So I think it depends. And then once you’ve established those groups, you’re right; you really have to get specific on, this is what we want you to do. Like, let’s just use the CS example. We want you to enable and engage with the customer, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, you know, ERs, check-ins, you know, tech, tech audits, whatever. We’re going to do those things, and we’re going to periodically, and then you build the comp plan, per their, you know, the KPIs that you’re tracking for those individuals and for those groups and those teams. You know, for us today, here’s a great example. My team is not, even though we’re an account management team; we’re not responsible in its entirety for the renewal. We partner with CS and the renewals management team, to ensure that we’re all moving down the path together; it does add layers of complexity, no doubt. But we’re all compensated uniquely on the things that that we want to, you know, that the business cares about, for us uniquely, our KPIs.

Jordan  15:28

Sitting myself firmly on the side of, “hey, I’m used to SDR/AE relationship.” Obviously, I run a services company today. So I’ve dipped into success in some regard. But I’m, you know, ultra familiar with the, you know, sales accepted lead, yeah. And then it goes to the, the AE, and they get this, you know, obviously, they get the commission for the sale, maybe there’s a kicker for the SDR’ maybe there isn’t, whatever. My point is, in this environment that you’re talking about where these two teams are layered together, and there’s sort of this mutual responsibility to get things across the line or whatever else, is there that same sort of common mechanism, the it like, “Hey, every company is just completely different on this”? 

Stephen  16:16

Yeah, I think that’s the answer. I think we’ve got a decent mousetrap that actually works pretty well, in terms of how CSMs work with us to move leads from them to us, that kind of thing, which is, which I don’t know, if you recall, you know, just working from Outreach days, but I don’t believe we had anything like that; there was no mechanism where if a CSM identified an opportunity, that they could throw it over the wall and get credit for that, what have you, which I think is a really cool thing, kind of the concept of like a CSQL, if you will; from the SDR perspective, you know, I don’t have a lot to discuss right now, the way we’re doing it, but, but we were working, you know, again, going back to Outreach days, we were working with the SDR team, and they were passing those to us, etc. It does, it does get more complex, as I’m sure you know, with existing customers, right? You have to be really tight, and make sure that it’s legit, and that we weren’t already having that conversation, etc. But I think it’s a great conversation to think about and how existing account management teams can really partner tightly with SDRs as well, in the same, same, same way.

Jordan  17:25

You said, you feel like you guys have a good mousetrap today. Are you able to share any of that on how you’re having account management success? Like how that… you don’t gotta give me numbers or anything.

Stephen  17:36

I was specifically referring to the notion that… how do you incent or track and manage, just in this example, CS, for example. And in getting them bought into, hey, if you identify leads, and you pass them to sales, then there’s a benefit to the organization and we’ll compensate you accordingly. So you know, we’ve we’ve been thinking about this is well.

Jordan  18:02

So I’ll switch gears just a pinch. But I think it’s relevant. About five, six years ago, maybe… it was maybe… it’s more at this point, I don’t know. I’m getting older and hairier so I can’t, I can’t remember my timelines as well. I remember a couple teams starting to talk about success teams talking about SDRs, like using SDRs to expand accounts. And at the time, I thought this is, like, a fantastic idea. I bet this is going to blow up. And honestly, I, like, stopped hearing about it; I heard a couple companies try it. And then I, like, it did not, it did not take off the way I thought it would. The thing that’s interesting now is you know, there’s a, there’s a big belief that as this market has shifted, there’s not as much capital floating around; you know, there’s a, there’s a bigger push on profitability now than just grow… anyway, the point is, I’ve heard a lot of folks now talking about how everybody wants new logos, but a huge opportunity in this next phase of the market is going to be expanding your, your current customer base is going to be a major focus. And so I’m wondering if that motion of bringing an SDR team… in your world, it sounds like they’d fit more with the account managers perhaps? Like is that a motion that your team’s considering that like perhaps that’s, these you know, 300-person SDR teams are out there getting new logos? Like I’m not sure how many more of those are going to be around. I think there’s always a case for an SDR. But will that headcount actually get allocated toward expanding? It’s a similar function, but expansion and it’s not like we’re just getting all these folks.

Stephen  19:48

No, man, I think it’s a really, really a great topic. I think it works well at the upper kind of mid-market level and into enterprise, right? So you probably need to be at a company that’s minimum, let’s say, you know, 1000 people or couple thousand people. But once you get to the large enterprise companies, even the biggest account teams, if they don’t have that SDR support, again, this is my opinion, you’re leaving money on the table. Because it’s so hard to get, you know, think about Dell, right? Or, you know, some of these larger organizations or HP or what have you, Salesforce where there’s multiple subsidiaries, etc. And multiple groups around the globe, different, different decision-makers, different, you know, budget centers, etc. So, man, I think it’s a great question. I think it’s something that we could probably take a whole, whole show to talk about, in terms of how to, how to optimize against that motion. We started doing that when we were at Outreach; I would say that we probably barely scratched the surface, and there’s a lot of work to be done there.

Jordan  21:00

Yeah, well, I this is my own sort of naive mind that I remember… I think it was either AWS or Verizon or something like, you know, landing this big account. And then, you know, we have this like, huge case study success story going on. And you think, wow, like, we got the company, insert, whatever, mega list name. And like, wow, and the reality is, okay, even if it’s 1000 seats, 50, you know, whatever, like, nobody even knows who you are yet, at that point. And it just amazed me that you can have such a success in this one division. And, you know, the 999 other divisions, you have the potential to get it. Not only do they not care, they don’t even know, yeah? Like, and they don’t even know the people that work over there. 

Stephen  21:47

I just had this happen to me recently. And I had the same, same reaction, like, gotta do a better job of getting into those other, other groups, and to the leaders that maybe are at the very top, and they manage all the groups, but we just have the cert, you know, this weird circuitous route to get there.

Jordan  22:08

It’s just, it is amazing how much untapped potential there are in these enterprise companies. And how, like borderline, it is impossible for one person to go out. And that’s like, maybe that’s a mistake I think I see people make all the time, as is like, Bobby Sue owns Verizon, you know, whatever. Well, the reality is, like Bobby Sue, even if they want all the business they possibly could, could get 15 or 10% of the potential business at a Verizon, you know what I mean? And so, yeah, I think I’m just sort of musing here out loud, that I think there might be a huge, like the SDR function, I can’t see dying completely in some way. I think it’s always going to be there in a traditional sense. But I almost wonder if a huge allocation of that budget isn’t going to shift as the market is trying to just expand these accounts and figure out ways to take those case studies and win other divisions 

Stephen  23:05

Yeah, I’d be fascinated just to see, you’re right, like over the next, you know, 12, 18, 24 months, if that actually occurs. And even if the quote-unquote, recession comes and goes, it would be something I would think would still be valuable in a booming economy, right? Does it matter, right? Does it matter what the economy is, it still makes sense to do that motion. 

Jordan  23:27

Yeah. Mr. Sunshine, I know. We actually got to, we got to cut a little a little bit fast today. I know I hit you in a tight window to record this. So listen, I appreciate you coming on. Yeah. Hopefully next time we get, we get a little bit more time to chat. But thanks for talking about account management and everything else under the sun here.

Stephen  23:44

Yeah, my pleasure. And I look forward to the next time.vThis is great. Thanks, Jordan. 

Jordan  23:46

Alright, stay out of trouble. Bye.

23:51Hot dog. That was a great episode. Thanks for listening. If you want to learn more about Greaser Consulting or any information you heard on today’s episode, visit us online at Be sure to click the Follow button and the bell icon to be notified on the latest here at RevOps Therapy. Thanks and see you real soon.

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