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Customer success vs. account management: a comparison

Customer Success vs Account Management
Customer success managers vs. account managers
Do customer success and account management teams need each other?
Final thoughts

Customer success and account management both play a vital part in post-sale communications with the ultimate aim of ensuring customer satisfaction.

Many people think the two roles are somewhat redundant in one organization – but are they?

In this article, we’ll explore the importance of customer success and account management and how they compare and complement each other.

Customer success managers vs. account managers

To get an accurate picture, it’s best to think of customer success vs. account management as a Venn diagram.

We’ll discuss how they’re different in a moment, but first, let’s look at where the two roles overlap. They both:

  • Aim to keep customers happy and reduce churn

  • Focus on supporting customers throughout the lifecycle

  • Work to build and maintain strong relationships with customers

  • Are involved in client communication

  • Work to maintain high customer satisfaction levels

  • Play a part in extending customer lifetime value

  • Are responsible for creating customer loyalty

  • Aim to retain customers by providing excellent support

Whilst both are actively involved in customer communications and share some commonalities, the two roles have different approaches.

Here are the key differences between account managers vs. customer success managers.

Customer success managers

Account managers

Helps customers see the value and make full use of the product they’ve already purchased

Help grow accounts through cross-selling and upselling

Doesn’t get involved in the renewal process

Heavily focused on renewals

Uses technical knowledge to improve the user experience and product development

Uses technical knowledge to provide advice to customers about the right add-on features and products and inform business strategy

Responsible for customer satisfaction and increasing happiness metrics

Responsible for metrics directly tied to revenue

Let’s explore each in more detail.

The role of a customer success manager

Customer success managers, sometimes called CSM, bridge the gap between service and sales, helping key accounts accomplish their business goals and overcome challenges. They onboard new customers, help them to see the value of their investment and achieve a greater return on investment (ROI).

A customer success manager is different from customer support, which focuses on helping customers post-sale when a complaint or issue arises.

Here’s an example of a customer success manager’s objectives and responsibilities:

  • Own the entire relationship with assigned clients, including onboarding, implementation, training, retention and satisfaction

  • Develop and maintain best practice customer success strategies and create customer support content alongside the creative team

  • Communicate effectively with both internal and external senior managers to better understand customer needs, maximize growth and share learnings

  • Serve as a day-to-day contact for assigned accounts, building trust and identifying areas of opportunity for the account management team

  • Review the customer journey, determine how it’s supported and use a consultative approach to help clients overcome issues and achieve goals

  • Collaborate, solve problems and strategize with team members on upcoming client meetings

The objectives and responsibilities above show that as well as connecting a company with its customers, customer success managers help to build relationships and loyalty throughout the entire customer lifecycle.

Having a dedicated customer success team helps businesses keep customers happy so they continue coming back for renewal.

The role of an account manager

Account managers focus primarily on financial targets. This means that they’re responsible for upselling, cross-selling and renewals as well as connecting with executives on business goals.

Here is how LinkedIn describes the role of an account manager:


Act as the day-to-day point of contact and ensure customers’ needs and concerns are met

Meet regularly with clients

Improve customer retention through relationship-building

Generate progress reports to share with higher-ups within the client’s organization

Identify the correct moments to renew a contract, upsell or cross-sell

Retain accurate records and know every detail about the accounts

Some companies have a wide range of customers with varying needs, calling for dedicated account managers. For example, enterprise account managers focus on the most valuable clients at the company.

To understand better how distinct customer success and account management are, here is a breakdown of seven ways the two roles differ.

1. Goals

The two functions have different goals. In account management, this is about leveraging customer relationships to drive revenue and meet sales quotas.

Account managers do this by:

  • Acting as the main point of contact for customers

  • Suggesting other helpful products and re-engaging customers before renewal times

Customer success, meanwhile, is about promoting customer satisfaction and helping the customer get the most value out of the product. The desired outcome is to lower the churn rate and increase the likelihood of contract renewals through:

  • Seeking ways to improve user experience

  • Keeping a record of every detail about their customers, which helps to inform business strategy

To give an example of how the two roles might function differently, an account manager may spend their morning meeting with executives to discuss company goals and their afternoon talking with clients.

A customer success manager, meanwhile, may spend some time onboarding a new customer before liaising with the sales team on the best sales vocabulary to use to resonate with the customer.

2. Customer lifecycle involvement

On a day-to-day basis, account managers may receive direct requests from customers. Some of these requests will be passed on to customer success as they have the expertise in helping customers with specific support issues.

Account managers can facilitate cross-selling and up-selling opportunities at any point during the customer journey. However, towards the end of the customer lifecycle, as renewals occur, account managers come into their own as they’re also responsible for customer retention.

In the SaaS industry, renewals are vital and businesses operate by these metrics. It makes sense to have a dedicated team of SaaS account managers to help facilitate their ease.

A well-performing customer success team supports the account managers by already having the groundwork laid for a successful renewal. If the customer has been kept satisfied, it should occur naturally.

Customer success is involved from the beginning of the customer’s journey and is more consistent throughout the customer lifecycle.

Customer success teams work continuously with the customer on the following touchpoints.

  • Onboarding and training: Introducing themselves to the customer during the onboarding process. This might include setting up software and assigning user access and privileges.

  • Adoption and usage: Ensuring customers are gaining value from the product. As customers familiarize themselves with it, the team ensures the product is fully integrated into workflows and processes. Customer success teams will monitor usage data throughout the lifecycle to ensure that customers make the most of the product.

  • Buyer affirmation: Hopefully, the product exceeded the customer’s expectations and added value to their organization. At this point in the lifecycle, customers are more likely to be receptive to cross-sells and upsells because they’re invested in the product.

  • Customer advocacy and loyalty: Achieved through referrals, word-of-mouth, reviews and case studies. Customer success is involved at this stage to aid user-generated content, which helps future customer acquisition.

4. Skills

Both customer success and account managers have intricate knowledge of their company’s product. However, their product and technical knowledge skills are used to meet different goals and outcomes.

In customer success, this knowledge is used to help customers meet their goals, strategizing to help them use a product most effectively.

In account management, the team’s skills are used to identify the right product or solution to meet a user’s needs. They also help with any technical issues customers might encounter, which is why strong technical skills are important.

Another skill set that sets account managers apart is marketing and sales experience – networking, leadership and communication credentials.

Sales skills are important to help influence customers’ purchasing decisions, especially at renewal. Since their job is primarily revenue-based, account managers also require financial knowledge as they will likely be involved in finance meetings.

Customer success teams focus more on helping specific customers reach their desired outcomes. Problem-solving and empathy are thus important assets for customer success teams to have.

Interpersonal and communication skills are fundamental soft skills for customer success teams. They need these to establish close working relationships that do not involve selling anything to the client, fostering trust between the two parties.

5. Proactivity vs. reactivity

Customer success teams work proactively, predicting roadblocks and issues before they arise. As they’re involved throughout multiple touchpoints in the customer journey, they generally have a unique oversight of what problems are affecting customers.

Thanks to this oversight and knowledge, they’ll often be involved in user experience projects that aim to improve the customers’ every interaction with the team.

Meanwhile, account managers are more reactive and may provide support only when a customer asks for assistance. They often act on “standby” mode and are there when the customer needs them for troubleshooting or technical support.

6. Performance metrics

Account managers work to sales targets and quotas, aiming to achieve high uptakes of renewals and customer retention rates. Their performance is judged on metrics like upsell percentages, KPIs like conversions on a specific product and revenue rates.

Customer success metrics differ as they are closely tied to customer outcomes. For example, their success might be measured by customer satisfaction (CSAT) or the return on investment (ROI) that customers achieve using their product.

They also work on customer health score metrics, which measure satisfaction levels. Qualitative (non-numeric) feedback from surveys, social media and online reviews helps in assessing the state of the working relationship.

7. Handling renewals

One area where the roles of account management and customer success take very different paths is at the point of renewal.

Negotiating upsells and cross-sells are sales skills that are best left to account managers who have specific experience in these areas. It can harm the delicate customer relationship if customer success becomes involved in this process, potentially compromising their authority and credibility.

Having dedicated account management software helps to avoid situations where customers might feel that they’re being pressured to spend more. Customer success should remain relatively impartial and neutral, leaving anything sales-related to account managers.

Do customer success and account management teams need each other?

Effective collaboration between customer success and account management teams is critical to company success and long-term customer relationship building.

Account management roles have been a staple in various businesses far longer than customer success roles have, as firms are waking up to the importance of having a dedicated department focused on customer retention.

In this 2019 survey of high-tech companies, more than 40% of respondents reported having customer success managers and customer success strategies. As more companies shift responsibility for ongoing customer care from account managers, customer success roles are becoming increasingly important.

Although it can feel like a threat to account management, both teams can co-exist well together. Despite having different purposes and motivations, it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation.

Here’s how to ensure your account managers and customer success managers work together in harmony.

Clearly define roles

Having clear definitions of their unique roles and responsibilities is the best way to ensure that both teams collaborate well from the start.

Account management and customer success teams have different strengths and weaknesses which companies need to leverage. It also helps to make sure everything is clear and allows individuals to feel supported in their roles.

Decentralize customer data

Both teams ought to have good oversight of customer data – particularly how customers use the product.

For SaaS companies, it’s easy to tell by usage rates. If the usage rate drops before renewal periods, for example, then account managers can check in and make sure customers are still happy with the product.

In another example, if customers don’t tend to make it past a certain part of the product training, this is an indicator that customers need more support in this area from customer success teams.

Customers will always need ongoing help and support, particularly with more complicated technical products. Allowing both teams to see the same information, rather than siloing it in each department, lets them both collaborate for the good of the customer and the company’s bottom line.

Encourage communication

Both teams should be able to see the same customer data, but they also need to be able to work together. Since much of the job overlaps, enable your teams to communicate when an issue arises for the other department.

For example, say a customer success manager is on a call with a client and learns they are considering a competitor to leverage a necessary feature. The customer success team member can then set up a demo with the account manager to walk the client through a feature on their platform and how they can use it to the same effect.

A project management tool or customer relationship management (CRM) platform like Pipedrive can give both customer success and account management teams a thorough overview of support requests, technical issues and outstanding tasks on client accounts.

With Pipedrive, you can also sync calendars to schedule appointments, connect all email communications with the company and record and store call notes within the platform.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, account managers and customer success teams share a common goal: keep customers happy and revenue flowing. Satisfied customers are more likely to stick around and advocate for your product to others.

The best partnerships rely on communication and teamwork. It’s important for both teams to have clear definitions of their job role so they can each stay focused on the areas in which they excel.

Driving business growth