The CSM Skill Practice Plan (that actually works)

We often hear that ten thousand hours of practice is what’s required to master any subject. By that equation, if you work full-time as a CSM, it will take you 3.5 years to master the role.

But the process of becoming great isn’t that simple. Research shows that there is practice, and there is deliberate practice.

What’s the difference?

Practice is just about doing something, over and over.

Deliberate practice is breaking down the skill you are hoping to master into smaller pieces. Then focusing on mastering each of those fragments through repetition that is guided by immediate and informative feedback.

Practice is going for a run every day.

Deliberate practice is running with a coach that will benchmark your results, observe you when you run, give you feedback on specific areas of improvement, and build exercises that will help you close those gaps daily.

Practice makes amateurs. Deliberate Practice makes Olympic gold winners.

If you are a CSM looking to master your role or a manager hoping to develop an enablement or mentoring program, this guide is for you.

Over the next few minutes, we will:

  • break down the 8 skills CSMs should focus on when going from good to great
  • give you a training guide to develop each of them

Let’s dive in!

I have hired over 200 CSMs and interviewed thousands of candidates.

I have managed CSMs in start-ups, scale-ups and enterprises.

I have worked with high-touch models and low-touch models.

Trust me when I say that the skills I listed here are applicable to every CSM, no matter the industry, the product or the service model.

What are the skills?

#1 Product Knowledge

Whatever type of CSM role you are in (offensive or defensive), knowing your product or service will be critical to driving value to customers. A CSM with low product knowledge will have low credibility with the customer and end up spending a lot of time finding answers and wasting a lot of time on follow-up research and emails instead of solving them there and then.

#2 Consulting

You often hear that great CSM-ing is about relationship building. This isn’t a lie. However, you don’t build strategic relationships with customers by simply getting to know them personally (that’s how you make friends). Strategic relationships are built on a bedrock of compounding value delivery. And how do CSMs deliver value? Through excellent consulting.

#3 Stakeholder Management

CSMs have multiple points of contact in their customer organisations and within their own company. Managing all these stakeholders and ensuring they engage productively is a key aspect of delivering value and solving for the customer.

#4 Business Insight

A CSM with business insight skills is able to combine data and analysis to make sense of challenges and opportunities. They give customers and their own companies a competitive edge.

#5 Situational Adaptability

CSMs encounter so many different types of situations in their day-to-day. They range from introduction calls, to escalations, to negotiations and so on and so forth. CSMs also deal with different personalities and levels of frustration from their customers. While it’s good to be prepared, in many cases they will have to adapt on the fly.

#6 Book of Business Management

Whether you manage 30 or 200 accounts, every install base has customers in different lifecycle stages (eg. onboarding, quarterly business reviews, renewals etc). CSMs need to have a deep understanding of the key stages of an account and the skills to prioritise based on these proactive motions, as well as the ability to react to reactive ones, which is essential for any customer success

#7 Communication

Arguably, communication is important in every role. But as the CSM you are interfacing with customers to represent your organisation and help customers get the most out of your products. You will have to influence stakeholders and clearly demonstrate how your products help move the needle. The better your verbal, written and presentation skills are, the more effective you will be.

#8 Forecasting

A CSM that owns a book of business, will be required to provide updates in relation to their customer’s renewals. This means maintaining a good forecasting practice that provides visibility and accuracy for the business. This also allows CSMs to understand where they stand and get ahead of future risks with enough time to turn possible cancellations around.

Now that you know the core skills, how can you develop them?

Deliberate practice.

Hopefully, you have a learning slot already on your calendar. But if you don’t, this calendar blueprint guide will help you organise yourself and make time for your skill development.

Most people are good at booking the time, and terrible at making good use of it.

Why? Because they arrive at their learning slot without a plan is usually where things go wrong.

To avoid misappropriating the time to do emails, use the practice plan below.

All you have to do is:

  1. Download the practice plan
  2. Make a copy of this plan
  3. Pick the skills you want to develop
  4. Select the exercise (drill) you will use to develop the skill
  5. Partner with your manager, coach or mentor for feedback after every session

This is a template based on basketball practice sheets.

Book 1 hour for your skill development and break it into 3 blocks:

  • 20 minutes of learning (content)
  • 30 minutes of Hands-on implementation with an existing customer case
  • 10 minutes of feedback from your coach or manager

Don’t forget to set your current benchmarks (your expertise level today) and define a goal (where you want to get to).

This is a living and breathing document that you should share with your manager or mentor.

Guide Summary

Great CSMs develop 8 skills:

  1. Product Knowledge
  2. Consulting
  3. Stakeholder Management
  4. Business Insight
  5. Situational Adaptability
  6. Book of Business Management
  7. Communication
  8. Forecasting

Having a practice plan will help you develop a deliberate practice of these skills.

  • Book a 1-hour learning slot in your calendar weekly
  • Copy this template and share it with your manager
  • Plann one week ahead so you arrive at your learning slots of the week with clarity of what skill you are learning and what exercise you will complete.

That’s all for my guide on building a deliberate CSM Skill Development Practice.

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