Role of Modern CSM in Delivering Outcomes for IIoT - by Sarah Nicastro
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The Role of the Modern CSM in Delivering Outcomes for the IIoT

By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

I recently talked with Scott Weller, Partner of Mossrake Group, after reading an article he’d written on LinkedIn that caught my eye. In his article, he touches on some of the intricacies that come into play when a company moves toward guaranteeing outcomes on connected digital assets. You may remember Scott from the podcast, he joined me for episode 122 where we talked about what it takes to bring the As-a-Service opportunity to life. 

Scott has extensive experience in the industry, having served in leadership roles at Xerox, IBM, HP and HPE prior to co-founding Mossrake Group to aid companies on the As-a-Service journey. Reflecting on how things have evolved over his career, we discussed that, in the age of the IIoT, companies must take terms that have existed for ages – like “outcomes” and “CSM” – and redefine them to fit today’s realities. In the following Q&A, I ask Scott to share his perspective on key considerations for companies aiming to succeed at an outcomes-based approach in the IIoT era.

Sarah Nicastro: When we talk about delivering outcomes, can you share your perspective on what that means today and why it’s so important?

Scott Weller: It seems everywhere you look these days, there’s evidence of a secular trend away from asset ownership economy to outcomes economy. Whether you’re talking about air conditioning or jet engines, or IT, sports cars, and so on, it’s everywhere. It demonstrates that people, both consumers and businesses, are starting to really calibrate around what matters most to them.

For businesses, it’s understanding what’s core to what they do versus perhaps critical assets or capabilities beyond the business they’re in. Defining what it is they don’t want to focus on; they don’t want to be famous for. And in those cases, really thinking more in terms of what the outcome is they want and to get that from a partner versus working to assemble themselves all the things required to achieve that outcome. They decide to give that to somebody else to worry about.

Sarah Nicastro: So ultimately customers want more peace of mind?

Scott Weller: Yeah, I think that ties in with the CSM discussion. So, let’s say you’ve signed up to receive a certain outcome. The way that gets delivered to you is both the tangible features or capabilities, but also the experience. And ultimately things do go wrong. Things happen, particularly if there’s an asset underneath. What you really want to know is, everything is being handled and will be okay.

Particularly if it falls into that category of things you don’t want to be famous for – just tell me everything’s fine, and if it’s not, tell me what you’re doing to bring it back to all good. So yes, I completely agree. Peace of mind doesn’t feel like a technical term, doesn’t feel like anything that a business would promise, but in the end, that’s what we’re talking about. Peace of mind on those things that I don’t want to be famous for, so I can get on with my business and focus on the things I do want to be famous for.

Sarah Nicastro: So, if the idea of delivering outcomes has been around for a long time, what is different about doing so with connected assets?

Scott Weller: In the end there are a few aspects to this. One is the expectations of the outcome, not in terms of day to day, am I receiving the outcome I want? But how is my supplier looking at this relationship? In the digital world, it is no longer possible for the outcome to be just a transaction. First, you have enablement for a much richer experience, but also the expectation that you’re on top of things. You’re watching things, you’re ahead of the game, you’re doing predictive analysis, you’re doing everything you can so that the outcome isn’t disrupted in any way. So, I think it’s both on the demand and supply side that things do change given a digital environment.

We talk a lot about the value of data, but the smart suppliers know the value isn’t data in its raw form. In fact, a lot of times what the customer needs to know isn’t even in the raw data that they’re seeing. It must be formulated, it must be developed, and it has to be communicated back in a very simple conversation to the customer. This is part of the expert advisor role that a CSM should play.

Sarah Nicastro: What is your synopsis of what the CSM role should be in this scenario and how is that maybe different than what some people’s perception of that role would be historically?

Scott Weller: I wouldn’t want to claim that we have the perfect design, but over many clients what we see are, some customer success managers are essentially a little more than brand ambassadors, after-sales brand ambassadors. And I think that’s probably okay in some domains. The most common kind of CSM role description leads to them being very reactive. I call it the wailing wall. Every problem that a customer has, whether it’s germane or not, goes to the CSM community for them to resolve. 

What’s different about the CSM we’re talking about here is that they aren’t just a “nice to have.” But a requirement in delivering outcomes, particularly on digital assets. This is someone who’s quite proactive, someone who speaks the language of the customer’s business, not just the technology that they’re using to deliver the outcome. They tend to have a good “bedside manner.” They are viewed as an expert advisor – someone the customer has total confidence in, ideally, and trusts in their ability to address issues and deliver the outcomes. We see the CSM as being the point person for the supplier in delivering the outcome. It’s their responsibility to make sure it gets done.

Sarah Nicastro: So, we talked about an important point that today’s customers expect a lot more than just an individual that is passing along data, right? How would you say that this modern CSM needs to be enabled to be effective for role they should be serving today?

Scott Weller: Customers often have access to the raw data themselves. To interpret that into either everything’s okay or we think there may be an issue in the future and we’re going to do this or that about it, that’s the real value that a CSM can provide and is often baked into an outcome solution.

And so, the data set is part of the enablement for modern CSM. But they have to do smart things with it, turn it into a proactive operation. Predictive analytics should be interpreted directly by the CSM and conveyed in simple insights. Some will have a lot of experience, but as we all know, skill shortages drive us to trying to codify some of this institutionalized knowledge into analytics that can be shared with others. So, enablement is a combination of really great tools; the underlying products being digital themselves, so that they’re talking about themselves in real time; and doing that in a centralized data lake way. And then the other analytics that can be done on top of that. That’s all key to supporting a great conversation between the CSM and the end customer.

Sarah Nicastro: When you hear a company say, “We want to be a trusted advisor,” what are they trying to accomplish?

Scott Weller: Well, the cynical response would be that this is a term that every sales team wants to use. But at the end of the day, there’s definitely truth in it. Customers ultimately want to trust their suppliers, not only to give them fair pricing, but also to do what they say they’re going to do

Cynicism aside, it is something that every supplier should aspire to because it leads to all good things. It’s better for the customer, it’s better for the supplier. But this is where trust is one of those things that’s earned. And I think a supplier that does what they say they’re going to do is proactive, does interpret the data into the language of the customer’s business. These are all things that build that trust.

Sarah Nicastro: It’s almost a status that you can claim, but you really only achieve if your customers view you that way, right? Whether or not your customers would describe you as a trusted advisor is the real indicator of whether you’re providing the type of value you should be providing in the outcomes economy.

Scott Weller: What we see within an outcomes-based solution is the ability for that CSM to become part a route to market. Because they’re known not to be sales folks. They’re focused on ensuring the customer gets the value, receives the outcomes that they’ve contracted for. When there are issues, the CSM demonstrates high integrity and getting those resolved timely. That all leads to a natural conversation of, “Hey, I’ve got another site that I want this outcome delivered to,” or “I want more help here,” or “I’m going to tell my colleagues in the industry.”

It’s the notion of what we call “land and expand.” Once you’ve established that trust and you’ve established the solution, it’s not long before customers do see that, “Wow, this is great, and I just want this everywhere.” And we’re even having clients ask us, “So how do I get my other suppliers to do what you guys are doing for us?”

And that’s why I say this is a secular trend that will snowball going forward. It’s unstoppable now. But of course, it all comes back to, is the person, is the company delivering what they said they were going to do? Delivering outcomes is, I would say, an advanced topic for a lot of companies still. And that’s where we spend a lot of our time, helping them get there.

Sarah Nicastro: When you think about your clients that are using CSMs in a modern and impactful way, are there best practices people should be thinking about?

Scott Weller: I’m not sure we’ve landed on a training guide for CSMs. We are in fact working on one for one of our clients, but I think recognizing that this is a different kind of individual or perhaps a different experience, that is key. One of the clients we worked with really struggled with the role, because the typical source for these individuals was out of the service delivery organization and the pay scales for the kind of individuals we needed were above what anybody there was getting paid. 

It was almost like we were looking for director level people, and it was just unheard of that you’d have director level people in a CSM role. This is an example of a standard that needs to be recalibrated to really be successful in today’s landscape. But I do think it’s like any profession, there are people who are just naturals at it and others you have to cultivate and the real question for most of our clients is, “Well, what do we do if this new As-a-Service offer really takes off? Where are we going to source all these people?”

I’ve been talking about what I call a CSM university. How do you get these people through a program where you can take high potentials put them through a program like this? Typically, you’d find them in traditional services, but it could be from anywhere actually, if they have the technical knowledge and the other attributes, they can be successful. I think it is a new profession.

Sarah Nicastro:  If you were to look ahead three or five years and anticipate what the role of the CSM will look like in delivering outcomes, what are your thoughts?

Scott Weller: I think we’ll see a lot more people in the profession as we’ve sort of defined the new version of the classic role. I think we will see some formalizing around maybe not a CSM university, but some sort of training programs that reorient people, maybe who’ve done a CSM role in the past or not. But to orient or reorient people to what we’ve been talking about, having to learn the customer’s business language. Learning how to have that bedside manner, how to summarize data and insights to, ideally, being able to say, “Everything’s fine.” When there’s an issue, here’s what we’re doing to address it. Understanding that peace of mind is key. Otherwise, you really haven’t achieved what you promised because now the customer thinks they’ve bought something that lets them focus elsewhere, but they’re still caught up in the drama of owning a bunch of assets. And that’s the last thing that they want to have.

We will have to hire more senior level or be willing to promote into more senior level people to these positions, because what doesn’t work is if the CSM goes into a situation and the customer’s first reaction is, “We want to talk to your boss.” You shouldn’t get to that point often at all if you have the right kind of person in front of the customer who can assuage these situations and have the confidence of the customer to do what they said they’re going to do. And that’s a confidence or trust that’s built over time.