Software Sales

Customer Success Manager Vs Account Manager | 4 Core Differences

Software companies are investing more than ever in keeping their customers happy. Two of their favorite positions to hire are the Customer Success Managers (CSM) and Account Managers (AMs), both of which help give customers an optimal experience with the software and brand. While quite similar, the two positions often differ in a few ways that we’ll discuss below. This should help you choose which between Customer Success Manager vs Account Manager is the best position for you.

Difference Between Customer Success Manager vs Account Manager

The main difference between a Customer Success Manager vs Account Manager is that CSMs are usually more focused on building relationships with clients, while AMs prioritize making upsells, cross-sells, and renewals in order to hit a quota. CSMs also tend to be more proactive, working on long-term projects to enhance a user’s experience with the current version or package, while AMs are more reactive, responding to and addressing issues and purchase requests as they arise.

Furthermore, the CSM and AM positions differ slightly in four core areas: 

  • Time and Level of Involvement: CSMs usually enter the scene earlier in the customer lifecycle, helping onboard and train new customers. AMs, on the other hand, arrive a little later in the lifecycle when customers might be ready for upsells and cross-sells.
  • Knowledge Focus: Both need to know a lot about their products, but AMs typically know more of the complexities of different products than CSMs do. They need the knowledge for upsells and cross-sells. In regards to intimate customer knowledge, CSMs hold a higher degree. They need it to build solid relationships.
  • Performance Metrics: Whereas an AM usually has a renewal and upsell quota to hit, CSMs’ performance is usually measured by looking at the level of success or ROI their customers are having.
  • Appearance to the Customer: The customer values both, but tends to trust a CSM more because, unlike an AM, they are not attempting to sell the customer anything else.

Keep in mind that these differences are generalities, not rules. Sometimes you’ll see CSMs who better fit the description of the AM we’ve written above.

Now that you know the main differences, let’s go more in-depth on each position and its earnings, daily responsibilities, and requirements. This will help you understand which position best suits your needs and personality.

Customer Success Manager Job Overview

Customer Success Managers are in charge of keeping clients happy with their products or service. They are becoming a staple position in SaaS companies and are earning high numbers due to the value they bring to the team. Let’s go in-depth on the role so you can learn more about how they are in many ways different from, and in many ways alike, Account Managers.

CSM Salary and Earnings

A CSM’s earnings usually consist of a base salary, cash bonuses, and commission or commission sharing that’s based on their ability to hit KPIs like retention or sometimes growth in the form of upsells. The base salary of CSMs in the software industry averages $80,251/yr according to Glassdoor’s data, making it a high-earning career path.

Keep in mind that base salary is only part of the full picture. The average CSM at Microsoft earns a $124,360 base but gains an additional $23,611 from bonuses and commission sharing. Also, as you improve and move up the ladder to Senior CSM or VP of CSM, your earnings increase.

CSM Day to Day Responsibilities

Customer Success Managers are responsible for helping their customers achieve success with their software product, helping them make more money, save more time, and hit any other goals related to the product.

They do this by onboarding them, training them on the software, and answering any questions or concerns during the relationship. CSMs also strategize with customers to create and implement plans for how they can most effectively use the tool.

For example, a customer might come to them asking how to get more out of an automation feature. The CSM will review their team’s current usage of the feature, work with the client to figure out tasks they spend the most time doing, and then come to them with a plan for automating those tasks with the software. If the client likes it, the CSM will also likely help them implement it.

The major goal of a CSM is to keep churn low. They operate on the philosophy that if they provide the best user experience possible for their customers, renewals will occur automatically.

However, they do take other measures to increase their chances of keeping customers, the most impactful of which being relationship building. CSMs holding frequent calls to check in on clients or sending them friendly messages when a client achieves a milestone are examples of this nurturing.

Requirements to Get a CSM Job

Getting a job as a Customer Success Manager is more than doable if you have prior customer service experience or experience in an industry into which you’d like to sell. For example, if you were a real estate manager, and so long as you have good people and technical skills, you could probably land a job at a real estate software company. The reason for this is you’d have in-depth knowledge of the company’s customers, and could therefore serve them effectively.

As for the typical requirements, SaaS companies usually ask that applicants have the following:

  • A college degree
  • Experience in or knowledge of the industry you’ll serve
  • Sales or customer service experience
  • Organization skills
  • Relationship-building skills
  • Technical savvy

To learn more about the CSM position and what it takes to become one, check out our article, “8 tips for getting into customer success”.

Account Manager Job Overview

Account Managers nurture and grow relationships and deal with current clients, focusing on helping them solve issues with the tech and find new products or features to purchase that will enhance their user experience. Let’s go over the position in detail so you can decide if it’s right for you and see how it differs a bit from the CSM role.

Account Manager Salary and Earnings

An Account Manager’s earnings consist of a base salary, bonuses, and commission sharing, which is typically based on their quota attainment for numbers of renewals, upsells, and cross-sells. The average base salary for an Account Manager in the software industry is $65,874/yr, according to Glassdoor’s data on over 71,000 submitted salaries.

If you work for one of the top software companies you can expect to earn a lot more. AMs at Oracle, for example, have an average earnings upwards of $91,000/yr. Plus, getting your foot in the door at a software company in a sales role sets you up for high earnings down the line, especially if you choose to go into a closing role like Account Executive, where commissions and bonuses can land you well over six figures.

Account Manager Day to Day Responsibilities

Account Managers are primarily responsible for influencing upsells, cross-sells, and renewals for customers in their book of accounts. If a customer wants to learn more about an upgrade or add-on feature, the Account Manager has the answers, thanks to their in-depth knowledge of the software, pricing, and plans. They also identify opportunities for upsells and schedule calls with clients to feel out and initiate the potential sale.

When not thinking about selling, Account Managers are helping clients solve day-to-day issues clients have with the software by fielding questions and problems and responding to them as soon as possible, so as to keep the client happy. And if a client becomes frustrated and brings up canceling the subscription, the Account Manager will use their sales skills to save the client.

The Account Manager also serves as the liaison between clients and the rest of the company. They create reports summarizing a client’s plans, needs, and concerns and share them with department heads.

They also typically work closely with sales and marketing to nurture current clients towards an upsell or help them create a sales presentation. And of course, they tell the product team what clients are recommending.

Requirements to Get an Account Manager Job

Many software companies will hire you as an Account Manager if you have sales experience, business and tech acumen, and an understanding of their client’s industry.

Below are some of the common credentials and skills on Account Manager job postings:

  • Customer service or sales experience
  • College degree in marketing, sales, or a business-related field
  • Communication skills
  • Conflict resolution skills
  • Fast learner
  • Ability to hit quotas consistently
  • Experience with a CRM

To learn more, check out this article by Career Karma that tells you how to become an Account Manager and the various career paths you can take to do it.

Bottom Line: Customer Success Manager vs Account Manager

Both Customer Success Managers and Account Managers are integral parts of software sales teams and focus on keeping the business’s clients happy and growing relationships. Job title descriptions vary from company to company, and from industry to industry, so take any comparison between these two positions as generalities rather than rules.

And to find out more about a specific CSM or AM role, head over to Sales Trax’s job board, where top tech companies are searching for their next bright, relationship-builder.