Your single source for new lessons on legal technology, e-discovery, and the people innovating behind the scenes.

Get the Most from Your SaaS Partnership by Engaging Your CSM

Marla Mims

Editor's Note: Originally published in October of 2021, Marla's advice still rings true. Use it to integrate your 2023 organizational goals with your optimization of the technology you have on hand.

Most software vendors staff customer success managers who work directly with customers to help them achieve their goals with their platform. These folks have hands-on experience using the tool in the real world, have seen many teams apply it to their unique challenges, and are ready to help your team accomplish what you need to with greater efficiency and ease.

But here’s a secret directly from yours truly, Marla Mims, one of Relativity’s customer success managers: “Vendor” is a dirty word no CSM wants to hear customers utter. In fact, just writing it sends shivers down my spine.

That’s not just because it feels a lot colder than the genuine, friendly admiration I have for all of my clients (dramatic, I know). It’s because it’s reductive of the benefits organizations like yours can receive if you were to shift the paradigm and think of your software CSMs less as vendors and more as partners.

At Relativity, for example, we CSMs consider ourselves to be your tour guide to your partnership with our broader team—not just the random person answering your email when you have a technical question to resolve.

Check out these tips on how to make the most of your relationships with your software providers—and ensure you’re leaving nothing on the table.

Fully Participate in Your Success Plan

Your CSMs go through rigorous training to stay ahead of the technology in your hands, as well as the industry demands driving your work. Their full time job is ensuring you have what you need to be successful with the software you use every day, and they’re just about as invested in that success as you are—or should be.

Armed with this knowledge (and our understanding of how you work), Relativity CSMs spend hours every year preparing a tailored success plan for each of our customers.

While we don’t expect you to spend hours upon hours reviewing the plan, we do hope you’ll be vocal about what you want to achieve in Relativity each year, and offer us the information we need to help set and track your goals. Theoretically, we can create and execute this success plan without your wholehearted participation—but on December 31, doesn’t “Saved $20,000 per month this year by implementing a scalable active learning workflow” sound a lot better than “Started using active learning with good results” in your own year-end reports?

To maximize this effort, make a habit of:

  • Sharing your team’s goals with the software for each year. Are you looking to save time on a particular workflow? Try out a new feature? Something else?
  • Checking in every month or so, to update your CSM on how things are going, ask questions, and request feedback. They’ll have great optimization tips for you!
  • Holding a retrospective with your CSM at the end of each year. What did you accomplish? What missed the mark? How have your organization’s goals changed, and how might that impact your use of the software next year?

Be Open about Your Company Goals

Speaking of organizational goals: The best success plans are the ones with objectives that represent your entire company’s goals. You know the ones. Every year, senior leadership kicks things off by talking about company objectives, your department heads distill them down to your team, and you think to yourself “Those goals sound great!”—and then put your head down and get back to work.

What if you brought that list of goals to your annual success plan conversation? Your CSM’s favorite thing to do is make you look good in front of your boss. Imagine if, at your bi-annual review, your CSM pops up a slide that shows exactly how you and your team executed some incredible feat with Relativity which points directly to the organization’s annual goals. That pleased look of pride on your department head’s face, coupled with your own internal sense of accomplishment—that’s what we call a win-win!

Make this a possibility by:

  • Brainstorming amongst your team about how your daily practices can contribute to company goals at large. What can you contribute that no other team can?
  • Gathering input on those practices from your team and your clients, to understand where you have room to improve and where you’re already knocking it out of the park.
  • Bringing these takeaways to your CSM, who can help translate what those objectives can look like in terms of software execution, and spin up your plan accordingly.

Share Your Professional Dreams

You talk to your CSM on a monthly, weekly, sometimes daily basis about any myriad of subjects: feature releases, company updates, training needs. Through all that interaction, consider adding one more agenda item to the list: Start talking about your own professional goals as well as your development goals for your team.

You may be surprised by how your CSM can support you in your career pursuits. CSMs have helped their customers make a case with decision-makers for added budget—to hire a larger team, provide more training dollars, or subscribe to additional software features. We’ve also helped folks get nominated for external awards, get promotions, and build their professional brand. You don’t have anything to lose by being open about your personal goals, and you stand to gain so much by being open about what you want to achieve.

To start building this relationship, you can:

  • Connect with your CSM on LinkedIn. It helps to join those networks, congratulate each other on your activities, and see what contacts you might already have in common.
  • Meet up at your software’s user conference or user group meetings whenever possible. You can take some time to share what you learned, and what interested you, so your CSM knows what you have your eye on moving forward.
  • Add a career conversation to your agenda on CSM check-ins every six months or so to catch up and ask questions. (Perhaps they can help you identify accomplishments to report in your performance reviews that may not have occurred to you.)

Go Ahead and Get Started

As we close out the first quarter of the year, I have one suggestion for you to focus on as you put your annual goals into action: create a deeper more meaningful relationship with your CSM, and really lean into your success planning.

At Relativity, we’ll be delighted by greater engagement and all the ways it will enable us to do more for you. In turn, you may reap more from your Relativity partnership than ever before. In the meantime, start with a small step and try to stop calling us a vendor—at least to our face.

Artwork for this article was created by Kael Rose.

Marla Mims was a customer success manager at Relativity.