3 Things I Learned Transitioning from a Data Scientist to Becoming an Enterprise CSM

Learn about my epic journey and gain some breakthrough gems that you can apply to your role.

Samuel J Cummings III

Wow has time flown by. 1 year ago today I took on an new endeavor that I knew would be an epic change for me and my career. I became an Enterprise CSM at LinkedIn. S/O to Greg Butler and Erica Mosely for giving me an infinitely fruitful opportunity to grow and change my life. It’s been a helluva ride so far yet we are just getting started!

As all of us who have survived the madness that has been 2020 and early 2021 know; change can be scary. Change can be risky. As with all things, with risk comes reward. Anyone who knows me personally, knows that I have never been shy to take chances and try new things. But this was on a new level. I was going from serving in technical analytics roles most of my career to an enterprise customer success manager(CSM) one. On top of that, I was moving from a department leader & team manager role to an individual contributor(IC) one. And to throw more change in the mix; I was moving from a company with less than 300 employees to one with over 8,000.

The amount of change I was about to embark on by taking this role was off the charts. What if I fail? What if it doesn’t work out? Along with potential failure also came many stigmas. Being an American Descendent of Slavery (ADOS) and rising to the top of one of the fastest growing industries and traveling the world with customers delivering Data Science was something that was beyond possibility coming from Saint Louis City. This wasn’t Silicone Valley or New York. This was Saint Louis, Missouri where the only people that made it out were Nelly, Akon & Morgan Debaun CEO of Blavity. Before that was Dick Gregory, Chuck Berry & Redd Fox but that was way before my time. Of course there were others but a short list adds to the suspense. So walk with me lol.

Even in today’s climate some people act like slavery and systemic oppression was so long ago. My grandmother was a sharecropper. A direct descendent of slavery. This is 2021 yet the chains that bound many who share my lineage were only 2-3 generations removed from America’s greatest sin. Not including Jim Crow, Red Lining, Mass Incarceration and the many modern day forms of disenfranchisement. Back in 2014 while working in one of the beacons of the tech community in Saint Louis called TREX; I was also in the streets protesting after the death of Michael Brown. The predatory policing in the many Saint Louis counties for ticket revenue is real. To this day, I know many blacks and hispanics who won’t drive along St. Charles Rock road after dark for fear of being targeted by police. If you have happened to read this far it is apparent; my path to becoming Head of Data Science at Gainsight was far from likely. I failed 4th grade, got suspended when I was in 6th grade for almost half of the year for every offense in the book. Yet graduated from middle school less than 2 years later as co-valedictorian and went on to graduate from one of the best high schools in the country - SLUH.

Shoutout to my fellow Jr. Bills! #AdMajoremDeiGloriam

I say all of that to say that being ADOS and getting to the heights that I had reached was hard. Really hard! The last thing anyone who comes from where I come from wants to do is take a step back. After overcoming so many obstacles the last thing that makes sense to do is go back to the bottom to try again even if that is in a different industry or a bigger pond. When you make it through the maze where many lose themselves or their sense of worth along the way, why go back to start again. Two words best describe what it is like: fear & uncertainty.

Regardless if you share my lineage or not, fear and uncertainty can be restricting. We can all relate to the fear of failing. On top of that dealing with the uncertainty of going down to an IC role from a department leader. Giving up control and navigating the corporate mine field again was a palpable risk. All of these thoughts could have easily prevented me from experiencing one of my most rewarding experiences in my career so far. Becoming an Enterprise CSM gave me so many new skills and insights that if I did not undertake I would have missed. So without further ado below are 3 things I learned from moving from a Head of Data Science to a Enterprise CSM:

#1 The most important word in Customer Success is not what you might think

I spent most of my time in analytics roles. Among many things my career experience taught me an appreciation for the customer. I was obsessed with the customer. Customer analytics, customer outcomes, customer objectives, customer experience. Everything was about the customer. I had spent most of my career analyzing customer behavior and data to find patterns and insights. Even though I was always customer facing throughout my career, the technical roles I served in always had me putting the customer at my heart of understanding. I still feel being customer focused is important to be successful. However, what I have learned since becoming a CSM is how much customer success is really about: SUCCESS.

Inspiring, cultivating, sharing, fostering and distributing success was something that I had not quite understood. Making people successful leads to customer success. This seems like such a simple concept but even the most experienced CS leaders and professionals often forget. The easiest way to ensure renewals and long term growth; is to foster success in the organizations you work with or users of your products. So many companies that I have worked with over the years have created health scores and insight engines to power automation. But what I have found is missing today from most is the tracking of the factors of Success. Data Science is hard. But building out what markers of success are within your clients journey is even harder. It’s amorphous and often can be considered subjective. The subject itself deserves a blog of its own of which I will most likely write down the line. But below are a few success based questions you can ask yourself or your team when evaluating the health of your customer that will like me, help you transform how you support your clients.

Success Focused Questions

  • Have we hosted a session or event that has inspired them to engage in sustained behavioral change either at the executive or end user level?
  • Have we shared compelling narratives and experiences of other customers that would resonate with them take action or embark on new efforts with our product or services?
  • Have the people who use our product or service been promoted or improved their careers since working with us?
  • Have we established a champion or champions group that has built a brand within their own organization of success and excitement?
  • Have we had anyone who works with us speak and share their success stories with others in the community? If so did we share praise with their boss or business leader in their organization? Did that leader also value their story?

These are all just a few of the questions that one can ask to begin to bake SUCCESS into customer success at their company.

#2 Being a rockstar CSM is about building a personal brand anchored in providing unique value

Too many times CSM’s can treat their job like customer service or account management. Nothing against those professions but customer success is different. It’s not just about helping them solve problems or making sure they pay the bill at the end of the month or year. Customer Success is about adding value. I am a data guy at heart. So coming into the role I know from the start that what I was going to bring to my customers was a data driven approach. That is my background, but whatever your personal story and brand is, anchor your client experience in that. Along with delivering against your company's internal goal and processes, find a way to make your unique talents and skill a key differentiating factor in how you service your customers vs others. This will make you uniquely memorable and help you easily bring new things that your teammates can also leverage. Below are two examples of programs I created on my own accord to help bring my customers unique value that made even my most challenging and least engaged customers in the end come around. If you create value and anchor that in your brand and outreach. People will notice and take action to engage with you. This approach works on accounts with bad preexisting relationships to customers who go dark and everything in between.

Two Value Add Initiatives I Launched As an Enterprise CSM

  • Bi-Weekly Buzz - Is a outreach I send every two weeks that serves as a curated breakdown of insights and best practices going on my companies industry or ecosystem that my clients users or themselves as program managers can take advantage of during the two weeks between the next update. The content is always focused on providing insights and solutions that are meaningful for the reader. It is important to take the time necessary to make it personalized for the reader in a way that makes it easy for them to notice that you are providing it for them to take advantage of. The key being making it different from a mail blast. Make it actionable!

  • Role Rockstar Series - Is a series of User to User enablement sessions that I host once a quarter that increases the cross-pollination of success in my customer base by allowing them to hear from other users, managers and exec stakeholders. The content consits of successful learning, initiatives and use cases that real customers like them have rolled out or problems that they have solved with our product or service. I host usually 3 sessions in a week and allow for each session to be co-hosted with one of my customers. I find this to be insanely valuable in promoting and inspiring success across accounts. Customers love the content and customers love to host and share. It's a win win for all!

    • These are just a few of the initiatives/programming that I rolled out to position myself as net value add to my customer. These both saved me time building credibuility with my customers while also allowing for me to drive action at scale. As you might have also noticed, both of these are often owned separately my either marketing or scaled outreach teams. But by thinking outside of the box and making them my own I was able to bring a sense of unique value and partnership opportunities that even my most disengaged customers would eventually reach out to get engaged.

      #3 This is for my fellow data/technical people out there. Spend some time in the people you serve's shoes. It will benefit you greatly!

      I was a Data Scientist who served CS leaders and CSM’s with insights to do their jobs. Becoming an actual CSM gave me all new views in why analytics initiatives failed or succeeded. Personally I had an additional reason to take the risk as my company DataPlant was looking to develop a platform for Enterprise CS organizations. It just made sense for me. That was my story but whoever you service today. I still cannot recommend enough that you take a tour of duty in their role. It will make you a better analysis or scientist. If you serve customer facing roles as an analyst or developer then get a side gig or find a role being one. If you help marketing leaders drive business by providing analytics & insights; take a role at a smaller company as a marketing leader or manager if you can. Although it might be hard to find, positioning your unique talents and perspective only you can bring to the role will make you stand out. And if you get the job you will not be disappointed.

      If your concern is messing up your resume. Don’t worry, even if you fail you have a compelling story to share with the hiring manager at your next role or you will get some customer stories and relationships that will help you take on building your own startup. Regardless, If you get the luxury of taking on a role in a position outside of your career comfort zone. It will make you a stronger and better professional when you ultimately make it back to the other side of the house.

      If you enjoyed this article, please Subscribe. Let me know your thoughts at sam @ thedataplant.com or share this article with someone else you think will find it valuable. I have lots of other blogs and insight rich content on my site or on the way for you to enjoy. Until next time. Sam C.

      • Rockstar CSM