Remember, Your Customers Are Also in a Downturn

By Mike Edelstein

In ancient Greek theater, the protagonist was the actor who spoke first. Today, the protagonist is known as the hero. In this global theater of 2023, the Customer Success Manager (CSM) is the protagonist, the hero, facing off against the antagonist, the recession. But this recession is not a brand-new production. It’s a revival. And the recurring theme of each version of this play remains the same: the customer.

There are three steps every CSM needs to take to ensure both the preservation of customer success and the well-being of your customers’ business, even in an economic downturn:

Break the Fourth Wall – Address the customer directly
. Focus on empathy and collaboration. When I was at Salesforce, two company values were Trust and Customer Success. It was explained to me that without trust, transparency, honesty and relationships; we have no business. As Customer Success Managers, we live that everyday. There’s no reason to be in the marketplace if we can’t help our customers succeed. Period.

  • Enable and empower your Customer Success team to be raw in their conversations with customers. To the appropriate extent, share with your customer how your company is managing through this uncertainty.
  • Ask about their challenges, what they’re hearing from executive leadership and most importantly, what they’re hearing from their customers.
  • You must help your customers preserve their business and thrive with their own customers. Your customers are facing  similar economic conditions and your customers WILL remember this during the recovery period.


Hit  Your  Mark – Stand  in  the  correct  position  with  your  customers.  Consider your  own  business  and  vendor relationships. Are you consolidating technology and renegotiating vendor contracts? Of course you are, and so are your customers. How do you combat that? By focusing on:

  • Onboarding: Time is money. Ensure your customers’ implementation goes smoothly and efficiently.
  • Value Realization: Demonstrating business value takes work, conversation, partnership, and rigor. Establish an outcomes-based relationship with your executive stakeholders with KPIs that are specific and measurable to your customer’s business.
  • Scalability: You likely have a long list of customers that your account teams don’t have much interaction with. Find opportunities to increase your digital touch points, but make it personal, and ensure you have the right person with the right customer at the right time.

Create an Ensemble Cast – Put an emphasis on group work, not star performers
. With the mounting risk that new sales will slow, there must be a greater focus on retention and expansion. What aspect of this economic downturn directly affects your customers; and how can the CSM team help? A focus on collaboration and increased cross-functional alignment can get you there.

  • Enable your Customer Support desk to better report on the voice of the customer. They can listen for growth opportunities and provide leads.
  • Focus on signing early renewals.  This  is  an  incredible  tactic  to  create  a  win-win  situation  for  preserving  your business and your customers’.
  • Live  by  an  account  plan.  The  account  plan  is  not  just  for  sales teams – Customer  Success must own  their  responsible share. Map your executives, capture goals, document customer health, identify challenges and create a 360 view of your customer.
  • Think  outside  of  the  box  (assuming  new  sales  have  decreased)  by  re-training  Implementation  Specialists  as Technical Account Managers to allow customers even more access to your talented resources.


So  what’s the final act?  Create  the  environment  for  your  customer  to  become  the  hero,  the  protagonist,  in  the current  revival  of  this  play.  It’s  the  realization  that  the Customer  Success  Manager  has  the  enablement  and  the empowerment to truly partner with their customer stakeholders. And it’s the customer who will ascend to the spotlight on the shoulders of the Customer Success Manager.

About Mike Edelstein (“Coach Mike”)

Coach Mike joined WestCap as a Managing Director in 2022 to design and lead a Customer Success Advisory Practice for its portfolio companies. He is an adjunct professor for the University of San Francisco Graduate School of Management and serves as a member of their Customer Success Advisory Board. Prior to joining WestCap, Mike spent over 20 years building and leading Customer Success teams – from the nascent days of customer success at Thomson Reuters to helping Salesforce’s largest enterprise customers. Connect with Coach Mike on