AEs and CSMs mad at each other? 

In my career, especially on the “upMarket / Enterprise” side of responsibilities, I’ve always enjoyed the concept of team selling. There is nothing quite like having a well oiled machine, where multiple smart people are collaborating and working on a collective strategy to help a customer be successful. This works extremely well when each role within the team is well defined and has mutual respect for the work that each counterpart is playing. In many cases you will see a combination of an AE, a CSM, an SE and an Exec all working together on a customer or prospect engagement. 

In many of my management jobs, I was responsible for the AE / Exec roles and the other teams were managed by a different chain of command. This system can work well and frequently does BUT what I have found is there can be hidden/unseen friction points when there isn’t a consistent philosophy or set of “rules” around what the primary goals were. If roels are not well defined and boxed in here are several bad outcomes:

  • One team member does all the work and feels let down + gets tunnel vision 
  • Key customer deliverables are missed in follow ups
  • Customers feel confused as to who they should go to for specific topics
  • Team members may contradict one another on separate conversations

My answer to solving this is “Swim Lanes”. Example of a rudimentary version attached.

When I became a CRO and had my first stint managing both CSMs and AEs I saw an opportunity to make this relationship even stronger. Within my first 30 days on the job, I heard/saw many instances where team members were having disagreements on who was responsible for what and the customer experience + team cohesion was clearly suffering. I had to find a way to set clear boundaries + get the entire team aligned on expectations. So this is what I did:

1) I picked one partner pairing that was frequent and very cross functional, CSMs and AEs. 

2) I asked each team to separately brianstorm on what they THOUGHT their responsibilities were. This was meant to be a group effort with multiple people on the same team with just a stream of conscious verbalizing and documenting what they perceived as their job duties. This was an opportunity for them to laundry list out all the things they did day to day with customers and how they perceived their role in the customer value chain / customer journey. 

3) I took these notes and turned them into a specific framework where we had a shared “Revenue Team” Philosophy” then I reviewed both sets of notes from AEs & CSMs and identified where each team had clear and obvious differences plus I identified where there was friction and each team claimed responsibility for a duty. It was remarkable how the roles were 90% already aligned and had very clear and correct views on what their jobs were. I just needed to fix the 10%.

4) I met with the leadership teams of both groups and we reviewed the shared understanding and friction points. Again there was 90% alignment so the friction was coming form just a small % of daily work. I asked each team to think about the friction points specifically and come up with a proposal to bridge. 

5) Ultimately after a couple of conversations we were able to come to alignment on exactly what each party was responsible for in every customer scenario & we then documented it and shared it with the team. We called this “Swim Lanes” and used this to train new employees and also hold each other accountable in future situations. 

With a live and clearly written out set of expectations, agreed upon by all parties, the friction points dissipated mostly and we became a lot more collaborative and team oriented. IN all my years managing, what I have found is that nearly everyone has good intentions and friction usually comes from misaligned expectations or unsaid perceptions. By collectively defining roles and crossover scenarios you can eliminate a lot of the emotional friction and hidden anxiety. Make it clear and then use it as a guiding light!

* You can learn more about me on my Bio or my Linkedin page *

** If you see an acronym or word anywhere on the site that you haven’t seen before, I might have posted an explanation on my glossary of terms. If not, tell me and I’ll add it!*

***Lastly if you are intrigued about anything I write about OR just want to network, hit me up! I love talking about business and career journeys.**


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