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Account Managers vs. Customer Success: When Should a Startup Hire for Each Role?

Account Managers vs. Customer Success: When Should a Startup Hire for Each Role? - Remote Resources - Dynamite Jobs

This blog has been originally published on the Remote First Recruiting site

In the fast-paced world of startups, customer relationships are crucial for growth and sustainability. Two pivotal roles often discussed in this context are Account Managers (AMs) and Customer Success Managers (CSMs). While these roles share some similarities, they serve distinct purposes and are critical at different stages of a company's journey. Understanding when to hire each can significantly impact your startup's success.

Understanding the Roles

Account Managers

Account Managers are primarily focused on managing and nurturing existing client relationships. Their responsibilities typically include:

  • Upselling and Cross-selling: Identifying opportunities to sell additional products or services to existing clients.
  • Contract Renewals: Ensuring clients renew their contracts by maintaining a strong relationship and demonstrating value.
  • Client Liaison: Acting as the main point of contact for clients, handling their inquiries, and resolving issues.
  • Revenue Focus: Concentrating on meeting revenue targets by maximizing the potential of each account.

Customer Success Managers

Customer Success Managers, on the other hand, focus on ensuring clients achieve their desired outcomes through the use of your product or service. Their responsibilities include:

  • Onboarding: Guiding new clients through the initial setup and integration process.
  • Client Education: Providing training and resources to help clients make the most of your product.
  • Proactive Support: Anticipating client needs and addressing potential issues before they become problems.
  • Customer Advocacy: Acting as the voice of the customer within the company, advocating for their needs and feedback.
  • Churn Reduction: Ensuring clients derive ongoing value from your product to reduce churn rates.

When to Hire Account Managers

Stage: Scaling Revenue

When your startup is ready to focus on scaling revenue, it’s time to consider hiring Account Managers. This stage typically occurs after you’ve established a stable product-market fit and have a growing client base that requires dedicated attention to unlock further revenue potential.


  1. Growing Client Base: You have a substantial number of clients that need dedicated management to explore upselling and cross-selling opportunities.
  2. Complex Contracts: Your clients are signing more complex contracts that require regular follow-ups and management.
  3. Revenue Goals: Your revenue goals are increasingly ambitious, requiring focused efforts on existing accounts to meet targets.

When to Hire Customer Success Managers

Stage: Ensuring Client Retention and Satisfaction

Hiring Customer Success Managers is crucial when your startup is focused on retaining clients and ensuring they receive ongoing value from your product. This is often necessary once you start seeing early signs of churn or receive feedback indicating clients are not fully utilizing your product.


  1. Client Onboarding Needs: New clients need significant assistance to get started with your product, indicating a need for a dedicated onboarding process.
  2. Churn Concerns: You notice a trend in clients not renewing their contracts or leaving for competitors.
  3. Product Complexity: Your product has evolved to include more features, requiring ongoing education and support for clients to fully leverage its capabilities.
  4. Customer Feedback: Clients provide feedback indicating they need more proactive support and engagement to achieve their goals.

Balancing Both Roles in a Startup

In many startups, especially in the early stages, roles might overlap due to resource constraints. Founders and early team members often wear multiple hats, covering both account management and customer success functions. However, as the company grows, it becomes essential to delineate these roles to ensure focused efforts in both revenue growth and customer retention.

Strategic Timing

Early Stage (Pre-Product-Market Fit):

  • Focus: Customer feedback and product iteration.
  • Recommendation: Founders and early team members should handle customer interactions to gather insights and refine the product.

Growth Stage (Post-Product-Market Fit):

  • Focus: Scaling and expanding the client base.
  • Recommendation: Begin by hiring Customer Success Managers to ensure new clients are successfully onboarded and existing clients are retained. As you grow, introduce Account Managers to drive additional revenue from your established client base.

Mature Stage (Scaling and Expansion):

  • Focus: Maximizing revenue and ensuring long-term client satisfaction.
  • Recommendation: Have a balanced team of both Account Managers and Customer Success Managers to cover all aspects of client engagement and growth.

The decision to hire Account Managers or Customer Success Managers depends on your startup’s current stage and strategic goals. By understanding the distinct functions and focusing on the right indicators, you can make informed decisions that foster growth, enhance client satisfaction, and drive long-term success for your startup.

If you're ready to take your team to the next level, we're here to help. Book a time with us here and let's discuss how we can uplevel your team together.

-Krista & the RFR Team✌️

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