Customer Success Manager vs Project Manager: What’s the Difference?

customer success manager vs project manager
customer success manager vs project manager

You’ve read my previous articles on Customer Success Manager vs. Product Manager and Customer Success Manager vs. Customer Relationship Manager. Today’s one addresses another common comparison, that being with the Project Manager role.

Project Management is going to happen in virtually all organizations, as projects are what drive companies forward. Still, it’s worth asking what the differences are, as you might be not too keen on project work. That’s what we’re going to delve into this blog and the differences between the two roles.

CSMs are “External” Project Managers

When you’re brought in as a Customer Success Manager, you’re there to do a specific job, that is, help your customers get more value quicker from the software that they paid for. This is particularly important in industries where the workflows can be quite complex.

Depending on the type of industry you serve and the solution you offer, you might find yourself dragged into the project work that your clients are trying to achieve. This doesn’t mean that you’re doing the work that they’re meant to do, but in order to present something, complete something or get crucial results, they may need to configure your solution in a certain way to achieve these things. You have to understand their project in order to do this. So while you still work for your tech SaaS company, don’t be surprised if you find yourself quite involved in your customers’ projects, which is what true Project Managers do.

There’s Also “Internal” Project Management Too

In tech companies, everyone works together. Customer Success is particularly embedded in the middle of the organization, where other departments regularly rely on their expertise or their access to customers to achieve things.

This quarter in my organization, I’m helping different departments understand how we might be able to improve the usage of a Learning Management System that we’ve deployed to help onboard more customers remotely. It was completely optional for me to work on this project, but I put my hand up because I found it interesting.

This may or may not be less of the case if you’re a true Project Manager, but the fact of the matter is, it’s not likely to be a big part of a CSMs role internally unless you want it to be.

Who earns more?

This is a tough one. The pay scale of Customer Success Managers is pretty well established ($60K USD to around $120K USD, entry to mid-senior), but Project Managers are a bit harder to pin down. This is because the role has existed for a lot longer and it’s a lot harder to define what a “typical” Project Manager does. Furthermore, there are many industries to consider, each with their own pay scales.

I’ll say that the pay range of Project Managers, while it can vary, will actually fall into a pretty similar range as Customer Success Managers: on the lower end, $50-60K USD, usually for an entry level. At the higher range, it might be a smidge higher, $150K plus for a very experienced Project Manager, perhaps with leadership experience.

Customer Success ManagerProject Manager
You become an “external” project manager as your customers try to use your solution to achieve a resultHelping clients get a specific result is the main focus of their job.
You will have opportunities to do internal projects in your company, which are completely optionalFor the most part, quite siloed in their own departments, but there is scope to help other departments out if needed.
Salary: $60K-$120K USD, $150K+ USD for leadershipSalary: $50K-$120K USD, $150K+ USD for leadership
customer success manager vs. project manager – table summary

Long story short, there is quite a bit of project management work as a Customer Success Manager, but that’s only because of the work that your customers do. If they’re in industries where the work is more complex, getting your assistance for project work is more likely. It’s part and parcel with the job, but won’t necessarily be there for every, single customer.

In my opinion, the internal project opportunities are also important, as they keep you across what other teams are working on in your organization. This helps a lot later for promotion opportunities. Take up the ones that interest you, but remember not to spread yourself too thin.

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