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Cialdini's Principles: How to build strong communication skills as a Customer Success Manager

post-it notes with labels

At the heart of a Customer Success Manager’s role is communicating effectively with all parties, customers and colleagues alike. How do you build strong communication skills and win over your customers? Instead of making assumptions, let’s look at the science and psychology of behavior to influence our audience using Cialdini’s 7 Principles of Persuasion. It sounds technical, but it’s not! With Cialdini’s guidance, we look at human nature to help us make sure our message resonates with our audience and win over our clients.

But first, who is Cialdini? Robert Cialdini is a Psychologist who published his book in entitled Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which details 6 Principles of Persuasion before adding his 7th Principle (Unity). He researched people's consumption and purchasing habits and created shortcuts that you can apply to persuade others in their decision making habits, which are universally used today.

Below, I’ll break down the 7 Principles and share scenarios on how you can apply these techniques in your everyday life as a Customer Success Manager.

Infographic with Cialdini's Principles

Examples for Using the 7 Principles of Influence


The power of reciprocity is rooted in common human behavior, we tend to do something for others when we receive something in return such as exchanging gifts. With clients, it’s hard to imagine this technique because we should continue to always give without asking the client for something in return - after all, the main purpose of our job is to help our clients get value from our product in any way possible.


One of the ways to use reciprocity is to ask customers to fill out a feedback survey. For example, if a CSM or a Support team member offers the client a stellar experience and you follow up with a request for the user to fill out a survey, the likelihood of them completing the survey is very high. They feel that they need to give their feedback and compliment the their expert for the great service that was received. As long as the survey or request is brief and clear, there is a greater chance of success of receiving a response.


While the principle of Commitment or Consistency does not stand out as much from the rest of Cialdini’s principles, this is a powerful one that is probably used more often than you think. It’s rooted in our belief system, which means that we try to act according to our set of beliefs and values.


For example, I’ve used Commitment when a client shared specific feedback about their goals. In this scenario, the goal was to help Project Managers on their team use our tool to help them plan their project timelines more effectively. Subsequently, our team rolled out with a beta feature to help Project Managers manage their tasks through an integration. I reached out to the client with the following ask:

“In our last session, you mentioned that training your Product Managers to effectively use their schedules to map out project timelines is a primary focus. We released a new feature that integrates with your calendar to help with project management timelines. Would you be interested in participating in the beta and providing us product feedback? Your input would be very valuable.”

Social Proof

Two professionals in an office meeting

I tend to use Social Proof often when I speak to clients. People are usually motivated by what their peers are doing in the industry, which provides validation or justification for why they should also do X. Peer influence is quite powerful and a great tactic to employ to persuade others to take action on something.


A client that I was working with shared that they don’t want to try out a new feature because they are not sure that it will help their business. Having had a similar conversation with another client earlier that month, I shared a scenario that their peers were struggling with as well:

“I definitely understand your reservation to enable feature X. Similarly, a client that I was working with in your industry shared the same reservation a couple of weeks ago, but decided to test out our feature based on the benefits. They ran a report this week and saw that the team increased their efficiency by 20%. I believe that by implementing this feature, we could have the same impact on your business.”


As a CSM, this is an extremely important tool to have in your arsenal. When you have product and industry knowledge, clients think of you as an expert, which will automatically influence your clients to listen to your recommendations. We often emphasize the role of the CSM as a trusted advisor because CSMs have authority and with this level of influence, we can gain the client’s trust.


When I was new to an account, this is when I felt vulnerable because I felt that I didn’t know the client well enough to make recommendations. To counter this, I would do a lot of research and read handoff notes from Sales and Implementation teams to understand the clients’ needs. Going into a new meeting, I wanted to be prepared and come as a knowledgeable expert who could guide them.

“I understand that one of your main challenges is increasing the adoption of the platform so you can streamline your operations. I recommend having a workshop training to educate users and fill in knowledge gaps, which is known to increase adoption by 40% on average.”


cell phone with like image

I like this one! Typically, we tend to gravitate and agree with users who we like. Conversely, we disagree and are less receptive to ideas from people we don’t like. It’s human nature. Understanding this is an important part of why CSMs hugely focus on building rapport with our clients. We want to get to know them on a personal level so that we become an extension of their team, more than a vendor who is there to satisfy their business requirements. We want to build trust as well as rapport and genuinely have a good working relationship with the client.


There have been times when your main POC is unresponsive or there is turnover in the company. This is a great time to establish a good relationship. The way I do this is being attentive to their needs and readily available. I make it a point to let them know that I am there as a resource to help them succeed.

“Jerry - welcome to the team! From my understanding you have not used our platform in your last organization. I was working on increasing usage and adoption with your predecessor Jim. I would love to give you an overview of areas of that platform that will help you increase usage amongst your teams. Would you be available for a 1:1 tutorial on Wednesday afternoon? I want to make sure that you have the resources that you need to succeed in your role.”


I think we are all familiar with this one. Someone tells you that a product is available for a limited time only and there are only 20 products left. Immediately, you become interested and the product goes up in demand and value. While scarcity is not a tactic that is used often in our role as a CSM, it has a big impact when it is used in a relevant situation because it increases urgency and gets the user to act, especially if you are trying to sell something.


In one of my roles, I was responsible for selling training sessions to clients. We had a quota to hit every quarter, but since the clients knew that the training would be available to purchase at any time in the year, we had to create a sense of urgency by sharing that there was limited availability for the promotion.

“Suzy - I know that you were interested in training last quarter to help increase usage of the platform for your team. We are running a quarterly promotion for training sessions. Slots are filling up fast and our trainers have limited availability on their calendars for this quarter. Are you interested in taking advantage of this offer today?”

Unity (recently added)

This is an addition to the 6 Principles of Persuasion originally published by Cialdini. In the 7th principle of Unity, it is understood that people like to agree with people with whom they have a shared identity or a set of common traits. I can definitely relate to this. Think about politics - this is a primary example of shared identity, but don’t worry, I will not get into any political beliefs here!


This comes down to building rapport and is similar to liking. We try to find commonalities with our clients so we can connect. When working with clients, I often try to get to know who they are by asking about their location and hometown. Usually, I bond with people who live on the West Coast or even the Midwest where I’m originally from.

“Mike - I understand that you used to live in the San Francisco Bay Area and used to work in the events industry. One of my past jobs was with X and it was definitely fun to learn about all the tour operations in that job. We also have a common connection - Suzy Greyburg!”

Armed with this knowledge, I hope you can use these Principles to communicate more effectively. Always remember to be ethical and genuine when applying these powerful techniques on your audience.



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