Customer success is a functional area that is exploding right now. In a few short years, the “customer success manager” role went from new and trendy, to essential and mainstream. In fact, it’s now one of the hottest titles in tech. Demand is high, salaries are increasing, and SaaS companies are hiring CSMs as quickly as they can find them.
A common question I am asked frequently from SaaS executives and hiring managers is: “What is the ideal candidate profile of a great CSM?” My response is that there is no standard professional background that CSMs commonly come from, and this role is so new that it’s hard to find talent with many years of direct experience as a customer success manager. In fact, my top three customer success leaders that I hired at Omniture came from very diverse professional backgrounds. One was a senior director of online merchandising at a major clothing retailer, another was a product manager at Amazon, and the third was a success sales professional with IBM.
Regardless of professional background, I look for the following 6 attributes when hiring customer success managers:
- Natural Leader—My #1 hiring criteria is leadership. I want to hire smart, natural leaders from top to bottom on my team. I believe a team full of natural leaders will have an inherent ability to succeed. You can teach many skills and you can even teach leadership, but natural leaders will have the initiative to figure it out faster, and help others along the way. The common phrase I use is that I look for individuals who “excel in their current role and show thought leadership outside their role.” If I see evidence of that from a candidate, they’ve captured my initial interest.
- Relationship Builder—The best CSMs have an incredible ability to build and nurture relationships. I’ve seen CSMs develop genuine, professional relationships with their customers in a way to transcends the standard vendor/client dynamics and span many years and multiple job changes. Those CSMs are excellent at fostering “Relationship ROI”. Obviously, the primary focus is on building customer relationships, but they also must be good at developing productive relationships internally as they’ll have to cash a lot of internal checks as they advocate for their customers. One way I assess their relationship skills is to see them in action with me and the rest of the interview team. Do they truly try to develop a relationship with us during the interview process? Are they genuine? Do they send a thank you note after the interview and mention specifics about our conversation? Do they have good follow-up and follow-through? These are key indicators of how they will treat our customers.
- Passion for customer success (lower case)—This is important. Does the CSM candidate have a true passion for customer success. Does she find personal and professionals satisfaction in doing whatever is necessary to ensure her customers are delighted with your company and receiving value from the relationship? Can she effectively advocate for the customer? Does she consistently go above and beyond for the customer? Will she take a bullet or two for the customer (or from the customer), if necessary? I remember one CSM leader who truly exemplified this type of passion. He was at home in bed with a serious case of food poisoning. That same day, one of his top clients was experiencing serious issues with the service, negatively impacting one of their most important events of the year. The client called support and others trying to get the issue resolved, to no avail. In desperation, he called the CSMs cell phone for help. The CSM was tremendously sick, weak and exhausted and could have let the call go to voicemail, but when the call came him, he answered the phone. Within 30 minutes, the CSM helped navigate a resolution for his client. The client was on his way, and the CSM was back to his sick bed. That’s an example of a CSM who has a passion for customer success.
- Business & Tech Savvy—I want my CSMs to have solid business and tech smarts so they can have credible conversations with executives and align business objectives to our solution(s). They don’t need to be Harvard MBAs or Google engineers, but they do need to be able to grasp their customer’s business, comfortably speak with senior executives, and confidently recommend/deliver solutions to their needs.
- CSM Experience—Certainly previous CSM experience is helpful, especially SaaS CSM experience. If I can find qualified candidate with prior SaaS customer success experience, golden. However, I don’t let that be a show stopper. There are many excellent professionals out there who have the makings of a great CSM, but just need to be found.
- Industry/Domain Expertise—Many may disagree with me, but industry/domain expertise is typically at the bottom of my list. The reason why is that if a candidate is strong in all the other areas mentioned above, I believe they can quickly learn the industry/domain (with few exceptions). As an example, I had no experience at all in web analytics when I started at Omniture. None. However, I was able to pick it up over time and have sufficient knowledge to successfully support my clients. Deep expertise typically came from our consultants, but I knew enough to get the job done. The same was true about the majority of the CSMs I hired. Very few if any came from a web analytics or digital marketing background, but all were able to learn quickly and effectively manage their clients. Hire smart CSMs and train them on the industry and domain.
If you want a rockstar CSM, start with these attributes when evaluating candidates and you won’t be disappointed.
What do you look for in a CSM?
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