CS in Conversation: Creating a Success Plan for Your New CSM

August 19, 2014 Pam McBride

Amity sat down with Dana Lacey, customer success team lead at ScribbleLive, to get an understanding on how they onboard their CSMs. Do they have success plans for them as well?

Seems staffing a customer success team continues to be as hot a topic as customer success itself. Earlier this year in an open letter response from a SaaS in need of saving, Amity’s Chief Customer Officer Louise Philp provided some valuable insights on how to build a team of customer success heroes. With attributes and interview questions, Louise dissected the role of a customer success manager from her perspective and experience staffing customer success teams.

In June, Jay Ivey, CRM researcher of Software Advice reviewed 300 job listings from a sample size of corporations ranging from Microsoft to mature startups such as Box and published his findings in a study entitled what employers look for in a customer success manager.

Key findings from Jay’s data include:

  • Most employers sought candidates with customer support and account management experience, especially in high-growth, software-as-service (SaaS) environments.
  • 44% of employers required at least three years’ experience in the workforce, and many candidates will need more than five due to other requirements.
  • Of the listings that requested specific technical skills, 47% requested previous experience with customer relationship management (CRM) software.

“Regardless of their background, applicants should focus on strengthening the technical side of their resume. Accruing experience at SaaS companies will confer a significant advantage over other job seekers. So will a deep understanding of key business technology, such as CRM systems. And as the customer success field matures, being familiar with CSM-specific software will likely give applicants a further edge,” reported Ivey.

With different employers prioritizing different qualifications “this diversity of requested qualities suggests that different companies still have very different ideas of what the position should entail for their organization.”

Despite industry (72% of the job listings were posted by tech companies), title or qualifications there is no one-size-fits-all candidate profile. However, beyond job descriptions, interview advice, ambiguity and apprehension, there are several SaaS organizations that have taken the plunge – staffed their team and defined success strategies. It’s time to learn how they did it.

Aside from success plans for customers, does a SaaS company have a success plan for its customer success managers? Dana Lacey of ScribbleLive provides insights into her team and how they ramp up their CSMs.

Amity: Since there is a lot of discussion around candidates and skill set, before we go into the details on onboarding customer success managers, what are the three key things you look for in your candidates?


  1. Project Management  – there is a lot of moving parts and they need to be able to manage them all
  2. Diversity in experience of working with clients – we have big and small brands across different verticals
  3. Hit the ground running in a rapidly changing environment

Amity: How does that translate into their success with your organization?

DL: We measure our success managers against their ability to meet certain goals. A successful CSM at ScribbleLive is someone who can help their clients meet their goals. They also have to be comfortable talking to everyone from the front-line employees to the consultants within a company and push the relationships with any and all of these individuals. We aren’t an environment with very prescriptive processes, so they need to adapt to what is changing and evolving and guide how processes are developed.

Amity: In a Customer Success Meetup earlier this year you mentioned that ScribbleLive introduces customer success plans to all customers upfront. Do you do the same with Customer Success Managers?

DL: Absolutely. This is something that is pretty new to ScribbleLive in the last 6 months. We were onboarding people one at a time across departments – which didn’t scale.

Today we have a weeklong new hire onboarding session with presentations from the various departments. With this approach everyone gets access to the same information right from the get go. Everyone needs to know who to ask and where to access information since we don’t know what someone doesn’t know, we try to level the playing field. It also includes interactive activities where, for example two new hires will pitch us on the platform. This is an opportunity to provide feedback while promoting team building and knowledge transfer.

We also have onboarding specifically for the CSMs. The whole team opens up their calendar to the new CSM and invites them to their calls so they have an opportunity to participate in an implementation call, a sales pitch etc. They also shadow me. So aside from the regular portfolio management, they have an opportunity to see how things fit together and better understand how the implementation team and the sales team work with the role of CS.

With onboarding it’s really important that you give them access to all of the information right away – don’t hold back for fear of overwhelming them. These are smart people we are hiring so I provide them access to everyone and we are very transparent with what we are doing. I even bcc them on all of my client interactions so they can see how I deal with problems.

A new CSM does get a set of clients at the start so they can research them for their first two weeks. After the initial two weeks I make an introduction and then it’s my turn to shadow them by joining the calls and providing feedback.

After the first month we assign them their full portfolio because we are confident they are in pretty good shape to know where to get help if they need it – either by asking an individual or consulting our internal wiki.

Amity: What are your expectations on their progress?

DL: We conduct a monthly review with each CSM to look at the health of the portfolio:

  • How much the customer is using the product compared to how much they are paying for it
  • Churn risk and what the CSM adds to mitigate it. We have defined a set of strategies and we gauge if the CSM is engaged in all strategies such as monetization, implementation, training etc. and if their clients are meeting those standards to create a healthy customer
  • Month over month comparisons of their client portfolio to see how many of their clients are increasing usage and how we are meeting our goals

We not only examine their portfolio growth month over month but also how deep they are able to go into that client relationship.

Amity: You seem to be on a growth trajectory. How are you going to scale in the future?

DL: A lot of things we are tracking manually we are automating to introduce some consistency. And when a new CSM comes onboard it gives us the opportunity to revisit our onboarding process and refine it based on the insights and experience they bring to the table. The one question we ask: “Here’s how we approach a new client but based on your experience what would you do differently?” We learn a lot from it.

Do you have success plans for CSMs? How do you onboard them?

If you have any additional questions for Dana or Amity, we would love to field them!

Our ongoing interview series, CS in Conversation, provides insights from Customer Success professionals and practitioners on topics relevant to the Customer Success industry.  CS in Conversation recently spoke to Daniella Degrace about The Ideal Customer Success Platform.

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