How to Build a Team of Customer Success Heroes

May 27, 2014 Louise Philp

Customer Success

Dear Louise,

Although we have a lot of trial participants for our SaaS product, we are finding it difficult to convert them and we are experiencing some churn. I think it’s time, perhaps overdue actually, to bring a customer success hero or two on board. The problem is, I don’t know what to look for or where to start.

What should I be looking for? Is there a way to “test” them to see if they have the right skill set? Any tips for hiring for this role?

Best regards,

From a SaaS in need of saving!

Dear SaaS in need of saving,

First and foremost, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Over the course of the last 12 months, I’ve done regular Google queries on “customer success manager” and the number of jobs on LinkedIn continues to increase – did you know that there are over 16,000 today? That is a lot of companies likely looking to solve the same problem you are by staffing a customer success team. And I am betting they are facing the same challenges on hiring.

Although I don’t focus solely on hiring, as the Chief Customer Officer of a purpose-built platform for CSMs, I spend the majority of my time working directly with customer success managers and executives while onboarding, retaining and growing them. And this is what I’ve observed in amazing customer success heroes:

Know exactly what you are looking for so they succeed in their role

Are you looking for conversion or retention specialists? In other words, do you need someone to convert trial participants or do you need someone to work with existing customers to ensure they don’t cancel but rather renew and buy more? Either way, the individual needs to be able to demonstrate the value of your SaaS offering – just at differing stages. It’s important to first understand each role and the journey of your customers and only then will you know what the perfect candidate looks like. You need to find the type of person that fits the type of business model you have and where your need is greatest.

Understand where CS fits into your overall organization

Depending on the size of your organization, it’s important to understand where Customer Success fits among Marketing, Support and Sales. If your organization isn’t large enough to staff all of these departments today, eventually you will be so keep them in mind. A customer success hero must be comfortable communicating and collaborating with individuals from each area in the best interest of the customer. And there will be interaction with Product Management and Development, so technical aptitude and passion are equally important – this comes through in the CSMs I talk to.

Types of questions to ask

By interacting with and observing behavior in customer success managers, I have noted that they are good at deducing and solving problems – not always of the technical nature – and they are very good listeners. So when I am interviewing candidates for my team, I liked to use a layered question approach. An example might be:

Q: Describe to me the first step you take when you get a new account/client

A: I review the information and data that we have on them and then I prepare for my first call

Q: What type of information do you look at?

A: I check to see if they participated in a trial, what they did during that trial – how they used the product, how many users they have and whether someone has captured their business goals or the outcomes they hoped to achieve with the product

Q: What is your objective with the first call?

A: It’s an introductory call and it’s the first step in relationship building

By asking open-ended and probing questions I can see the candidate’s strategy, clock-speed and thought process. How deep can they go? They should have learned a lot about their product and how to explain it to the benefit of the customer in relation to their business goals.

More example questions to determine:

  •   Aptitude: Sell me your last company’s product. Yes “sell” but not as a sales person but rather a CSM demonstrating value
  •   Passion: Describe a customer (without disclosure) of your previous product – you are looking for how much detail they’ve acquired to gauge how deep they can build a relationship
  •   Ownership: Of the customer but not in the sense of “owning the customer” – responsibility to them and how they demonstrate it
  •   Persuasion and Influence: Have you or can you persuade or influence your organization to change something for a customer?

 

3 attributes

From my experience working with and staffing my team, there are three must-haves for customer success managers that are good indicators for success:

  1.     Ability to multi-task and pay attention to detail. Most CSMs are juggling data and colleagues and new features and customers and more data. As the book of business grows, it’s easy to overlook or forget something – even a customer! And that’s just not acceptable to the customer or the business. It also helps to have a system in place to help them manage it all.
  2.     Critical thinking. Have them walk you through interacting with a customer. Find out their play by play and their drive to succeed. How a CSM thinks through and approaches a customer it vital to the conversion and retention because each customer is unique.
  3.     Communication. I mentioned above how a CSM needs to communicate and collaborate with various internal departments and of course the customer. How well do they read who they are speaking to? Can they speak to various levels of an organization – they might be talking to a CEO or designer depending on your service offering and are they comfortable all the way up the chain? Can they influence decisions in how they communicate?

And last but not least, there needs to be a cultural fit. This individual is part of the bigger team and representing your product on a daily basis so they need to embody the values of your organization. This is an obvious one but should not go without stating.

I hope this has been helpful and good luck!

–       Louise

What do you look for when hiring CSMs?

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