The following is a summary of advice Chitra gave in a recent interview.
Most CS leaders understand that the best CSMs are seen as trusted advisors to their team. They’re great at identifying customer needs and tailoring the company’s solutions to meet those goals, and customers look to them to understand how they compare to the industry and where they can improve.
Problem is, a CSM can be a top performer in one company and fail in the next. They’re gifted in the context of one company’s customers and solutions, but they’re unable to apply their skills in the context of another.
So hiring great CSMs is the most important activity to building a team that works as effective consultants with their customers. Below, I’ve shared some tips for evaluating candidates in the hiring process and then coaching them to continue developing those skills once they are on the team.
In the hiring process
One of the best ways to find CSMs that naturally have a consultative approach is to set up a role-playing exercise as one of the interviews that models your buyer context.
You can try role-playing different types of meetings for this exercise but the kickoff meeting is a good starting point. It helps you see whether candidates can identify a customer’s desired outcomes and then tailor the solution to those goals.
- Establish an interview panel (perhaps more senior CSMs on your team), who will act as a newly signed customer. Each member of the panel will adopt a user profile such as a department head, decision maker, product user, etc.
- Set the timer for 45 minutes and have the candidate hold a meeting with their customers.
- The panel will come with hard to answer questions and present the potential CSM with challenges along the way.
- The panel should also have known “bad practices” (like bad workflows or processes) that the candidate will need to challenge.
Assess the candidate’s ability to challenge the “customer”
If appropriate, does the candidate:
- Push against the customer’s success criteria? Some customer’s expectations of the product can either be unrealistic or lacking enough detail to give measurable ROI.
- Scrutinize bad workflows? Candidates should call out behavior that will decrease the potential value received and give examples of the success other customers have seen following best practices.
- Address low engagement or usage? Customers who have low engagement have a low likelihood of success. The candidate should be upfront and let the customer know that they are worried that they are not heading for success based on their engagement.
Look for signals that the CSM is naturally curious
To identify a customer’s desired outcomes and help them change their processes or workflows, a CSM needs to be able to effectively use questioning and listening. There needs to be a balance, of course—the questions can’t feel too self-serving and if the CSM is rapid-firing questions, the customer may feel underprepared.
Check for coachability by evaluating the candidate’s ability to self-diagnose
If a CSM can’t be coached, they’re likely to not be able to coach others well.
So after the role play is complete, ask the candidate to self-assess how they did. You’re looking to see how reflective and analytical they are about their own performance. If they simply say “I did great,” and don’t point to any areas where they could have improved, that’s a sign they’re not very coachable.
Then, share your feedback about how the call went and evaluate how well the candidate absorbs the feedback. If they don’t listen well or don’t seem to understand the importance of the feedback, that also is a sign they’re not very coachable.
Beyond the hiring process - ongoing training
Conduct peer-to-peer role playing exercises and internal workshops
Have CSMs work together to act out various scenarios. Let’s say a Sara (a CSM) is struggling with how to approach a conversation with a difficult customer. Set up a role playing session where Sara can pretend to be the customer, and Tim (a CSM without any context) is Sara. Taking a step back and seeing how Tim approaches the problem from a different vantage point will give Sara insight and help her come up with different solutions.
Additional places to help CSMs develop a consultative mindset:
- Regularly hold internal workshops
- Present examples of use cases at CS off-sites and team meetings
- Advocate for CS teams to be part of regular Sales kickoffs and product trainings
- Lead discussions about challenges customers face, wins, and general best practices
Coach CSMs to grow the skills to become a trusted advisor to their customers
Entry-level CSMs tend to start by doing transactional work. CS leaders can help them grow the skills to become seen as trusted advisors with their customers by coaching them (in 1:1s, or by conducting workshops or presentations) on the following.
- Encourage CSMs to study how customers are using the product across company sizes and industries. They should be able to begin identifying patterns and speaking to customers about best practices and how other customers are using the product.
- Teach CSMs to speak about the product to different audiences within the same company. Help them understand what the message and action items for each type of meeting are.
- Coach them to practice prioritizing their time by customer size and renewal dates.
This week's top posts
How to Become a Legendary Coach With Data
“Sales coaching is a combination of three pillars: motivation, strategic guidance, and skills development.” Here’s Gong Labs with a list of research-backed tips for coaching sales teams that can be easily applied to CS teams.
Hubspot’s CCO on Go-To-Market Success and Redefining Growth
Yamini Rangan shares her insights on a range of topics—the role of the CCO, how to build a go-to-market playbook, the keys of decision making across a large team, and more.
The Partnership Between Customer Success and Professional Services
Alex Farmer, VP of Customer Success at Cognite, with a concise story that answers the question, “How can pro-services and CS teams work together to drive customer success without too many cooks in the kitchen during the onboarding phase?”
Selling as a CSM
Founder & CEO of The Success League, Kristen Hayer, makes the case that great CSMs are always selling, but “it just might not be transactional.” She goes on to debunk 3 common myths often proposed by those who argue against CSMs selling to customers.
Success Happy Hour is a weekly newsletter for Customer Success leaders. Each week we feature one digestible piece of advice or a framework from a top Success leader, along with the best resources from that week. Subscribe here.