For one reason or another, many Customer Success leaders need to be able to hire junior CSMs with potential and then grow them into the senior “trusted partner” CSMs we know customers aspire to work with.
But it’s no easy feat to systematically help new CSMs bridge that gap and become seen by customers as a reliable and trusted source of expertise and guidance. That’s why—with many teams growing their Success function in the coming year—we’ve rounded up the best advice from our newsletter, blog, and podcast on onboarding and developing talent.
1. Get clear on the role of the CSM and define expectations
"As organizations, we need to shift our mindsets from thinking of CSMs as ‘quarterbacks’ where they’re the ones coordinating, getting all the right people on the field, and when the CSM doesn’t know the answer, they go point the customer towards someone who can. Eventually, the customer just wants to work directly with the person who’s giving them the answers. CSMs need subject-matter expertise in order to deliver on the trusted partner promise, and the quarterback analogy does not sufficiently describe the role of the CSM.
“Beyond that, get super clear on what you’re asking CSMs to do. What are the highest value activities you want them focusing on? Then, see if you can give the other activities to associate CSMs. Most organizations don’t have associate CSMs but I think they should: it trains the associates while freeing up time for the subject matter experts to do the more impactful work.” — David Ginsburg, CCO at WorkBoard
"The best way for Directors and VPs to up-level their CSMs is to clarify the role of the CSM. And the best way to do that is to answer these five questions:
- Why does the CSM role exist? The answer to this should be written as a purpose statement that’s focused on the customer, explains why CS exists in your company, and should tie back to the company’s mission.
- What are CSMs responsible for? Identify the specific responsibilities that CSMs have to do to fulfill on the team’s purpose.
- How do CSMs do their job well? Outline the mindsets, behaviors, and skill sets required to do the job well.
- What do CSMs need to do their jobs well? Regularly assess whether CSMs are getting what they need to thrive: in our case, I look at 1. whether CSMs are clear on the company’s ‘why’ and the expectations in their role, 2. if CSMs have the tools they need to do their job well, 3. whether they have the messaging, training, and templates they need, and 4. how well we’re building 1:1 relationships with CSMs and creating a cohesive environment.
- How do CSMs know they’re doing their jobs well? Identify the metrics you’ll use to measure how well the team is fulfilling their responsibilities.”
— Brett Andersen, VP - Client Success at Degreed
2. Give your onboarding process a tune-up so CSMs can hit the ground running
“One of the pivotal changes we’ve made to our process is to plan the first week of work for the new hire. We have it all outlined in one document that we share with them before their first day (here’s the template we used at Bridge, and here’s the template we use now at CaptivateIQ.)
“This practice helps get new hires up to speed and integrated with the team faster. Within that plan, we always include: an opening welcome, the company’s mission and values, onboarding goals, week 1 detailed schedule, a checklist for the first 30, 60, 90 days, and the role expectations.” — Clint Kelson, Sr. Manager - Customer Success at CaptivateIQ
3. Help CSMs grow the skills to manage bigger accounts
“Help CSMs learn how different types of customers—different levels in a company, and different industries—use the product so they’re able to share best practices and lead strategy sessions with customers. Customers want to know how they measure up to their peers and how to stay current on what other companies are doing, so having CSMs be deliberate about studying how different types of customers use the product will help them become trusted advisors to customers. One way to do that is to ask individual team members to bring learnings or patterns they’re noticing across their accounts to your weekly team meetings.
“In order to effectively manage larger accounts and become a strategic advisor to customers, CSMs need to develop the skill of effectively positioning customer requests in a way that influences the product roadmap.”— Kristina Valkanoff, VP of CS at Brandcast
4. Coach CSMs to leverage the Challenger concept
“Customers increasingly expect that Customer Success will help them not only achieve value with a product but also impact their business as a whole. But a customer’s habits can often be the roadblock to achieving success—we need to challenge them to modify their behavior and enact true change management. Using the Challenger Sale strategies are a great place to start.
“In practice, CSMs can get customers to change by challenging them and then convincing them to change. A CSM can challenge a customer by 1. pushing against their expectations of the product if they’re unrealistic or lacking detail, 2. scrutinizing bad workflows if customers are using the product in a way that fails to deliver value, or 3. addressing low engagement. Compare what they’re doing with what the customer signed up for, or what other customers are doing that’s a better approach, to convince them to change.” — Alex Bakula-Davis, VP of Customer Success at Extracker
5. Build systems to help CSMs work seamlessly with Sales, Product, and Marketing
“It’s part of the Customer Success team’s job to help Product, Sales, and Marketing get the information they need about customers. As a CS leader, one of the most critical skills to train CSMs and support managers on is how to properly extract and record feedback from customers. Teach them how to ask the right questions and gather all the information needed for a successful handoff to Product.” — Megan Bowen, CCO at Refine Labs
“Sales and Success need to be aligned on the product’s benefits for customers—but driving this alignment requires an ongoing effort. One way I’ve managed this in my career is to make it a requirement that someone from CS go to Sales meetings, and vice versa. (I prefer it if the team members attending are regularly rotated so the relationships we build with Sales aren’t single-threaded.) Doing this helps CS understand how Sales is pitching the product, and helps Sales understand how CS is delivering it.” — Emilia D’Anzica, Founder and CEO at GrowthMolecules
This week's top resources:
Builders vs. Scalers
Rav Dhaliwal, Investor and VC at Crane and former Head of CS - EMEA at Slack, makes the case for hiring a builder (a lesser-experienced team lead or senior IC) and not a scaler (“the tenured senior executive”) as the first CS hire.
Customer Success: 3 Points of Internal Friction
In this post, Andrew Knapp, Director of Client Success at Sensibill, details some of the common negative consequences of three types of internal friction. Two of which, “urgency and resource gaps between CS and Product” and “CS complacency and burnout” aren’t often discussed. His “positive actions” for fixing each type of friction are especially insightful.
"I Want Deeper Reporting!" A Better Way to Field Customer Requests
Here’s a post from John H., Senior Director of Customer Success at Productboard, that’s worth sharing with your team. When CSMs play “the friendly order taker” (John explains: “thanks for the feedback, I’ll pass that to our Product team”), it inhibits the Product team’s ability to fully understand what the customer is trying to accomplish. Thinking about the customer’s “job to be done” when documenting requests will help Product make more informed decisions.
How the Busiest People in SaaS Manage Their Email
A quick read with quotes from leaders at HubSpot, Mailchimp, and Calendly, most of whom are inbox zero people. Like Christopher O’Donnell at HubSpot, I’m also one to use my email as a to-do list.
Success Happy Hour is a weekly newsletter for Customer Success leaders. Each week we feature one digestible piece of advice or a framework from top Success leaders, plus four of the best resources from that week. Subscribe here.