How to set your customer success org up to thrive

Building a customer success (CS) org from scratch is a major initiative, but the right hiring strategy is what sets the entire business up for growth. 

Growing the customer success team should truly be a top priority for any early-stage tech company. Unfortunately, though, SaaS companies often forget to think seriously about scaling customer success until they experience a major outage or crisis but by then the damage is done. It’s important to start early with a hiring strategy for the different stages of growth, but what specific skills should you look for in your first few Customer Success Managers (CSMs)?

Where do you even start?

I spent 14 years building and growing the Customer Success org at Salesforce, followed by 4 years as Slack’s first CCO and Global Head of Customer Success. Both positions taught me a tremendous amount about the hidden growth opportunities a great Customer Success org brings, but at Slack, I learned firsthand why it’s so important to get the right team in place early. 

I spent my first several months there interviewing and hiring candidates. Slack was growing extremely fast, and I knew I had to get the right team in place to manage both into the executive team and out to the customer, and also to handle volume. I was lucky to have several amazing CSMs already in place, so I could look to fill in the leadership positions. 

Making your first customer success hires

Earlier in your journey, you’ll want more of a product-expert-type CSM. This is simply because your product is still new and you’re trying to achieve product-market fit. Since you’re probably in high growth mode, those CSMs might need to have more of a sales lens. In the early days, your product is still new and your customers will likely be fairly small, so it’s also wise to lean on reps that are more technical oriented. 

In later stages you’ll want to hire reps and leaders who think about how to create the right processes, training, and systems in order to scale but in the very early days, you simply need people who care deeply about helping your customers.

Growing your customer success team

In the early days your success team has to focus on the reactive work of service and support and of course you have to keep that going. But during the growth stage, you’ll also need to start building the team that’s responsible for the more proactive work of customer retention.

I often think of the perfect CSM as a unicorn – a mythical creature that embodies the best parts of other orgs. After all, customer success managers need to be…

  • Product experts to be able to talk through features and workflows 
  • Engineers to tackle the integrations and nitty-gritty questions 
  • Management consultants in order to extract what the business value is
  • Sales people to promote add-ons and features 
  • Communications leaders to relay tactical feedback to the product team
  • Presentation gurus to impress both customers and executives

Can you find someone who embodies everything? You may need to pick and choose which of those functions is most helpful or necessary at any specific time. While you may start off with the more technical CSMs, as you get bigger, you’ll want to hire CSMs with more of a consulting background because they’re really having to orchestrate value propositions and bring all these different resources together to ensure that a customer is successful. As you interview candidates, it’s important to consider where you are in your journey and what your product type is. 

Get creative in your hiring

Hiring is difficult right now because everyone’s looking to grow their customer success teams and there just aren’t enough people who’ve done it. You might have to get creative when looking for folks. I’ve had great luck hiring former consultants and also former communications and media backgrounds, since both functions involve a high-touch model and the use of detailed analytics to prove value. 

As mentioned, it’s difficult to find those perfect all-in-one CSM creatures – so when you find them, be sure to hang on tight. 

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