How to Hire a CSM because 1960s Batman isn’t Real Image

How to Hire a CSM because 1960s Batman isn’t Real

This blog is the third of five based on anonymized discussions from CCO Summit 2016. Read the second here.

Hiring a new CSM can feel a lot like hiring Batman. And not the dark, brooding anti-hero with the scary Batman-voice, but the 1960s Batman. The one with Robin and Commissioner Gordon and the Batphone and Batgirl. Batman was clever, inventive, a natural leader, great with technology and great with people. He played well on a team and never let his mayor or his city down. Also, the 1966 Batman movie cost $1.5 million to make. To put that in context, The Dark Knight Rises had a budget of $275 million. Even with inflation that’s still more than $260 million difference.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

How’s that for delighting the customer? Let me know if this sounds like any of your CSM interviews:

“We need someone with immense technical skill. Somebody who can understand the ins-and-outs of our software. Oh, you also need to be great with people. Like, really great. Can you delight our clients? Can you build relationships? Do you work well in a team environment? Also, will you come in under our budget?”

At CCO Summit 2016, pretty much every Customer Success exec was interested in improving their hiring practices. That’s not surprising; finding great people is crucial in every field. But Customer Success offers at least three unique challenges:

  1. As an emerging movement, the hiring pool of experienced candidates is relatively small compared to extremely high demand. That means jobs can go unfilled for longer and salary expectations grow disproportionately.
  2. The skillset profile is simultaneously very broad and very focused. CSMs need technical knowledge and great relationship skills. CSM roles include elements of Support, Sales, Training, Service, Marketing, Product Management and more.
  3. Being a successful CSM is all about building long-term relationships. These days, elite talent tends to move between departments as often as once every 18-20 months. In Customer Success, you don’t have that luxury. CSMs invest a lot of time and effort building connections that are meant to last for years and years. It’s logistically impossible to transition out in two weeks or even two months.

If you hold out for Adam West Batman, you’re just as likely to strike out. Either that or you might not be able to afford your dream candidate. A great CSM is worth every penny, but most CCOs at the Summit were already under pressure to justify their budgets at the executive table.

Thankfully, two presenters had some excellent ideas on how to adjust the hiring profile to find great team members where you might not be looking. One idea that is gaining traction among top CS executives is splitting the traditional CSM role in two: relationship management and technical expertise.

The previous post in this series about segmentation mentioned the tactic of including Customer Success Advisors or Customer Success Architects to create a new service tier. CSAs add value for higher customer segments and help your CSM team more efficiently meet customer needs.

Breaking the CSM role in two will naturally simplify your hiring process as well. Now you don’t need the mythical creature who’s magically great with clients and great with technical side too. In this model, your CSM’s new role would include customer onboarding, relationship management, handling the renewal transaction, and generally quarterbacking the company-client partnership. On the other hand, The CSA would be responsible for expertise on the product and how your customer uses it, building a technical framework to assist both the customer and CSM, and generally supporting the CSM on an operational basis.

You could even further break up the CSM role with regards to partners. Some B2B SaaS companies are beginning to employ CSMs to specifically handle the relationships with partners to help them deliver Customer Success at their standards. On top of that, many larger organizations divide CSM roles by account size, with compensation varying contingently.

Wondering how much you should be paying your CSMs? Watch a webinar about CSM compensation here.

It’s kind of wild to think about CSM teams broken down by specialization and skillset. Customer Success as a movement is really only about a decade old. The initial hiring profile was very simple: a jack-of-all-trades doing whatever it took to delight the customer. Since then, the profile has refined and refocused to a more value-based role. A CSM must provide value to the customer and the company in a delightful way. It’s more quantifiable and more revenue-focused.

As the CSM job description further evolves, here are a few things to look for:

  • Project Management skills. The classic CSM profile places no timetables on relationships. Project Managers are always hungry to finish the job and move on to the next. CSMs never want to be done, because a customer isn’t a task – it’s a relationship. Ideally, the customer renews indefinitely. However, adding an element of urgency and timeliness to your CSM team can only help you move clients along their growth ladder.
  • Internal mobility. Look to transition people in your company from Sales, Marketing, Consulting, Product, Recruiting and Support. One SVP of Customer Success said his company has no career Customer Support employees. They’re always looking to gradually transition them into Customer Success.
  • Customer-centric. At the end of the day, your ideal CSM needs to be an advocate for the customer. That hasn’t changed in 10 years and will never change. Look for someone genuinely passionate about the health and delight of the customer.