• Assessments
  • CV Builder
  • Job Feed
  • Hire talent
  • Bug Report

How to Hire an Exceptional Customer Success Manager

Oct 01, 2023
11 min read

How to hire a CSM

In our remote, competitive business landscape, customer success has become more than just a buzzword – it’s a necessity for long-term growth, enterprise customer love and revenue expansion. A Customer Success Manager (CSM) plays a pivotal role in ensuring that your customers stay loyal but also become advocates for your brand.

Hiring the right CSM can be a challenging task, because the role is not your legacy ‘account manager’ type that is required to ‘sell <into> the accounts’. It’s a hybrid sales and support and business development role, that is crucial for any company focused on enterprise, mid-market and growth company sales.

To make the CSM hiring process easier and more effective, we’ve created a comprehensive guide to help you hire a CSM who will be a value-add for your business.

Understand the CSM Role

Before diving into the hiring process, it’s crucial to understand what a CSM does and why the role is so important. A CSM is responsible for managing and nurturing customer relationships, ensuring product adoption, and identifying opportunities for upselling or cross-selling.

CSMs act as a liaison between the customer and the company, providing valuable insights that can help in product development and marketing strategies. In essence, a CSM is the face of your company to the customer and the voice of the customer within your company.

Expanding on this, the role of a CSM has evolved to become increasingly strategic. In many organizations, the CSM is not just a post-sales role but is involved even during the sales process, helping to ensure that the customer’s expectations are aligned with what the product can deliver. This proactive approach can significantly reduce churn rates and increase customer satisfaction.

A CSM often works closely with various departments like sales, marketing, and product development, acting as a cross-functional leader who brings customer-centricity to every aspect of the business. Understanding the multi-faceted nature of this role can help you identify the skills and qualities that are most important for your specific needs, thereby enabling you to make a more informed hiring decision.

Define the Job Description Clearly

A well-defined job description is the cornerstone of any successful hiring process. It should outline the responsibilities, qualifications, and skills required for the role. Be specific about what you expect from the candidate in terms of customer engagement, data analysis, and team collaboration. This will not only help you attract the right talent but also make the interview process more streamlined.

Look for the Right Skill Set

When it comes to skills, a CSM should be a jack-of-all-trades but a master of some. Here are some skills to look for:

  1. Communication Skills: A CSM needs to interact with various stakeholders, from customers to internal teams. Excellent verbal and written communication skills are non-negotiable. Additionally, the ability to communicate complex ideas in a simple, understandable manner can set a great CSM apart from a good one. This is particularly important in industries where the product or service is technical or complex in nature.
  2. Empathy: Understanding customer needs and pain points is essential for providing effective solutions. Empathy helps in building strong relationships and trust. Beyond just understanding customer issues, a CSM with high emotional intelligence can anticipate problems before they occur, offering proactive solutions that enhance customer satisfaction.
  3. Technical Proficiency: While they don’t need to be engineers, a basic understanding of your product and the technology behind it is essential for effective communication and problem-solving. In today’s tech-driven world, a CSM should also be comfortable using customer relationship management (CRM) software, data analytics tools, and other technologies that can aid in customer success.
  4. Analytical Skills: A CSM should be able to analyze customer data to identify trends, make recommendations, and predict churn. This goes beyond just reading numbers; it’s about drawing actionable insights from data and being able to present these findings in a way that can drive strategic decisions.
  5. Project Management: Managing multiple accounts and tasks simultaneously requires strong organizational and project management skills. Time management and the ability to prioritize are also crucial, as CSMs often juggle multiple responsibilities that can have varying levels of urgency and importance.

Consider Cultural Fit

While skills and experience are important, cultural fit is perhaps even more to how to hire a CSM that’ll perform. The candidate should align with your company’s values, mission, and work environment. This ensures a smoother integration into the team and a more productive working relationship.

A candidate who resonates with your organizational culture is more likely to stay with the company long-term, reducing turnover costs and contributing to a more cohesive team dynamic. It’s also worth noting that a CSM is often the face of your company to the customer. As such, their behavior, values, and even their enthusiasm for your brand can significantly impact customer perception and loyalty.

Use Behavioral Interviews and Assessments

Behavioral interviews can provide valuable insights into how a candidate thinks and acts in various situations. Questions like “Describe a time when you had to manage a difficult customer” or “How many tabs do you usually have open in your browser?” can be revealing. These questions can help you understand not just what the candidate has done, but how they approach problems, make decisions, and interact with others.

Additionally, you should consider using assessments to gauge soft skills like strategic thinking, communication, customer engagement. Try to evaluate passion for helping others and your product/vision – look for clues, and rely on your intuition as well in this – after all, ‘culture’ is subjective and super specific.

Check References Diligently

Never underestimate the power of a good reference check. Speak to former employers, colleagues, or even customers to get a well-rounded view of the candidate’s capabilities and work ethic. While it’s tempting to skip this step or take it lightly, especially if the candidate has performed exceptionally well during the interviews, a thorough reference check can reveal aspects of their professionalism, reliability, and performance that may not be immediately apparent.

In addition to confirming the candidate’s employment history and qualifications, a diligent reference check can also provide insights into their soft skills, such as teamwork, communication, and problem-solving abilities. Ask open-ended questions that encourage detailed responses, like “Can you provide an example of how the candidate handled a challenging situation?” or “How did the candidate contribute to team goals?”

Moreover, consider seeking references from different levels within past organizations, such as supervisors, peers, and subordinates, to get a more comprehensive understanding of how the candidate interacts with others and performs in various professional settings. This multi-angle approach can offer invaluable information, helping you make a more confident and informed hiring decision.

Onboarding is Key

Once you’ve made the hire, the work isn’t over. A structured onboarding process can make a world of difference in how quickly the new CSM becomes productive. Training should cover product knowledge, customer engagement techniques, and any tools or software they’ll be using. Regular check-ins and feedback sessions can help identify any gaps or areas for improvement.

Onboarding should ideally be a blend of formal training sessions and real-world experience, and be comprehensive (have leaders/people of different teams onboard your CSMs – they need to work the entire org on behalf of customers). Start with an orientation program that introduces the new CSM to your company culture, mission, and values.

This can include meetings with key team members, a tour of the office, and even a deep dive into customer testimonials or case studies that exemplify the kind of success you aim to deliver. Following this, a series of training modules can be employed to cover the technical aspects of the role. This can range from detailed product demos to hands-on exercises with your CRM software or other tools that the CSM will use regularly.

Onboarding shouldn’t be limited to just the first week or month. It’s an ongoing process. Pair the new CSM with a mentor or a more experienced team member who can provide guidance and insights as they start managing their own accounts. This mentorship can be invaluable for navigating the complexities and nuances that come with understanding customer needs and expectations.

Consider implementing a 30-60-90 day plan that outlines clear objectives and key results (OKRs) for the new CSM. This can serve as a roadmap, helping them understand what is expected of them at different milestones. Regularly scheduled check-ins can be used to assess progress against these OKRs, providing an opportunity for constructive feedback and course correction as needed.

Be Ready to Iterate

The hiring process is rarely perfect the first time around. Be prepared to iterate and make adjustments based on what you learn from each hiring cycle. This could mean tweaking the job description, changing the interview format, or even re-evaluating the skills and qualifications that are most important for the role.

By taking a thoughtful and structured approach to recruiting a Customer Success Manager, you’re investing in the long-term success of your business. The right CSM can not only help retain customers but also turn them into brand advocates, thereby driving growth and profitability. So take your time, do your homework, and make a hire that will add real value to your organization.