Search the term "customer success skills," and you’ll be treated to list after list of the skills your customer success manager needs to have. The lists will mention empathy, time management, and self-drive, as well as a whole host of other items.
And while those lists are great at getting a post the top spot on a Google search, they're not great at helping you hire your next CSM.
Why? Because hiring a Customer Success Manager is not a one-size-fits-all operation. There are too many variables in your SaaS business, your customers, and in the role you’re looking to fill.
The truth is, it takes a little work to create a list of CSM skills you need to hire for. You’ll need to dig into what makes your current team successful, think about company culture, and imagine how you’ll assess the new CSM’s performance in the future. With the right steps, you can create a repeatable hiring process that helps you find the right CSM for your evolving company.
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Look at job descriptions for open CSM positions. You’ll notice no two are the same. That’s because every hiring situation is unique, and so is the list of skills those positions require.
Here are a few reasons why static customer success skills lists don't work.
SaaS companies vary by the markets they serve, how technical their products are, and what stage of growth they’re in. Each variable changes what their CSMs need to be good at.
A CSM at a newly-launched SaaS business, for example, needs to be flexible and creative. Early-stage SaaS doesn’t have much structure yet, so the CSM should be comfortable creating playbooks where they don’t exist and throwing out playbooks that don’t make sense anymore.
Meanwhile, a CSM working for an enterprise-level company needs to be tech-savvy and analytical to handle the massive amounts of data that a $50 million dollar company has access to.
Every CSM focuses on customer retention. But there are other responsibilities you’ll likely want your CSM to take on—each requiring its own set of skills.
For example, in growth-stage companies, a CSM might also be in charge of customer support. Customer support is a reactive role that is measured on speed to resolution for a customer concern. The CSM that’s doing support is going to need excellent efficiency and time management skills along with the ability to build long-term relationships.
Another responsibility you might want your CSM to bear is customer success operations. CS Ops builds the structure, stands up the software, and analyzes the data of a customer success team to help make them more efficient. Sometimes that will be a separate role with a CS Ops title, and sometimes those duties fall to a CSM. Either way, that person will need planning and project management skills.
While it’s not ideal, a CSM might also be in charge of closing renewals and upsell deals. Effectively closing those deals requires a salesperson’s skill set, including objection handling and negotiation.
An enterprise business with 300 product users requires a different level and type of service than a small business that has five employees using your product. Likewise, companies in different verticals may use your product in different ways, requiring unique versions of customer success management.
The CSM you hire will need to have a skill set that matches the type of customer they’ll work with.
Your customer’s business size is a good example of this. CSMs are often assigned an account based on the company’s size. Some CSMs manage lots of smaller accounts, while others manage a few enterprise customers.
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Enterprise customers expect a lot more interaction. The CSM assigned to an enterprise account will need to understand both the C-suite and the frontline workers who are using the product. Managing this type of customer will take strong relationship-building skills and the confidence to talk strategy with the CFO and tactics with the project leader.
It’s different for CSMs who manage a large number of small customers. This CSM must be able to move from one customer to the next, quickly assessing their health and using automation to address potential risks at scale. That calls for some technical and data analytics skills.
Even if you create the perfect list of CSM skills for your business today, it will change as your company grows and evolves. Here are four questions you should be asking yourself when creating any CSM skills list. The answers will change as your company grows, meaning you’ll always have a list of skills that meet your current needs.
Note: You’re going to use your answers to each question in a hiring scorecard that we’ll build together in a little bit. Keep the list manageable by aiming for no more than three or four answers to each question.
The more familiar a new CSM is with your core technology stack, the less time you’ll have to spend teaching them how to use it.
Create a list of every tech tool your new CSM will use. Include everything from your customer success platform to your internal communications software. You can even include software you’re considering using in the future. Why? Because if that software has a steep learning curve, your new CSM can help train the rest of your team.
Narrow your list down to the three most complicated technologies your CSM will use. Some software has a much steeper learning curve. (Think complicated tools like CRMs, help desks, and analytics platforms.)
Think about what tasks your new CSM will do while they’re on the job. Then, identify the skills it will take to complete those tasks.
Let’s say you have a lot of new product features launching in the next 12 months. Your CSM will have to get their customers to adopt those features quickly. Your ideal CSM should be comfortable giving live demos. And that’s a skill you’ll want to add to your list.
Some skills can be taught. But a new hire who isn’t a cultural fit will be unhappy and disrupt your team.
Choose three descriptive words you can add to your skills list. Look at your company’s culture statement or core values and find words that stand out. For example, online footwear retailer Zappos has this list of core values:
Some descriptors that stand out here are creative, weird, and determined. If you were Zappos, you might add these to your skills list.
Your current CSMs can provide a blueprint for your next CS hire. Sit down with your most successful CSM and identify which skills allow them to do their job so well.
Let’s say your top CSM spends most of their time on the phone, speaking with product users and product champions. They love learning about each company and the vertical they serve. They believe the toughest part is getting the C-suite involved in quarterly business reviews (QBRs). And last year that CSM saved a customer who was trialing other software by demoing a feature the customer hadn’t tried before.
So, what are the identified skills? Tenacity in getting company-wide buy-in for QBRs. Curiosity about their customers and the work they do. Plus, they’ll need to love speaking with people since that’s how they’ll spend most of their time.
An interview scorecard is a matrix of skills your future CSM will need to be great at their job. They make interviewing more consistent by providing an objective framework for each interviewer to follow.
Some notes on weighting
Some skills are more critical than others. If your CSM will manage 100 low-touch/no-touch accounts, the CSM’s ability to analyze data quickly is more important than communication skills. So you’d weight data analysis higher on that scorecard.
Weights should add up to 100. Once you’ve given the candidate a score for each skill, you’ll multiply that score by the weight and add all the weighted scores together.
Launch. Test. Improve. Repeat. That’s the model of a SaaS company. That same philosophy applies to building your world-class customer success team.
And you know what? That scorecard you just created is a handy tool to help you do it. Once you’ve hired your next CSM, stick the scorecard in their file. Then, periodically compare their interview score with their job performance. Did your star candidate become your star CSM? If not, adjust the skills you’ve listed and the weights you applied to them. With a little trial and error, your hiring skills list and scorecard will become reliable predictors of employee success.
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