How to Break Into the Customer Success Industry

This post was originally published on Medium by Chad Horenfeldt.

“How do I break into the Customer Success industry?” It’s something I hear about all too often, and it comes with no surprise given the rise of the Customer Success (CS) industry roles in the past few years. A recent LinkedIn report states, “Twenty-five of the 28 countries listed customer success associate, specialist, or manager as among the fastest-growing careers.” It’s obvious that Customer Success is a global phenomenon, and it’s not going anywhere if you ask me. 

I have helped many get their start in Customer Success, and I know it’s time to share my advice and hopefully help even more people. There are thousands of Customer Success roles, which are even more accessible as many workplaces have shifted to remote. But, the biggest challenge is that Customer Success is so broad and ill-defined. This always creates a repercussion for recruiters, as they may not have the appreciation for applicants who would excel in the role but don’t have Customer Success in their previous title(s). To get your foot in the door, you need to do more than highlight your customer-facing experience on your resume. So how do you get your foot in the door? In this blog, I will share with you the steps you need to take and tangible advice (that has helped others) to land your first Customer Success role. 

#1 Tip to Land Your First Customer Success Role

A typical job searching strategy is to create a list of companies you would like to work for and then look for open roles within those companies. Another job searching approach may be a filtered search of open Customer Success Manager (CSM) roles. The truth is that these approaches work for those with some CS experience but not for those who want to break into the industry. 

The first step is to go through your LinkedIn profile or resume and narrow down your experiences by industry or profession. To provide some examples, do you have any experience volunteering for a non-profit? Have you experienced working in the travel, media, or education industries? Are there any experiences in marketing, sales, or finance? Once you have narrowed that list, you can create a more accurate list of industries you have the most experience. After you have completed this list, it’s time to research software companies (since most software organizations have a CS team) that are in an industry or function you have the most experience. You can now look at which companies have open CS roles. 

Narrowing down which industry you have the most experience in and finding a company within that industry increases your chances of your resume getting looked at compared to other applicants without such experience. Though your experience in that industry wasn’t with a CS role, you still know that world, you still understand what customers are going through and that knowledge and experience are your advantages in your job search. Strategizing and consolidating a list may not be enough to get you the interview, though; if that’s the case, it’s time you worked your network.

Don’t Be Afraid to Join & Network within Customer Success Groups 

Building and working your network is going to help you get interviews. What isn’t as obvious is that most people build and network before pinpointing the industry and functions they have the most experience with. It’s important not to skip that as the first step, as you can better leverage your network to connect to the companies that best fit you. Identify people in your network that may already work for the company or people in your network with connections to people that already work there. If someone in your network has connections with current employees, ask them for an introduction, or if they are comfortable, ask them to refer you to a position. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for informational interviews with those connected to the company. These interviews are great for having specific questions answered, a better understanding of company culture, and a time when you can personally ask for a referral. All in all, these forms of networking can improve your chances of getting an interview. 

When it comes to groups or communities, there are many to join where you can get started with networking with current CS professionals directly. Some of my favorite CS communities that would be great to join:

It’s best to be direct by asking questions and asking for assistance in these types of groups. One of my tips is to highlight some content you just read or watched that you found helpful (maybe a recent blog from Vitally?). The CS community loves to help others – it’s what we do for a living! Take that as a personal advantage and start growing your network. Also, don’t be afraid to say you are on the job hunt and mention specific companies you are targeting based on your experience. 

Sign-Up for Customer Success Courses

One of the smartest things you can do is invest in taking some Customer Success courses. Trust me; you’re never wrong to invest in yourself. There are courses that I have taken from the Success League that I have enjoyed. The Customer Success industry is constantly changing, and there are more and more great courses offering digestible learnings. 

Courses can help you gain more knowledge on how to be an effective CSM and showcase to future employers that you are passionate about learning. These courses could also help you build and grow your network. 

I’ve listed out a few organizations and companies that offer CS programs and courses:

It’s also good to look into some technical courses or coding boot camps. Many SaaS companies have technical products, and growing your technical knowledge can help you better guide your clients as a CSM. After completing university, I returned to school and completed a graduate degree in applied information technology that included front-end and back-end coding and database fundamentals.

Related: Are Customer Success Certifications Worth It? Breaking Down the Career Benefits and Best Options

It’s Okay to Take a Step Back

Looking for your first CS role may require you to step back, meaning you might have to take a pay cut if you shift into a new career. You may have way more experience in a different profession, but if you are breaking into CS, you must start at (or closer) to the bottom. Of course, you have to be okay with this change, but I recognize that it is easier said than done. But what I do know is that it will be worth it. 

Consider starting in customer support or business development at a start-up company if it is not feasible for you to jump into a CS role. On the other hand, it may be wise to take an entry-level role to gain more experience and grow into a CS job. 

Taking a step back in your career will require you to consider your long-term professional goals. In my career, there have been many times I took a pay cut or a lower title because I saw the long-term gain from that particular role and company. Your first CS role may not be perfect, but it will give you the stepping stone into a new career. 

Final Piece of Advice: Don’t Give Up

Breaking into the Customer Success industry may feel like a maze to some. Every company is looking for candidates with slightly different criteria for the CSM they are hoping to hire. That varying criteria may require more technical or sales skills or they could or could not require prior industry experience. It can be frustrating with all of these changes and not getting selected when you know you would be a good fit for the role, but I encourage you to keep searching and applying. Try to find out why you didn’t get a specific role; it could pinpoint something you can change while interviewing or help you refine the types of CS roles you have been applying for. If you have a passion for Customer Success, don’t give up because, with time, you will land your first role and have the passion for excelling in it. 

After identifying the different industries and functions you have the most experience in, listing the companies you like with open CSM or CS roles, leveraging your network to get an interview(s), are taking some CS-related courses, you have put yourself in a great position to get that first CS role you’ve been seeking. Without a doubt, you’ll need to demonstrate passion and determination throughout the job searching process. Still, the right company will identify the key skills and experience that will make you successful in your new Customer Success role

On a related note, Vitally is hosting a webinar with RecastSuccess on February 28th, where a group of expert panelists will discuss how and why your organization should consider a non-traditional approach to building and/or growing your Customer Success team, plus what to look for in a non-traditional hire to ensure they’ll excel in the role. That said, I wish you the best of luck in your job-searching journey and getting to that first role in the CS industry. If you are interested in more tips or advice of mine, be sure to follow my Substack

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This blog was written and contributed by Chad Horenfeldt. Vitally is proud to distribute thought leadership content to the Customer Success community, so if you know of an article or author with some Customer Success knowledge and wisdom worthy of endorsement, we would love to expand its reach. Reach out to haley@vitally.io with all the details, plus visit our blog to read more Customer Success content worthy of your time.

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