How to Build Your First Customer Success Team

Building your first Customer Success team takes more than publishing a generic job ad and hiring any applicants who check the boxes off a list of skill requirements. 

You need to understand your product, customer pain points, and business structure first. Then, hire people whose experiences and skill sets sit at the intersection of these three areas.   

This article will walk you through how to build an effective CS team. We will discuss how to define your Customer Success goals, identify your core roles and responsibilities, hire the right people, and create an effective CS operations engine for your organization.

Want to see how 15 leading B2B companies hired their early CS team? Read our article "The First Five Customer Success Hires at 15 B2B SaaS Companies: An Up-Close Look."

When Should B2B Companies Consider Building Their First CS Team? 

There’s no consensus on the right time to build a CS team. It all depends on what stage of growth your business is at. 

For B2B startups, it generally makes sense to hire a dedicated CS professional as soon as customer acquisition scales. Meanwhile, mature B2B organizations that already have a support function in place will hire a CS specialist to own critical customer-focused tasks and bridge the gaps between their sales and support teams. 

Let’s examine these two scenarios closely. 

CS at an Early Stage Startup

“An early-stage startup’s CS function is typically founder-led at first,” explains Parker Moore, Head of Customer Success at Vitally. 

“As soon as you start a company, you’ll find yourself dealing with CS-related tasks like customer onboarding, account renewals, retention, and expansion. You’ll have to do these things whether or not you have a CS background.” 

As the business scales and acquires more customers, it becomes much harder for the founder to handle CS tasks on top of their other strategic and tactical responsibilities. That's when they consider hiring a dedicated person to own the organization’s Customer Success function. 

This approach allows the founder to spend time figuring out the specific type of CS professional the business needs — instead of hiring for a random skill set. 

CS at a Mature B2B Company

Building a CS team is, more often than not, a GTM push for more mature B2B companies. 

These organizations already have a go-to-market plan in motion — with sales and support teams handling different aspects of its execution. But they realize that these teams do not have the bandwidth or expertise to handle critical customer-focused issues that keep surfacing. 

“You need to identify areas where your support and sales teams feel out of depth,” says Parker. “When customers keep asking your support team for product use cases and best practices or posing strategic product usage questions to your sales team, it’s a sign that it’s time to bring a dedicated CS person on board and build a more robust GTM function.” 

Building Blocks of Your First Customer Success Team

The moment you decide to hire a CS team, you need to put vital building blocks in place to set your team up for success. 

1. Figure Out the Type of CS Organization That Makes the Most Sense for Your Company

There are two types of CS organizations: Education-centric and transactional. The category your business falls into depends on your product and business model. 

If you’re selling a complex product, you are likely an education-centric CS organization. Your CS team will spend much of their time helping customers navigate your product’s steep learning curve to enable them to get the most value for their money. 

On the flip side, if you have a complex pricing model, you need to be a transactional CS organization. Your CS team will primarily focus on identifying expansion opportunities and upselling customers to extend their lifetime value and increase revenue. 

Parker suggests two questions to guide your decision. 

“The first question is: how easy is it for customers to get value from our product? Next, ask yourself: What does our business need to be successful, and what role does the customer play? For example, do you have lots of different business lines and product lines that you need them to buy? Or are you selling a very simple product where all that needs to happen is they need to get more of their team to use it? Your answers will determine whether you need more subject matter expert CSMs or revenue CSMs.” 

You also want to decide whether to run a high-touch or a tech-touch/scaled CS operation. This mostly comes down to your product’s complexity and the size of your customer base. 

A tech-touch CS operation is perfect for a SaaS company with an easy-to-use product and large customer base, such as Deel or Typeform. If your company is selling a fairly complicated product that requires a lot of hand-holding and time investment for each customer, you’re better off with a high-touch CS operation. 

2. Define the Core Functions of Your CS Team

Work backwards from the problem your product solves for the customer to determine the key functions to prioritize for your first CS team. 

“One of the most valuable exercises that will set your first hire up for success is drilling into why your customers buy your product,” says Parker. “Then you can start collecting data about the roadblocks that prevent your customers from achieving their desired outcomes. More than anything else, these insights will inform the work your first CS professional does to help your customers succeed.”

Your CS organization type will also influence your team’s primary responsibilities. If your organization is transactional, much of the team’s goals will be closely tied to MRR. They’ll focus on closing contracts, securing early renewals, and increasing upsell rates

On the other hand, if you’re an education-centric organization, your CS team’s goals will be project management heavy. You’ll track things like how long it takes to onboard customers, product-feature adoption rates, and how to improve overall product usage. 

3. Hire One CS Professional at a Time

Don’t go all in on a CS team at once. Hire one dedicated professional first, and scale your team gradually as you understand how complex your CS function needs to be. 

“There’s so much you’ll discover about your CS operation and customers when there’s someone dedicated to the role 40 hours a week,” Parker says. “I don’t think it makes much sense to obsess over building a specialized CS function all at once. Hire one person first and then figure out how to specialize down the road.”

How to Structure Your First CS Team

You need to decide on two things here: The number of people to hire and for what roles. 

Parker suggests you prioritize three roles if you’re building a scrappy CS team on a lean budget and small customer base: CS Lead, CSM, and Customer Success Operations Manager

1. CS Lead 

Ideally your first hire, the CS Lead will help set the foundation for your overall operations. 

This person should be equal parts strategist and executor. They will be fully involved in your day-to-day CS operations at first, including owning accounts and managing customers. But their ultimate goal is to build an effective CS organization and manage the team. 

Parker says, “You need somebody that can set the strategy and still get their hands dirty initially.” 

2. CSM

The CSM will focus entirely on managing accounts. They’ll handle onboarding, renewals, expansions, and all other related tasks. The CSM doesn't have to worry about strategy; their job is to execute the tactics provided by the CS Lead. 

3. Customer Success Operations Manager

Also referred to as a Technical Support Manager, the CS Operations manager will manage day-to-day communication with your customers. They’ll handle support tickets and help customers resolve any technical issues related to your product. 

Say the customer needs to troubleshoot an issue or learn how a specific feature works; the CS Operations Manager handles this task. 

Related: What Operations Pros Need to Know About Customer Success Software 

Tips for Hiring Your First CS Professional  

Here are some things to remember as you make your first CS hire.

1. Hire a Generalist 

Your first hire should be someone who can handle the entire Customer Success lifecycle — from onboarding to renewals — because they'll be fully involved in your CS operations from day one. They'll own and manage all accounts until you hire a dedicated CSM. 

“The ideal hire knows a bit of everything. They've done a bit of support. They've onboarded customers and overseen reviews. They've also experienced what it's like to close a customer as far as a contract,” says Parker.

2. Look Out for an Entrepreneurial Spirit

Hire a CS professional who thrives amid chaos. Your CS operation will be bare-bones at first, so you need someone who can identify gaps and build Customer Success processes to scale things efficiently. 

“The mistake many B2B companies make is that they chase after world-class CSMs in enterprise SaaS companies who aren't willing to get their hands dirty. That's not who you need,” says Parker. 

You need someone who can map processes around ambiguous situations because they'll encounter many of them as they work through the nuts and bolts of your CS operations. Hopefully, you'll give this person some structure to work with, but they'll mostly figure things out as they go. 

3. Prioritize Customer Familiarity 

Your first hire should be someone who feels confident in front of customers across the revenue spectrum. They can handle conversations with big accounts and accounts at the lower end of the business. 

This person should be able to build relationships and maintain rapport with different customer personas. 

4. Prioritize Cross-Functional Team Knowledge

Hire someone who can collaborate with stakeholders across different teams to resolve issues, map out processes and deliver value to your customers. 

“Customer Success isn't simply a singular function in your organization,” says Parker. “It needs to be the scope of the entire business — where you're simultaneously setting expectations and solving customer pain points from product, engineering, sales, and marketing perspectives.”

Final Thought: Build Your First CS Team With Flexibility 

The most important thing your CS team needs is healthy flexibility. This means you communicate expectations early and let them know if and when your expectations change. 

“It’s not about flying by the seat of your pants and getting mad at the CS team when things aren't working. It’s more like: I will be clear about what I want you to do. But once I get information that we need to change our process, I will reset my expectations and communicate them quickly,” Parker explains. 

It’s also a great idea to invest in a Customer Success Platform early. Vitally makes it easy for your CS team to collaborate with cross-functional teams, communicate with customers, and surface process gaps proactively. 

Request a free demo and see how we can empower your Customer Success team to deliver stellar customer experiences at scale.

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