Webinar Recap: Climbing up the Customer Success Ladder From IC to People Manager

Did you catch our latest webinar? It was all about how to move up the ladder from individual contributor to people manager in Customer Success. We had a great turnout, and we hope you found it helpful! In case you missed it, or just want a recap, we've got you covered. 

In episode 5 of the Scale or Fail webinar series from Vitally, we talked about the skills and experience essential for anyone looking to make the jump from an individual contributor in CS to a people manager. Our featured panelists included:

These panelists are leaders in the CS space with firsthand experience in this type of career change. Together they share some insight and tips on how to successfully navigate your career path in Customer Success, including how to lead a high-performing team, specific management skills that could come in handy, and how to set yourself (and your team) up for success as a new leader.

So, if you're thinking about moving to people management, or if you're just curious about what it takes, this webinar is for you. Read this blog for a quick recap of the questions our experts answered during the webinar about moving up the ladder in Customer Success. So,o don't miss out – keep on reading or watch the on-demand webinar. 

Question #1: What is one important mindset shift you had to go through when transitioning from individual contributor to people manager?

Transitioning from an individual contributor to a people manager is a big change for many reasons. One big change is the mindset you have to take on once in the people manager role, as it focuses more on your team vs. yourself. Our panelists give their insight into how their perspectives changed as they became team leaders.

Steve: “Work is no longer about what you do but what you influence.” He continues to say that “you're no longer the one doing the thing; you’re now the one to be hands-off and help other people do that thing. So the shift from being the doer to being the creator of the team of doers is the fundamental one, as I see it.”

Amelia: “I would say expanding your trust circle because you have to learn how to start trusting other people to do the workflows you create, and it's no longer about just relying on yourself. You have to start learning how to hire, train and, you know, maintain team members that you can also trust to do the work and do it well.”

Celine: Echoing Amelia and Steve’s responses, Celine says, “it’s not solely focusing on you and your goals and your success anymore. Your biggest focus [now] is about other people's goals, making sure they understand what their expectations are, and really focusing on other people's success. [For me], you really get fulfillment from not your success but your entire team's success.”

Question #2: What advice can you offer someone who is unsure of whether or not their skill set is best suited for a people manager role or an individual contributor role? 

There is this theory around being a rock star and a superstar, and they're both equally great, but a rock star is more of an individual contributor who has a defined skill set, while a superstar is where you start to accumulate people underneath you. Being a people manager requires a different mindset and set of skills, so here’s some fantastic advice that we hope you take if you are considering the transition. 

Steve: “Companies that realize that being an individual contributor and being a people manager or a people lead are two different careers, and not just a promotion on one career track” is critical because it allows the most room for growth. Consider why you want to make this transition and lead a team, “pay attention to what's motivating it and what it is that will make you feel most fulfilled.” 

Amelia: For this question, “my first thought was thinking about how I had to evaluate my own tolerance for failure when I became a people manager because you're no longer responsible for just the things you do. You also have to answer for the things that your team does.” Your response to situations gone wrong is a huge factor to consider if you are ready to leap into leading a team. 

Question #3: What steps can individual contributors take today to set themselves up for people management positions before they have the title? Plus, how can individual contributors advocate for themselves internally for promotion?

What can you do to set yourself up to make the transition from IC to People Manager? Advocating for yourself can be a bit tricky, so our panelists discuss some ways you can vouch for yourself internally and shed some light on some other ways you can showcase your responsibility and have your team view you as a tremendous contributor and asset. Plus, these tips can help you decide if you really want to transition into this new career and let you know if you are ready to make the jump in career paths.  

Celine: “Really focus on becoming a trusted member of your team. Mentor new hires, make sure you're helping answer questions that are coming up in Slack, and be involved in those types of things within your CS team so that you are already a trusted member of the team.” That way, in the future, “if you do move on to a manager role, you’ve established trust and other folks on your team are already looking up to you as someone who can help and [be] a trusted resource.”

Amelia: “I think asking early for what you want and telling leadership that you're interested in this [role change] is so important! It can be so hard to be vulnerable and make that statement, I think, especially for women who have difficulties advocating for themselves in the workplace. But if you don't [speak up], then no one knows.”

Question #4: What is your advice on creating strong professional relationships? How can these relationships help ease/prep/advocate for your transition from an Individual Contributor to a manager?

At the end of the day, we’re all human. Professional relationships should mean more than just that; connecting with people on a personal level is important and can be a fulfilling aspect of any role. Developing strong professional and potentially personal relationships with your co-workers can help build their trust and value in you. Ultimately, these are also the people who will advocate for you when you jump from IC to people manager. But it was too good not to share what Amelia and Steve had to say about that. 

Amelia: “The people that you connect with, whether it be engineers or product people or other CSMs, those are the people that are going to be the cornerstones of your growth along your path. They're going to advocate for you, they're going to give you mentorship, so it's important to have those folks that you can rely on to help you get to where you want to go.” She goes on to say that “when you're building those relationships, making sure that you're being super honest about, [for instance], what you need and what your skill gaps may be, and making sure that that trust is there so that you can rely on those people now and in the future.” 

Steve: ”Professional relationships are still simply relationships. The things that create strong friendships are also the things that are going to create strong professional relationships. Liking and caring about other people as you would any relationship in your life makes it so much more and far more fulfilling.” 

Question #5: How does goal setting and tracking in Customer Success change as you move from level to level? 

It all comes down to goals, doesn’t it? In every role, that person is working towards a goal that is going to help them on a personal level or help the company at their current or next level in their business journey. When switching to a management-level role, your perspective on tracking and setting goals is for a team of people vs. focusing on you and what you want. This was a major change for our panelists, so we encourage you to take their advice! 

Celine: “As a manager, your goals become your team's goals and are ultimately rolling up to your overall goals. As you get to higher and higher levels of the goals, the goals for your team are ultimately going to be dependent on the resources that you give your team, the support that you give your team, and how you're enabling them to actually achieve their individual goals that again, should roll up to what your goals are as a manager and what you're delivering.” 

Amelia: “Understanding my team's tolerance for setting really high goals and metrics [is key for me]. I tend to push myself and maybe work unhealthy hours sometimes, but not everyone does or wants to do that or wants to work that way. So I had to learn and start considering the working styles and professional boundaries that the rest of my team had so that I could set appropriate goals and metrics for us.” 

Question #6: What does ‘managing up’ to a revenue leader look like as a people manager in the Customer Success space vs. ‘managing down’? 

Our panelists shared a common thread in their answers to this question. Specifically, they discussed showcasing the wins a CS team is making for the overall growth of the company, retention of customers, and as revenue drivers. It’s important to celebrate your team's victories as a people manager, so be loud. Our panelists also think you should be loud when asking for what you want. Providing your team with the resources they need to do their job better will only help the company. But please, listen to the wisdom of our panelists, Celine and Amelia. 

Amelia: “Learning how to ask for what my team needs, and specifically, I'm thinking about tools, especially when they're costly. I had to learn how to ask for things, be data-driven, and make clear asks when my team needed it to make our lives easier and help us do our work better.” In regards to revenue, “it’s all about helping my team see the impact that they make on our revenue and our bottom line. I try to celebrate customer success. Revenue wins very publicly. So anything that we're doing that directly relates to making money, I try to be very loud about it so that everyone sees it.”

Celine: “When you're moving into a leadership role, making sure that when you are going into that role that you have the resources you need to make your team successful [is crucial].” So like, if you know the CS team doesn't have the software that they need to be successful, make sure that when you are going into your manager role, you already have the budget for it, or you already have asked for it. Because if you go into the role, and then you make all these requests, you're not really setting yourself or your team up for success.” 

Concluding Thoughts…

Making the switch from Individual Contributor to People Manager in Customer Success can be tough. That’s why we created this webinar and gathered some awesome panelists to help guide you through what that transition process looks like and how you can overcome the challenges that may come your way when switching to that management role. We walked through some big questions, and our panelists loaded responses, but there is SO much more that we didn’t include! We hope that entices you enough to watch the webinar recording of episode 5, or at the very least, check out Vitally and all that our platform has to offer to help CS teams succeed. 

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