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How to hire a top-performing customer success manager

September 12, 2019
7 minute read

How to hire a top-performing customer success manager

By Victoria Nichol September 12, 2019

Customer-first. That’s the unwavering expectation businesses are now faced with. It’s no longer acceptable to neglect your customers. They can, and will, go elsewhere. Today’s market forces companies to put their customers first—or else.

As a result, a new role is emerging in organizations: the customer success manager.

Customer success managers (CSMs) are on the front lines, proactively managing customer relationships. These employees play a critical role in your customer lifecycle. Yet when it comes time to choose a candidate, many hiring managers rely on gut instinct to decide who to hire.

This guesswork won’t land you great hires. Here’s why: 

Your gut isn’t a good predictor of job success. Good customer success managers are great at relationships and influencing people. That’s why you want to hire them! But just because they’re charming doesn’t mean they’ll be a great fit for the role or your organization. 

Turnover is a costly mistake. If you hire the wrong person and they’re not the right fit for the job, not only do you have the cost to backfill their position, but you also risk losing customer loyalty as accounts transfer from CSM to CSM.

how to hire a top-performing CSM

1. Define the skills the customer success role requires.

From using a CRM to managing customer relationships, there’s a lot that comprises this role. What do you need your CSMs to be able to do? Will they be managing revenue? Will they be in charge of renewals, upsells, and cross-sells? Or will they be strictly focused on driving adoption? Will they work with your marketing team to generate customer testimonials and case studies? Each of these activities will require different skills.

As you look for a dream candidate, get clear on the specific skills a customer success manager will need in your organization—not just for the role in general.

2. Identify the critical behavioral traits you need.

As a seasoned director of customer success, I’ve had the chance to work with some pretty amazing CSMs. These are the common traits of those who are most successful in the role:

  • Drive. Being a self-starter and having a burning curiosity to solve problems and lend a helping hand is essential. Your customer success managers are often navigating complex personalities and spearheading initiatives that have never been done. As a result, they need to have an inherent drive to push ahead.
  • Grit. This role is complex and multifaceted. It takes tenacity and perseverance. The right candidate is able to pick themselves up after they’ve been knocked down, learn from the experience, and keep on trucking. 
  • Positivity. While this may seem elementary, there’s no greater power than positivity. It keeps your team motivated, opens up your customers to hearing difficult news, and allows your CSM to not take each comment or challenge personally. 

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3. Use smarter hiring practices to find candidates.

Your company relies on data to measure important KPIs. Why not use data to inform hiring decisions? People data can provide managers with valuable insights about candidates—including data points they may not see on a resume (e.g., behavioral traits or cognitive ability). 

Our scientifically-validated PI Behavioral Assessment™ identifies individuals’ innate behavioral drives. After a candidate takes the assessment, we assign them a Reference Profile. There are 17 major Reference Profiles. These show us where the employee’s strengths are and help ensure job fit.

Our PI Cognitive Assessment™ measures a person’s ability to learn. It’s important that you hire someone whose cognitive score falls in the range you set in your Job Target. If you hire someone with a lower score, they’d struggle to succeed in the role and end up miserable—as well as eventually leave the company.

If I can offer a word of advice: Stay open to candidates who have the right behaviors and cognitive ability, but maybe not the right experience. Over the years I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how much the right person can learn on the job to be successful in this role.

4. Address and removing hiring biases.

No matter how impartial managers try to be, unconscious bias can creep into what should be subjective hiring decisions. One way to reduce bias is to increase the role of objective science in your decision-making. This way you’re examining candidates based on how well they fit the job—not on age, gender, or alma mater.  

The use of scientifically-validated assessments in the hiring practice will increase the likelihood of hiring your ideal candidate while decreasing biased hiring decisions.

3 most common Reference Profiles for a Customer Success Manager

More than 6,400 people have set a Job Target for the customer success manager role in our software. These are the three most common Reference Profiles they land on.

1. Maverick

Mavericks lead through example. Success is a huge motivator for them, and they have reserves of energy that push them to excel. They’re also more willing to take risks than many other Reference Profiles. They tend to set ambitious goals. Mavericks understand that failure is part of the job and are highly resilient to day-to-day rejection. They instill that resilience in others.

2. Persuader

Persuaders are charming, extraverted, and warm. They inspire devotion from their customers. Persuaders turn disappointments into opportunities and are always ready for the next challenge. They have real empathy for their customers, making them excellent problem solvers, great coaches, and helpful mentors. While they’re happy to make decisions themselves, they love working in groups and mobilizing other people.

3. Captain

Captains are highly focused on quotas, numbers, and goals. More metric-driven than other social Reference Profiles, the Captain is a strong communicator who understands process and structure. Captains are constantly pushing their teams to raise the bar by improving numbers. They often assume a leadership role quite naturally, even if it’s not a formal position of leadership. They love an energetic team environment and are willing to take risks to win.

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Here are a few tips for hiring Mavericks, Persuaders, and Captains:

Craft the right job listings.

Be clear with what the role entails. While some Reference Profiles are put off by a variety of job requirements, these can actually be exciting and intriguing to Mavericks, Persuaders, and Captains. They’re motivated by challenges. Spell out what the role requires and see who rises to the top.

Here are some bullet points you can copy and paste into your customer success manager job listing:

Key Responsibilities:

  • Manage a book of business and steer the customer lifecycle through renewal, upsell, implementation, product adoption, and ongoing communication and support.
  • Operate as the customer advocate and be the voice of the customer for any and all matters specific to assigned accounts.
  • Drive customer awareness, engagement, and adoption of solutions, associated features, and services to maximize the realized value of customer’s purchased solutions.
  • Forecast and track key account metrics while delivering consistent results.
  • Identify, grow, and close new opportunities with assigned accounts and ensure growth attainment of each account.
  • Develop subject-matter expertise in industry-specific business challenges and trends.
  • Collaborate with customers and internal stakeholders to continuously improve customer experience.

Keep your hiring strategy agile.

Having hired close to 100 customer success managers throughout my career, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about casting the net wide and keeping my hiring strategy agile. Keep a healthy open pipeline of candidates—even when you’re not hiring. Reach out proactively on LinkedIn to potential candidates. There are many hires I connected with in previous jobs who have reached out to me years later wanting to join my team at a new company.  

Offer them a challenge.

As previously mentioned, Mavericks, Persuaders, and Captains like challenges. So be transparent in the complexities of the job or the details that are still blurry to you. Whereas some people might be put off by a job that’s multifaceted and fast-paced, these Reference Profiles rise to the occasion!
Hiring isn’t something you want to leave to guesswork.

Try our free Job Benchmarking Calculator to discover the most common Reference Profiles for any position in your company.


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