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5 steps to identifying your customer success unicorn

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Shutter_M)

Search Customer Success Manager jobs on and you get over 1,000 postings. Here are some of the expectations companies have of their new hires:

·         Identify strategic accounts and develop success plans
·         Ensure that customers are receiving the most value from their relationship with our company
·         Troubleshoot technical issues and communicate back to the customer
·         Stay abreast of product enhancements and roadmaps, and continually integrate into appropriate customer success plans
·         (be) a solutions-minded relationship manager
·         (have) a heart for customers
·         (be a) renewal specialist
·         (have) a passion delighting customers by delivering winning solutions

Whether you are hiring for a start-up or for an established organisation, you are looking for a unique mix of technical expertise and relationship skills. This unicorn can seem pretty elusive. Because Customer Success Management is a crucial, profitable team within any XaaS company, you can’t afford to make a bad hire. Frankly, doing so can mean the difference between an excellent customer experience and a poor one, and too many poor experiences equate to fewer renewals, and, more critically, less referenceability. 

How do you identify the best person to step into your Customer Success team and begin adding real value quickly?

We are in the business of Customer Success Management, and happen to be in the midst of hiring another CSM to join our team. You may benefit from the process we have in place for recruiting CSMs. Here are 5 steps we have established in the process:

1.    Start by knowing exactly what your ideal candidate looks and feels like

We work off a Gartner Magic Quadrant matrix of qualifications and personal attributes that identifies a candidate’s ability to execute (skills) and their cultural fit (motivation, personal strengths, etc.). Some of these attributes are more difficult to identify in a person than others, but knowing what personal strengths (both technical and “soft” skills) a candidate should possess allows you to focus your vetting process.

2.    Identify your non-negotiables (which may be the hardest things to identify in a vetting process)

We place a high value on cultural fit, which has more to do with a person’s personality and temperament than their technical skills. We want someone who is unabashedly courageous, strategic-minded, self-starting, and humble – all at the same time. These are our non-negotiables, if you will. Our priority on culture is based on our belief that you can’t train a fit, but you can train most of the technical skills the job requires. These traits are difficult to confirm in the vetting process, but we have found that people with these strengths fit in better, and are trainable in some of the more technical skills.

Agree on your team’s non-negotiables ahead of time, and that will make narrowing the applicant pool down a little easier.

3.    Define and articulate what a “cultural fit” means to your organisation.

Since we place a high value on cultural fit, we need to know what it means to fit in. It can’t simply be a “feeling” we get. We actually have to identify what constitutes fit and unfit. Rather than trying to describe fit, we compiled descriptions of things that happen in our company that should feel familiar or easy to a new hire, such as:

·         Completing tasks in a group workspace environment without being too distracted by flying nerf darts
·         Reading tech news/journal articles, and sharing them with team members when re-posting such articles on social media would reflect well on our organisation
·         Having and sharing innovative ideas with courage, but without pride.
·         Desiring to become an expert while helping teammates do so at the same time

It’s important to note that you can’t really dictate what your culture IS, but you can influence it through leadership, mentoring, and rewarding good behaviours. Because a bad hire can drastically impact culture, it’s important to understand what constitutes a fit, and also to collaborate within your organisation so that hires are made with input from across the team, not just a single executive.

4.    Clearly articulate the core skills and primary responsibilities, and make sure your candidates don’t flinch at the prospect of performing them

While the primary goals of customer success are pretty standard – to contribute to churn reduction by establishing and maintaining a relationship with customers which provides them an ongoing value with your solution - how this happens within organisations varies. The job typically includes a wide variety of tasks performed across multiple accounts. Take the time to frame your daily, weekly, monthly duties for your candidates. They need to understand what their routines will look like, and you want to see if they flinch at the prospect of performing them. This kind of transparency with expectations is a first step in developing trust with your future hire. Being realistic and honest is incredibly important in starting the relationship off with authenticity.

5.    Use the STAR approach to interview candidates

STAR-type questions are ones that take preferences and hypothesising out of the equation, and focus on behaviours and past experiences. This technique allows you to hear candidates discuss actual situations and how they handled them. Questions should be crafted to elicit answers around the core qualities/traits you are looking to hire. Some of the questions we like to ask include:

·         Share a time in your life when you helped a colleague or customer advance or excel, and describe how that made you feel. (helps us gauge a candidate’s humility)
·         Help me understand when you did something innovative for a customer and what describe the results. (helps us learn more about their problem-solving abilities)
·         What was the most complex thing you ever taught yourself and how did you go about learning that? (helps us assess their self-starting and self-discipline traits)

As evidenced by the number and descriptions of job postings for Customer Success Managers, the profession is increasingly important across a wide range of industries. Because the position requires a wide range of skills (both technical and interpersonal), it can be a difficult one to fill. Taking the time to identify your own priorities and methods for vetting candidates is worth it, as a bad hire in this department can damage both company culture and customer experience.

Tim Conder, VP of Customer Success at Bolstra
Image source: Shutterstock/Shutter_M

Tim is the VP of Customer Success at Bolstra. Prior to Bolstra, Tim had his own Customer Success consulting business, eServeo. These practices have formed the foundation of Bolstra’s platform.