3 Skills to Look for When Hiring a Customer Success Manager
August 31, 2016
min read

3 Skills to Look for When Hiring a Customer Success Manager

When exploring Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Indeed or any broad collection of job boards, it is hard not to take notice of the increasing volume of Customer Success Manager (CSM) jobs that are available in the marketplace today. A recent Glassdoor job search for “Customer Success Manager” in the United States yielded close to 6,000 jobs. Additionally, one of my top inquiry requests from TSIA members has been focused on establishing Customer Success organizations and the capabilities and skills needed to staff them. To address this topic, I'd like to share with you three of the top skills you'll want to look for when hiring a Customer Success Manager for your organization.

customer success manager CSM jobs
According to this map from Glassdoor, there’s an abundance of Customer Success Manager positions currently open within the US.

Common Customer Success Questions

Before we get into the Who of your Customer Success organization, I feel it’s important to first answer some common questions around the What, How, When, and Why of this critical function.

  • WHAT - Customer Success is the intersection of a promise of a suppliers’ technology and the customers’ intended business outcome. Originally, as customers migrated through your Sales cycle, there was an initial business need that had been previously unmet. It is the promise of your technology that convinced the customer to put their trust in you as the supplier. The objective of Customer Success is to deliver against the previously unmet need and to fulfill that original promise.
  • HOW - Customer Success is delivered through continuous interactions between the customer, the supplier, and its technology.
  • WHEN - Customer Success occurs on an ongoing basis when the hopes and dreams of a suppliers’ technology translate into realized value by the customer.
  • WHY – Customer Success organizations and initiatives are focused on effective technology Adoption that leads to increased Renewal Rates and Expansion opportunities.
  • WHO – The people that are executing against all of the above are members of Customer Success organizations and are commonly referred to as Customer Success Managers (CSMs).

Hiring Effective Customer Success Managers: What Skills Does a Customer Success Manager Need?

When looking at common characteristics, skills, and qualifications on CSM job descriptions, I evaluated alignment to at least one of the three common charters of Customer Success teams: Adoption, Retention, or Expansion.

In my search, I also saw some jobs that I would not classify as Customer Success Manager positions being listed as such. Based on their descriptions, it was clear that these CSM jobs were merely a rebranding of either a Sales or Support role. If we dug deep enough, we would likely uncover that the charters of these organizations probably align more towards traditional Sales or Technical Support. Even in our own TSIA baseline survey data, we see our “other” category filled with rebranding attempts. While these specific jobs may have a Customer Success Manager title, they are in name only. If the primary aspect of the role is technical support or landing new customers, it is not Customer Success.

However, I saw some trends within the “Skills” or “Qualifications” sections: Customer Service, Technology, and Functional knowledge. If the CSM is considered the “Chief Adoption Officer” for the technology within a specific set of your customers, these three skills and qualifications are critical elements to incorporate into your CSM job descriptions.

#1: Customer Service

Customer Service is the most common skillset needed for a great CSM. The good news here is that there is an abundance of great Customer Service skills in the marketplace which can be found in other customer-facing organizations. The most common skills cited were communication and presentation skills, as well as a past history in account or relationship management.

Example of how Customer Service skills may appear in a CSM job description: “Serve as a customer advocate in driving industry best practices and the evolution of (Company’s) product and platform functionality. Exceptional ability to develop relationships.”

#2: Technology

Regardless of hardware, software, or technology subscription, the expectation is that a CSM will need to understand the technology from a user’s perspective and help the customer identify the best practices for the intended business use of that technology. This does not translate to being a developer of technology nor a support troubleshooter. CSMs must quickly establish themselves as a power user of the technology so they can help their customer’s move from low, to high, and ultimately to effective adoption. Additionally, there are several examples of more than one application that a CSM would need to cover. However, there is a natural limit to the number of technologies that any one CSM can cover, and we also see correlation between complexity of the technology and the number of customers a single CSM can manage. So, the more technologies, as well as the complexity of each technology limits the coverage model of a CSM.

Examples of how Technology skills may appear in a CSM job description: “Demonstrates knowledge/competency in the (Company) Product Suite,” and also, “Maintains a deep understanding of our product and speak with customers about the most relevant features/functionality for their specific needs.”

#3: Functional

Arguably the most complex of the three skillsets, is the functional (or industry) knowledge. If it’s critical to connect the suppliers’ technology to the customer’s business outcome, then it’s logical to assume that a CSM will need to understand some of the finer points of the customer’s business. The domain expertise may also be commonly referred to as having a “consultative” approach. To that end, we have also seen an increase in resources from the traditional professional services or consulting organizations that are making up these new CSM roles.

Example of how Functional skills may appear in a CSM job description: “The CSM will focus on (Company’s) applications such as Human Capital Management, Supply Chain and Finance applications," or possibly, "The Public Sector CSM is a subject matter expert in applying consulting advisory skills to customers modernizing their line of business applications and is able to bring a variety of personal experiences to bear to meet key customer challenges and requirements across the diverse nature of Public Sector industry priorities and demands."

3 skills a customer success manager must have
Your ideal Customer Success Manager will possess all three of these skills.

Smart Tip: Embrace Data-Driven Decision Making

Making smart, informed decisions is more crucial than ever. Leveraging TSIA’s in-depth insights and data-driven frameworks can help you navigate industry shifts confidently. Remember, in a world driven by artificial intelligence and digital transformation, the key to sustained success lies in making strategic decisions informed by reliable data, ensuring your role as a leader in your industry.

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Learn Even More About Hiring Effective Customer Success Managers

A fairly obvious conclusion is that the more that is put into these job descriptions will also weigh heavily on compensation. TSIA will be launching a comprehensive study at the beginning of the new calendar year on Customer Success compensation to help tie the correlation of these various skills in the marketplace to compensation.

Finally, if your company is a member in the TSIA Customer Success discipline, please feel free to reach out to me directly, and I can provide a CSM career path matrix that includes alignment to the charters and these three skillsets along with common behavioral traits you’ll also want to consider when hiring a CSM.

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