Getting Hired As A CSM

Getting hired as a CSM, for all the ever-burgeoning demand and skyrocketing listings of open Customer Success Manager positions, is not an easy task for those whose passion leads them into this career path.  Yes, there are many jobs under the CSM label.  Finding the right job, however, for a professional such as yourself amidst all of the noise will take some careful and serious preparation.  You’ll need to present yourself and your skills properly, and to ask the right questions of prospective employers.

All That Glitters is Not Gold

Image of iron pyrite or fools goldWe hear from various sources that Customer Success jobs are hot as more and more companies begin CS initiatives and groups.  The explosion in numbers of open positions is easily proven.  The quality of those positions is another matter indeed.  There is no quality control on what may be called a Customer Success job; any company can use the term to describe any role — and they do.  The result can often be that what you thought was a perfect job turns out to be much less than what was advertised.

The first challenge is therefore to refine your search to locate prospective companies whose vision of Customer Success most closely matches your own, where you stand a better chance of being able to practice your chosen profession to your own standards.  Why is this company building a Customer Success group?  Go beyond the flash and sparkle of the advertising in the job description.  What you are looking for is consistency between the way the company describes what it offers to its customers, the duties that the prospective CSM will be assuming, and the metrics that will be used to judge that individual’s job performance.

Example:  A software company that only talks about the disruptiveness of its products and its supremely qualified engineering team  is likely to perceive itself as being primarily about technology for its own sake rather than the value that its customers will gain.  Their  motivations for forming a CS team are not likely to result in the kind of CSM job a true professional will find fulfilling.

Opening the Door

image of open door with blue sky beyondWhat if you find a very likely company/position, but the stated qualifications for the job do not exactly match what’s on your resume?  As in: “Applicants must have at least ten years of experience as a CSM.”  Don’t be discouraged.  Remember that the job description and announcement may either copied from another company’s position announcement or written by somebody in HR who has no real idea of what the role will actually require.

The key to the door lies in your domain expertise, and your resume and presentation needs to emphasize this aspect of yourself as consistently as possible.  You may not have the ten years with the title of CSM — but do you have ten years of clear  expertise in the particular industry that the prospective employer serves?  For example, for a medical office management software company, do you have in-depth knowledge of the best practices of running a doctor’s office and business?  That potential employer ought to be very interested in exploring how your skills and knowledge of the industry could be used to further their company.  (And if they are not, then look elsewhere, for a company that does not emphasize domain expertise in its CSMs will probably have a limited definition of Customer Success.)

To prepare your resume and interview presentation, there is no better resource than Richard Bolles’ book “What Color Is Your Parachute? 2020” — there is a link to the various editions to be found on the Customer Success Books page.

The Customer Success Association has also published a Customer Success Manager Competency Standard.  To access the Standard, you’ll need to be logged in as at least an Associate/free member of the CSA.  To join the CSA, click here.  To see the Standard, click here.

Some Questions to Ask

silhouette of a man with question marksAfter you ask about how the company defines the Customer Success role and what the typical duties are, ask about the performance metrics that will be applied to the position.  There are a wide range of metrics in use for CSM performance evaluation; some are good, and some frankly ought to be considered as red or yellow alerts for job seekers.

An example of what should be considered as a red alert for job seekers is when the CSM will be primarily evaluated on “Saves” of at-risk logos or accounts.  By the time a customer declares their intention to leave or not renew, it’s generally too late to do anything effective about it.  This is not what Customer Success is about, this is churnfighting.  If the list of metrics includes Logo Retention, dig deeper as to what this actually means in practice.  A yellow or caution alert would apply to anything where you don’t feel you have direct control over the outcome.

A good metric, on the other hand, is something like “Progress according to individual Customer Success Plans with your “book” of assigned customers.”  This is where you and the customer agree as to a plan of what goals are to be accomplished (and what “accomplished looks like in measurable terms!) and the schedule.  It’s very appropriate for your manager and company to want to track your ability to meet those goals and schedules — IF the workload is reasonable.  Assigning you a thousand customers to manage where each one takes quite a bit of time is a recipe for failure.  Does the company know the standard interactions types, how long they take and at what intervals they are done?  (Most don’t, and therefore tend to make headcount decisions without the solid data that they should have as a basis.)

One other metric area that can be quite sensitive is the compensation plan.  This can vary widely between companies.  Some offer base salary plus bonus — but what is the basis for determining that bonus?  Is it under your control?  That leads us to the next metric area, which is probably the closest thing our profession has to an ongoing religious war.

To Commission or Not To Commission

To some in the Customer Success community, CSMs should never, ever be commissioned for anything.  In their view, such a commission is necessarily a conflict of interest; the CSM should have only the customers’ interests at heart.  Others take a more tolerant view.  In my ongoing research of the profession, I’ve see it work well both ways.  The answer seems to be: It Depends — on a lot of things.  What’s the commission structure?  What specific behaviors are being encouraged? You’ll need to determine for yourself whether or not you can handle a job where commissions are part of your compensation.

In passing, I’ll note that the Customer Success community as a whole seems to have a curious reluctance to talk directly about money.  In my view, this is a serious flaw.  One of the core aspects of bringing value to customers is the necessary ability to clearly define that value increase in monetary terms.  Customers don’t buy software, for example, in order to get fast response to support cases.  They buy in order to increase their productivity and therefore their profitability, and we need to be ready to help them prove that monetary ROI to their company CFO’s.

Preparation and Process

The interview process is a two-way street.  As you are being evaluated by the Company, and evaluating them in return, pay attention to how courteously you are (or are not) being treated.  Suddenly re-scheduled or cancelled interviews, interviews with people who don’t seem relevant to the job, unexplained delays and lack of notification as the process unfolds may have a message about the quality of working with the company.  It can also indicate confusion about the CS role.

Make effective use of the interview process to properly present yourself.  Emphasize your domain expertise at every opportunity, talk about how it could be used to improve retention and product design and marketing.  Presentation skills are important to the CSM role, and the company will be evaluating yours through the course of the interviews.

Comments and Suggestions

The Customer Success Forum on LinkedIn has a a discussion thread on Getting Hired As A CSM.  Please post comments or suggestions there.


The Customer Success Forum on LinkedIn (There is a discussion thread where open job announcements are made as comments – The Customer Success Jobs List.  To find it, search for #CSJOBS)

Gainsight’s Career Hub page:

Gainsight’s Slack Channel has a jobs thread.


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