Looking to Break into Customer Success?  Here’s What Employers Are After.

Looking to Break into Customer Success? Here’s What Employers Are After.

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Recently, I was lucky to be given the opportunity to do a Q&A with Jay Ivey, CRM researcher at Software Advice, a trusted site for CRM software review and comparisons that help buyers identify the right systems. Jay had just published a study on What Employers Look for in a Customer Success Manager. His research entailed systematically analyzing a random sample of 300 job listings for Customer Success Management titles from companies of all sizes, seeking out commonalities and patterns. I was curious, after reading Jay’s excellent write-up, about a few things, such as:

  • What’s the secret sauce that a Customer Success Manager applicant should boast about?
  • Since Customer Success is still the new kid on the block, do CSMs get to do a lot of “new” things?
  • Do CSMs usually have to sell?

Read on for Jay’s insightful answers to those and more questions from me, as well as three specific tips for landing your next Customer Success gig.

The Q&A

What advice would you give someone looking to enter the Customer Success field? What kinds of skills and/or experiences should they try to gain or highlight in the application process? What would make their application stand out from the pack?
Employers are looking for a remarkably wide range of qualities and experience in candidates, but we did see two major trends underlying most of the listings:

First, employers want applicants to have experience interfacing directly with clients, preferably at the executive level. So if you’re a consultant, for instance, and you once delivered a presentation to C-suite level clients… that would definitely be something to emphasize.

Second, employers want applicants with a technical side (in addition to those customer-facing skills). Having a technical degree, experience at a SaaS company, competency with CRM systems or (increasingly) Customer Success Management platforms like Frontleaf — these are all big pluses.
Given that Customer Success is a relatively new practice, did you find evidence that the hiring companies would be looking to these new hires to create new processes, help build new teams, and otherwise innovate in the Customer Success arena? If so, what kinds of evidence?
The fact that many employers were looking for candidates with several years of account management experience at the executive level might suggest that they wanted to bring in CSMs they could trust to take complete ownership of the Customer Success process, including team-building. But relatively few listings specifically requested people management experience, so it’s hard to say.
What proportion of the listings would you say included at least some sales component or responsibility? How would a potential applicant best be able to tell whether or not the role is quota carrying?
Thirty percent of the listings specifically requested candidates with sales experience, although many of those also requested other types of experience as well. However, far more included some kind of sales-related component somewhere in the job description, although we didn’t collect data regarding the exact percentage.


Employers who specifically mention upselling or exclusively request sales experience will be more likely to require CSM’s to meet quotas. However, the only way to be certain would be to ask directly during an interview.
What findings from the study most surprised you, and why?
It was somewhat surprising to see how, of those listings that requested a degree in a specific field of study, just as many requested technical degrees (computer science, engineering, MIS etc.) as requested traditional business degrees. With so much emphasis on client-facing experience, as well as customer support and sales skills, it was interesting to see that SaaS employers in particular are still very serious about hiring candidates with the technical backgrounds to really understand their products, communicate technical concepts to customers, and interface with internal development if needed.
Why do you think there is such a wide range of qualifications and required experience across the 300 job listings you studied?
Good question. I think this has to do with the infancy of the role and with how different companies have very different ideas about what a Customer Success Manager should be. Some of these companies think “Customer Success Manager” is just the latest buzzword for account manager. Others clearly want CSMs to be salespeople first, whereas others still want CSMs to represent the voice of the customer.

The Takeaways

Are you polishing up your game plan and résumé in hopes of breaking into the exciting Customer Success world? Or preparing to take your next step up the Customer Success ladder? From reading Jay’s findings and conclusions, getting the chance to ask him further questions, and my own experiences hiring Customer Success Managers and talking with Customer Success Leaders, here are my top tips for you:

Tip #1:

Learn all you possibly can about the hiring company and its software offering(s). That’s good advice for any job search, but it’s especially true for Customer Success roles, where the employer will expect you to be able to quickly become an expert guide for your customers. Demonstrating that you can do so even before getting hired is a huge bonus. And don’t stop at just reading up. Get yourself a free trial version of their application, and be ready to speak to its capabilities, supporting resources, and customer experience.

Tip #2:

Talk up your past customer interactions. Include some examples of struggles, and highlight stories with great outcomes. Don’t make up tales, but do tell honest anecdotes about times you handled a difficult customer or tricky situation with grace, helped a customer achieve and recognize value, or turned a retention risk firedrill into an upsell and reference.

Tip #3:

Become an expert in – or at least familiarize yourself with – Customer Success Management software solutions, such as Frontleaf. Then show off your knowledge of how to do Customer Success right by bringing all customer data sources into a holistic view to understand, classify and engage customers and to evaluate and scale customer programs.

What are the lessons you’ve learned in perusing Customer Success job listings or going on CSM interviews? We’d love to hear from you!

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