Chapter 2

Hiring your first customer success person

This is a chapter from The Startup CEO’s Guide to Customer Success and Onboarding.

Common misconceptions:

🚫 I don't have enough customers to hire for success yet.

🚫 Once hired, this person can also focus on marketing, sales, and support.

Now, with a better understanding of what customer success is and why it's important, let's talk about that crucial first hire - especially if you are currently the CEO and interim Customer Success Manager.

Don't get us wrong, we are sure you are great at it, and will always encourage you to stay in contact with your customers. However, a dedicated role and person will give your customers the attention they deserve and give you the time you need to focus on your day job, that whole CEO thing.

Early-stage companies are prioritizing hiring their first customer success person sooner rather than later so they can begin reaping the benefits we discussed.

That dedicated success role has the time needed to connect with customers, set them up to be successful, learn from their feedback, and ultimately help them to grow with you.

You know your company and business far better than we do. Stick to those best practices that are currently working for your hiring.

The guidance below is intended to help you find that all-star customer success hire who will help your customers and company become successful.

Tips for your job description

A clear job description of what you're looking for will help you find the right person.

To do so, you'll need to get clarity on what YOU want from this person and role.

Cross-departmental collaboration is critical for making your customers successful, so be sure to discuss the role and needs with your leaders or co-founders to make sure everyone is aligned and bought-in on supporting this person; you'll need both to make them successful.

Determine the level of experience and seniority you are after. Depending on your needs you might find yourself searching for one of the following:

  1. Customer Success Manager (CSM) - if you're looking for someone to come take over a process you've created and start to work with customers based on that process.
  2. You'll want to find someone who has worked in customer-facing roles and has relationship management experience. Having experience in customer onboarding and training is a BIG plus!
  3. Manager or Director of Customer Success - if you're looking for someone to come build on your vision for a process but have yet to create it. You might already have a good grasp on what customer success is, but you need a leader to take it over the finish line.
  4. You'll want to find a candidate with a few years of experience leading success teams. Finding someone with experience leading onboarding efforts is also a plus here!
  5. Head or VP of Customer Success - if you're looking for someone to come own, build, and drive your customer success strategy. You might have a rough idea of what customer success is but want an experienced leader to bring it all to life while championing the value of success with your other departments.
  6. You'll want to find someone who has led and scaled success departments. And, you'll ideally find someone with experience building strategies for customer onboarding, success, and support.
  7. Having experience in program or project management is a plus, especially if related to customer experience strategies.

Be sure to include a description of your company, the key functions this role will play and what success looks like (we'll talk about those first 3 months more later).

And last, be honest in your job description. If you need this person to do a bit of marketing or sales, that's ok. Set those expectations while creating a plan to eventually support those needs so this person can give 100% of their time to your customers.

That transparency will help you find the right fit and set proper expectations to keep them around.

Characteristics to look for

Whatever level of seniority you end up hiring for, this person will have to wear many hats to get things going. The smaller your company is, the more true this statement becomes.

You'll find success and value in hiring someone with:

  • a passion for customers - their main job is to work with customers and make them successful. There will be ups and downs through those conversations, so this passion is a must-have.
  • Their mentality is to put the customer first and encourage the rest of your teams to do the same, always. This passion will be evident as you ask for examples of how they've worked with their customers in the past during the interviews.
  • a clear communication style - both written and verbal. They will be talking with and emailing customers, capturing feedback, and documenting processes as you go. You'll want this person communicating with yourself and other teams regularly too.
  • Role-plays and homework assignments in the interview process can help you identify these strengths.
  • a passion for feedback - both for giving it and receiving it. There will be a need for both, and likely a lot of it. Be clear that this is the case and make sure this person thrives in this type of culture.
  • Most people will tell you they want feedback until you actually give it to them. Ask for past stories of times giving and receiving feedback went well, or not so well, to determine their appetite.
  • onboarding or training experience - a critical component to customer success is the onboarding stage. Eventually, you'll have a dedicated role for onboarding, but for now, this person is likely responsible for this function.
  • Ask them to onboard you to a tool of their choice during an interview to gauge their level of comfort with onboarding.
  • P.S. If you want to learn more about customer onboarding specifically, check out A Guide to High Touch B2B SaaS Onboarding.
  • industry knowledge - at this stage, your first customer success hire will likely be a consultant to many of your customers. If they understand the space and lingo, it could be an advantage for your customers.
  • Again, you know your business best. If this isn't critical, it's not a deal-breaker.

In conclusion…

Whoever ends up in this role will have a front-row seat for what your customers are saying or needing. Be sure to seek their input and give them a seat at your internal tables too.

Their insight will prove valuable for improving your product and service, in turn letting them drive more customers towards success. The cyclical nature of this internal relationship will pave the path for you to retain and grow more of your customers.

Be sure to carve a path for this person's growth too. You'll want to keep them and their knowledge of your customers around for as long as you can.

To guide you during your hiring search, here are some interview assignments you can task to your candidates. Feel free to optimize and leverage the portions that make the most sense for your hiring goals.

Download the entire CEO's Guide to Customer Success

No time to read it all at once? Read the full 50+ page guide in your own time, at your own pace.

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