What is a Customer Success Manager? According to one job description, “The customer success manager will understand customer outcomes through ongoing collection and analysis of data and feedback, and turn this into onboarding and retention strategies as well as feed into the product road map. They’ll be involved in all aspects of support, account management, demonstrating the product, educating customers and more. All team members look to customer success for input across all key decisions.”
The customer success manager position is significant, to say the least. The right person has excellent technical skills, communication skills, consultative skills, and sales skills. As it pertains to the aforementioned description, the CSM is also at the helm of decision-making regarding existing customers. Sourcing CSMs is not easy. As the need for top-notch Customer Success Managers continues to grow in the SaaS B2B world, the challenge of finding great talent escalates.
Responsibilities and Skills of CSMS
While the primary job responsibilities of CSMs will vary, here are a few found among current postings:
- Orient customers to the product
- Work with clients to define their goals
- Serve as a trusted advisor to your clients
- Advocate on behalf of your customer
- Drive the delivery of continuous value to your customers
- Manage account escalations
- Identify and cultivate opportunities for upselling
The skills that are required to do the job consist of:
- Technical expertise
- Prior experience in selling and customer service
- Strong communication skills
- Attention to detail
- Ability to multi-task
- Team player mindset
- Analytical approach to problem-solving
The one thing that isn’t listed here, but CS leaders are looking for is emotional intelligence. It’s virtually impossible to screen or train for EI, but it’s a vital asset in effective Customer Success Management. It’s what makes the CSM a unicorn. It’s his/her “horn”, if you will.
Consider our CS team leader, Lisa. She’s in charge of onboarding, training, and garnering loyalty from our customers. She has customers in various stages of their lifecycles, which means she may be kicking off one customer in the morning, and then broaching renewal conversations with another in the afternoon. She’s deeply knowledgeable about our platform, and delightful to interact with. In addition to delivering high value services to our customers, Lisa also helps us cultivate and share thought leadership about Customer Success. She’s hosted a series of Customer Success videos, led a Customer Success lesson in a Ball State Sales and Technology course, and co-hosted a webinar with one of our customers about how to conduct great Kickoff meeting.
By all accounts (her boss, her colleagues, and her clients), Lisa is really good at what she does. She knows and believes in our product. She is an effective communicator. She can multi-task. She can think on her toes. She’s able to identify opportunities for growth within the account.
But, perhaps the thing that people note most about Lisa is that feeling of being heard. Lisa listens to her customers, her boss, and her colleagues, and appropriately (judiciously) responds to their needs. This is emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence is the game-changer in CS
Emotionally intelligent people handle relationships with empathy and judiciousness. They are not reactive. Rather, they are responsive, or, better yet, proactive. An emotionally intelligent person knows their customer’s needs and goals, and is always thinking about them when on a call. They listen, and then draw upon what they already know about their customer to perceive their needs, and offer strategic counseling. The ability to listen, think about the needs of the other person, and respond tactically and appropriately is the key to being successful at Customer Success Management (actually, it’s the key to success in lots of other jobs, as well).
Sourcing an Emotionally Intelligent CSM
Now the real question–how do you source a candidate with emotional intelligence? You can’t simply ask them if they’re emotionally intelligent. However, finding this exceptional unicorn is worth the effort. Here are just a few tactical suggestions for identifying people with high levels of emotional intelligence:
- Look first within your own organization. You know your own team best. Who are those people that other people are drawn to? Why are they drawn to him/her? If it’s because they are empathetic listeners who offer good counsel, take a closer look at their potential to perform the CSM duties.
- Consider having prospects take an EQ (Emotional Intelligence) test. These tests gauge a person’s level of perception and empathy, which are good indicators of their ability to listen to their customers and advocate for them.
- There ARE certain interview questions that illuminate EI. Ask questions that force a candidate to self-report on a time when he/she perceived a negative reaction from a customer or colleague. Is she self-aware? Is he able to reflect critically on how another regarded his behaviors? Follow on by asking how he/she resolved the situation.
These vetting tools are not the end-all-be-all in finding the ideal CSM candidate. But, they are a start. While you will start your search by looking for someone with sales experience, technical chops, strong communication skills, and the ability to keep lots of balls in the air at the same time, you will know you’ve found your unicorn when you identify self-awareness and judiciousness that point to a strong emotional intelligence.