Building a customer success department is costly up front, but necessary if your start-up focuses on SaaS that’s somewhat technical. You don’t want to work so hard to find customers only to start seeing them churn because you didn’t have a dedicated person looking after them.
A quick check on LinkedIn shows that in New York, the median base salary for a Customer Success Manager in 2021 is $80K/year. The first listing shows that LinkedIn itself is also hiring for CSMs and that they’re median is on the high side, at just over $100K a year.
You’re probably not at the stage where you’re ready to fork out $80-100K + benefits for a CSM. If you are, this article is for you.
There are people who have backgrounds in other areas that are ready to side-step into the world of tech. It’s possible they aren’t getting paid as well as they would like (and work far worse conditions than you could offer), meaning you have an opportunity to acquire someone ready to hit the ground running at without increasing your cash burn rate too much.
This is my first choice every day of the week. Technical support have such a great skillset baked into their day-to-day work, I’m not surprised more tech support people are making the leap to becoming Customer Success Managers. They are able to:
- walk customers through highly detailed processes to achieve a specific goal,
- deal with irate customers and turn them around so that they are satisfied by the end of the call (or at least less angry),
- look after several customers at the same time,
- perform both inbound and outbound support,
- have an in-depth understanding of several software platforms and applications,
If you are doing your own recruitment, consider looking for tech support staff as your first CSM. You’ll likely be able to give them a salary bump while getting someone who will learn quickly on the job.
Business Development Managers or Sales Development Representatives are often the entry level into sales. They often perform what’s consider the most thankless parts of sales work: lead generation, cold calling and dealing with rejection. It is these skillsets that make them a great choice to be a CSM if they’re looking for a career pivot.
They are able to:
- empathise and understand people from all walks of life, building rapport with customers that allows them to become the trusted advisor in their business,
- think fast on their feet to overcome objections. Often, SaaS won’t do everything a customer wants. It takes someone who knows how to communicate to explain this without leaving a bad taste in the customer’s mouth,
- identify opportunities for growth, which is a key part of growing accounts. Their sales background can also mean that they are able to close the customer on these additional growth opportunities, meaning that you might able to get both an account manager and CSM for the price of one.
Lastly, we have project admins. People who do this work have many different role titles, but in the end, they’re often younger people who fall into this role after they finish studying. It’s a highly operational role that can involve “grunt” work, coordination, time management skills and attention to detail. Again, these features of the role mean that they also can make good CSMs.
They are able to:
- treat a client’s project like their own. They know that the success of the client’s project is tightly intertwined with the success of the company. They will do whatever it takes to make sure that the client’s project comes off without a hitch,
- work to deadlines. The best SaaS is pointless if it ultimately doesn’t deliver the goods by the due date. A project admin will help the user learn the key workflows such that they know how to use the SaaS best to get their work done to the highest quality possible – on time.
- pull strings to make things happen. CSMs often have to be able to speak with PMs, developers and other people within a tech start up to prioritise a key feature that a customer’s been asking for. When customers know that they have someone like that in a company, they can’t help but feel that they’re bit special.
These are just three possible roles that you could hire from to build your customer success team. In the end, if you just look for people who are exhibit the experience and character traits I’ve described above, there’s a good chance they’re going to perform well as a CSM too.