Hiring A CSM with no prior CS experience

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Yanira "Janita" Sesniak
Yanira "Janita" Sesniak Member Posts: 53 Expert
edited August 2023 in CS Org Conversations

Hello GGR community! First-time poster here.

I posted a LinkedIn article today about 3 Ways to Land a Customer Success role without Prior Experience.

Would love to hear in what instances you have a hired a CSM to your team without prior CS experience.

This topic is near and dear to me as I transitioned from teaching high school English to Customer Success.


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  • Stacie Ward
    Stacie Ward Member Posts: 10 Contributor
    edited August 2020
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    Hi @Yanira

    I've hired non-CSMs into CSM roles in a number of cases.  The most common background has been Sales.  It's typically a sales person who has learned that they do not really like winning customers and moving onto the next deal.  They would prefer to continue working with the same customer over a period of time, ensuring they are successful with the solution. 

    I've also hired subject matter experts in a particular area.  In my current role, I have hired people with security background, who may or may not have been in a customer-facing role.   We have two people on our team who were on the customer side in the past.  They bring that awareness of the customer's perspective to the role.  That knowledge is extremely valuable to other members of the team.

  • Tiffany Morin
    Tiffany Morin Member Posts: 20 Thought Leader
    edited August 2020
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    I love this topic. I hired a CSM right out of college once. She was one of the best CSMs on my team. The product was a low ACV and less technical solution. She had the basic interpersonal skills from lifeguarding and school to really hit the ground running. To start her, we had her answering FAQs. She was a learner and self-starter which are qualities I value over years of experience in the role. Not all roles would have been a fit for her and may have required more experience but in this case, given the product, she was a perfect fit despite the lack of CSM experience. Fast forward 6 years, she is leading the department now!
  • Yanira "Janita" Sesniak
    Yanira "Janita" Sesniak Member Posts: 53 Expert
    edited August 2020
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    Thanks so much for sharing the different examples of how you've hired into your team without that prior experience. I love the idea of hiring sales reps. I've only hired 2 sales reps before and both were delightful additions to our team. Their confidence is so helpful on those trickier calls!
  • Yanira "Janita" Sesniak
    Yanira "Janita" Sesniak Member Posts: 53 Expert
    edited August 2020
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    Thanks for sharing this success story Tiffany! I love how you took a chance and now she is part of the leadership team. :)

    Those interpersonal skills are key to CS success.

  • Cory Corban
    Cory Corban Member Posts: 3 Seeker
    edited September 2020
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    Thanks for posting this discussion, Yanira! I am currently making a career pivot from MultiFamily Asset Management in to Customer Success. Glad to hear success stories from others in the CS industry to give me a little confidence boost.
  • Tanuj Diwan
    Tanuj Diwan Member Posts: 30 Expert
    First Comment
    edited September 2020
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    Hi Tiffany,

    You have just validated what I was about to try. We are currently hiring a CSM ( Straight from college) and in interviews, I am looking for people with excellent interpersonal skills and whether they can write good faqs. Hope this goes well as it did with you :)

    Any suggestions you would have for training them?
  • Brian Hartley
    Brian Hartley Member Posts: 185 Expert
    First Comment First Anniversary
    edited September 2020
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    HI @Yanira my company is currently based in Kansas City, MO which means we don't have a plethora of CSM candidates in terms of true CS SaaS experience.  I have found success hiring consultants from the software deployment world or, to be honest, just those with basic account/client management skills.  As our team and practice is relatively new, we don't necessarily need well experienced folks right out of the gate.  Instead I choose to hire those with relevant skill sets and teach them the rest on the job.
  • Victoria Richardson
    Victoria Richardson Member Posts: 1 Navigator
    edited September 2020
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    This is a great topic and something that I've been thinking about for growing the team in the coming months.

    It's also something that I have experienced. My background is all sales and sales enablement but after being made redundant earlier this year, I started to consider how I could be more involved with the customer but not in a new business way. I've previously onboarded CSM's and had loved hearing them speak about the detailed plans and relationships they had with customers.

    When my company hired me they said that my sales background was important to them as I understood the importance of the relationship building and could identify the growth opportunities within the usage of a client. My enablement/training background showed that I could not only develop people internally but also build training plans for people to use a tool/platform in the best way possible using plain English rather than technical jargon. This was a skill that is transferable for onboarding employees and clients successfully.

    When I'm building the team I will happily focus on the skill set rather than previous job title :) 

    Hope this helps!
    Victoria

    ------------------------------
    Victoria Richardson
    Head of Customer Success & Support
    ------------------------------


    -------------------------------------------
    Original Message:
    Sent: 08-26-2020 12:32
    From: Yanira "Janita" Sesniak
    Subject: Hiring A CSM with no prior CS experience

    Hello GGR community! First-time poster here.

    I posted a LinkedIn article today about 3 Ways to Land a Customer Success role without Prior Experience.

    Would love to hear in what instances you have a hired a CSM to your team without prior CS experience.

    This topic is near and dear to me as I transitioned from teaching high school English to Customer Success.





    ------------------------------
    Yanira "Janita" Sesniak
    Vice President of Customer Success
    ysesniak@gmail.com
    ------------------------------
  • Viktoriia West
    Viktoriia West Member Posts: 1 Navigator
    edited September 2020
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    Hello Yanira and CGR Community,

    It it very exciting and encouraging to see this topic, as I am currently looking to transition from hospitality sales to customer success. Personally I see a lot of parallels between my skills and CSM roles, so hopefully a lot of employers will see the same when looking at non-CSM background :)
  • Ashton Liu
    Ashton Liu Member Posts: 29 Expert
    First Comment First Anniversary
    edited September 2020
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    Most of the people I've hired don't have CS experience. As has been mentioned by others, a lot of the CS skills are soft skills that can be transferred from other functions. However, I will note that this is changing in some regards as roles get more specialized. In my organization, since we are a provider for the hospitality industry the key has been domain expertise as opposed to CS experience. Given the complicated and specialized nature of the hotel industry, you simply cannot play the trusted partner role without industry experience. In cases like these, we have tended to recruit experienced hires from the industry and train on CS practices. This varies based on role, and other in more integration specific positions may not need nearly as much hospitality experience but would obviously need the technical aptitude needed with the integrations. 
    Ashton
  • Walter Zepeda
    Walter Zepeda Member Posts: 20 Thought Leader
    edited September 2020
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    Hi Yanira! My entire team of CSMs has no experience in CS and I'm about to hire another CSM and again, CS is not even a "nice-to-have" in the job description. I hire more for attitude

    This is the actual job post
    https://www.linkedin.com/posts/walterzepeda_actimo-customer-success-manager-job-post-activity-6705138998815309824-emdk
  • Jeremy Donaldson
    Jeremy Donaldson Member Posts: 71 Expert
    Office Hours Host 2022 First Anniversary GGR Blogger 2021
    edited September 2020
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    @Yanira - 8+ years ago someone gave me a chance to prove my worth through a FT internship. I am eternally grateful to that individual, and I have always tried to pay it forward where possible. My company will hire or internally transfer individuals with no prior CS experience into what we call a "Customer Success Associate" position.  These individuals work with our tech/low touch customer base learning communication basics, customer advocacy, escalation management, renewals, contract cycles, and much more.

    The idea is for them to join us with a low risk environment, give them the training and guidance to be successful, and charge them with uncovering risk + growth within their customer base.

    If the individual wants to stay with CS, the career path would look something like: CSA > CSM > Sr./Principal CSM > Management.
  • Yanira "Janita" Sesniak
    Yanira "Janita" Sesniak Member Posts: 53 Expert
    edited September 2020
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    @Tanuj Diwan wanted to make sure you saw @Jeremy Donaldson's post from this morning on a terrific way to train new CSMs without prior experience!






    Posted 8 hours ago




    ReplyOptions Dropdown




    @Yanira  - 8+ years ago someone gave me a chance to prove my worth through a FT internship. I am eternally grateful to that individual, and I have always tried to pay it forward where possible. My company will hire or internally transfer individuals with no prior CS experience into what we call a "Customer Success Associate" position.  These individuals work with our tech/low touch customer base learning communication basics, customer advocacy, escalation management, renewals, contract cycles, and much more.

    The idea is for them to join us with a low risk environment, give them the training and guidance to be successful, and charge them with uncovering risk + growth within their customer base.

    If the individual wants to stay with CS, the career path would look something like: CSA > CSM > Sr./Principal CSM > Management.

    ------------------------------
    Jeremy Donaldson
    Sr. Customer Success Manager
    ------------------------------



     Original Message




     

  • Yanira "Janita" Sesniak
    Yanira "Janita" Sesniak Member Posts: 53 Expert
    edited September 2020
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    You're welcome @Cory Corban! Unlike Sales, our CS industry is still so new so most people are coming from a different line of work if that makes sense. :)
  • Yanira "Janita" Sesniak
    Yanira "Janita" Sesniak Member Posts: 53 Expert
    edited September 2020
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    Thanks for sharing @Brian Hartley. What challenges do you run into (if any) when hiring individuals with basic account/client management skills w/out that prior CS experience?
  • Yanira "Janita" Sesniak
    Yanira "Janita" Sesniak Member Posts: 53 Expert
    edited September 2020
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    Thanks for sharing your story @Victoria Richardson. Your skill of " My enablement/training background showed that I could not only develop people internally but also build training plans for people to use a tool/platform in the best way possible using plain English rather than technical jargon" is so important in our CS world. Communication is everything!
  • Yanira "Janita" Sesniak
    Yanira "Janita" Sesniak Member Posts: 53 Expert
    edited September 2020
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    Hello Victoriia -

    You are going to love CS! The confidence you built as a trusted advisor in Sales will absolutely transfer to a CS role. Good luck on your journey!

  • Yanira "Janita" Sesniak
    Yanira "Janita" Sesniak Member Posts: 53 Expert
    edited September 2020
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    Thanks for sharing Ashton. I live in Chandler, AZ where we have countless SaaS companies so up until recently I was used to hiring people with a CS background. In my latest role, I've shifted to focusing on the industry expertise my enterprise clients need to feel confident in their onboarding experience.
  • Yanira "Janita" Sesniak
    Yanira "Janita" Sesniak Member Posts: 53 Expert
    edited September 2020
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    Awesome @Walter Zepeda! Thanks for sharing the link to your job description. I also like the presentation slides you put together to make your information pop on LinkedIn.
  • Yanira "Janita" Sesniak
    Yanira "Janita" Sesniak Member Posts: 53 Expert
    edited September 2020
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    I LOVED reading about your process @Jeremy Donaldson and how you've mapped out new hires to the tech/low touch customer experience. Thanks for sharing!
  • Tanuj Diwan
    Tanuj Diwan Member Posts: 30 Expert
    First Comment
    edited September 2020
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    That is an excellent suggestion, Start them with low touch customers and slowly move them up the ladder. 

    If they are our first hire in the role should we expect them to do a Customer Support role as well in the intial phases or just Success?

    @Yanira @Jeremy Donaldson
  • Jeremy Donaldson
    Jeremy Donaldson Member Posts: 71 Expert
    Office Hours Host 2022 First Anniversary GGR Blogger 2021
    edited September 2020
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    Hi @Tanuj Diwan,

    This is a yes and no answer for me.

    Yes - if the CSM will learn the process, understand proper escalation paths, learn the SLAs and turnaround timeframes, etc. Generally speaking, think the things that will help better set expectations with a customer while making it easier on you to navigate the system when escalations arise.

    No - If the CSM is only there to learn how to "do" technical support - case management, how to investigate an issue, technical resolving problems for customers. CSMs should know how to use "discovery" to better understand the use case causing the problem, but don't let CSMs get stuck holding the bag for resolution of a technical bug or enhancement.

    One recurring theme I see with professionals moving from technical support into customer success is they typically have a hard time letting go of the technical resolution piece. When a customer reports an issue, those CSMs have to fight their nature tendency to jump in and solve the technical problem opposed to having empathy, outlining the organizations expectations, and being their advocate.

    It is much hard to move someone towards strategic conversations then it is to move towards tactical discussions. I'd rather manage the problem of having a CSM who's overly strategic in their customer engagement then one who is overly focused on the tactical / operational pieces.
  • Yanira "Janita" Sesniak
    Yanira "Janita" Sesniak Member Posts: 53 Expert
    edited September 2020
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    Hi @Tanuj Diwan, great question! Having CSM onboarding include elements of a Customer Support role has proven helpful for me. It's a part of my 90 day onboarding process for new CSMs to manage Support functions prior to taking on their book of business.