First CSM at Startup

Colin Smith
Colin Smith Member Posts: 2 Navigator
Hi there,

Longtime listener, first-time caller here. I am looking to connect with other members who are the first CSM in their Orgs. I just started as CSM for a travel agent technology startup. 

I would love to learn more best practices and hear advice and feedback from other first CSM's. 

What metrics are you using to start? How is your role different than traditional CSM roles? Any advice for not getting lost in the weeds?




  • Amanda Watson
    Amanda Watson Member, CS Leader Posts: 31 Expert
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    edited February 2022
    Hi Colin -
    I don't have any advice, just wanted to say - You are not alone! I am building the first customer success function for my company and so far - I am the team! I have been with the company for almost 20 years and I am a product/industry expert, but new to CS. I would love to hear feedback from others, too.

    We have been considering using a consulting firm to get us up and running - but our business is pretty unique and just concerned about how that would play out. 

    Wish you well. 
  • Jeff Heckler
    Jeff Heckler Member, CS Leader Posts: 80 Expert
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    edited February 2022

    Hi @Amanda Watson, I'm happy to discuss live - I just sent you a DM to arrange a time.
    I've done this a few times and I'm always happy to share and learn.

  • Jeffrey Kushmerek
    Jeffrey Kushmerek Member Posts: 96 Expert
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    edited February 2022
    Hi Colin!
    I will link an article I wrote on this for onboarding, but I am assuming that it will apply to you for that part of the job. But before I do that, I just want to say to not get too deep into all of the materials that are out there. A startup will function a lot differently than some of the best practices at a public company, and I see many of the people that I work with and help get depressed because they don't have a platform, data ops, etc. 

    Make sure that you have a defined customer journey. Make sure you aren't getting pulled down into answer support tickets. Ensure that you have a good connection with the sales team. Know who own the renewal process. Try to see if you can get product usage for your customers. Feel empathy with them. 

    Here is the article, and feel free to ask me any questions :)
  • Josh Loe
    Josh Loe Member Posts: 4 Navigator
    edited February 2022
    Hey Colin,

    Being the first CSM is exciting!  You can bring a lot of unrealized value.  I'm not sure of really any one spot to learn best practices, however, this group has office hours and events posted often which will be extremely helpful for you.   If there is anything in particular along your journey, just ask here or on an office hours webinar.  I find that the CS community is always willing to help out.

    Congrats on your new role Colin,
  • Harsh Shah
    Harsh Shah Member Posts: 40 Expert
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    edited February 2022

    Hey Colin, I wish you the best and plenty of success in your new job!

    During the early stages of a startup, I believe you can first focus more on processes that ensure your existing clients continuously be successful and satisfied rather than focus on defining strategies to increase the client base. For a startup, retention is very much crucial as it promotes the health and success of your organization. You can further work on building long-term partnerships with your customers with the help of cross-functional teams that are trained to do the right thing at the right time. There is a high possibility for customers to experience difficulties with the product at an early stage so cross-collaboration is essential. At this stage, you might not have a dedicated support team or an onboarding team so mostly you would be responsible for all your customer's needs like implementation, support, upsell, and renewal and therefore, you've to be ready to wear multiple hats at this stage.

    Also, aid in the product enhancement/roadmap by sharing valuable customer feedback to the product teams regularly. Then as your client base will grow you can segment the customers to plan personalized activities for a more mature business stage. You can expect a lot of blocking and tackling in the early days but it will also help you to grow and learn many new things about this industry.

    Best Regards,

    Harsh Shah

    Customer Success Manager, Woliba



  • Guy Galon
    Guy Galon Member Posts: 26 Expert
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    edited February 2022
    Hi Colin and Amanda,
    Happy to arrange a call with you and share my experience.
    Let's chat privately and schedule a call.

    Adding a link to Webinar, in which I participated about being the first CS professional in your organization:

  • Kelsey Peterson
    Kelsey Peterson Member Posts: 6 Seeker
    edited February 2022
    Hi Colin,

    I spent quite a while in CS at HubSpot and now lead CS at a startup.  As others such as Harsh have mentioned, your startup priorities will likely be distinct from a mid-market or larger organization.  I'd recommend focusing on net dollar retention:
    • Retention & expansion (renewals)
    • Upsell
    • Minimizing churn
    In terms of relationships, I'd prioritize alignment with support (if there is a distinct support team... I hope there is!), sales (for rules of engagement with regard to upsell), and product (to ensure the voice of the customer is represented within your product roadmap).

    Excited for you and happy to help if there are more specific Q's!
  • Leanne Scott
    Leanne Scott Member Posts: 1 Navigator
    edited February 2022
    Hi Colin,

    Congratulations!  I'll be in your same position mid-March.  I appreciate all of the replies to your question and look forward to learning from each other as we go.  

    Until then, best wishes!

  • NickH
    NickH Member Posts: 9 Seeker
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    edited February 2022
    Hi Colin,

    Congratulations on the new role. I too have just started as the first CSM in the organisation. There are a number of challenges to being the first in a role that has never existed before, especially a role that some people in the organisation sometimes don't quite understand.

    One of the big things for me is trying to define the processes and how to use the existing tools to assist you be as effective as possible. We have Hubspot and I am currently trying to bend it to my will.

  • Sophie Quinn
    Sophie Quinn Member, CS Leader Posts: 22 Thought Leader
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    edited February 2022
    Congrats Colin on the new position! I'm also the first CSM in my company and it's been really great setting the processes from scratch. I'd recommend keeping the Support team separate from the start otherwise your team may start to blur the line pretty quickly between CS and Support. From there, mapping out the processes in a Google Sheet to break it down to your team on how it works and show them the value before implementing it into any CS software (if there is any) is something I highly recommend. 

    Best of luck, feel free to reach out at any time. 
  • Robin Miller
    Robin Miller Member Posts: 2 Navigator
    edited February 2022
    Colin, congrats on your role.  I'm in the midst of building a CS team from scratch for a new company.     I'd be happy to hop on a call to chat and learn more about what you're working on.    Your perspective and experience so far would be very helpful and interesting to me.     Best wishes on this new adventure.