There’s one extremely powerful tool that most of Customer Success simply doesn’t use.
It helps with hiring, role scoping, and enablement. It’s one of the keys to creating assessments, career paths, and a retention strategy for your CS team.
And it’s probably already being used by your company’s Sales team.
So what is this “magic” tool that could be a key differentiator, separating the just OK Customer Success organizations from the truly great ones?
The competency matrix.
What is a competency matrix?
The simple definition of a competency matrix — sometimes called a skills matrix — is: a list of all the skills that someone needs to be able to do their job well. Sounds straightforward enough, right? So why isn’t Customer Success using matrices already?
Well, there’s a little bit of a catch: these things can be complex.
The first bit of complexity that scares folks off from creating competency matrices is that most CS roles aren’t well scoped. Customer Success often ends up as a gap filler, doing a lot of disconnected things that may — but often don’t — add value for their customers. This makes it much harder to nail down all the skills and knowledge that someone needs to do to be successful in the role, so they just don’t.
(The fact that CS is often poorly scoped is the leading cause of the Customer Success Doom Loop that I laid out in a post earlier this year.)
The second cause of complexity is around measurement. As part of building a competency matrix, you’ll need to agree to a scale (ex: a 1–5 scale with 1 being beginner and 5 being expert) and a way to assess members or prospective members of the team. But getting alignment on scales can be tough and time consuming — What does good look like? Who or what qualifies as expert? — and building assessments often takes time and a dedicated resource. Customer Success organizations that are lucky enough to have a Sales team with competency matrices can lean on the scales that team has already built out, but assessments are still a challenge, so many just forego the entire competency exercise completely.
And that is a huge mistake.
Why Customer Success needs to use competency matrices
Now that we’ve discuss what competency matrices are, we need to talk about why Customer Success needs to start using them — because they do, badly.
There are four primary reasons Customer Success needs competency matrices:
1. Scoping Customer Success roles
The most basic reason why Customer Success needs to get into the competency matrix game is because building them is key to scoping what your Customer Success team actually does. As everyone in CS knows, teams are just doing too much and too little of it provides any value.
Going through the exercise of building out competency matrices for the different CS roles helps provide clarity around what all CS currently does and what they really should be doing. Mapping everything out, you’ll likely notice there’s a lot of responsibilities and competencies that seem incongruous or simply unnecessary, giving you the perfect opportunity to rescope the roles and reset expectations around CS with your employees and other organizations in your company.
Only a slightly less important reason than scoping that Customer Success should be utilizing competency matrices is for hiring. It’s well-established how much a bad hire can set you back and put additional strain on your CS team, but you’re almost guaranteed to make some mis-hires if you don’t know what skills (and at what level) you’re looking for in a role. A well-written competency matrix solves this problem.
That’s because Customer Success orgs with competency matrices can use the same matrix they use to assess existing employees on prospect in the interview process. Instead of depending upon what is on a prospect’s resume or how well they present in an interview, the hiring team can ask targeted questions and create relevant exercises tied directly to the skills and skill levels that your team has already identified as keys to success in the role.
Customer Success Enablement has a metrics problem, mainly that they don’t have many and it stinks. That’s why one of the most straightforward cases for competency matrices is for enablement.
A matrix (or matrices) give CS Enablement a way to benchmark the current team and show where they’ve grown in specific skills and areas quarter-over-quarter, tying that directly back to enablement they have done. Instead of just depending on the one gold standard metric — time to ramp—competency matrices give CS Enablement all sorts of skills to focus on improving with the goal of putting Customer Success team members in the best place to win an upsell or renewal with their customers.
One underrated benefit of the competency matrix is transparency with both the CS team and with your company’s leadership. Because matrices are used to benchmark employees, it gives those in Customer Success a transparent way to see where they currently are, based off of assessments, and where they need to get to in order to be seen as performing at or above the level management expects for their role.
This transparency helps build trust and guarantees there’s no more guessing about what skills an employee needs to improves based upon vague feedback or a flawed assessment based off of a small or incomplete sample of their work.
To build a competency matrix, you want to go from big to small, starting with team and desired outcome and narrowing from there.
How to Build a Competency Matrix for Customer Success
Now that we’ve established the what and why behind competency matrices, let’s get tactical. How do you actually build one for your CS org?
The good news is, there’s a simple and foolproof framework to build a competency matrix that won’t take weeks or months.
The key, to steal an old Stephen Covey chestnut, is to “begin with the end in mind.”
Here are the five steps to building out a CS competency matrix:
1. List out all the internal and external teams CS works with
The first step is by far the simplest. List out all the teams, internally and externally, that Customer Success has to work with to serve your company’s goals. Customer Success isn’t just working with customers in order to increase adoption or win a renewal, it’s also working with Product on enhancements and feedback, Sales on handoffs, and Product Marketing on developing collateral. Make sure you list out all those teams and, when in doubt, just include a team, since you can always pare the list back later.
2. Identify the desired outcome(s) of CS’s interactions with each team
The second step is a bit more challenging but is usually the most illuminating.
Look at each of the teams that CS works with and identify what, exactly, the desired outcome or outcomes are of their work with CS — literally, the end goal when working with CS if everything goes right. Sometimes the desired outcome is something straightforward — like getting a customer to renew — and sometimes it’s something a lot more complex and amorphous like a behavior change — which comes up a lot because, at its heart, Customer Success is about change management.
This exercise usually stops people in their tracks as they realize just how many desired outcomes Customer Success is responsible for delivering and just how many teams they’re being asked to assist or influence. It’s a chance to examine your CS role(s) and assess what is necessary and fits within the scope of CS and what is best handled elsewhere (or doesn’t add value at all).
3. Determine the activities that CS performs to drive the desired outcomes
Once you’ve worked out which teams CS works with — the who — and what they’re trying to accomplish by working with each team — the what — it’s time to break it down even further into what activities CS needs to perform to drive the desired outcomes — the how.
This is where things get interesting because there are often multiple activities that CS does to drive a single outcome or behavior change — think of how many distinctive activities the team does with a customer where the desired outcome is winning a renewal — and that’s okay! Listing all the activities CS does to drive each desired outcome is important, even if the list seems long. You will need a full list in order to figure out just which skills someone needs to be able to succeed in the role.
4. Break it down to skills
Now you’ve finally broken things down enough to figure out which skills or competencies someone needs in order to do their job well.
Looking at each of the activities, identify which skills someone needs in order to make that activity a success. For example, if the activity is delivering a QBR, what is it that makes a QBR successful? Usually, it’s something like the CSM was able to present and tell a story with data and identify key stakeholders to have attend the session at the very least, all of which would be skills that you would call out.
These lists tend to grow quickly and have a lot of duplicates. Again, that’s fine, you’ll do some clean-up at the beginning of step five.
5. Assign Skill Levels
At this point, you should have a comprehensive list of all the skills someone in a CS role in your organization needs but, before you go any further, it’s time to get organized. You’ll notice you probably have a fair number of duplicate skills, which is very normal, so you’ll want to de-dupe your list before moving on (this is where building your matrix in Excel or Google Sheets really comes in handy).
Once you’re down to only one version of each skill, it’s time to assign them some sort of value (as discussed earlier, you’ll need to align on some type of scale in advance of building a competency matrix, so everyone is on the same page about what qualifies as beginner, good, expert, etc.). Remember, this is the level someone needs to be at to be judged as doing the job well, not necessarily as a new hire or as a rockstar on the brink of promotion.
My recommendation is typically to begin by assigning skill levels for your entry-level Customer Success Managers and building on that matrix to create others for the other, more advanced or specialized CS roles.
Before too long — and with limited tears — you’ll notice you have a basic competency matrix built for Customer Success. Congratulations! Now you can begin leveraging it to assess your current team, build new hire onboarding, and do so much more.
The competency matrix is one of the most powerful assets most Customer Success teams are not utilizing today. It’s flexible and easy to build, simply requiring you start with the desired outcomes of CS’s work with each team and working backwards to figure out what, exactly, makes those outcomes possible.
It helps you properly scope roles and allows teams to build hiring processes, onboarding, and enablement plans tailored to the needs of their specific CS roles.
More advanced competency matrix practitioners are able to leverage what they build to increase employee retention, create CS growth plans, and illuminate paths to Customer Success from other roles in their company.
And yet, it still remains a bit of a secret, a tool only the very best CS orgs wield to create great teams that retain their talent and their customers. With any luck, that’s about to change.
**This post originally appeared on Retain Solutions and can be found here
Eric Kingsbury is the founder of Retain Solutions, the first Customer Success consultant focused on Customer Success Enablement. Prior to that, Eric spent a decade in CS, helping scale teams from 10 to 100+ at four different hypergrowth SaaS companies.