5 Things I’ve Learned From Making 200+ Customer Success Career Intros
I love playing professional matchmaker. It’s my favorite part of business.
I’m sure if I were born 100 years ago in my family’s native home of Gujarat, India, I would be the annoying uncle always trying to set people up in relationships.
But my modern, software company version of that urge manifests in helping link career seekers to their next opportunities. And I’ve hit a goldmine of opportunities in the customer success profession.
As I’ve tweeted many times, the customer success leadership job market is white hot.
Every week, several CEOs reach out to us at Gainsight asking for advice, intros, and background checks on hiring a leader. We’ve spent the last six or seven years growing the world’s largest network of customer success leaders, and I absolutely love using it to help professionals and companies connect.
Although I’m not a recruiter by profession, I’ve been able to learn a lot about customer success more broadly by facilitating some of these connections. And several of my colleagues have done the same. We’ve also enjoyed comparing notes with the pros in this topic—execs like Alexis Hennessy and Kelly Kay at Heidrick & Struggles, Rich Decembrele at Kindred Partners and Mike Doonan at SPMB.
We’ve learned five key things about hiring customer success leaders:
1. Hirers need to clearly define what they want
“Customer success” is such a buzzword that, shockingly, many LinkedIn titles have changed to it very recently. That means you need to cut through the noise and get specific about what you’re looking for. Some key questions to consider:
- Do you want the role to own revenue (renewals and/or expansion) or not?
- Is the energy of the company “high touch” (e.g., large enterprise) or “tech touch” (e.g., SMB)?
- Do you need the leader to be technical by background (e.g., if you sell into the security space)?
We put together a list of top questions I get from CEOs here. Spoiler alert: they’re mostly about finding and empowering great leaders!
2. Companies want startup and scale experience
CS is a conundrum. On one hand, the teams get big quickly, so leadership scale matters. On the other hand, the field is so new and evolving that leaders need to be able to innovate quickly.
We’ve found that the candidates that resonate the most with hirers have a mix of large company (e.g., Salesforce.com) and young startup experience.
I wrote in detail on who the next generation of CS leadership will be in this blog.
3. The increasing trend is to hire someone for all of post-sales—maybe a CCO
Customer Success Management often started as a siloed function. But CEOs across the world realized that for customer success to thrive, the entire customer journey needs to be oriented around it (from Product to Marketing to Sales to Post-Sales).
While CEOs can’t usually put all of that under one person (because what’s their job then? 🙂 ), we find that CEOs are increasingly putting all of “post-sales” (support, services, CSM, training, community, renewals, etc.) under one leader and sometimes calling them the “Chief Customer Officer.”
We wrote more about this and designing the CS org here.
4. Hirers are prioritizing D&I in job searches
We all know that tech as an industry has to get radically better on diversity, inclusion, and belonging. There are all kinds of great reasons why, but there’s only one that really matters: it’s the right thing to do.
The good news is that it seems like customer success as a function is ahead of the curve in this area. From a report we did with LinkedIn, the customer success profession shows promise in helping drive tech towards equality, given the near 50–50 gender balance in the job.
But gender balance is just one vector for diversity, and it doesn’t say anything necessarily about inclusion—which is just as important. Furthermore, leadership in CS is still skewed away from underrepresented groups.
We’re encouraged that dozens of CEOs with whom we’ve spoken lately have put diversity as a top factor in thinking about their slate of candidates. It’s going to take deliberate action at all levels to do the right thing—and I’m proud to say I see many leaders taking that action.
5. Hirers want first-principles thinkers
Finally, CEOs are realizing that Customer Success is still a relatively new profession (no matter how much people have retroactively changed their LinkedIn profiles!)
As such, there is much more to be figured out in the future than has been decided in the past. In addition, customer success is truly “a little different” in each company.
Because of this, we’re seeing leaders emphasize learning agility in their hiring process. Can this person adapt and evolve? Do they have the strategic thinking skills to plot a course that’s unknown?
At Gainsight, this is one of our company values—Shoshin, which is a Japanese word that means “A Beginners’ Mind.” In essence, it’s about approaching each problem as if you’re a complete beginner, no matter how much expertise you have. It helps you spot unconventional or unknown solutions that you might miss if you approach the problem with arrogance.
As the industry grows in unexpected ways, the hiring leaders I’ve talked to recognize they need people who will grow alongside it.
Customer success, moreso than most business roles, is all about making connections—lasting, meaningful connections with customers that deepen over time. But also connections between those customer-centric companies and their customer centric-leaders. Facilitating those connections is one of the greatest joys in my job, and we’ll continue to enjoy, in a small way, being a connector of the industry—hopefully more eHarmony than Tinder!