Hiring for SaaS and ISV customer success
Hiring is often cited by leaders of platform and ISV companies as one of the single biggest challenges they face. Many believe that it is an ongoing challenge and one that they need to stay on top of throughout the growth of their organization. But even if you are in ‘always be hiring’ mode, you’ll need more focus at startup, at times of rapid growth and when hiring specifically for customer growth. Your organization is going to need to have established policies and procedures for hiring that can maintain success and quality even when under pressure to hire rapidly. The needs of hiring for customer success teams can be different from other areas like engineering.
Emily Smith on the Cobloom blog wrote an eight part series on hiring for a startup that covers the early stage issues and also hiring for growth. The series covers initial hiring, building a company that people want to work at, what to look for in employees, who to hire, writing a job description, building a hiring process, interviewing process, and onboarding process. “In the early days, one wrong hire can literally make-or-break your company. But a great team working in a company with a positive, inclusive and dynamic culture can be the competitive advantage your startup needs to outgrow your competitors.”
Michael Redbord at the Harvard Business Review writes about the specifics of hiring for customer service and the way your hiring changes as you scale from startup to hundreds of employees. He points out that, “you’ll shift from the reactive mode of supporting requests as they happen to the proactive mode of fixing issues before they ever become a problem.”
On the SaaStr blog, Jason Lemkin writes about the importance of hiring quickly and well for customer success. He points out that it is easy to hire in customer success for squishy and soft goals but that the temptation should be resisted and that hires should be all about the numbers – and success should be measured on renewal rate and churn metrics. In other words, hire people who help you keep your customers.
Dave Blake, founder and CEO of ClientSuccess writes about the specific characteristics to look for in hiring a customer success leader. Some of these include relationship building, a passion for the success of the customer, practical business and tech experience and industry or domain expertise. One point he makes strongly is that there is no standard background that fits his profile of a rockstar customer success manager.
Brooke Goodbary, a customer success consultant, also looks at making the first customer success hire within an organisation. The main points she considers are when to make the hire, who that hire should be and how to set the team up to succeed. She brings up a common $2M in ARR (annual recurring revenue) per CSM (Customer Success Manager) metric but points out that this should be modified by the size and number of accounts and the resulting workload on each CSM.
Lisa Abbott reported on an interview that Emilie Davis conducted with a range of customer success leaders on their approach to hiring and scaling customer success teams. The interview covers traits of successful customer success hires, as well as hiring, training and retaining customer success agents.
Megan Lozicki came up with eight questions to ask prospective customer success hires as a way to kickstart preparing for your customer success hiring. They include ‘what kind of customer news would change your day and why?’ Note that this is an open ended question that doesn’t assume positive or negative news. The proposed questions run the gamut and are a good starting point to customize your own interviews.
One of the key issues around your prospective customer success team is precisely when to get it off the ground and that’s what this thread from Quora answers with a range of insights from a range of customer success leaders. It’s worth taking the time to scope out other customer success questions and answers while you are there.