Want a piece of the booming tech pie with a salary to match? The role of a customer success manager (CSM) could be your golden ticket. According to Zippia, the average US salary for CSMs in 2023 is $93,820, and with the Federal Reserve reporting the average median income in 2022 at $74,580, customer success is proving to be a lucrative field. Now add on the booming outlook for tech-based careers because, according to McKinsey Technology Trends Outlook 2023, job postings for fields related to tech trends grew by 400,000 between 2021 and 2022. So, this might be the best time to snag a tech-based CSM job. But how, you ask? With a stellar interview presence, that’s how!
Jessica Tyrrell is the global VP of customer success at Beamery and holds an impressive 18 years in the field. She’s here to help you ace your next CSM interview in the fast-growing tech sector.
Researching for your tech-based CSM interview
A SaaS industry expert, Tyrrell guides you on effectively researching before your next CSM interview.
1. Know the company
- The product and strategic objectives: Start by grasping the company’s position in the market. “Know the business objectives and challenges with the company’s current product.” Investigate the primary issues the company targets with its product or services. Part of your groundwork should involve researching their competitive landscape, identifying their main rivals, and discerning how the company sets itself apart.
- Company growth stage: Tyrrell outlines a significant distinction: “Whether you’re dealing with a startup with less than 50 people or a well-established market cap leader,” knowing their developmental arc will help you frame responses more aptly.
- Know your interviewer: “Really understanding the person that you’re interviewing with,” Tyrrell stresses, can set you apart. Dive into their LinkedIn profile, uncover mutual connections, see where they studied, and discover their interests. Building a personal connection can be a game-changer.
2. Grasp the industry dynamics
- Revenue streams: Try to figure out “how those companies make money,” she says. You’re not just maintaining the existing customer base but expanding those connections. Demonstrating this knowledge illustrates how your abilities can cater to the company’s distinct needs.
- Interdepartmental interactions: You’ll need to explain how you “interface with legal for contracts, with billing for invoices, the product team to understand what’s coming to market … and even the product marketing team to ensure the message resonates,” she says. Know how various teams and departments coalesce and influence the broader company operations.
3. Stay updated with company news
- Earnings and current events: For public firms, Tyrrell suggests looking at their earnings reports and the current news cycle, like ongoing strikes or leadership investigations, to help you avoid potential pitfalls during your conversation and demonstrate your genuine interest in the organization.
- Online content: YouTube, Tyrrell mentions, can be an excellent resource. “See what content they have out there,” she suggests, “and what messaging they are trying to articulate to the market.” The company’s communications, differentiation, competitors, partnerships, brand voice, and user persona can influence your job.
Key attributes to highlight in the interview
Tyrrell explains, “CSMs wear many hats and they come from all industries.” You might have some special knowledge based on previous experience. Scrutinize the job description to see how your skills align. That said, there are still some key attributes Tyrrell says are essential for every CSM:
- Emotional intelligence & empathy: CSMs often engage with customers during their highs and lows, necessitating a deep sense of understanding and compassion.
- Problem-solving & resourcefulness: The unpredictability of the role demands a proactive approach and the ability to handle unforeseen challenges.
- Internal relationships: Building solid relationships within the company is crucial, as internal stakeholders can be as significant as external customers.
- Effective relationship management: Trust is paramount. CSMs must establish themselves as reliable partners for their customers.
- Sales knowledge: While not directly in sales, CSMs should be comfortable discussing upsells or cross-sells when they align with customer needs.
Common interview questions and their intent
Understanding of the product
- “Give me a one-minute elevator pitch about what our product does.”: This question evaluates a candidate’s understanding and ability to explain the product. The essence is to capture “the product’s core features, its unique selling point, and relevance to the target audience.”
- “Have you tried our product? Do you have any suggestions for improvements?”: This question tests a candidate’s initiative in understanding the company’s product firsthand. Feedback should be constructive, demonstrating the applicant’s analytical skills and potential for proactive contribution. Tyrrell says to be ready to share your experience with the brand or product and a story or example if you have one.
Problem-solving skills questions
- “Tell me about a time when a customer presented a concern or question your organization had never addressed before. How did you handle that? Who did you consult, and what did your action plan look like?”: Tyrrell says hiring managers are looking for someone who is “energized by issues” and can “work under pressure,” ultimately offering “creative solutions to customer problems.” Candidates will be evaluated for their critical thinking, collaborative approach, and effective strategy implementation for customer satisfaction.
- “How would you adjust your success strategy for a recurring revenue model?”: This question aims to prove a candidate’s adaptability and understanding of different business models, especially as recurring revenue models are pivotal in tech sectors. For SaaS roles, Tyrrell says to describe your aptitude for understanding recurring revenue models and how your past experiences have led to positive outcomes and protecting revenue.
Building long-term relationship questions
- “What do you believe is essential for cultivating long-term customer relationships?”: Tyrrell suggests that the ideal candidate doesn’t just address immediate issues but actively anticipates customer challenges. Regular check-ins and a deep understanding of the customer’s needs, coupled with proactive solutions, are vital in building trust over time.
- How do you incorporate upsells into your customer success work?”: You should demonstrate that you are unafraid to have “sales” value conversations with your customers. Explain how the product can solve the customer’s problems. Candidates should exhibit their ability to discern genuine value-added opportunities for the customer.
- Do you consider yourself a people person? Can you give an example?”: A “people person” is a term used to describe an individual who enjoys, understands, and effectively interacts with others, explains Tyrrell. Such individuals usually possess strong interpersonal skills, thrive in social settings, and have an innate ability to relate to and connect with different types of individuals. This question evaluates interpersonal skills and the ability to foster relationships across varied stakeholders.
Crisis management question
- “If a server outage affected multiple customers, what steps would you take to manage the problem?”: Candidates should emphasize a structured approach, clear communication lines, and initiatives to ensure customer satisfaction during unforeseen challenges.
Teamwork and collaboration questions
- “Describe a difficult relationship you’ve had with a co-worker in the past and how you handled it.”: This question measures a candidate’s emotional intelligence, adaptability, and capability to navigate interpersonal challenges professionally.
- “You’re working with a client and realize one of your teammates gave them incorrect information. How do you handle the situation with the customer and your teammate?”: Candidates are evaluated for their ability to maintain the company’s reputation while ensuring internal communication remains constructive and focused on solutions.
Structuring your answers
Tyrrell explains how to formulate and deliver your answers. She offers structured advice for candidates looking to articulate their experiences compellingly during the interview.
Length and content
Aim for answers that are concise yet informative. Tyrrell recommends crafting a story that lasts about one to two minutes, ensuring you get to the point while keeping it engaging. The goal? To make it somewhat of a cliffhanger, she says. Provide enough details to pique the interviewer’s interest, encouraging them to probe further and enrich the discussion. Your answer should guide the conversation, prompting the interviewer to think, “This person is exactly what we need.”
A traditional approach works best: have a clear beginning, middle, and end to your story. Emphasize the outcomes, especially if they relate to revenue or business value. For instance, mention if a customer decided to renew their contract or if a closed door was reopened. Highlighting such outcomes distinguishes you from other candidates and moves beyond typical ‘firefighting’ examples.
Adaptability and collaboration
Tyrrell underscores the value of adaptability. Demonstrate how you’ve effectively adapted to your customers. Many professionals become set in their ways, struggling when required to shift gears. By focusing on adaptability, you’ll convey that you’re collaborative, flexible, and possess a unique perspective on what works. More importantly, you can justify why your approach has been effective.
Additional interview tips for CSMs
The current trend is upselling
Tyrrell observes that companies are increasingly prioritizing existing clients over acquiring new ones. She stresses the value of upselling and nurturing these relationships. For interviews, she recommends candidates showcase their proactive upselling initiatives. Don’t forget to discuss how you handled those situations, the revenue generated, and even moments of failure, which provides insights into your problem-solving abilities and growth mindset.
Tyrrell also underscores the significance of authenticity during interviews. Being forthright about past mistakes, especially ones that provided learning experiences, showcases transparency and resilience. Citing examples where a candidate might have misjudged a stakeholder or approached the wrong person can illustrate their learning curve and how they’ve adapted.
The competitive nature of the role shouldn’t overshadow the importance of team collaboration. While CSMs are often driven by achievements like acquiring new logos or managing healthy client portfolios, Tyrrell believes that cooperation among team members is important to highlight in the interview. Every team member brings a unique skill set; leveraging these strengths makes the unit robust.
Energize your interview
Bring the energy to your interview, advises Tyrrell. “Being present with enthusiasm is super important in virtual interviews.” She suggests engaging in activities that energize you before the interview, such as listening to music. However, she emphasizes, “be authentic, with passion,” highlighting the significance of genuine interest in the organization.
As candidates prepare for interviews, Tyrrell suggests pinpointing their strengths and expertise, clarifying how their inclusion will elevate the entire team. Expressing confidence, reinforcing a team-player attitude, and highlighting one’s unique skills set them apart during selection. Also, don’t forget to send that follow-up email!
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