Job hunting tips to launch your customer success manager career

Oct 05, 2023

7 mins

Job hunting tips to launch your customer success manager career
Kaila Caldwell

Freelance writer and translator

Are you considering a career as a customer success manager (CSM)? Well, the tech sector might be the perfect fit for your ambitions. A report by Zippia highlights that a remarkable 40% of CSM positions are now anchored in the tech sector, closely followed by startups accounting for 25%. True customer success stems from a thorough understanding of the industry you’re navigating. So, given this trend, it might be beneficial to brush up on tech industry specifics for CSM roles.

Customer success managers have diverse responsibilities, from enhancing retention and revenue to fostering customer loyalty. It’s important to grasp the nuances of the specific role you aim for since customer success teams can vary in focus. Whether it’s an onboarding, growth, enterprise management, or low-value customer team, each presents distinct challenges and demands. Yet, specific competencies are consistently desired across all CSM roles. It’s essential to emphasize these skills not just in your resume and cover letter but also when networking, underscoring your aptitude for the position.

Jessica Tyrrell, global VP of customer success at Beamery, with an impressive 18 years in the field, and Aditi Verma, a seasoned customer success manager at Cloudkitchens, are both here to help you jump-start your CSM career and hone your skills during the search for your dream job.

Essential skills for aspiring customer success managers

1. Relationship building and management

The cornerstone of customer success lies in genuine relationships. Tyrrell believes these connections should be “transformative, not just transactional.” It goes beyond addressing queries; it’s about delving deep into understanding customer aspirations. Verma adds that customers feel most valued when truly heard. “The best CSMs don’t just hear; they listen intently and process the underlying sentiments,” she explains. Clear communication of solutions is essential for success. Furthermore, Tyrrell explains that being reliable, setting transparent expectations, and following the “under-promise and over-deliver” principle enhances customer trust.

2. Emotional intelligence and empathy

Interactions with customers can vary from straightforward to complex, and emotional intelligence and empathy are key tools in determining the complexity and appropriate response. Tyrrell notes, “It’s about sensing the unsaid, reading between the lines.” CSMs go beyond addressing issues by connecting emotionally with the customer. Verma reinforces this, highlighting that CSMs should truly “feel with the customer,” making every interaction genuine and tailored, which they believe deepens customer loyalty and trust.

3. Problem-solving skills and resourcefulness

For CSMs, hurdles are inevitable. Verma and Tyrrell champion displaying a knack for troubleshooting and an innate curiosity that drives them to find solutions. “Every challenge presents an opportunity to evolve and adapt,” explains Verma. “It’s important to have a proactive mindset, diving deeper to find solutions.” Conversely, Tyrrell underscores the value of teamwork: “Solving problems isn’t a solo endeavor. It’s about harnessing the team’s collective strengths, ensuring clear communication, and avoiding the pitfalls of siloed thinking.”

4. Internal communication and team cooperation

Speaking of siloed thinking, Verma points out issues with these myopic views: “Silos break more than just workflow; they fracture the very essence of teamwork.” She believes that a tight-knit, informed team is the bedrock of unparalleled customer service. In tandem, Tyrrell elaborates, “It’s about inter-departmental synergy. When teams are attuned to each other’s responsibilities and challenges, we can anticipate needs and align our actions.” Open communication channels don’t just expedite task completion but lead to richer, more insightful solutions by pooling expertise from different quarters.

5. Diverse skill set and adaptability

“Our profession isn’t monolithic; we wear many hats, often simultaneously,” explains Tyrrell, “From being an educator to a negotiator smoothing out client concerns, versatility is key.” Sharing similar sentiments, Verma stresses, “The market waits for no one.” Being a quick learner is less a trait and more a requirement. “As the market evolves, so should our approach. But amidst this change, our compass—customer satisfaction—should remain unwavering.”

6. Authenticity and self-awareness

In every interaction, there’s a palpable difference when you’re genuine, explains Verma. For her, it’s about being transparent and connecting on a human level with the customers. “Acknowledging not just our triumphs but also our hiccups creates a bond of trust,” Verma says. This genuineness fosters a stronger bond with clients and paves the way for more candid and fruitful dialogues. Having these skills allows CMSs to handle both praises and criticisms, turning every feedback into an opportunity for growth.

Tech-focused: Elevating customer success with the right skills and tools

At the core of every business lies its unique set of needs and objectives, which means the role of customer success is never one-size-fits-all, explains Tyrrell. To excel as a tech-focused CSM, certain technical expertise is essential during your job hunt.

1. Industry familiarity

Tyrrell, an expert in the SaaS industry, believes that being versed in industry trends and standards is a distinguishing trait. She adds, “Understanding the challenges and hurdles typical in the sector can set a CSM apart,” emphasizing that this deeper knowledge enables CSMs to anticipate potential issues, provide significant insights, and position themselves as genuine partners to their clients rather than just another point of contact.

2. Product knowledge

Verma highlights the importance of in-depth product knowledge: “Knowing the product is knowing the customer’s needs.” This goes beyond troubleshooting—it’s elevating the customer experience with detailed product expertise.

Top tip: For every job application, it’s crucial to study the specific product and align it to your job search. Recruiters often probe a candidate’s understanding of the product market positioning and its significance to customers.

3. Systems interaction

In tech, seamlessly integrating solutions for optimal customer experiences is key. Tyrrell says today’s consumers expect experiences similar to platforms like Amazon. She notes that mastery of data management and flows, plus understanding “how solutions tie into other platforms,” is vital. It is essential to grasp various integration types—SFTP, API, custom, or standard—in this field.

4. Data analysis

Verma notes that certain CSM positions lean heavily on data analysis, especially in startups, due to a potentially smaller staff. Applicants should be proficient in specific technical tools and methodologies. While not all roles demand this expertise, it’s always a good idea to inquire beforehand. Familiarity with tools like VLOOKUP, XLOOKUP, and pivot tables can be particularly beneficial for data-centric positions.

5. Business acumen

According to Verma, recruiters seek knowledge of business terms like upsells, cross-sells, churn rates, and customer lifetime value. Tyrrell emphasizes it’s not just about knowing these terms but applying them. A proactive CSM finds growth within existing partnerships, actively seeking expansion opportunities. “There’s an art to understanding when a client is ready to scale or explore new services,” Tyrrell says. Correctly executed upselling strengthens customer relationships, promoting sustained business growth.

6. Tool adaptability

Tyrrell is “tool agnostic,” meaning a CSM should not be overly reliant or committed to just one specific tool or software. They should be adaptable, using the best tool for the job or client preference, whether that’s Trello, CRMs like Gainsight, Google Docs, or even traditional notepads. She also points out the growing use of AI-powered transcription services, noting, “There’s AI technology that will record the call and give you a breakdown of the notes and the action items,” emphasizing the ever-evolving tools in the field.

However, If you’re aspiring to enter the CSM field or are a newcomer seeking to familiarize yourself with essential tools, Verma offers a comprehensive guide:

  • CRM Software: Customer Relationship Management systems, such as Salesforce and Zoho, compile comprehensive data from the customer lifecycle, including payment information and purchasing history. CRMs are good for understanding customer buying behaviors and patterns, especially when aiming to upsell.
  • Calling tools: Effective communication is key. Verma explains that tools like SalesLoft allow users to track and optimize their calls, ensuring clear and productive customer interactions.
  • JIRA: For interfacing with engineering teams, JIRA stands out as a preferred tool. It’s employed to raise tickets for product issues and potential improvements.

Job search strategies for customer success managers

Securing a CSM position requires more than a skills checklist; it demands a blend of soft skills, technical expertise, and tool knowledge emphasized throughout your job search. Here’s how you can best highlight these abilities across various facets of the job search process.

Resume tips for CSMs

​​Verma advises, “Tailoring your resume to match specific job descriptions by incorporating relevant keywords.” With many companies using AI for resume screening, integrating terms from the job description, like relationship-building and persistent problem-solving, boosts your chances of being shortlisted. As tech CSM roles surge, highlight expertise in data analysis, systems integration, and product knowledge. Showcase proficiency with tools, such as Salesforce for CRM. Don’t forget to demonstrate how you’ve applied your skills in specific scenarios.

Remember to showcase your achievements and feedback, too. Highlight your customer-centric approach and the results you’ve achieved in previous roles. Showcase specific achievements, such as successful customer retention and surpassing targets in activations, onboardings, or upsells. Whenever possible, provide numbers to quantify these successes. Detailing how these accomplishments drove increased revenue through client relationships will enrich your resume and resonate powerfully with recruiters.

Networking tips for CSMs

Transitioning from a Java Developer to a CSM herself, Verma emphasizes the value of networking. Start by connecting with CSMs within your current organization to gain insights. As you expand your network externally, showcase your soft skills online and in person. Before engaging with hiring professionals, review the company’s career page to identify roles that best match your abilities and goals.

Remember, the genuine relationships you form will be a testament to your relationship-building skills. As you engage in conversations, weave in your technical know-how and familiarity with diverse tools, making them natural discussion points. Engaging in forums, webinars, or workshops related to the industry can also bolster your visibility. Remember Tyrrell’s notion of being “tool agnostic”? This can be a unique angle in networking conversations, showcasing your flexibility and adaptability.

The holistic view of customer success careers

There are diverse teams within customer success, such as onboarding, growth, and those dedicated to enterprise and low-value customers. Verma advises candidates to fully comprehend the role they’re vying for, as responsibilities can range from managing churn rates to conducting product demos. She suggests people breaking into CSM “start with roles that cater to lower-revenue customers, which offers a grassroots perspective, giving you a tangible feel of what drives customer satisfaction and loyalty.” As one gains proficiency, transitioning to more substantial, enterprise-focused roles becomes “a testament to your evolved understanding of customer-centric strategies.”

Thriving as a CSM demands soft skills, technical knowledge, and adaptability. It’s vital to be an active listener and align with customer needs. For those venturing into CSM roles, it’s crucial to arm yourself with a broad skill set, stay up-to-date with relevant tools, and maintain an agile approach. Tailored job-hunting strategies can set candidates apart, from resume building to effective networking.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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