Five Things to Consider When Applying for a Customer Success job

Five Things to Consider When Applying for a Customer Success job
Erika Villarreal

Interviewing for a Customer Success role is a two-way street.

The company is evaluating you, but you should be evaluating the company too. 

This is a critical part of finding your dream job. So, how do you make sure you’re not getting into your worst nightmare?

When I was looking for my dream job, these were the things that were important to me.

1. The role

The Customer Success role varies from company to company depending on the maturity of the company. So understanding your responsibilities is very important to your success. There are also different types of customers: low-touch, low Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR), and high-touch, high ARR. 

Reviewing the job description and types of customers the role interacts with is the first step. But sometimes there are questions left unanswered. Make sure you come prepared to ask questions during the interview process.

Here are some questions that I’ve asked before:

  • How many customers will I have in my portfolio?
  • What is the average ARR for these customers?
  • Which parts of the customer journey am I responsible for? Onboarding, adoption, renewals?
  • Is there a separate implementation team or will I also handle implementation?
  • How long does the onboarding process take?
  • Who is responsible for renewals? Is there a team effort with Sales?
  • What are the KPIs I will be evaluated by?
  • Is there a variable commission or is it just base salary?
  • Who will I report to?
  • Is there a separate role for Support or will I also be responsible for support tickets?

2. The product

The SaaS industry is huge. There are many different solutions out there including cybersecurity, cloud services, sales, marketing, customer service, customer relationship management, communication, human resources, ERPs, project management. The list goes on.

I remember browsing through LinkedIn looking for jobs, reading through the job descriptions and doing research to understand if I felt passionate about the product. The only way to deliver value to your customers is to believe in the product itself.

You want to join a company that has a strong product that customers love. Customer Success is already a tough job. You don’t want your product to make it even tougher. You want a product that works, free of bugs, so you can focus on customer outcomes rather than pursuing escalations to fix product issues. 

So how do you make sure you have a strong product? Here are some tips to learn more about the product:

  • Log into the website and read everything you can. Depending on the company’s maturity, how much information you’ll find online will vary.
  • Read case studies. They often describe the customer’s challenges and how the product helped them achieve their success outcomes.
  • Watch testimonials. Like the case studies, testimonials help you visualize all the benefits the product offers to the company's customers.
  • Read their blog and resources section.
  • Watch any webinars available.
  • Log into G2 and read what customers are saying about the product. How does their product compare to the competition? Do they have good reviews? 

The more you can learn about the product, the better you will understand how you’re helping customers achieve their desired outcomes.

By the end of your research, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What problem does the product solve?
  • Who are their customers?
  • What is their product’s value proposition?

If you’re joining a startup that doesn’t have much information on their website, don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer for a product demo. When I joined SmartMoving Software, this is something I asked for before making my decision to join their company. Without the product demo, it was going to be hard to make my decision. 

3. The company

SaaS companies will vary significantly depending on how long they have been around, so it’s important to understand how mature the organization is. Startups are normally companies that are just starting to build their processes, and sometimes this means there are many changes occurring . Some people are not so comfortable with this type of environment and prefer a place where everything is already built and ready to go.

Personally, I like these types of environments, as it allows me to help build and shape processes, improve the customer journey and make a real impact in the organization. Others prefer a place where playbooks are already established. If you’re not careful and don’t ask questions, you’ll end up being surprised.

This is your opportunity to find out more about the company’s processes during the interview. 

Here are some questions you can ask:

  • How long has the Customer Success team been in place?
  • How many CSMs does the company have?
  • How does the Customer Success team compare to the rest of the organization  (especially to the Sales team)?

4. The culture

Jay Nathan said it best: “Life is too short to work for a company that does not get Customer Success”. Truly successful companies are those that use customer success best practices across the entire organization because the entire organization is impacted by retention. This includes marketing, sales, customer support, finance, and product. Everyone is responsible for the success of their customers.

During the interview process it's key to learn more about how the company operates. You don’t want to join a company where customer success takes the blame for every customer that churns. You want to join a team that works together to improve the customer’s experience and where the customer comes first (ALWAYS).

Here are some questions you can ask the interviewer to make sure you’re joining the right company culture:

  • How does the product team prioritize the product roadmap?
  • Does the company have NPS/CSAT surveys? How do teams react to this feedback?
  • How big is the Customer Support team in relation to the Sales team?
  • Does the company have a Sales to Customer Success handoff? What is this process like?
  • How does Customer Success communicate with product teams?
  • What are the main reasons customers churn?
  • Does Sales have a retention variable commission?
  • How does Sales qualify bad fit customers?
  • Who does the Head of Customer Success report to?

Wayne McCulloch, author of The Seven Pillars of Customer Success, mentions in his book and I quote: “If you are approached by an executive recruiter about a Head of Customer Success position, simply ask whom the position reports to. If it’s not the CEO (or CCO), politely decline and move on”.

We can translate this into a CSM role too. You want to make sure you work for a company that gets Customer Success.

5. The leadership team

One of the big things for me is working for a leader that I can learn from. A great leader will bring the best abilities out of their team and will motivate you to improve on your own skills. They will give you the opportunity to level up and grow your career within the company. 

Ask about the leadership team. Who will be managing the team? How much experience does this person have managing teams? What has this person accomplished in the past? If possible, ask for the name so you can look them up on LinkedIn.

Research the leader and review their experience. You want to make sure you choose a company and a leader that will value your work, that offers career advancement opportunities and a place where you will learn new things. 

Here are some questions you can ask when it's time to interview with the team manager.

  • What career achievements are you most proud of?
  • If you had an influx of cash that you could spend on the Customer Success team, how would you spend it?
  • What inspires you?
  • What has been the greatest challenge the team has overcome in the last 3 years?
  • Could you tell me about a time when the team experienced failure? What about success?
  • Where do you see the team in the next 3 years?

Wrap Up

Do research before the interview and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Interviews are a two-way street and it is the perfect time to ask as many questions as needed. You should expect every interview to end with some time for your questions. If the interviewer does not give time for your questions, that is a red flag.

Come prepared and make sure the questions are in line with the interviewer’s role. Some companies like to add multiple interviews with people with different roles. Make sure you understand who you will be talking to and bring the questions in advance. I’ve failed to do this before, and it didn’t go well.

And remember, we spend more than 1/3 of our time at work. Choose a company where you will feel inspired every day to be a better CSM.

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