Five Ways to Gain Experience Without Being a CSM

Five Ways to Gain Experience Without Being a CSM

How do you become a Customer Success Manager without direct experience?

In my previous articles here and here, I show how to translate your past experience into the role of a CS professional. Employers want to know if you have the skills necessary to perform on a daily basis, such as:

  • Onboarding and training
  • Driving adoption and engagement
  • Technical knowhow
  • Working across departments
  • De-escalating customer issues
  • Consulting and problem solving
  • Setting goals and expectations
  • Measuring value creation
  • Identifying churn risk
  • Identifying upsell/cross-sell opportunities
  • Building relationships

I suspect that even after reviewing this list, you have areas where you lack.

We all do and that’s ok. You don’t have to check off all the boxes to become a Customer Success Manager or lie your way through the interview process.

A better strategy is to emphasize your strengths and transferable skills in a way that highlights your true value and potential while demonstrating your resiliency and willingness to fill the gaps.

Here are five ways to accomplish this.

1. Create something valuable

Take something you're knowledgeable or passionate about and sell it on a small scale. Ideally, it should be something you can easily sell.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Run a membership-based book club
  • Offer to coach or consult
  • Sell a guide or course
  • Create a premium paid newsletter
  • Launch a paid community

Can you build it to 10-30 recurring monthly members? Document how you created repeat customers and how you helped them reach their goals. As long as you are creating a “monthly-recurring” business, you should be able to demonstrate having critical CS abilities.

Here are some cheap tools to get you started:

2. Learn and collaborate in public

A great thing about Customer Success is that everyone wants to know more about it. Unique and fresh perspectives are always valuable in this space.

As you learn more about Customer Success (here’s a list of resources), you may uncover AHA moments that others may benefit from hearing about.

Here are some ways to begin your learning journey:

As you learn, share.

Relate a Customer Success principle to your former experience and write about it on LinkedIn, your own podcast, or your own newsletter. You are an expert in your past field, so show how Customer Success principles were present in your field or could be improved in your field.

Use your personal life to show how a Customer Success philosophy works in the non-SaaS/non-B2B environments by talking about how you interact with the everyday brands of your life or how those companies can improve their engagement with customers like you.

Start connecting and collaborating with CS Directors, Vice Presidents, and other CSMs by commenting on their LinkedIn posts with meaningful and valuable insights. Start to get that name recognition going. After building a professional relationship, ask for an opportunity to speak about an open role.

In a competitive market, your public professional brand can be the difference-maker between you and the other applicants.

3. Volunteer with a non-profit organization

Find a non-profit that relies on donations and volunteers and work in areas that are community-facing. Think about volunteering at non-profits that rely on annual-recurring donations like museums, theaters, and other community organizations.

These are great areas to make a difference and gain the necessary experience you are missing. Be sure to focus your efforts on managing a book of donors, navigating the donors through a customer journey map, meeting their desired outcomes, building relationships, and how you worked with multiple departments to accomplish customer satisfaction.

4. Volunteer with a professional network like CS Insider

It’s likely that you can find a professional network organization that serves your market. If you are looking to specialize in a certain tech market like hospitality, entertainment, finance, etc., then a simple search on LinkedIn will show you what organizations are very active in those spaces.

When looking into Customer Success itself, organizations like CS Insider, Success League, Practical CSM, and SuccessHacker exist and might have opportunities for you to get experience. Internships are usually posted, but It doesn’t hurt to ask if they could use an intern or if there are opportunities for a job shadow.

This will give you an opportunity to gain valuable experience in your target field and give you the credentials needed to demonstrate or address competency.

5. Apply for a Customer Success Specialist, Customer Success Associate, or Onboarding Specialist role

These roles are still under the Customer Success umbrella inside most SaaS organizations. That means that you have a direct line of progression to becoming a Customer Success Manager. Many Customer Success Managers were promoted from being a CSA, CSS, or OSS. There, you will learn the ropes of what knowledge and materials matter most to a CSM. You will assist in important cases/projects and get exposed to the customer. This experience will help you scale into being a CSM.

You have many options to improve your opportunities to get into Customer Success. Take every opportunity to improve your skills and your brand on your way to your first role as a CSM

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