How to Learn Your Product Quickly as a New Customer Success Manager

How to Learn Your Product Quickly as a New Customer Success Manager

Imagine you're tasked with teaching someone how to build a car.

The problem is, you have zero experience building cars.

Also...there is no engine.

As it turns out, there is no car at all.

How would you run your training?

This is the tall order that many CSM’s are confronted with when they land their dream job. They arrive their first week excited, only to discover limited onboarding support or ramp time. Some may even be given a full book of business on week one without ever having learned the product.

No wonder so many of us have difficulty getting ready to support our customers. How can we help them when we don’t fully understand the product ourselves!

Every role I’ve had in the last ten years has started this way. And I’m not alone. According to my recent LinkedIn poll, Only 11% of new CSM’s felt they were prepared for their role within their first 30 days at a new company.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in this type of situation, but making the conscious decision to feel empowered by it can set you up for leadership long-term.

After all, when our friend Honest Abe said, “the best way to predict the future is to create it”, he wasn’t just talking about persistence - he was talking about setting yourself up for success. He knew the importance of always thinking several steps ahead in any challenge.

So what are you to do when you don’t have onboarding support?

Onboard yourself!

By onboarding yourself, you take the proactive steps to:

  • Discover the resources already around you at a new company.
  • Build internal relationships.
  • Break down technical concepts into digestible chunks
  • Develop critical thinking by connecting the dots across the organization and product.
  • Repackage your learning into something that can be helpful for others.
  • Position yourself as a leader on the team.

I started building my own onboarding processes at each of my previous companies with 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day milestones. This “Greenlighting” process I created for myself at my current company is still used today for our growing 70+ amazing team.

I did it and so can you.

Here are some steps to get you started and what I learned along the way.

Determine what resources are already available to you

Take a high-level inventory of the resources that already exist for your product. They may be outdated, but it’s a starting point to begin learning the key value propositions of the product, the problems it’s solving, and what features and benefits are most important.

*Pro-tip: There's likely a lot of content that already exists, but it might be mainly positioned for sales/prospecting. This can still be repurposed for your own needs.

Where to find these resources:

  • Cloud storage environments such as Google Drive, Sharepoint, etc.
  • Internal or external knowledge bases, such as Zendesk, Guru, Google Docs, Notion, etc.
  • Call recording/transcribing systems such as Gong, Otter, Perfect Recall, Chorus, etc (This one is major. If your company does not have this, ask someone in sales if you can be a silent listener on live demos instead).
  • Your major players such as Salesforce, Gainsight, ChurnZero, etc.

Build an outline of your product

As you dig into the resources scattered across the company, bookmark the ones that are most helpful. Here’s what you need to discover:

  • Value propositions of the product.
  • Personas and job titles that you’re selling to.
  • Goals of your customers.
  • Questions they most often ask during the sales process.

Note: this only serves as your outline.  Your role as a CSM is to dig deeper and find the WHY behind your product’s features.

*Pro-tip: Log questions that a prospect asks during sales demos. And include any questions that you have about the products and features as well. This will give you an idea of how customers are evaluating features in the context of their goals. Use this in your next step with fleshing out your outline.

Discover your WHYs

Now that you have an outline of how to walk someone through the product, it’s time to flesh it out and understand the “why” behind the key features. Product Managers are a great resource to discover this information. And more often than not, they’re happy to talk about the products they've built.

*Pro-tip: Ask if you can record the call so you can use it as a reference in the future.

Your relationships with your organization’s PMs are critical. Build on these relationships and they will pay off as you grow in your role.

Jorge Solis, Lead Product Manager at FastSpring, agrees:

"Product Managers and CSMs have a shared mission in delivering delightful experiences that enable customers to achieve key user/business outcomes and address pain points. Success metrics like feature adoption is a good way of validating this and serves as a signal on how we’re doing at collectively hitting the mark in this area."

Here are some questions that you can ask to steer the conversation.

  • Who is our ideal customer? Why?
  • In your own words, what does our product help our customers achieve?
  • What are our most popular features? Why?
  • What aspects of the product are most important for our customers to adopt? Why?
  • What are customers most excited for us to build in the future? Why?
  • What is our product missing? Why?
  • What features are you most excited to build in the future? Why?

Build a solid training script

By now, you should have an outline of how to walk someone through the product and a deeper understanding of the “why” behind your product. Now it’s time to fill in the rest.

Writing a script has helped me refine my message and ensure that I hit the most important points for my customers. Repetition is key here! Make it conversational, and approach it as if you are explaining the product to a friend or a family member.

*Protip: Ask your peers if you can practice your script with them. Encourage them to ask tough questions that they've received on prior calls in order to challenge you. If folks aren’t available, record yourself on Zoom, watch it, and take notes.

Once you feel you’re 90% comfortable, set time with a manager or leader in your department and take them through your training. This is your ultimate greenlight! Be prepared for curveballs.

Work out loud

Once your script is finalized, use it as your master copy in your onboarding process for others. In my last article, we talked about how important it is to share your work with the rest of the team.

By sharing my training script and onboarding process with future hires, I cut our new hire onboarding time from three months to three weeks. This exercise was a great launching point for my future role as Customer Success Operations Manager. This can also set you up for a future team leader or managerial level role as well.

Final thoughts

Preparation is key as a CSM.

Your goal is to become a trusted expert with your application. Don’t wait for anyone to hand that to you.

The car might already be driving at full speed, but you just taught yourself how to build an engine, and replace it without anything stopping you.

It might not have been easy, but it's one way to build confidence in a brand new role. You’ve only got upwards to go from here!

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