How to Onboard Your New CSMs the Right Way

How to Onboard Your New CSMs the Right Way

Onboarding a new Customer Success Manager is like onboarding a new customer.

There’s excitement on both sides, everyone is eager to get started, and yet if done improperly the employee experience can be tarnished, or even worse, your CSM can churn. I’m sure you can remember that one job, where they just threw you into the frying pan and said good luck, you’ll figure it out eventually. Not a great experience huh?

There are no second chances for first impressions, and organizations that choose to onboard new employees in this manner are ones that you want to stay very far away from. But, as a manager responsible for onboarding new talent, how do you onboard CSMs the right way?

Here are my top 5 most effective ways to set your CSMs up for success.

1. Create a 30-day onboarding checklist

I’ve always been a fan of a good old-fashioned checklist, and I strongly believe that a checklist can be an effective tool that managers can use during onboarding. Checklists provide an organized set of steps or actions that can successfully guide CSMs through their first 30+ days with their new organization.

Things to Include:

  • Industry Training to Watch / Listen
  • Product Training to Attend / Watch
  • All About <insert company="" name=""> Video </insert>
  • People to Meet
  • Things to Do
  • Pages to Bookmark / Save to Favorites
  • System Access
  • Documents/Resources

This checklist can be self-guided by the CSM with weekly check-ins to touch base on their progress or it can be delivered methodically week-by-week to new employees. This all depends on employee and company preferences and should be adapted to fit what works best for you.

This checklist is designed to be a tool and will be used in tandem with other tools to create a successful onboarding experience and should not be the only way a CSM is onboarded. I currently use a simple Word document, or if you’re feeling fancy, you can throw this into ClickUp, Trello, or your favorite checklist tool to deliver a seamless experience to your new CSMs.

2. Have your CSMs sign a position agreement

A position agreement sometimes referred to as a position contract is a clearly written document between you and your employee that outlines the results the employee is accountable for and the standards necessary to produce those results.

This is a great way to clearly define the expectations both you and your company expect of your CSMs. I have oftentimes found when managers fail to set clear expectations, CSMs have no choice but to fill in the gaps with what they think the expectations should be which results in inconsistent alignment. These agreements help standardize expectations from CSMs across the board early in the onboarding process.

Things to Include:

  • Mission / Vision
  • Core Values
  • Vital Functions of a CSM
  • KPIs or OKRs
  • CSM Statement
  • “I accept the accountabilities of this position and agree to produce the results, perform the work, and meet the standards set forth in this position agreement. I further agree to be accountable to all the stakeholders.”
  • Manager Statement
  • “I agree to provide a working environment that supplies the necessary resources, and appropriate training to enable the accountabilities of this position to be accomplished”

This type of agreement can help create alignment and can be referenced if you end up needing to coach an employee at any point in time during their time with your organization. This should be signed by both the CSM and manager and uploaded to HR for future reference.

3. Outline a 30-60-90-day plan

A 30-60-90-day plan outlines a clear set of expectations for new CSMs during the first 30, 60, and 90 days of employment. This type of plan can catapult your new CSM's development into their new role.

I have seen these plans done a few different ways, the CSM can own the development of the plan with your input, the two of you can co-create the plan, or you can create the plan in preparation for onboarding a new CSM. I personally prefer co-creating plans, I have found that CSM involvement in the development of this plan is a quick way to gain buy-in and can develop trust between you and your new CSM.

It’s key to revisit the plan frequently. It can be used as a framework for regular check-ins to assess progress towards goals, which will also help you to determine where your new employee may have roadblocks or barriers to achieving those goals. I always make sure to build in flexibility, because let’s face it no one likes a rigid plan that doesn’t have the ability to be adaptable. Flexibility allows you to pivot quickly as the pace at which you onboard a new CSM varies by employee.

The most critical part in developing a good 30-60-90 day plan is making sure to build clear and concise goals and steps or actions needed to achieve those goals. The CSM role can be full of noise, but this plan will help sift through the distractions and make sure that your team is headed in the right direction and focused on the right priorities from day one.

Pssst check out our 30-60-90 day onboard yourself guide here

4. Be involved

This might be an unpopular opinion, but if “shadowing” other CSMs is the main plan you have in place for onboarding, you need to crumple up that plan into a ball and toss it in the trash because you are going to set your CSMs up to fail.

Now, I am not saying that shadowing is an ineffective way to learn skills and gain knowledge, but what I am saying is that it shouldn’t be the main portion of new CSM onboarding.

CSMs need to gain a deep understanding of the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ behind everything they’re taught. Being involved will help you to effectively provide proper context for your new CSMs. I always like to use this time together as an opportunity to take advantage of a CSM's “newness” as they may bring forth a question as to why things are done the way they are, which can help you identify gaps in processes and opportunities for improvement.

I have found that check-in calls during the week are effective ways to build rapport with your new employee and can help you effectively monitor and track progress during the onboarding process. Prior to shadowing, I like to build out a list of learning objectives I want a CSM to gain from the shadowing session, making the experience more valuable for your CSMs.

Ultimately, if you are responsible for onboarding a new employee, you must own this process and you must make the time to do it properly. Onboarding is a huge time commitment, especially if you work in a small department with limited resources. It can seem daunting but the more involved you can be in the first 90 days of a new employee’s onboarding the more likely you will have set them up for long-term success.

5. Ask for feedback along the way

Asking for feedback from your CSM during the onboarding process is one of the most important takeaways from this article. There may be times when onboarding is going too slow and you’re not challenging your new employee enough, or there may be times when you experience a CSM that is slower to ramp up and may need more additional resources during onboarding.

Regardless, the important thing is that you are listening to your employees and you’re adapting to meet their needs. Remember I talked about creating a plan that is flexible? Well, this is where that flexibility comes into play. Creating a cookie-cutter onboarding plan for every employee does not result in individual success, you must adapt each onboarding plan to meet the exact need of the new employee.

There are a couple of different ways you can collect feedback. During your one-on-ones, you can ask directly so that the employee can convey whether the onboarding experience meets their needs, allowing you to pivot quickly. Another way is to consider collecting feedback anonymously through a survey.

I’ve worked for several different organizations that send out initial and quarterly surveys to employees to gauge how their experience was. These typically end up as strategic priorities for department managers to continuously focus on improving the overall employee experience. When taken seriously and prioritized, this can be an effective tool but requires that the loop be properly closed with clear improvement to the process.

Here are some questions you can ask during your check-ins with your new CSMs.

  • How has your onboarding experience been so far, in comparison to the expectations you had for the role?
  • Are there any tools or resources that you haven’t seen yet that you’d like to see?
  • Is there any area during onboarding that you’d like to spend more time training or learning more about?
  • How comfortable do you feel communicating the value props of the services or software that we provide directly to your customers?
  • How has the pace of the onboarding been thus far?
  • What are some of your current professional development goals and what are ways I can help you to develop in those areas?
  • What are some areas during onboarding that we can celebrate?
  • Do you feel like you have everything you need to be productive and effective in your current role?
  • Am I providing you with enough feedback during the onboarding process? Is there anything more that you need from me directly that I can provide?
  • How are you feeling about the company? How are you feeling about your team?
  • Are there any challenges that you are currently facing that we should discuss?

As the customer success industry continues to grow and expand, employers that prioritize effective onboarding processes will have a competitive advantage over those that don’t. Now you have the top 5 most effective ways to onboard your CSMs for success, best of luck to you and your teams!

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