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Customer Success Salaries Will Increase (And Other Predictions)

Where is our industry going and what should CS leaders be doing today to prepare?
Ben Winn
July 14, 2020
Customer Interview

The landscape of tools, career opportunities, strategies, and best practices in Customer Success continues to strengthen and grow. That, coupled with the fact that CS teams play a major role in the customer experience—a leading indicator to retention and account growth—makes it an incredibly exciting space to be in.

The future of CS is bright, which makes it all the more interesting to explore with experienced industry leaders.

As a student of Customer Success, I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview Tyrone Anderson, VP of Customer Success at Lightstep.

Tyrone and I discussed different predictions and he shared some valuable advice for leaders looking ahead. You can watch the full interview and read some key takeaways below.

Three Customer Success Predictions to Think About

Tyrone touched on quite a number of topics in that interview, so let’s take some time to discuss each one...

1. Customer Success compensation will increase… by a lot

Customer Success compensation has been rising for years, and for good reason. Revenue and logo retention is becoming increasingly critical to company growth and survival, and it is Customer Success who owns KPIs like customer health, retention, and expansions… metrics that board members, investors, and executives really care about. That said, Tyrone's first prediction makes perfect sense: CS compensation will rise accordingly as we move forward.

Lightstep is already ahead of the game, since they pay their CS team members as much as software developers (sometimes more!).

Why? Because the CS skill set they need is extremely hard to come by. Their CSMs must be strong enough technically to become product experts, while also having a strong enough business aptitude to drive desired outcomes. When you layer those two critical requirements with all of the other skills you look for in CSMs (domain expertise, communication skills, relationship-building skills, etc.), it makes it difficult to find top-tier candidates, and when you do find them, providing them with generous compensation is important to make sure they are retained.

2. Hiring Customer Success professionals will become more difficult

As stated in the previous prediction, it’s already quite difficult to find top-tier Customer Success talent. One of the reasons this problem appears to be getting worse not better is because the top of the funnel is not increasing fast enough to meet the demands of the industry. Customer Success is still viewed by those outside the industry as a niche, it’s rarely if ever mentioned at business schools, and it’s a career path that has yet to be consistently brought up with Sales and Marketing in conversations outside the SaaS community. 

Additionally, as products become increasingly technical, CSMs are requiring more and more technical knowledge and domain expertise to be effective. This knowledge takes time to acquire, which further limits the talent pool at any given time. 

For Tyrone, hiring was very difficult last year due to the technical knowledge required at Lightstep, however he’s finding it much easier right now due to COVID-19-related layoffs. Unfortunately, there are a lot of very talented people in need of work right now, so now is the time to scoop them up before this window of opportunity disappears.

The last piece here, which we’ll explore in the next section is that many companies are still figuring out how exactly to hire for Customer Success, and this may be impacting their recruitment efforts. For example, it is incredibly common to see roles for Enterprise Customer Success Managers that require previous experience of 3+ years as an Enterprise Customer Success Manager. It’s easy to understand why companies would want to put this as a job requirement, but it excludes two critical groups of candidates:

1. Candidates who have proven track records as top-performing CSMs and are ready for a promotion, or who simply worked at SMB or Mid-Market companies and therefore never were given the opportunity to manage Enterprise accounts. 
2. Candidates who have comparable experience who are unsure whether or not their skills will translate over because of the title. If someone has significant Account Management experience, they are likely to disqualify themselves from these CS roles because they don’t know the parallels. 

It’s critically important that companies hiring for Customer Success evaluate their job postings from an outside perspective, and be open to hiring people who may not have held the exact same position previously, but who clearly demonstrate the skills and experience needed to perform the duties of the role being hired for. 

3. Hiring will increasingly focus on skills and characteristics, not just experience

Something Tyrone firmly believes, which is an increasingly widely-held belief, is that hiring will continue to move away from the idea that a candidate should only be hired for a certain role if they’ve had that exact same role before at a comparable company. Most companies have already done away with University degree requirements that excluded talented candidates and did not serve as an effective indicator of talent, and as we continue down that route, companies will get better at hiring people based on their skills, not just their experience. 

Tyrone has already done this quite effectively at Lightstep, as made clear by their job postings and the process he has built, which centers around 3 core pillars:

1. Customer relationship management
2. Renewals & upsells
3. Technical aptitude

The entire interview process is designed around these, from the initial recruiter screening questions to the final interview structure. 

One of the final portions of the interview process at Lightstep is a 2-on-1 interview panel, with one interviewer in the “leader” role, meaning they drive the questions and topics, and the other interviewer in the “fact-finder” role, meaning they dig deeper into certain areas, without changing the topic.

This process yields 2 very clear perspectives on each candidate, while also helping to eliminate bias.

One of the final elements of hiring at Lightstep, which has proven extremely effective for them, is that all candidates must have a champion on the team who would stake their reputation on the new hire’s success. Not only does this count as a significant vote of confidence, but it means that there is someone on the team who will do their utmost to ensure the success of the new hire they vouch for, lest their vote of confidence come back to haunt them.

Two pieces of actionable CS advice to keep in mind

While we could have talked about predictions and hiring strategies all day, we wanted to make sure to dig into some really tactical advice that could be implemented by CS leaders looking to set themselves and their teams up for future success. Here is what Tyrone advised:

1.  Automate your Customer Success admin-work

In order to get CS teams to be highly proactive and strategic, their administrative burden must be removed. It’s a waste of time, talent, and company money to have highly paid CSMs pulling reports on things like product usage, which is why having effective systems for automating CSM work is increasingly critical to those wishing to maximize their productivity.

Lightstep uses Catalyst to automate standard looks and views of customer data, provide in-depth reporting, and see exactly what they want to see, where and how they want to see it. Everything is built around tracking outcomes and KPIs in the most efficient way possible, which leaves more time for their CSMs to focus on the highest value tasks.

2.  Get success plans in place

Without a map, you’ll never get to where you want to go. Getting mutual agreement with customers about their milestones and KPIs on a quarterly basis is critical to ensuring your customers achieve their desired outcomes. Things can change rapidly for your customers, so their goals and the plans to accomplish them need to be revisited regularly. Customer Success plans should always be viewed as living, shared documents that change as the journey progresses. Success will always be a collaborative effort, so ensuring communication is always transparent and that goals are always updated and aligned is critical. 

Thank you Tyrone and Lightstep for taking the time to discuss the future of Customer Success with us. For more information about Lightstep, click here. And if you’re interested in continuing down this rabbit hole of CS predictions, check out our 100+ page eBook on that very topic. You can read The Future of Customer Success here anytime.

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