What Employers Look for in a Customer Success Manager

By: on November 14, 2019

Subscription-driven companies rely on renewals and upselling for up to 95 percent of their revenue.

While the exact nature of the customer success manager (CSM) position varies by company, its primary function is always the same: to increase customer retention, upsell, and handle referrals through proactive customer support.

For those with customer-facing experience, this emerging role presents enticing opportunities, including:

  • Competitive salary: According to Glassdoor, the average annual compensation for CSMs is currently $81,414.
  • Valuable experience: CSMs often interface directly with C-level executives.
To learn what common requirements companies are looking for in a CSM candidate, we analyzed a random sample of 110 job listings for CSM titles. We derived a few findings to keep in mind when applying for these types of jobs:

  • Employers prefer that candidates have at least a bachelors degree, but job experience trumps education in some cases.
  • Employers want three to five years of customer-facing experience, either with customer success or account management.
  • Being familiar with certain types of customer relationship management (CRM) or CSM software (i.e., Salesforce, Gainsight, or Totango) gives you a competitive advantage.

What employers are looking for in a CSM candidate

We found several key ways you can tailor your resume if you want to land that CSM job. You should highlight your education level, experience with CRM or CSM software, and any experience you’ve had with client success or account management in order to make sure your resume is as appealing to potential employers as possible.

Employers list a wide range of academic requirements

On average, most companies are looking for a bachelor’s degree at minimum when hiring CSMs. However, many job postings don’t list an academic requirement, instead asking for several years of experience. This indicates that experience working with customers is almost as important to employers when it comes to hiring CSMs.

CSM level of education preferred

When a company lists a specific field of study, the majority request candidates that have degrees in computer science, business administration, or information technology (IT). The preference for technical majors reflects the roots of customer success management in the software as a service (SaaS) sector, which has undergone explosive growth over the last few years.

Gartner found that 70% of all CRM deployed in 2018 were SaaS and expects this to peak at 85% to 90% in the next decade (full content available to Gartner clients). Retaining existing subscribers is now extremely difficult, thanks to an increasingly crowded market and the rise of cloud-based deployment, which makes switching products cheaper and easier than ever.

With how easy it is to switch to a different type of software, CSMs are especially valuable for SaaS companies.

Employers want customer-facing experience

Overwhelmingly, the job listings in our sample were seeking candidates who had some form of customer-facing experience.

CSM preferred experience

It makes sense that an account management background is the second most requested experience as it’s the traditional title most closely resembling the newer role of CSM.

A significant number of employers also requested candidates with experience outside of customer service and account management. The preference for sales, consulting, or marketing experience indicates that some companies want CSMs who are more specialized so they can communicate with their clients more effectively.

For example, employers seeking candidates with consulting experience may place a higher priority on client service skills and experience interfacing with executive clients, since those applicants are more likely to have accrued account management experience and exposure to C-level clients more quickly than applicants from other backgrounds.

CRM tops list of desired technical skills

Of the 110 listings we sampled, 56% required that candidates have previous experience using CRM systems.

Some simply requested experience with CRM software, while others wanted experience with specific systems—Salesforce being the most sought-after.

CSM tech skills required

The “other” category includes experience with industry-specific software such as healthcare or finance software. Additionally, some companies are looking for candidates with experience with specific CSM software solutions such as Gainsight or Totango.

While similar to CRMs in a lot of way, CSM software is far more specialized around customer success. CSM software helps businesses collect data to gather insight, monitor customer behavior, and engage with customers in a more holistic way.

If you’re curious about the differences between CSM (called customer service software) and CRM software, take a look at “Customer Service or CRM Software: Which Do You Need?

Three systems aspiring CSMs should be familiar with

Because the most mentioned software were Gainsight, Salesforce, and Totango, we thought it would be a good idea to give a brief overview of each, listed below in alphabetical order. Along with the information provided here, video demos are available for all of them on YouTube.

Gainsight

4.32 out of 5 stars
25+ reviews

Screenshot of Gainsight software

Gainsight’s administration and report builder (Source)

Gainsight is a customer success platform that offers different applications to gather insights, monitor feedback, engage with customers, collaborate with your team, and deliver outcomes.

The software helps you collect customer data, which provides you with a holistic view to monitor the customer behavior. Its survey application gives you a clear view of your customers’ expectations so you can cater to them in a more meaningful way.

The collaboration tool allows you to share client updates with every team member so they know how to serve any customer. That way, you can increase your customer’s satisfaction by delivering them the outcomes they expect.

Salesforce CRM

4.35 out of 5 stars
13,112+ reviews

Screenshot of Salesforce CRM software

Desktop and mobile screenshots of Salesforce CRM’s dashboard (Source)

Salesforce is a CRM suite focusing on sales and support and offers a range of applications for small, midsize, and enterprise organizations.

The applications include sales management, marketing automation, partner relationship management, and customer service. The variety of modules help organizations manage customer accounts, track sales leads, conduct and monitor marketing campaigns, and provide service post-sale.

Totango

4.24 out of 5 stars
17+ reviews

Screenshot of Totango software

Screenshot of Totango’s dashboard (Source)

Totango is a cloud-based customer success and retention platform. It helps businesses accelerate customer success, adoption, retention, and expansion by managing all post-sales activities.

The software collects customer information, monitors data for changes in customer behavior, and drives proactive engagement to help customer success teams increase conversion rates.

Totango’s applications help users understand customers’ health scores, usage, and status. The software aims to aid in the optimization of customer operations using scorecards and communication templates to stay on top of the constant ebb and flow of a customer’s expectations.

While being familiar with these three systems will likely give you a leg up on the competition, it’s important to remember that not every business will use only these, so it’s more important to be familiar with the software market as a whole.

Advice for aspiring CSMs

With employers seeking applicants from a variety of academic and professional backgrounds, there’s no single definition of what an ideal candidate should look like. However, if you make sure to beef up your resume with some of the skills we went over, you’ll be much more attractive to potential employers.

Seek out experience with SaaS companies to gain a significant advantage over other job seekers. In addition, proactively look for ways to deepen your understanding of CRM and CSM software solutions.

It’s clear that companies want applicants to have experience interfacing directly with clients, preferably at the executive level. For this reason account management experience may be the clearest, quickest path to a career in customer success.

This study aggregates a wide range of job listings, so the results don’t create a perfect, one-size-fits-all candidate profile. Every company has its own particular needs, so alongside the requirements that we have mentioned, applicants will want to customize submission materials to meet them.


Methodology

This study was conducted in November of 2019 by reviewing 110 hundred job listings found through the aggregator Indeed.com. The size of the companies in our sample varied widely, from corporations such as Microsoft and mature startups such as Box to a wide spectrum of newer startups.

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