Insights | Marketing

4 Tips for Building an Initial Customer Success Team from Gainsight

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Loren Straub

January 16, 2017
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Last week, we had the VP of C

Building an Initial Customer Success Team

ustomer Success and Business Operations at Gainsight, Allison Pickens, in the studio to discuss all things Customer Success. Allison defines Customer Success as “a group of individuals that help you grow your valuation in a cost effective way”. During our podcast, she describes the process of efficiently building an Initial Customer Success Team, when the right time is for your business to have a CS team, and the many different responsibilities that fall within the team. To help you gain a better understanding of building an Initial Customer Success Team, here are four important questions and answers you should consider:

(1) When Should I hire my first Customer Success person?

Identifying the right time to hire your first CS person really depends on your product, and the size and growth of your business and customer base. At an early stage, there isn’t much job specialization, as the founders may take on many roles. As you begin to grow, however, Allison recommends that one of your first hires be a Customer Success Manager. This can lighten the load for your C-suite, and ensures that Customer Success is being handled appropriately within your company from the beginning. Gainsight’s first CS person was brought on as one of the company’s first hires, however they didn’t designate a “VP of Customer Success” title until after their Series C round of funding. The truth is that it varies per company, but regardless of when you hire your first official CS person, it’s critical that you are managing the customer experience from your very first customer and beyond.

(2) What are Common Misperceptions Around Customer Success?

As you begin thinking about Customer Success, you should be aware of the misperceptions that exist about the field. Not many people know the full extent to which a CS team operates within a company. If the team is run well, they do so much more than just manage churn. Before hiring your first CS person, it is important to know and understand everything that a good CS person should do, and what effect it has on a company. This can help you decide whether or not you think you need a CS person at this time. Allison describes that contrary to popular opinion, effective CS teams drive renewal and upsell rates, while also driving new customers for a business.

(3) What Qualifies a Good Customer Success Candidate?

After deciding you need a CS person, the first step towards having a fully fledged team is managing your first hire. Despite what people might think, a good CS candidate does not have to have an extensive Sales or Account Management background in order to be a qualified hire. In fact, Allison believes that the most important quality a CS candidate should have is being process oriented. This is important because if the role is done well, this person is developing trends in data and customer feedback in order to design an efficient process to handle top CS issues. If they can do this, they will be able to handle the majority of situations they face more effectively, maximizing their success within the CS role, and making their job a more efficient process overall.

(4) How Long Should It Take a New Customer Success Hire to be at Full Productivity?

After hiring your first CS person, Allison believes that it may take three to six months for them to ramp up, but that varies based on the complexity of the product and the size of the customer base. It may only take a few weeks for them to adapt to a simple product, but with more complex products, the same process may take months. Also, with a larger customer base, it could take the new hire much longer to get to know the customers than with a smaller, more manageable customer base. This is important to know before hiring your first CS person, as you need to manage expectations around early productivity within the role.

When you begin building an Initial Customer Success Team, ensure you are informed on all of the ins and outs of Customer Success, and how to manage the hiring process. These questions and answers should give you a good base of knowledge, but if you wish to learn more about building an Initial Customer Success Team, listen to our podcast, check out Allison’s blog, and watch this Gainsight Webinar on Building a Customer Success Team.

Special thanks to Jack Blattman for his contributions to this post!