Onboarding a New CSM

By Kristen Hayer

Every HR department longs for new employees to have a smooth, efficient and educational onboarding experience - an onboarding experience that people rave about on Glassdoor.  HR teams are measured on employee satisfaction and low turnover, and having a solid onboarding process is the key to great metrics. 

As a Customer Success leader, your metrics come out of the long-term performance of your new Customer Success Managers.  That said, the onboarding experience is a big part of what gets those CSMs off on the right foot.  It is critical that you partner with your HR team (If you have one!  Don’t worry – we’ll talk about what to do if you don’t.) to make sure that the newest members of your team have the training they need to succeed in the role.

Clearly, things like formal training programs and HR departments come with older, more established companies.  Startups may need to get scrappy about how they accomplish onboarding, but it is still critical.  If your company has been around long enough to be hiring more CSMs, it has been around long enough to have a great onboarding process.

Here are 3 things to consider as you build an awesome onboarding experience for your new CSMs:


Unfortunately, many companies focus onboarding on one or two of these items, and leave the rest for “on the job training”.  As you’ll see in the next section, there’s definitely a place for side-by-side training, but it’s important that all of the critical topics are being covered with your new CSMs.  Plan in advance who will be providing training, what they will be covering, how the training will be delivered, and when it will occur during the onboarding process.

Key topics to include:

  • Company - history, mission, culture and who’s who
  • Human Resources – benefits, handbook, directory, who to call, office details
  • Product or Service – demo, features, benefits, gaps, road map
  • CSM Role – playbook, key contact points, day-to-day job expectations
  • Compensation – key metrics, success factors, timelines
  • Client Base – territories, key customers, survey results
  • Internal Tools – CRM, CSM, ticketing system, billing system, proprietary tools
  • Sales and Marketing – team, process, target customers, client expectations
  • Goals – team goals, individual goals, company initiatives, timelines

Delivery Methods

You’ve got an amazing HR team that handles onboarding for all of your new CSMs?  Review their onboarding plan to make sure that all of the topics above are covered, and then count your lucky stars!  The remaining 99% of you will need to take the reins on your onboarding plan.  Once you’ve decided on the topics that you need to cover, decide on the best way to communicate with your new employees.  Here are some choices:

Formal Training – Build a slide deck and get those CSMs into a conference room.  Formal training is definitely the most professional of your options.  I like to put formal training programs at the beginning of a new employee’s onboarding plan: It gives them confidence in the organization and is generally the most appropriate format for some of the earlier topics (Company, HR).  If it makes sense, you can run new employees from across the company through formal training at the same time and give your new CSM some connections.

Content Review – This can take the form of a self-guided training program or a more casual review of existing materials.  Giving new employees the chance to review materials on their own gives you a break (if you’re leading the formal training) and also gives the new employee a chance to work at their own pace.  This is a good option for things like your playbook, sales and marketing materials, and the employee handbook.  Just make sure you carve out time for Q&A on these topics so new CSMs have a chance to ask questions.

Shadowing – Have new CSMs sit with current CSMs or members of other teams like Sales, Marketing and Product.  This is a great option for covering team-specific topics like the sales process, product demos, and internal tools.  Keep in mind that watching someone go through a process won’t be enough for your CSM to memorize what to do next time.  A good playbook that outlines internal tools and process is an excellent supplement to time spent shadowing team members.


Realistically, it takes 3-12 months to get a new CSM up to full speed, depending on your product or service.  While you may have all of the onboarding content ready to delivery on day 1, your CSM won’t be ready to learn all of it immediately.  I like to break onboarding into 3 categories:

Weeks 1-4 - This is your best chance to make a good first impression with your new team member.  Make sure you cover Company, HR, Product, Services, CSM Role and Compensation topics during this period.

Months 2-3 – Just like new clients, the first 90 days is critical for successfully onboarding new CSMs.  In addition to the items you covered in Weeks 1-4, cover Client Base, Internal Tools and Sales and Marketing during the first 90 days.

First Year – Over the course of the first year, your new CSM should continually learn about your team goals and initiatives, as well as receive frequent updates on changes to the Marketing, Sales or Product teams.

Taking the time to make your onboarding experience organized and thorough will pay off by allowing your new CSMs to get going with their clients more quickly and taking some of the workload off your existing team.  It will probably buy you some friends on the HR team as well when they see the lower turnover and great reviews from your group.  And who couldn’t use a few friends in HR!

Need help designing an amazing onboarding plan for your new CSMs?  The Success League is a consulting firm that works with executives who want to unlock the retention and revenue a top performing customer success team will bring to their business. www.TheSuccessLeague.io