5 Ways to Get Your Best CSMs to Stick Around

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By Kristen Hayer

We’ve been running a study on customer success managers, and while we are still in the early stages of analysis, a striking trend has emerged: The average tenure of a CSM is only 1.65 years. That’s just a little over a year and a half, and in a field where it often takes 6 months for a new team member to get up to speed on their solution and customers, that’s a very short period of time. If you think about it, if it takes six months to ramp up and 3 months to find another job, that only leaves about 9 months of productive work. Considering how much it costs to hire new CSMs, engaging employees should be an important focus of every customer success leader.

Of course, it’s important to hire the right people and onboard them effectively in the first place. One of our instructors and board members, Lauren Costella, recently wrote a couple of terrific articles about hiring and onboarding. Let’s assume you’ve got that handled, and you know you have the right team. Here are 5 ways to make them want them to stick around.

Have a Clear Mission

I almost hate to list this first, because so many companies have mission statements that they just don’t live up to. That said, one of my favorite leadership books, The 12 Elements of Great Managing, lists a connection to the mission of the company as a critical part of employee engagement. If you’re one of the lucky few who works for an organization with a clear mission, make sure you talk about it frequently and draw a clear line from the work your team is doing to the company’s mission. If you’re one of the many who doesn’t work for a company with a compelling mission, focus on building a team mission instead.

Facilitate Friendships

Sometimes, even a rock-solid mission isn’t enough to get you out of bed in the morning, and that’s where friends come in. Employees who have a friend at work are 7 times more engaged in their work than those who don’t (check out this article from SHRM for more details). While you can’t force your team members to be friends, you can create opportunities for friendships to develop. Teambuilding and social events are an obvious tactic, but also consider pairing up members of your team to work on projects, tackle tough customer situations, or present to other groups in your company. Shared work can create lasting friendships.

Recognize Great Work

While some companies have formal recognition programs with awards and prizes, most don’t. That’s ok. Some people really love getting a trophy or plaque to display their achievement, but many find simpler kinds of recognition just as valuable, if not preferable. Giving someone a shout out in a team meeting, or writing them a note thanking them for their efforts are easy ways to make sure that your team members feel valued. Contests can be a fun way to publicly recognize top performers, and team outings are a way to acknowledge the work of the entire team. Need ideas? Check out 1501 Ways to Reward Employees.

Invest in Career Development

Some leaders worry that if they invest in developing their CSMs they will end up losing them to another company or even another team inside their company. In fact, research (So much research that I can’t pick a favorite study! Google it.) shows that teams and companies who develop their employees keep them engaged much longer. This makes sense. If you’re in the middle of a training program or a mapped-out career path, you’re more likely to stick around and see it through. Encourage your team members to participate in training, choose assignments that stretch their skills, or work on projects with other groups to build their career.

Pay Fairly

Customer success is a relatively new field, so pay is all over the place right now. Teams that came out of support or professional services are generally on the lower end of the spectrum, and teams that came out of sales or account management are on the upper end. It is a job-seekers market, so it’s critical to have a competitive compensation package in place for your team. Fortunately, there are enough CSMs in the US at this point that compensation reporting tools (think Salary.com or PayScale) are becoming more accurate. Be sure to consider your region as well as your expectations of the role as you determine total comp.

Customer success teams are being asked to demonstrate a return on their company’s investment in customer success. One of the biggest pieces of a CS team’s budget is the cost of the people on the team. Make sure you see an ROI by investing in your team and keeping them engaged so that they want to stick around.

The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers a CSM Training Program to help customer success managers learn skills that enable them to effectively engage, retain and expand their customers. For more information about our online training classes and onsite workshops, visit TheSuccessLeague.io

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Kristen Hayer - Kristen believes that customer success is the key to driving revenue, client retention and exceptional customer experiences. Her areas of expertise include developing success goals and metrics, designing the optimal customer journey, selecting technology, training teams, and building playbooks. Prior to founding The Success League, Kristen built and led several award-winning customer success teams. Over the past 20 years she has been a success, sales, and marketing executive, primarily working with growth-stage tech companies. Kristen has her BA from Seattle Pacific University and her MBA from the University of Washington.