Building a Customer Success Talent Engine

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By Lauren Costella

In January 2018, McKinsey came out with a fantastic article about the Customer Success 2.0 Growth Engine! If you haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend it. Many of us in the CS space have already been working to move our organizations from the 1.0 model of simply preventing churn to driving growth, and this article was a great reminder of why this is so important for impacting our companies. The article mentions five elements to a 2.0 Growth Engine:

  1. A unified go-to-market strategy

  2. Sustainable funding model supported by premium offers

  3. Customer success talent engine

  4. Advanced analytics to predict customer behaviors and target customer segments

  5. Customer success philosophy embedded across the organization

All of them are really big and really tough nuggets to crack. I’ve been working through each one myself at Medrio, but one element in particular caught my eye and is very much worth discussing: A Customer Success Talent Engine. In summary, the article describes a “CS Talent Engine” as having clarity on responsibilities, capabilities, and characteristics of top talent; a learning journey for building those capabilities within the team; and a clear career path to keep the talent you have engaged and in place.

Before I jump into the details on how I went about incorporating these practices into Medrio (more intuitively than anything else, since the article came out this year), perhaps I should talk about the pain of what it’s like to not have a Talent Engine in place. Long story short, I learned the hard way, and hopefully my experience helps you take action now versus later. (I faced other challenges as a new VP, and I talked about them in my last blog with the Success League)!

In 2017, my team grew from 10 people to over 25 people globally. These changes included:

  • Building a brand new organization with our CS Department from the ground up without clearly defined roles

  • Replacing a completely turned over support team

  • Being able to adapt to general internal employee turn over/growth into new positions

This is a tremendous amount of change for a relatively short period. And, if your team is anything like mine, it felt like chaos for the veterans and overwhelming for the newbies, and in a fast-growing company, no room to slow down. We had to continue to hit our numbers.

Needless to say, the point about having a Customer Success Talent Engine resonated well with me, and it just so happened to align perfectly with a great song by Spark called “Talent is an Asset” which makes it a perfect add to the CS Playlist for discussion! So without further ado, here’s a few tactical suggestions on how to start building your engine.

Clarity on Roles and Responsibilities  

This is SUPER critical for success. As I mentioned above, we didn’t have clarity on the role of the CSM starting out. So, CSMs were positioned by AM team members as personalized “technical gurus” for our customers. This caused issues with multiple teams but it was most painful with our AM team because it positioned our CSMs away from being “proactive” and driving toward specific customer outcomes and put them in just a “support 2.0” bucket. As we tried to move away from the technical positioning, our AM teams felt like CSMs were doing too much of “their” job.

What I did:

  • Spoke with my fellow executives about what we wanted from AM and CSMs

  • With a defined state and buy-in from the executive team, I hired an outside consultant to help work with our AM and CSM teams in order to get them on the same page

  • Through joint AM-CSM workshops, the two teams emerged with agreed upon job descriptions, joint accountability on defined metrics of success, and a suggested structure to support it


  • It’s been really successful! Our AM/CSM teams are now podded together by geography, which align to the new business generation side of the house.

  • It was highly effective because our CSM and AM teams defined the roles, responsibilities, and metrics, so there’s a buy-in from both sides.

Today, CSMs are the Relationship and Value Navigators and the AM’s are the Commercial Experts, which is what we all wanted! And the two teams are achieving their joint goals (and our business results as a company)! Not only that, but my job description for CSMs has improved tremendously, allowing me to source great new candidates, which leads me to my next topic…

Internal Learning Journey

This was especially important for us to define for all of my teams. I mentioned that our Support team ended up turning over completely, and then grew from 3 team members to 12…globally! But every team has experienced turnover and growth. And again, if your teams are like mine, right when you believe you have everyone in place, your VP of Product comes along and steals your talented team members…just kidding, no really that happened (I’m not bitter). Joking aside, when this happens you realize quickly that you need a way to on board new people FAST.

What I did:

  • Identified a tool we could use for both creating customer eLearning training and repurpose for INTERNAL training (two birds with one stone)

  • Created Management by Objectives (MBO) projects for every team where they had to build out training slides on their jobs (what they do every day), what tools they use, how were they measured, any soft skills needed, etc.

  • Added in quiz questions

  • Put together product training (then repurposed for customers)

  • Put all of these trainings into Litmos

  • Hired the Success League to run training sessions that we couldn’t or didn’t want to build

  • Created a process to keep it updated on a semi-annual basis


  • Version 1 of Medrio CS University was launched in September 2017 (4 months after starting)

  • The point of this project was to provide a way to onboard internal employees locally and globally in a consistent, cost-effective way. We can’t always do meetings at 3 or 4 AM! And we can’t fly all employees to the US.

  • Is it perfect? No, but let me tell you, it’s a great start! I’ve been through the entire training, and what’s awesome, so has my team (regardless of their role). The ability to get exposure into other areas has been a fantastic bonus, which promotes the spirit of providing a clear career path for the team.

Career Paths

This topic is one that is near and dear to my heart. And honestly, I’m still developing this one. But I have a few things in the works, just no results quite yet, but I’ll share the plans in any case.

What I’m doing:

  • Taking Senior CSRs (Customer Support Representatives) and aligning them to my AM/CSM pods to help proactively manage low touch accounts

    • This is great for customers who may not otherwise has any high touch engagement and allow our CSRs some exposure into working with customers in a proactive vs. reactive way

  • Having Senior CSRs run our kick-off and onboarding processes with some of our key accounts and some light training

    • This allows our CSRs to learn more about training and some of the technical services our accounts need. It gives them exposure into the paid training our professional services team provides and how to engage with customers.


  • I’ll have to follow up!

My biggest takeaway in the Talent Engine conversation: simply start! Whatever you tackle first, the impact is huge. As our musical muse Spark says, “Talent is an Asset” and none of us can afford to waste it! So get cracking!  

Are you looking to build your own CS talent engine? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that can guide you in your quest. We offer a complete CS Leadership Training Program as well as individualized consulting designed for success leaders. For more information on our classes, workshops, and consulting, please visit

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Lauren Costella - Lauren is a change agent, communicator, leader and passionate champion for Customer Success in business, since a great customer experience drives retention, growth and brand advocacy. Her expertise centers on building early signs for risk and growth, defining cross-department success plays, team enablement, operations and process, and selecting and implementing CS software. When she’s not working as the VP of Customer Success for Medrio, you can find her serving as an advisor and blogger for the Success League, an active board member for the Customer Success Network, and blogging generally about her CS experiences on the CS Playlist. Lauren has her MA and BA from Stanford University. She was a former USA National swim team member and enjoys staying active with running and surfing in the Bay Area.