Hiring a Technical CSM


This week we're joined by guest blogger, Nicole Jackson, with a perspective on how to hire a fantastic technical CSM. Enjoy!

By Nicole Jackson

Customer Success folks come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Assessing the laundry list of qualitative skills necessary can be time-consuming. Now add a requirement that the CSM must be very technical, maybe even have some programming experience. It might feel like you’re searching for a needle in a haystack.

As a hiring manager, you might not even personally have the technical skills that you’re looking for! It can feel daunting. Fortunately, there are a few things we can do to make this a positive, streamlined, and repeatable process.

Setting Yourself Up for Success

Take time to think about what the right fit looks like for your team. What would ensure that person will also be a good fit one year down the road? How about two years? How quickly your team must scale should influence how adaptable this person should be.

Think about your must-haves and your nice-to-haves. Decide beforehand what’s negotiable and what’s not so you can write an inclusive job description, attract a diverse candidate pool, and eliminate some potentially biased decisions down the road.

Browsing other job descriptions can help you get started. Titles vary, so try searching for combinations of these: Support Engineer, Technical Customer Success Manager, Technical Support Specialist, and Technical Support Manager.

Find inspiration and consider posting your available positions here:

Get a second opinion. For example, if this role is expected to fill a knowledge gap between current CSMs and the engineering team, involve the engineering team lead. Ask them which skills or experience would demonstrate a candidate’s ability to fill that role. Is it something that can be highlighted in a work sample?

Remember, the right language is key. Swapping out just a couple of words can make a huge difference. Don’t be afraid to have other teammates review the job description for inclusivity, accuracy, and tone. The best descriptions will come from a collaborative effort and represent the team.

Evaluating Experience and Technical Chops

The Screening

A cover letter and phone screens are relatively standard so be sure not to skip these filtering methods. Adding a few open-ended questions to the application, to be answered in the cover letter, can serve as the first step in the qualification process. You may (or may not!) be surprised by how many applicants don’t follow instructions.

The Work Sample

After a successful phone screen, have candidates follow up with a work sample. Make it a simplified version of a task they’ll be expected to perform in their day-to-day. Will they be supporting an API? Have them make a few requests. Will they be onboarding new customers? Have them sign up for a trial account and perform a few integration tasks.

Before sending out your first work sample requests, make sure you’ve prepared a structured grading rubric so that all candidates can be measured using the same metrics and scale. Break down the work sample into a list of actions or requirements that you expect completed. Grade each candidate using true or false to indicate whether they met the expectations or not. You could also score them numerically, just be sure to assign expectations to each value before you start scoring.

After grading, ask a teammate to review the same work sample. Your scores should be very close. If they are not, continue to iterate on the rubric.

To aid the reduction of unconscious bias, obfuscate candidates’ names. You can do this by having an impartial employee anonymize the work by copying responses into a new location, assigning it a number, and storing a key of candidate names and numbers in a separate and secure location.

The Structured Group Interview

If you are going to implement one new hiring process, let it be a structured group interview. This is another crucial step in helping eliminate bias. Similar to the work sample, prepare a list of questions across numerous disciplines. Again, use a numerical grading approach that is tied to predefined expectations. Ask all interviewers to take detailed notes during their interview and grade answers during or immediately after the interview. Invite a diverse group of peers to participate in the interviewing. Here’s an example:

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Follow the group interview with a brief meeting to discuss internally how the interview went and talk through any concerns. By now, you and your team should have a good indication of whether or not you are willing to move forward and will have scores to backup your decision.

Additions like a work sample and structured group interview can prove invaluable not only for a technical hire, but also for non-technical hires. Hiring is a time-consuming process so try iterating on this approach over time. Train yourself to look at current processes and responsibilities through a hiring eye at all times, take great notes, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time on the next hire. Happy hiring!

Want to learn more about building your team? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers online training and workshops designed for success leaders. Topics include Hiring Top Performers and Onboarding new CSMs. For more information on these and our other classes and workshops, please visit TheSuccessleague.io

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Nicole Jackson - Customer Success has been at the heart of Nicole’s entire career, but driving customer happiness and operational change at her first SaaS company back in 2013 paved the way for her transition into both a more technical and strategic realm. Nicole’s focus is on elevating customers, partners and teams in all life cycle phases through operational success. She holds a BS from the University of Massachusetts and recently graduated a full stack web development bootcamp at the University of North Carolina. As a dedicated animal advocate, Nicole is also passionate about combining her business and technology experience to innovate and advance solutions for animal rescue.