5 Reasons Why a CSM Should be an Early Hire for Startups

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By Jeremy Gillespie

With the speed at which early stage startups move, and continual demand on limited resources, hiring for Customer Success is often pushed down the list of priorities. While it’s easy to make the case for why Sales, Marketing, and Product are the priority, hiring your first CSM is one of the most impactful hires early-stage startups can make. 

The common case for an early CSM is simple: retention. Retention is the lifeblood of your organization. After all, it’s far easier to earn predictable, recurring revenue from existing customers than it is to find new customers. By prioritizing an early CSM hire, retention will follow. But, there are 4 additional (and equally important) reasons to prioritize your first CS hire:

Ensure Customers Are Successful

The primary role of a CSM is to work with the customer to achieve their goals. Customers who achieve the outcomes they expected from your solution will not only renew, they will be advocates for your company in the marketplace.

As an alternative to hiring a CSM, many startups saddle the sales team with maintaining existing customer accounts and this can be a big mis-step. Looking after existing customers will never be the primary focus for the sales team and this can leave you exposed to unsuccessful and disappointed customers.

Support Product Validation

CSMs build incredibly strong relationships with customers – especially in the early days when things aren’t always smooth. With this rapport and trust they can uncover how the customer really feels about the product.

The level of transparency that comes out of these customer relationships allows you to build probing questions into your CSM touch points to determine where the product meets (or doesn’t meet) their expectations. This information is crucial to stay ahead of issues and keep your finger on the pulse of your customers.

Help Define The Product Roadmap

Should you add a new feature, change the user interface, or improve the existing product? Since your CSMs are able to understand how customers feel about the product, they can support the development of your product roadmap. 

Use your early CSM hire to gather feedback from customers to inform your product strategy. While your customers may not drive innovation, they can provide a wealth of insights, and you can leverage their experience with your product to drive improvements to your solution and a stronger product-market fit.

Work Cross-functionally

More than any other role across a company, the CSM works with every single department -- from marketing to sales to product to services to finance. This perfectly positions them to create a cross-functional, seamless customer experience.

Since each department impacts your customer in some form or fashion, and the CSM sits between them and the customer, your CSM can work across departments to make the customer successful. Be sure your first CS hire is someone who can document the optimal customer experience so you can replicate it as you scale.

These are 5 reasons you should prioritize an early CSM hire for your startup. You’ll inevitably face new challenges as you acquire more customers as your company scales, but with the right foundations you will be starting your Customer Success journey on the right foot.

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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Jeremy Gillespie - Jeremy is a growth marketing expert who loves using complex data to build creative retention solutions. By leveraging data and technology, he excels at creating innovative retention and expansion marketing programs for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Jeremy is a founding advisor to The Success League, and is also the founder of Built to Scale, a Bay Area consulting firm focused on helping businesses build scalable customer acquisition and retention programs. He holds a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and MBA from Point Park University. He's a proud former Pittsburgher, currently living in San Francisco.