Asking for headcount can be daunting.
The business is balancing many priorities and if you aren’t prepared, your ask could backfire and make it harder to gain headcount in the future.
Putting in work upfront to support your ask as well as developing a thoughtful process to evaluate and bring on quality team members will help you develop a brand of being a strong hiring manager.
In creating a new Customer Success job, you need to think through the key focuses for the role, the job description and the interview process.
Step 1: Preparing for the ask
Before you go into a conversation to ask for headcount, you need to put together an analysis to support your request. Headcount, like all financial decisions in a company, is evaluated against other potential uses of funds to determine what will be most impactful.
Asks without data or reasoning will be harder to gain traction on, delaying the ability to hire when you may truly need it. For established roles, there is a bit of a known component – the company has seen someone in the role and the impact it brings. When looking to launch a new role, the bar is often a bit higher to prove out the need.
If Customer Success is viewed as a role within the sales world, but without a quota, this can make for a difficult conversation. Sales roles with a quota come with an expected and clear return on investment. Oftentimes roles within the overall Customer Success function, like training, support, or implementation, can be a bit harder to quantify direct revenue impact.
To start putting together this analysis, you need to outline the key actions of the new role. What will this person own and be responsible for? You should also consider the context behind these actions: Are these tasks being offloaded from another team member or are they new functionality the team will be able to support? If offloading from another team, how will that removal allow that team to focus on other items? If this is a new activity the role will be able to support, how can that benefit customer health, satisfaction and value (ultimately, churn or revenue)?
Thinking through these questions, and tying the impact to company goals and results, will help you prepare for the discussion.
Account Managers take on account ownership once the contract is signed. Their primary goal and focus is on renewing and growing existing accounts, leveraging their relationships to understand the customer and finding opportunities for new use cases. Due to taking on ownership post-signature, they are also responsible for running the onboarding process, both the technical and business side.
Owning the onboarding process is a shift in their overall goal and mentality. This activity is extremely project and milestone based and relies on a different skill set than developing a long term customer relationship for growth. In reality, while it is being done today, it can be more efficient and of a higher quality if given focus.
Based on that, it makes sense to split this functionality out. Hiring an Onboarding Specialist will allow us to have someone who focuses on onboardings, ensuring that there is a consistent experience across customers.
The Onboarding Specialist can identify gaps where we can improve processes and speed up time to be live, improving the customer experience and time to value. The faster the customer can see value, the lower the likelihood of churn. Removing this work gives Account Managers time back in their schedule to either support more customers or drive more growth within their existing book of business.
By understanding the impact on other roles, you begin to position not just why this role is needed, but also how it will help the business overall.
When launching a new role, you do not want it to become the catch all of activities other teams do not want to own. This means that clearly defining what the job will be responsible for is critical in setting this person up for success.
Once you have the key actions this role will own outlined, then you need to identify the estimated time for each action. This helps to showcase how much work you expect this role to handle and lays the foundation for when you will need additional headcount in this position.
- Timing per Customer Onboarding (Each week, from project start to go-live)
- Scheduling and running weekly cadence calls to review onboarding status – 2 hours
- Coordinating internal resources to ensure momentum on onboarding – 1 hour
- Host weekly company webinar for new users – 1.5 hours
Step 2: Develop the job description
You can use the key focuses you outlined for the initial request as a starting point for your job description. In addition to outlining the primary actions and areas of ownership, you also want to share information such as peer teams the person can expect to work with as well as competencies for the role.
Competencies are the soft skills that are needed for success in the role. Outlining five to ten of these helps create clarity for the applicant on what they need to showcase as well as gives the interviewer areas to focus their evaluation. For more junior applicants or for someone changing roles, the experiential “tell me when you did X CS activity” may not be as applicable, disqualifying good candidates. Instead, by focusing on core skills that will need to be utilized in the role, you open yourself up to better indicators of success. As a bonus, once this person is hired, you can use these competencies to drive feedback and career conversations, creating a career ladder for the role.
Example: Competencies for Onboarding Specialist
- Project Management – ability to keep things on task, even if they aren’t the direct owner
- Agility – ability to respond on the fly and pivot when required
To note: Typically, in this step or the previous, you will need to align with Human Resources and/or Finance on job level and compensation range.
Step 3: Design the interview process
As the hiring manager, you are tasked with identifying who should be part of the interview process. In addition to you, there should be 3-5 stakeholders, who can be involved through 1:1 interviews and/or panels. Oftentimes, I like to have peer teams participate in the process, as they will be working with this person. For example, sales, account management, CSM, technical implementation team, or the customer experience team may be stakeholders, depending on your organization structure. If you are using team members who are customer facing, make sure to indicate a backup interviewer in case a customer facing meeting comes up that is a conflict with the interview time.
The days of five+ interviews are starting to end. In today’s market, candidates want an expedient process, or else they will get an offer and take a job elsewhere before you’ve completed. You need to determine how many steps provide you (and the candidate) enough visibility to make a decision. Using the competencies you developed to highlight core skills for the role, you can identify questions that test or showcase these skills throughout the interview process. Ensure that you test for all competencies throughout the interviews, understanding that some questions may highlight multiple competencies at once.
Other key decisions in the interview design process:
- Experiential vs situational questions: If you are looking for someone who has direct experience in the role, you may ask the candidate to detail how they’ve handled a specific scenario in the past. If you are open to a more junior person or someone with transferable skills, you may ask more situational “how would you plan to handle” type questions.
- Presentation: If the ability to command a room or drive an executive level meeting is part of your evaluation, you may want to include a presentation component, or a prompt that allows for more demonstration of this skill.
- Panel: If you have many stakeholders who want to be involved in the hire, putting together a panel helps provide visibility without stretching out the interview process. Be clear on the role you want each attendee to play, so that you maximize the interaction and get the feedback you are looking for.
One thing that is often not done, but will be incredibly helpful for your fellow interviewers, is to create a grading rubric. This helps identify what you consider a good or great answer, creates consistency in evaluating and lowers bias.
Step 4: Posting
Once the job description and interview plan is ready, you need to decide your posting strategy. Based on the type of candidates you are looking to target, you will want to target different job boards or groups. LinkedIn will get you broad visibility (and a lot of applicants to sort through). Specific CS communities (Women in Customer Success, Breakout CS, The Customer Success Network, etc) may get you fewer, but more targeted, responses. Partnering with colleges may expose you to more junior talent.
You can also source internally for referrals. This is helpful as the person may come “vetted” through someone working with them previously. A caution to be aware of for referral programs is to make sure it doesn’t become a way that only “candidates like me” get evaluated, which could limit diversity.
In posting, you will also need to decide how you will evaluate candidates. Some companies review resumes, looking for specific skills highlighted (that align with the documented competencies) and previous experience while others use sift questions to get scenario based feedback relative to the role, measuring more for aptitude.
You did it – created and posted a role! This is a big step and marks the role creation stage complete. Keep in mind, the role design and interview process should be iterative as the business needs continue to change. Some questions to consider once you have posted the role:
- Respond to candidates: Will you send an email to everyone who applied or only those moving forward? When deciding not to advance a candidate to the next round, do you provide a template response or specific feedback?
- Review interviewers / interview process: Are you getting quality candidates through the pipeline? Are the interviewers clear on the grading rubric now that they are using it? Are you getting the level of feedback you expect from the other interviewers?
- Onboarding: Will the onboarding process be the same as an existing role/framework in place? What needs to be updated or added for this function specifically?
Having the ability to grow the Customer Success team indicates the company’s belief in the importance of the role. By using these steps, you can help ensure that you are clear on the right activities and skills needed to set someone up for ongoing success.