Mastering the Art of CSM Recruitment: Insights from Industry Leaders

Hiring a Customer Success Manager (CSM) is getting tougher, not because there aren't great people out there, but finding them is like looking for a needle in a haystack. With the pandemic and recent layoffs, there's a flood of candidates, but that doesn't make things easier. Many see the CSM role as an easy entry, not realizing it demands specific skills and mindset. When you post a job, you're hit with a wave of applications — sometimes thousands, not hundreds (not joking here, we know a company that received a crazy 3,500 resumes in just a week).
It's tough and piles even more onto the already jam-packed schedules of CS leaders and hiring teams. How do you efficiently pinpoint who's right for you and worth your interview time? How can you swiftly make this call without diverting your focus from your main responsibility? And amidst a sea of similar-looking applications, how do you spot the A-Players? We got some insights on this from Maranda Dziekonski, a CS leader, serving as the Senior Vice President of Customer Success & Ops at Datasembly and a Board Advisor at CSM Practice (and also a former HR leader!)
And here's a reality check: if you think the industry heavyweights don't struggle with finding the right CSM, think again. They're in the trenches with this challenge, just like the rest of us.
‘It's very time-consuming to sift through. I posted a role and I had 1500 applications in hours, within hours, 1500! So then I have to sift through to figure out which of the candidates have the right qualifications to move forward. I usually do it in the evening because I can't get it done during my regular course of the day’— Maranda Dziekonski
So how did the industry land in this pickle? We've spent quite some time deeply exploring this issue and have identified several key reasons:
  1. Today's popular job boards just don't have the nuanced settings needed to sift through applications for CS roles effectively.
  2. As a result, hiring teams get swamped with applications and often have to sort through them manually. If meticulously going through 30 applications can take an hour, imagine tackling 300? Or 3,000? If you think about it, that's like reading "Ulysses" five times over (although that would be a much more engaging activity).
  3. Unfortunately, the standard resume format doesn’t provide enough information to determine whether this is the right CSM candidate.
End result? Just sifting through the incoming applications can take weeks, dragging out the time-to-hire and ramping up pressure on CS leaders.
Now, flip this and think from a candidate's perspective. I've sent my application and heard nothing back. What do I do? Yep, shoot off another one to a different company, and then another. It results in this endless loop—the hiring teams are buried under applications, unable to respond swiftly or effectively, which in turn prompts candidates to send out more applications, and the cycle continues.
Okay, but to find the right CSM, you first need to understand what the right means when we are talking about outcomes. Let’s ask Maranda:
It’s all about revenue. I want CSMs in my org that have owned revenue or have been closely tied to revenue outcomes. It is a big thing right now if a CS organization is not tied to revenue outcomes. Somehow they fall in the cost of goods sold in on the P&L, which makes them incredibly vulnerable, especially during a time when the boards are heavily focused on efficiencies and getting to profitability.
A CSM is a revenue-generating role and that’s why NRR becomes the primary metric. It doesn't matter how it's done—retention plus upsells, cross-sells, or renewals—the right CSM is a professional who drives revenue.
But how can you understand from a resume that a CSM will indeed be effective in this area? That's the problem—it's not at all easy to do.
Hiring right now, it's not as much of 'Does the candidate have the right qualification?'. It's not about whether they check the two to five years of customer success experience, have owned renewals (check), have owned upsells (check), etc. Because then you end up with hundreds of candidates that check all those boxes. To distinguish the best candidates, you need robust processes to glean important insights. What about leadership for example? What about some of the soft skills?
Predicting a CSM's success in revenue generation for your company goes beyond just eyeing their experience. To really nail it, it's crucial to pinpoint the specific CSM archetype your team needs.
Does your ideal candidate need to have a sharp analytical mind, being a whiz with data, or excel at building strong relationships? Should they have a knack for crafting processes and managing projects?
​​The specific CSM archetype needed for generating profit and growth heavily depends on your company, but for simplicity, you can divide archetypes into three groups:
  1. Customer Relationship and Advocacy builders
  2. Strategic Experts and Advisors
  3. Data Geeks and Process Optimizers
Try to determine which profile you need, and then explain to your hiring team what to look for in resumes. Typically, one candidate fits best into one group, sometimes into two, but very rarely into all three.
Here's a specific set of tips on how to determine if a candidate is right for you with just one glance at their resume.
  1. To assess the candidate's ability to build and maintain customer relationships and act as their advocate, look for descriptions that emphasize direct customer engagement and feedback initiatives, such as "spearheaded a customer advocacy program" or "led customer satisfaction improvement projects.
  2. To evaluate the candidate's strategic advisory capabilities and expertise, look for experiences or achievements indicating their role in providing strategic counsel, such as "contributed to key strategic decisions for client success" or "served as a strategic advisor to enhance product utilization and ROI for major accounts.
  3. To gauge the candidate's strength in data management and process optimization, look for evidence of analytical skills and a systematic approach to improvement, like "developed a data-driven framework for customer insights" or "led a process optimization project that resulted in increased efficiency.
At Talentway, we dedicated six months and chatted with over 100 customer success leaders to craft an advanced methodology for assessing CSM candidates. Sure, when assessing candidates, we’re considering factors like years of experience in CSM roles, the number of accounts managed, and the average ARR per account. But on top of that, we take into account candidates' inclination to address 10 key CSM archetypes and their alignment with 5 types of corporate culture, based on the deep understanding of their personality and unique talents.
Last, but not least: is it possible for someone to evolve their CSM archetypes?
We are confident that a person's archetype is deeply rooted in their psychology, their brain's wiring, their experiences, and the culture they've absorbed. These aren't things you just flip a switch on, so it's crucial to have a solid process in place to assess these factors before you hire someone (or even interview). But, it's definitely not impossible. The key here is the individual's eagerness to learn and grow. Maranda’s take on that:
I think the ability to learn is key. And if you have this ability and hunger to evolve as a human you will be able to adjust everything from how you react in stressful situations, how you communicate, how you make jokes.
Is it possible to understand to what extent a person possesses a trainable mindset? Certainly, it's not so straightforward, but one piece of advice we can offer: seek out individuals who have reshaped industries throughout their career paths, remained within them, and found success in each. This likely signifies a breadth of perspective, perception, viewpoints, and a willingness to solve emerging problems. And isn't this what we're looking for in the right candidates?
The Talentway team extends heartfelt thanks to Maranda Dziekonski for sharing her expertise and insights, supporting our mission to shape the future of hiring in Customer Success and beyond.