Dear SaaStr: Who Should I Hire First to Get My Customer Success Function Going?

I’ve evolved my learnings and thinking here.

Until a few years ago, my advice for CS hire #1 was: just hire a veteran.

I didn’t mean a true VP of Customer Success in the early days of revenues … you’re not ready for that yet.

But my advice until recently was always hire an experienced individual contributor to start in CS with:

  • at least a few years of CS experience;
  • at roughly the high-end of your price point; that
  • you believe in and would trust with your hard-won customers.

I still think this is the right combo, if you can get it.  And yes, there are 1000s of CS veterans around now, so go interview 30+ of them!

I used to say:

#1. Don’t hire someone without CS experience. You need that, and there are plenty of folks with experience now.  There’s no reason to take that risk any more in most cases.

#2. And don’t hire someone to manage $250k ACV customers that did $2.5k ACV customers in their last job, no matter how much you like them.  They won’t understand your customer base.

#3. Don’t hire someone you don’t intuitively believe in, no matter what their experience. They need to make you comfortable in the interview process with your product and processes. If they don’t make you comfortable — they won’t make the customers comfortable, either.

To get off the ground, if you hire a vet you believe in, the customers will too. If she’s done a good job at the ACV of your largest customers … that will be a huge upgrade from an all reactive / support model.

While I stand by this, today, I’d take more risk and hire someone that really just loves working with customers, is driven, and has some vaguely relevant experience as CS hire #001.  And is proactive — not reactive.

What’s changed — and I know many disagree with me on this, but I’m just trying to help and tell you it’s true — what’s changed is:

  • CS has become more reactive, and less proactive.  They travel less, they solve fewer problems.  Maybe they’re overworked, I’m not going to debate that.  I’m just going to share my learnings and observations that CS teams are far less proactive today than they were a few years back.
  • And in many cases, they’ve become part of the sales org the past few years.  That’s not what you need to start.  You don’t need an upsell expert as your first CS hire.  You need someone the customers will deeply trust to solve their problems, especially with a product that by definition will be very feature-poor in the early days.

Hire someone you’d trust with your customers in customer success.   Don’t give there.  No matter where they worked or what they claim they did for NPS, CSAT, or NRR.   But I’d give on the experience being super similar to your current product and price point.

Top tech companies are full of CS teams that in many ways have been optimized around high NRR for many years.  Someone that worked in a 120%+ NRR environment at $100m+ NRR is not the hands-on “save the customer” warrior you need as your first customer success hire.

I know folks disagree and don’t want to hear it, but for the most part, $100m+ SaaS companies with 120%+ NRR … well, those customers in part renew themselves.  CS has an important role there, but they are more firefighters or upsellers.  Very different roles from a new startup that no one has heard of, has little documentation, few integrations, and many features that barely work.  Very different.

A related post here:

Customer Success Has Gone from The Customer’s Ally To Its Nemesis



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