Can You Do The Fandango? Hiring Great CSMs
Hiring great CSMs is tough. Are you making it harder? We’ll talk about that but let’s assume not. Then we’ll cover the question of how you zero in on the best fit CSMs for your company.
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A while back I read a bunch of job ads as part of some research for an article I was writing. Below are just some of the requirements I’m sure I recall seeing mixed in with the more typical requirements:
- Tour de France winner
- Accomplished jewel thief
- Legendary scrabble player
- Can do the Fandango
- Mother of dragons
Ok, maybe not but it’s not uncommon for a CSM job advert to get carried away with itself and list an almost impossible combination of skills and expertise.
Should you care if this is how your company operates? After all you might find someone once in a while who matches up with your requirements. What’s more it’s increasingly common to see people with a couple of years under their belt claiming all manner of outstanding skills and achievements so perhaps this experience inflation is all just part of the cost of doing business? Plus, if missing a couple of the skills you list is going to put people off applying: maybe they don’t have what it takes anyway. Maybe they are missing a little chutzpah.
Maybe, maybe, but just maybe this isn’t the best approach.
In psychology there’s a theory called the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s somewhat counter-intuitive but we all know people who exhibit both aspects of this effect. In summary it posits that people with low levels of competence tend to over-estimate their abilities whereas people with high levels of competence tend to under-estimate their abilities.
Which is why you want to be careful about listing everything you can think of on your job ad. You run the risk of attracting the know-it-all loudmouths and scaring off the candidates smart enough to understand the limits of their knowledge.
Assuming then you’re going to write a realistic ad, what should it include? Included below is an excerpt from a previous article of mine. Write a job ad that asks for this contextualised to your needs / company
At a minimum your CSMs need to have:
- Relationship management and communication skills
- Organisational and time management skills
- Sufficient depth in the domain the company operates in and its core process, tools and procedures
- Sufficient expertise in both the product being sold and the best practices that support its effective use
- Sufficient knowledge of the disciplines of sponsorship, change management and governance
Additionally you will want your CSMs to have a healthy dose of commercial awareness: wherever you are on the ‘CSMs as Salespeople’ continuum you need CSMs to work hand in hand with sales at the initial handover stage, during the renewal process and to be engaged in expansion and advocacy conversations. Furthermore CSMs have to be prepared for the long haul. Customer success management is a system not a goal. Yes there are waymarks (renewals, expansions etc) that let us know how we’re doing but a CSM’s job is one of continual watchfulness, refinement and improvement. CSM’s who are enthusiastic, positive and pro-active by nature are temperamentally well suited to this challenge: life on the front line can be tough and having these qualities is important.
Once you’ve got applicants you need to test for all of this. That means structure and thought needs to go into your interview process. Big companies generally have people for this – a luxury you won’t have in a smaller organisation or a startup. If that’s you then you need to design your process around the need to validate a candidate has the skills, experience and personal characteristics that are must haves for your organisation and the role you want to fill.
A Few Thoughts On This.
Testing for expertise. This takes an expert and the best expert is probably not going to be the hiring manager (especially if they’ve been out of the individual contributor game for a while). The best experts are the most experienced people you have in the role you are hiring for. Have them conduct the first interview and make sure they are completely clear on how to test for expertise. The most practical way to do this is to dig for details. Not what your candidates have done, how they did it, in detail. The interviewer needs to keep going until they are satisfied the person in front of them truly knows what they are talking about across the core set of expertise you need to ensure you’re hiring.
Testing for fit. The hiring manager is best placed to do this – will this person work well with and become a valuable member of my team. Note this does not mean could I stamp this person out with my ‘ideal employee” cookie cutter. It means will this person fit with but also a) challenge the existing team and our way of thinking and b) bring new ideas and experiences that will strengthen us as a team. It also means do they have sufficient energy, enthusiasm, patience, resilience and so on. Lastly it means think diversity as much as you think culture (which often gets mistaken for people like the people we’ve already got).
Testing for capability. Create a real world scenario, give it to your candidate with instructions and time to prepare. Have them role-play the scenario to a panel including at least an expert, the hiring manager and someone from an adjacent department to provide an outside perspective. CSMs need to be able to do this well with you to give you confidence that they can do it with your customers. Yes they will be nervous, yes you need to make allowances for this, no they won’t be able to do it with customers if they are a disaster doing it with you.
Testing for character. The hardest thing to do. How do you weed out the bad apples. Some people have x-ray vision for character. Most people do not. Find the folks in your company who can reliably detect a bullshitter (just in case they slip though the expertise filter), or the sociopaths or the folks who just don’t play nice with others. Don’t hire people however tempting if they fail this step.
A great way to find candidates is referrals. But, don’t offer a referral bonus and sit waiting for people to volunteer candidates. They won’t, not in any meaningful quantity anyway. Instead pro-actively ask all your employees for the names of the 5 people they think would make the best additions to the company. When you hire from that pool – and you almost certainly will – pay them the referral bonus.