Published by Calendly - October 20, 2016

How to plan for career growth as your customer success team expands

When business goals are constantly evolving, it’s difficult to predict which roles your employees can strive for.

Customer Success is no longer a buzzword.

It’s an integral part of smart organizations’ ecosystems, and a career path rich with opportunities for development and growth.

But in a rapidly-expanding company, providing employees with a roadmap to that career growth is a challenge.

When business goals are constantly evolving, it’s difficult to predict which roles your employees can strive for. And, especially in a young organization, there may be no previous round of employees who’ve set a precedent for promotion.

If you’re struggling to create a growth plan for your early customer success team, these strategies will help keep people motivated and moving forward — even if you’re figuring out the plan as you go.

Key takeaways

  1. To determine which roles your employees can aspire to, work backwards from the company’s revenue goals. The level of service your target customers need will influence the structure of your department — and, therefore, the career paths that unfold.
  2. Some of your team members will know exactly where they want to end up, while others will need time to explore the options available. Encouraging employees to be transparent about their ambitions (or their need to wander) will boost employees’ motivation to grow.
  3. When an employee wants to pursue a path no one else has explored yet, put the onus on that person to create their dream job description and the skills required. You’ll strengthen their desire to excel, and will also be able to vouch for them when the role becomes available.

Get clear on the greater business objectives

To determine which roles your employees can aspire to, work backwards from the company’s revenue goals — and the types of customers you’re targeting to reach those goals.

Once you understand your ideal customer and their needs, you can begin structuring the customer success department to ensure those needs are met.

Point Nine Capital provides a simple framework for understanding the different types of customers, likening each to an animal based on their ARPA (average revenue per account):

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From Point Nine Capital’s “5 ways to build a $100 million business

Are you in the business of servicing a massive amount of low-ARPA customers, a moderate amount of mid-level ARPA customers, or a smaller amount of high-ARPA customers (or a combination of these)?

Each type of customer will require a different level of service to achieve success with your product, and the level of service your customers need will influence the structure of your department — and, therefore, the career paths open to your employees.

For example: to guide high volumes of low-ARPA customers to success, you’ll need someone skilled at creating processes and setting up automation to assist as many users as possible. You’ll also need a prolific content creator to develop self-serve resources like knowledge base articles and training videos.

To accommodate their rapidly-expanding user base of sales reps, Salesloft developed a self-serve onboarding experience called Salesloft U. This involved analyzing months of support tickets to identify common roadblocks, then appointing a dedicated training coordinator to create a video series guiding new users past those roadblocks to success.

The result? Tier 1 tickets dropped drastically, giving some team members the opportunity to transition into proactively managing higher-ARPA accounts.

Have the “where do you see yourself?” conversation early and often

Some of your team members will know exactly where they want to end up. Others newer to the field will need time to explore the options available.

Either way, encouraging employees to be transparent about their ambitions (or their need to wander) will create a team that’s motivated to grow.

Ari Klein, Head of Customer Success at DocSend, outlines the common paths a customer success manager can take, depending on the product they have experience with and their career aspirations:

  • CSM > Manager of CSM’s > Director/VP > CXO
  • CSM > Enterprise CSM
  • CSM > Account Executive or Account Manager
  • CSM > Sales Engineer or Sales Operations or Sales Enablement
  • CSM > Professional Services
  • CSM > Product Marketing
  • CSM > Product Management
  • CSM > Professional Services

However, he also mentions that “this is by no means an exhaustive list.” So it’s important to create an environment in which employees can be honest about what they want — even if that means moving to a different department over time.

Turn growth plans into an employee-driven process

When an employee wants to pursue a career path no one else has explored yet, a unique opportunity arises: that employee has the potential to fully own their future.

When Aly Merritt joined Salesloft’s customer success team, she knew she wanted to eventually move to product management — but no product roles were open at the time.

“I knew Aly could be a great product manager, once the opportunity came along,” said Katie Rogers, Salesloft’s VP of Customer Success.

So to help her prepare, Katie tasked Aly with researching the role, writing up a job description and listing the specific skills she’d need to succeed.

“From there, it was just a matter of checking off those skills,” said Katie. “She learned some code on the side as she ramped up in customer success, and once our need for a product manager grew, I was able to raise my hand and say ‘Aly would be the perfect fit.’”

Katie has used this method many times with her employees, enabling some to direct their careers upward in customer success, and others to move outward toward marketing, sales operations or product.

“What matters is reminding people that growth plans are ever-changing,” she said. “We have a list of 15 different roles we want to hire for in the coming months, none of which were available three months ago. So if your team members are willing to be transparent about what they want and actively develop the needed skills, the right opportunity will eventually arise.”

Bringing it all together

Your team wants to know what’s expected of them when they come to work, what success metrics they can aim for, and what potential exists for advancement. But the younger or more rapidly-growing your company, the harder it is to give black and white answers.

Start with one or two of the strategies above. You’ll create a culture of ownership as you weather the company’s changing goals, and as new opportunities unfold, you’ll be able to vouch for your ambitious team members when the time comes.

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