Customer Success | 8 MIN READ

A Guide to Customer Success Career Paths

Wondering what lies ahead in a customer success career path? Here are few options that you may consider according to your skills and interests.

Shoeb Ahmed
Feb 2, 2021

Customer-Success-Career-Paths

Customer Success Career Paths

When it comes to customer success career paths, customer success manager stands doubtlessly on the top. Recent past years have seen a sharp surge in this role making it one of the most sought-after positions in software industry.

LinkedIn has reported it as the sixth fastest growing role with a year-on-year growth rate of 80%. With the rise of SaaS industry and most companies shifting their business model to subscription-based, the rise in customer success jobs is understandable.

Companies have realized the gain ratio between shelling out revenues on customer success vs net dollar retention which is more beneficial for them. This has given them the confidence to scale their customer success team ruthlessly.

What more, with a vast exposure to different business functions, a customer success professional gets to learn about the business at a much faster rate that gives them the opportunities to grow in different directions.

Those paths are:

  1. Conventional Path:
    1. CSM -> CSL -> Director or VP of CS -> CCO
    2. CSM -> Enterprise CSM
  1. Customer Marketing
  1. Sales
  1. Product Marketing
  1. Product Management

Conventional Path

This is the path that most of the CS practitioners adopt. It is quite obvious to jump through the corporate ladder in any role. And Customer Success Managers are not excluded from this and have their own career ladder. Hence, the two kinds of conventional path are:

CSM -> CSL -> Director or VP of CS -> CCO

You start from being an Individual contributor by managing a group of customers to higher leadership positions. But this comes into existence only when your company is scaling.

In the beginning a CSM must be managing 30 to 50 accounts. Then more CSMs might be needed to do the same. As the count of CSMs grows, there arises a need to manage these managers.

Customer Success Leader

Customer Success Leader is the most common next role in a career path for a customer success manager. Hence, a customer success leader is appointed in a company to supervise the growing number of CSMs. CSLs are responsible for keeping the CSMs accountable and providing them with the necessary support to execute their tasks.

CSLs get involved to enhance the data-driven engagement of the clients through their CSMs. They have more rights to visibility into each CSM through a customer success platform. They spend most of their time on such platforms to stay vigilant on CSMs’ performance and the cumulative Health Score of their respective customers.

Director or VP of Customer Success

As you move into this role, you become more accountable from the business perspective. Your job is to both supervise your customer success team as well as to report to the CEO. A Customer Success VP is responsible for supporting their teams for generating more business through recurring revenues, upsells and brand advocates.

As much as they are involved in the data-driven management of their team, they also fill the qualitative gaps needed. They provide the necessary training to their team of CSMs and CSLs and if needed also organize sales and customer relationship-oriented training from industry veterans.

Chief Customer Officer

As the companies are getting attuned to the subscription-economy, this role has picked up rapidly in the past decade. A Gartner study revealed that 90% of companies now have a role of Chief Customer Officer, or Chief Experience Officer or an equivalent.

Chief Customer Officer belongs to the C-suite and hence exercises the most power in any role in a customer success career path. They are not only responsible for leading the customer success department but also to implement a customer-centric strategy in the whole organization by influencing the chiefs of other departments.

For a detailed look, I suggest you read the roles and responsibilities of a Chief Customer Officer.

CSM -> Enterprise CSM

If you want to grow while remaining an individual contributor, then becoming an Enterprise CSM would be the most suitable option in your customer success career. Serving a high value customer needs a lot of persistence, dedication and specialized skills to manage such clients.

Even though you would be serving only a handful of customers, the depth of knowledge required would be immense. You have to show complete involvement in their business and work like a partner rather than a vendor.

As you grow into this role, you might get a title of Account Manager as well which is more commonly known in the software industry and is considered one of the jobs similar to customer success manager.

Customer Marketing

If you have a knack for creating marketing content, yet want to remain close to customer success team, then this is the most suitable role for you. Customer marketing or account-based marketing are targeted towards a smaller group of customers of whom you have the most understanding.

Being a customer success manager, you would have already acquired a greater understanding of your customers. Hence, producing content through email-campaigns, webinars, inbound marketing or videos, with those customer insights would produce higher results than just plain marketing.

Consider this role only if you want to club your marketing skills with customer success.

Sales

Sales is already an important aspect of customer success. It is needed most at the time of renewals or upsells. While practicing your customer success tasks, if you like the sales activities most and want to dig deeper into that, then you must consider shifting to sales operations in your organization.

At this role, you can exercise your customer success experience with a more focused approach. These experiences include deeper knowledge of the product, developing customer relationships and buyer personas to get closer to your customers.

There are many roles in sales ranging from Account Executive to Chief Sales Officer. So you always have an option to choose the one that corresponds to your current role in CS.

Product Marketing

Product marketing is a much wider option than customer marketing stated above. In this, you would be responsible for marketing your product to a wider audience that includes new prospects as well who have never even heard of your product before.

As an important aspect of customer success, you acquire an in-depth understanding of your product catalogue. If talking about the product and showing its relevance to the customer value interests you then you must consider this option.

By becoming a product marketer, you would be interacting with your old friends in customer success team, the core marketing team, the sales team and finally, the product management team as well. This role requires a good amount of cross-functional collaboration and would be a good fit if you want to work in that setup.

Product Management

Customer Success and Product Management collaboration is an important growth strategy in any organization. In the customer success engineer career path, you would be interacting extensively with your product management team. It could be either in the form of articulating customer needs or planning product development roadmap to suit the customers.

Hence, if you acquire the right understanding of the product and have the necessary skill to manage a team then you might consider shifting to a product management role that corresponds to your current role in CS.

Product experience is an important contributor in the overall brand experience. Hence, if you enjoy product related discussions more and want to unleash your geek side, then this could be a right shift in your career.

Final Thoughts

Due to a vast exposure to different roles, responsibilities and departments, Customer Success management jobs provide an enriching learning ground for professionals. You have multiple doors open after serving in this field.

With such a wide range of skill-sets required for this field, you get a good chance to explore what you are really good at. Spending few years in this field would naturally reveal your strengths and weaknesses based on which you can make an informed decision to proceed further in your career.

No matter which field you choose, the right amount of self-reflection and self-evaluation is always helpful from time to time. Gaining clarity by reconsidering all the choices that brought you here and examining your future choices would surely help you in the long run.

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Shoeb Ahmed

Shoeb lives and breathes Customer Success and SaaS. He has a passion to research on the latest innovations happening in SaaS and Customer Success. Shoeb hails from a Software Architecture background where he worked for many years with Indian Tech Giants like Wipro and ITC building software solutions for their MNC clients in the UK and Denmark.

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