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.

A Guide to Customer Success Career Paths
A Guide to 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.

1. Entry Level CS Positions

If you want to excel in the customer success field, it is important to get the basics right. Remember, the person who starts from scratch knows how to get the work done from their subordinate. Let us look at some of the entry-level CS positions that a customer success enthusiast will have to follow during the initial years of their CS career.

a.     Customer Success Associate

The customer success associate position is the junior-most position in the CS hierarchy. This is the budding step for a fresher to start getting a knack of what it is all about getting into the customer success field.

The salary of Customer Success Associate in the US falls between $36,760 and $49,500. The median salary is $42,727.

b.     Customer Success Specialist

This is another junior-level position in the CS hierarchy where the individual helps the CS professionals carry out mundane activities properly.

The salary of Customer Success Specialists in the US falls between $85,000 and $125,000. The median salary is $125,000.

c.     Customer Success Representative

Just like a customer success associate/specialist, the job of a customer success representative is to assist the customer success professionals in getting their routine job perfectly.

The salary of Customer Success Representatives in the US falls between $35,000 and $200,000. The median salary of customer success representatives is $71,387.

2. Technical CS Position

Although you can count the technical CS position as equivalent to a managerial position, we have kept it at a level before the mid-management position. As technology has advanced, we are seeing the need for technical expertise in the CS position; this is where this hierarchy comes into the picture.

a. Customer Success Engineer

Every SaaS B2B company has its own job title for this role, like technical solution engineer, implementation specialist, application engineer, etc. With the rise in digital transformation and the competitiveness of the SaaS market, building a strong and competitive CS team has become a top priority of the company. A customer success engineer provides technical deployment and successful implementation of the products and services to the customers.

The salary of Customer Success Engineers in the US falls between $47,460 and $170,000. The median salary of Customer Success Engineer is $77,810.

3. Mid-Management Positions

In the CS field, certain mid-management positions are incredibly important in today’s time. Let us divert our attention to these positions in detail.

a. Customer Success Manager

The role of a customer success manager is to ensure that its team functions at an optimal level. Most CSMs are known to support customers as they transition from sales prospects to active product users. A customer success manager concentrates on customer loyalty and tries to build long-term client relationships. They also stay with the customers as long as they continue giving business to the company.

The average salary for a customer success manager is $1,08,919 p.a. in the United States.

b. 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.

c. Renewals Management / Manager

The job of a renewals manager is to cultivate the best processes around renewals. The individual in this role needs to understand the trends in and around renewal activity and the ways to achieve success. A renewals manager also needs to assist the finance and sales team on top of revising and reporting renewal opportunities. They also need to prepare the renewal letters, quotations, invoices, and notifications and augment the upsell and cross-sell opportunities.

The average salary of renewals manager in the USA is $91,200 p.a. The entry-level position starts at $70,000 p.a. while the experienced professionals get a maximum of $126,800 p.a.

d. Senior Customer Success Manager

This is a senior-level management position in the customer success field. The person hired for this position is highly qualified and experienced to meet the needs of the CS team. They also have requisite exposure in the customer success field to know how to make the corrective measures in case something wrong happens by mistake. All in all, a senior customer success manager is a blessing for the customer success field.

The salary of Sr. Customer Success Managers in the US falls between $112,000 and $168,000. The median salary of the position is $140,000.

4. Customer Success Leader / Head of Customer Success

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

5. Top Management Positions

This is where the top-level management positions of the customer success field take prominence. These are top bosses of the CS hierarchy and come in the C-Suite hierarchy. Here is a look at some of these positions.

a. Director of Customer Success

A director of customer success is responsible for managing the existing clientele globally across the business segment. They need to build and manage a customer success team responsible for realizing maximum business value from the customers across their lifecycle. This, in the end, has positive effects on renewal, growth of lifetime value, and customer satisfaction.

The average salary for a director of customer success is $128,572 p.a. in the USA with $153,036 p.a. total compensation.

b. 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.

The salary of Vice President of Customer Success in the US falls between $150,000 and $285,000. The median salary for this position is $215,000.

c. Chief Customer Officer – Existing 

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.

The average salary of CCO position in the USA is $231,800 as of February 25, 2022.

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

6. Consulting

Apart from the regular hierarchy of the CS field, certain individuals work in the capacity of a consultant and assist an organization in growing their CS function. We have covered such consultants in this section.

a. Customer Advocacy

A customer advocate consultant is a cross-functional position with the end-objective of looking for ways to include customer perspectives and experiences through a forum or channel that influences buyers, investors, partners, and employees. This is a part-time job. Customer advocate consultants can enhance a company’s value like no other company messaging can do. With the help of real-life examples, they provide personal and professional gains that you can get as a buyer. A customer advocate consultant is a natural participant in strategic activities like VC meeting preparation, company event planning, new product planning, partner onboarding, etc.

The average Customer Advocate salary in the United States is $36,109, but the salary range typically falls between $31,848 and $40,863. The salary of customer advocate is contingent upon numerous factors like education, certifications, the number of years spent in your professional, and additional skills.

b. Customer Success Consultant

As a customer success consultant, an individual act as a techno-functional consultant and provides recommendations on customer success professionals. They also need to devise engagement plans that drive customer business objectives and map product capabilities to achieve those goals. They also need to accumulate feedback on product experience through targeted surveys during the entire customer lifecycle.

The national average salary for a Consultant is $90,490 in the United States.

Other Departments which are a perfect fit for CS professionals

Here are some other departments that are matched perfectly for CS professionals.

a. 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.

b. 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.

c. 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.

d. 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.56

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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