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2021 Customer Success Jobs Market – Wow! What a Ride!

By Alan Fecamp

2021 was easily the busiest jobs market I have experienced in a 20+ year recruitment career.

Having spent the last 6 + heavily focused on hiring Customer Success professionals for SaaS companies, I’ve seen the demand for CSMs grow steadily as more and more companies realise how essential the function is to achieve their growth aspirations.

2021 felt like the breakout year driven by the pandemic and increased customer expectation, and the general health of the SaaS market as many companies saw exceptional results.

Amongst the high demand, there were notable trends in the market it will be worth keeping my eye on in 2022.

In no particular order…..

#1 Digital CS is the toughest skillset to find

Digital CS has been a hot topic through 2021 and an area I’ve paid particular attention to.

The opportunities presented by automation and one-to-many activities, and potentially harnessing new revenue opportunities in previously untouched customer segments is super exciting.

The challenge is figuring out who can best perform these roles given it requires such a unique skillset covering content, marketing, customer success skills, and many more.

What’s notable is if you’re planning to hire a Digital CSM in 2022 and you are targeting direct match experience, you’ve got your work cut out.

Particularly if you’re based in the UK!

PLG companies have some of the best Scale Customer Success functions and have built great strategies through nurturing freemium customers into paying customers.

Many of the best known and most highly regarded PLG businesses do not HQ in the UK, so if you are able to offer a work from anywhere policy you have a clear advantage vs a requirement to access a specific location on a regular basis.

#2 The need for data-savvy CSMs was a common request

Requests for CSMs to be data and super tech-savvy came to the fore.

There is now a huge amount of tech available for CSMs to help with customer retention and growth goals.

CSMs that know how to work with both CS specific and other data platforms to deliver great outcomes have an edge.

Companies recognised this and increasingly built it into their role requirements as the year progressed.

I’d expect this to be a big theme in 2022 as the appreciation for accurate insights on usage trends, potential churn, and growth opportunities increases.

#3 Operations played a crucial role in helping functions grow

The value in CS Ops is beyond question once a team reaches a certain stage.

There has been an increased demand for strong operational skillsets over the last couple of years, and particularly in 2021.

However, we also saw an increase in focus on CS from both Rev Ops and Sales Ops professionals. The requirement for them to architect customer success specific tech stacks and think more about the customer journey post sale as opposed to just new revenue activities was a clear theme.

Our team helped with multiple Rev Ops and Sales Ops assignments and supporting the customer success function was seen as the priority vs a historical bias towards sales.

 #4 Specialist customer onboarding teams grew like wildfire

And so did the demand for candidates with onboarding experience.

Great retention starts with great onboarding, and we saw many examples of customers building out dedicated onboarding teams or significantly increasing resources into existing teams.

This was more apparent at companies with lower value, higher volume solutions up to mid-market, and using automation was a key topic.

 #5 A shift towards a less commercial focus for CSMs

Two years ago this month I posted an article where I expressed an opinion that I expected to see more sales folk transitioning into customer success.

At the time there was a big focus on CSMs owning expansion and the contract negotiation that went along with that, and therefore my view was sales backgrounds would play into this when hiring.

That did happen to some extent but not at the same level I thought it would.

Fast forward to the second half of 2021 and the theme is now the opposite. I’m seeing CSMs owning fewer and fewer commercial conversations, including direct ownership of the renewal contract negotiation.

The goal of having the CSM play the good guy or girl and having little or no open sales orientated conversations is being heavily prioritised by many.

This has led to an uptick in demand for commercial account managers and conversations with CS leaders about how they integrate this into their teams.

I can see many battles ahead between Sales and CS leaders about how this works, who owns the team, and the numbers : )

 #6 Many companies haven’t resolved their remote working policy

We’re still in Covid driven flux.

Some, but very few companies have adopted full on remote working policies and have benefited greatly from work from anywhere culture.

Others have gone for a hybrid model where they expect 2-3 days in HQ and 2-3 days working from home.

A smaller number of companies are resisting and fully expect a full return once safe to do so.

It’s a difficult one!

I personally feel you do lose something by not having a great office culture – particularly in start-ups where the energy, camaraderie, and relationships developed from working in close contact with team members are part of the journey.

That said, I don’t want to be back on the tube 5 days per week!

For me, hybrid seems the most balanced and best choice available.

For those pushing for a full office return, it’s easy to see why you will come up against hiring challenges in 2022. It feels like you're swimming against the tide.

 #7 CSM candidate salary expectations got unreasonable

Customer Success salaries did increase in 2021. Demand for CSMs was high therefore it’s reasonable to expect upward pressure on salaries.

On average, we saw salary growth of 10-12% over the twelve months but it did level off in Q4.

It’s right to want to maximise your value in line with what the market offers and what value you can bring to a new employer.

However, there was a view by some candidates that a 30-40% rise on base salary is realistic.

I can put that down to the hype surrounding the CS market.

And I’ve heard some clients did yield to these demands………but not many.

That’s not realistic or sustainable in my opinion and I’d hope for a more realistic view in 2022.

#8 You’ll need to work hard to get a great role

The final point on my list is about committing hard to an interview process.

Yes, there are a lot of roles available; however, it’s hard to get a great role and you’ll likely have to jump through multiple hoops.

Great jobs don’t come easy!

Most hiring processes play out over 3-4 stages and will require multiple hours of your time for prep and interviews.

I have one ongoing process for a high-touch CSM that is at stage 6….and I’m expecting more.

If a company is going to entrust you with their valuable customer base, they will want to make sure you are up to the task.

Commit hard to the process and go the extra mile if it’s a role that excites you - make it a no brainer for the business to hire you.

The hard work will pay off!

 2022 feels like it’s going to be a great year and I’m genuinely excited about the coming months 😀

What about you? Did you spot any trends last year? And what are your expectations for 2022?

 I’d love to hear from you on your plans for the year ahead

 Cheers!

And best of luck for 2022 🔥

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