The Oracle Quick Start Guide to Hiring a CS Team

October 28, 2015 at 7:57 AM by Kathleen de Lara


Place yourself in the shoes of someone solving problems for the world's leading organizations, from small businesses to Fortune 100 companies. 

About a decade ago, hiring for that role would've been nearly impossible – Customer Success hadn't been invented yet.

These days, the CS team is the glue keeping your customers happy, and luckily, we were able to speak with Catherine Blackmore, the woman behind the teams dominating the CS space – Salesforce, Bluenose Analytics, and now, Oracle, as the GVP of Customer Success. 

She tells us her strategies for identifying the best candidates for one of the latest SaaS brainchild roles.

As someone who's been in the customer success space for about eight years, what are the biggest changes in trends you've observed?

There are changes happening from the top down in customer success. Here’s where I’ve noticed shifts:

  • Reporting relationships (CS reporting directly to the CEO instead of sales)
  • How early CS managers are hired (CS hired at earlier stages in a company’s history and sometimes, before sales) 
  • Account-based hiring (Hiring people with different skills to manage higher touch accounts instead of assigning one person with a customer marketing background to multiple accounts)
  • Funding in CS department operations (Being funded as a standalone role, rather than sharing funds with Sales or Marketing)
  • Executive and C-level CS hiring (More senior roles added to manage CS as a standalone department)

Overall, instead of placing an emphasis on just top line sales, the most effective CS teams emphasize retention, customer health, customer, ROI, and advocacy.

With all the power and hiring dynamics changing in the CS space, how does that change the way you hire? 

There simply isn't enough experienced talent to fill all our open headcount. There truly is a war on talent at the IC level, all the way up to the senior executive. That means CS candidates are going to be much pickier on the companies they will work for. Recruiters need to consider candidates are asking themselves: Is there a customer centric culture? Is the product stable? What does the health of the customer base look like right now? Do I have tools to help me manage my customers? Are there operational programs in place that will help me get up to speed quickly? Have you refined rules of engagement for CS working with critical roles as Sales, Services, Support, IT, and even Marketing? What is your plan to build my skills as a CS professional? If your company is early stage and in the Wild West, then you need to hire folks that will help you build it or folks who will execute your vision as you put the plans in motion. 

What do hiring teams often overlook when growing CS teams?

Making certain you have a clear purpose and vision for your department, and one that is based on what your customers need to be successful with your solution. 

Tell us about some of your most difficult challenges making the transition between managing the CS teams at Bluenose, and now at Oracle. What would you recommend to CS managers building their teams? 

These are very different companies at very different stages. In an early stage start up, your headcount can be limited. The most important thing at that stage is to get a customer live and to value. Give this feedback to product, sales and marketing so you can "rinse repeat" and get logos on the board. You aren't worried about margin. You are worried about your product succeeding so you can prove to the marketplace customers are getting value in your solution.  

You need folks on your team focused on this first challenge. They typically wear a ton of hats, are not risk averse and think like a founder. Think: “What do I need to be doing right now to help build the company?” At later stage companies, scale is key – building out an organization that runs smoothly while roles are much more specialized, sweating the details on the critical handoffs. Organizational complexity cannot impact the customer experience. A customer still wants a single CS person to rely on, but that one person needs to work with a team of resources instead of being the only resource.  

Ready for part two? Be sure to join us for the full conversation on How to Hire a Customer Success Team!

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