Updated: Jul 21
It’s hard to find a Customer Success job posting that doesn’t include the point:
“X years of experience in SaaS”
And as a person that has been in SaaS for nearly eight years now, I can’t understand why this is such a massive deal-breaker for some companies, so I had to do some digging.
I Googled quite a bit but came up empty. The only resources I found on SaaS explained things like Cloud SaaS and B2B SaaS – I was looking for “why do I need SaaS experience to do my job as a Customer Success Manager.”
One thing about me is I’m gonna find answers, and when all else fails, I always take it to the community that doesn’t hold back.
Folks, in this post, I’m going to share and dissect the responses I got to my LinkedIn post asking this very question. If you’re brand new to tech or have been in it for a while and are curious to learn more about SaaS as it relates to CS, this post deserves a bookmark. Let’s get to it ⬇️
What is “requires SaaS experience”
My post reached 54.4k eyes, 97 people commented, and 360+ people reacted on LinkedIn #humblebrag. Why is this important? These stats tell us two things:
We’re not getting the opinion of just one or two individuals
A LOT of people are curious about this too
I won’t dig into all 97 comments, but if you want to take a look for yourself, you can find the LinkedIn post here.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the top four comments that absolutely nailed this question.
It’s all about autonomy
Without a doubt, the word “autonomy” was the true winner in the comments section of this post.
Kevin’s comment summed up his experience within interviews and the why behind the need for autonomy. Many Customer Success teams cannot properly enable their team due to the lack of codified processes and bandwidth.
If you’re thinking, “this sounds like a company problem,” you’re not 100% wrong but also keep in mind that Customer Success is still the new kid on the block, and being the new kid on the block means we are: 1). Still figuring out how to effectively show our ROI 2). We usually don’t have the resources afforded to other teams.
Knowing SaaS experience comes down to being resourceful as a Customer Success Manager. Can you build IKEA furniture without the instructions?
Storytelling and data
Annie’s comment not only outlined what she’s looking for as a leader hiring CSMs but also details the education she’s put in place to fill the gaps for non-tech hires.
Here are some resources I pulled for you that address each point Annie made in her first paragraph:
Once you’ve learned some basics, take a moment to reflect on how your current experience matches up with SaaS. This is what you need to convey in your resume, cover letters, LinkedIn, and interviews.
As she mentioned in her comment, the “learning curve is steep,” so one way to stand out if you’re looking to transition to a tech/CS role is to have an understanding of what SaaS looks like and how it’ll impact you in your day to day role.
Getting the basics
Emily’s comment covers three things: Working style, lifecycle management, and technical knowledge.
If you’ve worked at a tech startup, you KNOW how fast things can change, and with that comes rolling with the punches. There are no pause buttons in tech. Once something changes, it’s up to you to get up to speed on what has changed, and sometimes, you’re even responsible for communicating that change or implementing it.
There’s lifecycle management and then theirs managing relationships throughout the lifecycle. Forming relationships, building trust, and delivering value is something that never ends. Do you know how to do that in a SaaS setting? Would you approach a conversation with an at-risk customer as you would a healthy customer?
This point could be an entire post – it’s complicated.
Not only are you expected to know about your SaaS company, the product/service, and what it does, but you also need to know how it operates within a tech stack.
Let’s take, for example, Outreach.io, the Sales engagement tool. It may need to connect with Salesforce, a CRM to pull in contacts, Gmail so you can work from your native email app. It also needs to get the data from Outreach, LinkedIn Sales Navigator to help you work those leads you got from LinkedIn, and ZoomInfo to enrich your leads data.
It’s not just learning Outreach; it’s learning about the other tools in the same ecosystem as Outreach.
The complete package
Last but certainly not least, we have this mega post from Leona.
Did you read that? “...folks that don’t have SaaS experience and they’ve killed it in the role.”
Read: getting a CS job (and thriving) without SaaS experience is 100% possible.
Leona also gave us some themes to work off, and we will dig into each one below.
Managing product feedback
Back to Annie’s point on Voice of Customer, you should communicate customer needs effectively, do proper storytelling, and, more importantly, have a basic understanding of how product development works. The last point will help you clearly communicate with customers. It’s more than just submitting feature requests.
There will be times when a feature release is put on hold, there are bugs related to a feature, and when you need to tell a customer, “no, our tool doesn’t do that.” While you have your customer's best interest in mind, you must back your team up.
Working the commercials
In Customer Success, the “sale” doesn’t stop when the Sales team hands you over the account. Rav Dhaliwal put it best:
Or to put it another way, they believe that “there is no such thing as post sales” but rather there is the first sale with a customer, the next sale with them and so on, and in order to maximise the conditions for this, Customer Success has to begin in the sales cycle.
For Customer Success, this not only means driving the value of the product and building relationships, but it also means managing the commercials like renewals and upsells. CSMs need to keep revenue/account growth in mind.
Emily covered technical knowledge, and Leona is putting that technical knowledge to work. Customer conversations can get very technical, which is why having a fundamental understanding of technical concepts comes in handy. When we talk about building trust as a CSM, part of that is demonstrating to customers that you know what you’re talking about.
What you should do about it
But hey, you read this entire blog post, which means you’re one step closer. Learning these things takes time and effort. Use the resources I sprinkled throughout this post to help you get started.
Here’s some homework for you. If you haven’t created a document to track your learnings, please do that now! Write what you’ve learned, new terms you’ve come across, and things you want to learn next.