What do new leaders look for?

Let’s kick this whole thing off with some exciting news. I’ve accepted a promotion at Sprout Social and I’ll be moving to the marketing team as the Customer Community Strategist. Primarily, my duties will include our current communities and scaling specific efforts to enhance our platform. I’ll have more on the role specifically at a later date, but for now, that means that I’ll be moving from customer success to marketing. By focusing on what I do with my new role on the customer journey and experience, I maintain that this will have a profound impact on our customer’s success at Sprout. That move to marketing will help us continue highlighting the emphasis on how every department is important to the customer journey.

For our October theme, we’re going to be covering “Building your team”. It’s our first month, and we’re going to investigate some tactics and philosophies behind what that looks like, things to consider, and how you can help build your team even if you’re not in a formal people leader role.

In some of our articles this month, you’ll read about how new leaders are thinking about how best to approach this, individual contributors working to build their team culture from the ground up, and from established department heads. My article will focus on viewpoints for first-time managers and people new to organizational decision-making. Later this month, we’ll also be releasing our first podcast. The guest is slated to be Kelly Wilson, the Director of Customer Success at G2 Crowd. We’re super grateful for her time and can’t wait to share that episode with you.

Building teams isn’t just about finding people. It’s about building a framework where people can succeed, so my focus is going to be primarily on designing the strategies and tactics for my new role first. From there, I’m hoping to build a small team with clear goals and skills that will help everyone make the customer’s journey even better.

Tailoring what I’m building now for how others might fit in is helping me also determine the traits I want people to possess. I’ve long been a believer that hiring for culture and then developing the talent to fit technical areas is necessary. This is largely how we do things at Sprout, but I’ve also seen it be successful with my network from afar. Good people get hired and then learn on the job, which is why I think curiosity is a trait people in Success should possess.

Curiosity, critical thinking, empathy, patience, agility, and writing skills. That’s a lot to ask of someone, but it’s important to find people that will succeed in the role. These are the skills that I imagine I will be looking for in any new hire.

Looking at questions, pressing for answers, and thinking outside the box makes people more likely to come up with something creative. The curiosity of finding solutions will also help improve processes you didn’t know needed fixing. Another piece to this is thinking critically. People in Customer Success roles that tend to develop their careers fastest are always breaking down problems. But breaking down problems only gets you so far. You have to care about the people for whom you’re doing all of this team building.

Whether it’s on the phone, via email, live-chat, community forums, or an in-person meeting, you have to care about the other person with whom you’re dealing. This is the most important thing anyone can do. By understanding what the customer is going through, especially if you’re interacting with someone in a very difficult position, you’re able to treat them with the respect they deserve. With that empathy will come patience. Take your time and work with the person on the other end of that correspondence with an understanding of the position from which they’re coming. Make sure you match their style and, most importantly, you answer their question(s).

By taking care of our customers and answering questions thoroughly, we’re able to move quickly from task to task because there are fewer threads to which we’ll need to revisit. This creates time to think about deeper strategic issues. Flipping from customer interaction to planning your tactics and thinking about larger goals is something that will help you develop your career. Becoming agile in what you do in your work life is going to help you get more done, but it’s also something a lot of people in SaaS look for. We’re constantly moving around, so it’s best practice to get comfortable with a little uncertainty now.

These kind of intangibles are fantastic, but there’s one “hard-skill” I always point to when people ask me, “What should I develop?” or “What do people look for in someone newly graduated?”. It’s always the same: Develop those writing skills! I don’t mean you need to be writing novels or screenplays or social content. You need to be able to roll all of those intangible skills above and put together comprehensive emails and correspondences internally so that everything is clear to everyone.

It’s more on the manager for putting the person into a position that isn’t driving towards success. Now, some people might not be following directions or putting in the work to drive their careers forward, but it’s always your job to approach the person and have that frank, open discussion. When we have people that aren’t doing well in their roles, it leads to broken systems and unhappy customers. The people we put into these “front line” roles need to possess certain skills, and that’s what we need to be looking at.

As for managers, we have to be conscious of what we want in someone and then help them grow from there. As someone that will likely be building on to their team in 2019, I’m thinking about what kind of people I want on my team now so I can build the system and processes to help them succeed. That’s the kind of leader that I want to be.

Joe Huber is one of the co-founders of the Chicago Customer Success Podcast. He is currently a Senior Onboarding Manager with Sprout Social.

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