Hi there! I’m Sofia Kiriukhina, bringing over a decade of experience as a founding member in various B2B SaaS startup ventures. My exploration of diverse roles within the go-to-market (GTM) realm led me to discover my true niche in Customer Success. The challenges, incentives, and responsibilities that come with this role align seamlessly with my character, making it more than just a job — it’s a daily embodiment of my purpose, which is serving others.
Now I am a Head of Customer Success at TuMeke, focusing on developing and implementing strategies to ensure customer satisfaction, retention, and loyalty.
My passion lies in creating positive customer experiences, and I am committed to driving customer-centric initiatives that align with both my company’s mission and our customers’ business objectives. I’m always striving for a win-win outcome!
We asked Sofia to take us through a journey telling us about her career path, how she spends her workday, what advice she can share with someone starting as a customer success manager, and many other questions.
Enjoy reading this interview
Table of Contents
Tell us about your career path?
In university, I started my B2B SaaS startup journey part-time as a CEO’s assistant, later exploring roles in Marketing, Customer Support, and Sales. I fell in love with this world and felt like I truly belonged. I also learned how to effectively multi-task and prioritize my time.
Post-graduation, I transitioned from data analytics to founding Customer Success Manager in another startup, emphasizing measurable outcomes in customer interactions.
Later, venturing into Silicon Valley, I collaborated with various startups as an Enterprise CSM, navigating diverse industries and complex account management.
Throughout this journey, I consistently surpassed NRR/GRR targets and played integral roles in the startups – whether it was driving growth, securing additional funding, or facilitating a successful acquisition. Thriving in the dynamic startup environment, I discovered a perfect fit for my ambitious personality, emphasizing teamwork, trust, and accountability to achieve common goals and a shared vision in the CS role.
How did you join Customer Success?
I transitioned internally from a role as a Data Analytics Project Manager. We lacked a dedicated team for customer experiences, retention, and expansions. Recognizing the need for this, my leadership and I decided to establish this position to deliver more value to our customers. Given my extensive interaction with customers, creating relevant data reports and content, and my enjoyment of customer-facing activities, I naturally became the best candidate to lead and found the Customer Success team.
How would you describe the ideal CSM candidate?
The ideal CSM candidate is a strategic, empathetic, and proactive professional. They prioritize becoming trusted advisors by understanding customer business challenges, contributing beyond product offerings, and creating strategic success plans.
Exceptional interpersonal skills, curiosity, and continuous learning foster meaningful relationships, while teamwork and leadership ensure cohesive customer success initiatives.
The ideal candidate exhibits tenacity, turning challenges into opportunities, and is comfortable navigating uncertainties. They serve as crucial bridges between customers and their company, addressing churn and identifying expansion possibilities.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out as a Customer Success Manager?
My advice is to communicate (and even over-communicate in the early stages) clearly with all the stakeholders, internally and externally, and begin tracking your accomplishments. Regularly present these achievements to your manager, quantifying their impact on business, such as contributions to NRR or churn numbers. Don’t hesitate to discuss promotions with your manager and collaboratively create a plan to achieve your goals.
Communicate clearly with all the stakeholders, internally and externally, and begin tracking your accomplishments.
Can you take us on a journey describing what your workday looks like?
As a founding member of the Customer Success team in a startup, my workday is all about ensuring that ‘whatever needs to get done gets done.’ Let’s dive into the details:
I kick off my day by reviewing my priorities and addressing any urgent matters that require immediate attention.
Then I move on to the meetings & focus time related to leading customer onboardings, managing support processes, overseeing renewals, collaborating on expansions with Sales and Marketing, conducting customer data analysis, and driving various CX projects — such as writing and publishing case studies, collaborating on social media, hosting training webinars, and organizing value-add digital events for our customers.
I block out at least an hour per day for strategic work, focusing on my quarterly initiatives. For instance, in Q4 2023, my focus was on outlining core use cases, refining account segmentation, and mapping out the value realization journey for our top-tier customers. In Q1 2024, I will be focusing on data hygiene and customer persona mapping.
As the day winds down, I like to plan for the next day, block specific times on my calendar for tasks, and wrap up miscellaneous tasks that don’t require intense concentration.
To transition into my personal time and allow my mind to wander and boost creativity, I typically attend a heated vinyasa yoga class or hit the gym.
What makes you feel inspired or motivated?
Alignment with my purpose and my core values; the outcome for myself – transformation into the state B from current state A, and clear visualization of my goals; the outcome for others, knowing that what I do contributes positively to at least one other person’s life; the scale of the impact — how can I affect more people without scaling actions in the same proportion?; the process of hard work itself because I enjoy being challenged.
All that being said, I want to set realistic expectations here. I do not feel inspired or motivated all the time. That is a fleeting feeling and depends on a hundred different factors. What sustains me is my discipline, which serves as a foundation when my physical, mental or spiritual resources are running low.
What’s one thing that people are generally surprised to find out about you?
My life story in general I guess, and how I almost lived several lives in one short one. For example, people often find it surprising to learn that I grew up in a secret city protected by the military in the middle of nowhere, which remained hidden and wasn’t on the maps for a long time.
Who do you look up to the most?
My mother. She is a driving force of nature, a very strong, caring, and proactive woman. She is also very successful in her career and is only adding to her plate with every passing year – I can’t even fathom how she does it all. She is a huge motivation for me and a reminder “that I could do it too if I really want to”.
What are your top 3 priorities now?
Mental and physical health is a pillar – and everything starts from here. For mental health, I regularly meditate and have a life coach. For physical health, I regularly go to the gym, hike, and practice heated vinyasa flow yoga.
Continue working with my team to develop exceptional experiences for our customers and contribute to the organization’s growth.
Deepen existing and develop new skills – specifically, right now, I’m enrolled in the CS Leadership Academy with Rachel Provan & Priscila Fletcher. It helps me gain a more strategic view of CS and build up my executive presence.
What advice would you give to Customer Success Managers to grow and develop their careers?
Consider these two recommendations:
Goal Setting: Take a deliberate approach to define your career aspirations. Set specific goals that align with your purpose, mission, and skills. Whether aiming for the Chief Customer Officer position, providing advisory services, writing a book, or becoming a speaker, create a roadmap by planning your steps backward. This strategic approach will guide your career development, allowing you to progress steadily toward your objectives. You’ll gain clarity on what needs to be done to get there.
Networking: Invest time and effort in building meaningful connections that not only enhance your professional net worth but also open doors to future opportunities, and giving to the community always yields returns far beyond what you invest — a hundredfold.
What’s your favorite book, and why?
It’s always hard to pin down “one & only”, here’s one of the good ones – Dare to Lead by Brene Brown. It’s a wealth of wisdom and knowledge on people’s behavior and psychology, and it serves as such a great self-reflection tool as well. This book helped me understand how to embrace my authenticity and vulnerability instead of hiding it in the leadership role. Brown’s exploration of courage and the importance of building trust aligns with my values as a leader. Her insights have been instrumental in shaping my approach to leadership and navigating the complexities of human behavior in professional settings.
» Check out the 10 Books a CSM should read to advance and improve their skills.
Have you had your “I’ve made it” moment yet?
I feel very proud of the many moments in my life e.g. when I moved countries several times, learned new languages, signed the biggest upsell of the entire company’s history of sales and celebrated amazing teamwork with Sales and Marketing teams, became a CS leader, and many more…
Philosophically speaking, I’m someone who naturally keeps raising my personal and professional goals “impossibly high” because I actually wouldn’t want to be in a place where I think “I’ve made it”. I prefer seeing other mountaintops in front of me to climb and feeling like “I’ve made it to this part of my journey… AND there’s so much more to achieve” if that makes sense.
What should I have asked you but didn’t?
I’d be happy to share some more about my values and interests outside of work:
As a leader, my guiding principles center around integrity, creativity, mental health, and tenacity. I am committed to instilling these values within my community and teams, striving to create an environment where these principles flourish.
I have a keen interest in neuroscience, tech innovation and psychology. Currently, my primary hobby revolves around creating video content on these diverse and engaging topics.
I actively mentor and support a number of people, empowering them to excel in their roles and contribute significantly to the growth of SaaS startups.
My Motto: Go Beyond and Do The Impossible
Where can people go to find out more about you?
I’d be happy to connect on Linkedin, feel free to reach out:
Thank you, Sofia, for sharing your knowledge and for the opportunity to know you more.
Do you have a Customer Success Leader, Expert, or Influencer you would like to know more about?