Staffing Models for Customer Success

Let me let you in on a secret: customer success staffing models are easy! Really, at least compared to support staffing models…

There are basically two ways to proceed, top down (which is easy but misses important nuances, in my mind) and bottom up (my way, clearly the right way ;), and not terribly hard). The top-down approach simply says that each CSM is responsible for $X in revenue ($2 million, per Jason Lemkin). It is simple. It does not work well for small vendors, or for vendors with lots of at-risk accounts. And it makes it very difficult to match bodies with strategic activities that do no immediately relate to customer retention such as creating a best practices library. Still, top down provides a quick check that the bottom-up analysis is reasonable, and your CFO will relish the simplicity of it.

Let’s explore the bottom-up approach to building a staffing model:

  • It requires more work.
  • It requires more thought. In particular, you need to define how you will segment customers and what deliverables you will include for each segment.

On the other hand:

  • It allows you to forecast staffing for different roles, including domain experts, technical writers, and planners.
  • It allows you to check, after the fact, whether and why your predictions came true — and to adapt the assumptions accordingly.
  • It allows you to model different scenarios.

Ready? You are 8 steps away from (staffing model) success:

  • Define your segments, often small/medium/large, but any segmentation strategy can be accommodated. (If customer success handles both onboarding and retention, model new and existing customers separately, as they have different needs.)
  • For each segment, define the deliverables. For instance, each enterprise customer gets a quarterly business review.
  • For each deliverable, estimate or measure the effort time required for each deliverable. For instance, a quarterly business review may require two hours, one to gather the statistics and one to deliver it — or two weeks, including creating and revising multiple drafts, flying to the customer site, and following up on action items.
  • Add all that up: that is the time required from customer success managers. Note that you could have a big fat 0 here — because everything is automated (good for you but keep reading!)
  • Now consider the content creation effort. This could be creating onboarding scripts, capturing best practices, creating webinars and video training, etc. Such activities may be handled by the customer success managers or by specialized resources, but they need forecasting. Include all content that is shared. Content created for specific customers will be accounted for in the deliverables (even though it may be sharable, in some form).
  • Add up the data analysis effort. This includes setting up the data streams, creating reports, setting up automatic distributions streams, analyzing the data, etc.
  • Finally, add management effort. Complex content creation or data analysis need project managers. And all these bodies need people managers.
  • Remember to take into account utilization ratios. CSMs (and others) go on vacation, need training, and spend time in staff meetings. They likely won’t be working on customer initiatives more than 75% of the time.

And that is it! Compare the figures with the top down estimates.

What is your staffing model for customer success? Do you have a formula? Or do you use a plead-and-hope staffing model?

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