How to Ruthlessly Prioritize as a Customer Success Manager

How to Ruthlessly Prioritize as a Customer Success Manager

Written by Russell Bourne - Contributor for CS Insider

“Be more strategic!”

“Be proactive!”

“Let me introduce you to your CSM, they’re your white glove, your single point of contact, your dedicated resource.”

These are high on the list of the most loathsome phrases CSMs hear from their leaders, colleagues, and even peers within the CS community.  CSMs live with a tremendous amount of pressure to do right by all kinds of competing parties.

If that’s you, before you give your personal mobile number to yet another customer, here’s a 3-pronged map to managing your workload.

I hope these suggestions help you shine and I think frameworks are funny, I’m going to call this the GEM method: Goals, Eisenhower, and Meetings.

Step 1: Goals - Determine which activities will have the greatest impact on your goals

Depending on your company and CS leadership team, you may have been given set goals around metrics like revenue retention, expansion, or customer health.  Oftentimes, clear goals aren’t accompanied by a clear path to meeting them. In that case, it’s incumbent on you to create your own path from the top down; fortunately, creating a path is simple.

Once you know your goals, ask yourself: “For me to hit my goal, what are the most impactful activities I need to do?”

Brainstorm if you need to, and pick the 2-4 activities that are most important to you hitting your goals.  Collaborate with your leaders and peers to validate your choices.  

Here are four example activities many CSMs might come up with:

  • With customers, auditing your joint success plans to identify areas of risk
  • Reviewing adoption and engagement metrics each month
  • Building and maintaining relationships with key customer contacts
  • Running a quarterly onsite customer education seminar

Once you brainstorm your top activities, write them down someplace that you will see often. These activities are now your top priorities.

A special note for CSMs who are in a startup-stage company: you may not have received formal goals because your leaders may still be experimenting with processes, and that’s okay.  Ask them for the gist, and set your path from there.  You also may be pre-segmentation, and are managing customers ranging from enterprise to very small; so, in addition to prioritizing activities, you may also need to prioritize customers.

Step 2: Eisenhower - Use the Eisenhower Matrix to prioritize your activities

The Eisenhower Matrix, also sometimes called the Covey Matrix, is a fantastic, time-tested time management tool. It is a 2x2 matrix with axis lines representing importance and urgency. You can assign each one of your activities into one of the quadrants and prioritize it accordingly.

Here’s an overview of the quadrants.

Quadrant 1: Important and Urgent

These activities have an imminent deadline and carry clear consequences if not done.

Examples:

  • Executive escalations
  • Churn threats

Often, these issues became big as a consequence of inaction. If your list of important and urgent activities seems to grow unchecked, then you need to focus more on activities in Quadrant two.

Quadrant 2: Important and Not Urgent

This zone includes strategic, forward-thinking activities. These activities might not have near-term deadlines, but they are what drive long-term impact for the business. Your top goals from Step 1 above will most commonly land in Quadrant 2.

Examples:

  • Adoption checks (i.e., communication of performance on leading metrics defined in customer joint success plans)
  • Customer Contact relationship development
  • Ongoing customer education

You should place the activities in this quadrant at the top of your priority list. They provide the most return on your time investment and must be done by you, the CSM. The real secret to becoming a top-performing CSM is to master not only the delivery of these key activities, but also the discipline to keep them at the top of the priority list.

Quadrant 3: Not Important and Urgent

These are the things that need to be done, but not necessarily by you.

Examples:

  • Support ticket project management
  • Editing someone else’s blog when they wrote it a day before the deadline
  • Chasing shiny objects (i.e., overreacting to a one-off situation)
  • Certain emails and meetings

These lead to small pieces of your time being taken away from you. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on these types of activities, which give a false sense of productivity. If possible, see if others can own these types of activities. This might require you to have a difficult conversation with your supervisor if you believe these are taking away from more strategic activity.

Quadrant 4: Not Important and Not Urgent

The distractions that don’t contribute to your priorities and goals. These can be okay in moderation.

Examples:

  • Unnecessary “research” into rabbit holes
  • Excessive tinkering with art graphics on a slide deck
  • TikTok in between actual work
  • Busywork

We all indulge in time-wasters. It’s healthy to take breaks when you need to recharge from a long meeting or feel mentally exhausted. That said, partake in break activities during break time only.

Eisenhower Matrix

Step 3: Meetings - Block your calendar so you can work uninterrupted on your priorities

Let’s zoom in on the important and not urgent box.  Again, in our example, all four of your top activities fell into this box, which is extremely typical.  We said if you execute these activities, you’re making it less likely that things will blow up and hit your urgent boxes,  In other words, you’re doing more than simply prioritizing proactive activities over reactive ones; more than that, staying on top of proactive activities actually reduces the number of reactive activities you’re faced with!

So, how do you make sure you do a good job executing the important and not urgent activities?  

The answer is in the box - “schedule it”.  As indicated by me titling this section “Meetings”, you want to literally create calendar meetings so you set aside time to perform the activities.  I recommend choosing a few hours in the morning.  

Here’s an example of how your calendar might look:

Example of blocking time off on your calendar

Some of the activities will be customer-facing, others will be just you.  Either way, treat these calendar meetings like you would treat an actual customer meeting - in other words, show up and dedicate yourself to it.  Don’t multitask, don’t let someone else schedule another meeting over it, etc.  Be polite but firm; this is your important time and you have to protect it.  

Speaking from personal experience, if you allow reactive activities to drag you away from proactive activities in your morning block, you won’t return to the proactive stuff later.  It’s practically impossible to break out of the reactive work cycle once you start it, so save it for the afternoon.

If there’s one thing you take from this article, let it be this: you have the control and power to set your own priorities whether your leadership gives you formal goals or not. In doing so, you do more than just stay above water; you influence those around you and are at the leading edge of your team identifying the paths that will result in your company thriving.

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