Aug 26, 2022

Read Time 8 min

Q&A recap | From overwhelmed to over quota: How to be a more effective CSM


As a CSM, are you stuck in a vicious cycle of overwhelm?

You wake up and go to sleep thinking about work. Your to-do list follows you around like a shadow, nagging you with thoughts of everything you didn’t get done.

When you finally get caught up or ahead, the endorphin buzz is eclipsed by fear of the next fire drill waiting to break through your office wall like a rabid Kool-Aid Man to crash your productivity party.

As a CSM, it’s easy to feel like a lasting work-life balance is either too good to be true, or a secret that everyone is in on except you.

However, the real secret is knowing that there’s no secret hack or shortcut to stressing less. Instead, the path to big improvements in your performance and peace of mind is to make small but significant changes.

In our webinar, “From overwhelmed to over quota: How to be a more effective CSM,” Ryan Johansen, who trains CS professionals on becoming top performers without burning out, shares his framework on how to get the right things done to get results as a CSM.

The Q&A portion of the webinar covered topics that hit close to home for so many of us, such as how to not feel guilty when we don’t complete our daily tasks, how to recognize the signs of burnout, and how to ask for help when you need it.

How to be a more effective CSM with Ryan Johansen

Q: What’s a healthy split between email catch-up vs. meetings vs. action items?

A: From the playbook I gave earlier, if you take an hour in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon, that’s 18% of an eight-hour workday. The more you try to engineer how much time you work on each thing, it makes it a little bit more challenging. Especially in a CSM role, you’re going to have days that are super busy. There are a lot of things going on. Maybe it’s the end of the quarter or you have a lot of new customers coming on. It’s tough to give a perfect breakdown, but I would always focus on what’s going to be the most helpful for yourself down the road.

Q: What are your thoughts on automating proactive outreach?

A: It’s a good thing to do, especially if you’re a CSM who has a larger book of business. That’s really the main thing that you can do. I’ve done that with tools like Salesloft or Outreach before. With the important caveat that your outreach is good and it’s relevant. Some of the things I’ve done are building it out per persona, based on things that people have talked about, or companywide. Those tools are very powerful but if the messaging and the content isn’t good, then you’re optimizing for sending a bunch of crap.

Q: What are examples of items that would be on your value menu?

A: Having a customer attend a roadmap session, having them take a type of maturity assessment, doing a one-to-many webinar, having them join a product call, and sending them blog posts on things that are interesting. Also, if you are a CSM who handles financial services or retail, I’d also subscribe to magazines or newsletters that are going to have good content for that. As a CSM, some of the best things you can send are other industry publications that aren’t about your company. That’s a way that you can stay top of mind and add value to the conversation without just pitching stuff. We could go down a rabbit hole with that. But with a lot of my outreach, I try to make sure that it’s more about them and less about my company. Because at the end of the day, every software company is a means to an end. Obviously, we all make great software, but it’s the partnership, and where you stand out as a good CSM is being that partner who knows the industry, knows the problem, and knows how you can get value from the solution.

Q: Do recommend avoiding Slack and other internal messaging systems at the beginning of your day?

A: Yeah, I count that in with email too. That’s what I’m even more clear about with my teammates. In my accounts, I have several people that I work with or leaders and stuff like that. I’ve been doing that for years as well, where I’ll say, “Hey, if something is important, call me or email me.” That has worked out fine. I’ll still check it at fairly regular intervals, but I don’t always have it on. Even the sound of it bothers me.

Q: What’s the No. 1 thing Customer Success leaders can do to avoid CSM burnout?

A: I meant to make a mention of this in the presentation, but I looked at a job description for a CSM and there were 25 responsibilities. CS as a stopgap, if it’s not clearly defined, can naturally be an overwhelming spot and it mainly falls on the CSM. If you’re a manager, it’s not always easy to change everything around you. Be clear on what the most important thing is. I always tried to be cognizant of that when I was a manager. Try to only ask for like one big thing a week or focus on one project or initiative a quarter instead of doing four things that we’re going to forget or not going to execute and then we all feel miserable. If you narrow the scope of what’s most important, that’s going to make your team happier. They’re going to get the right things done. That might take a conversation for you to sit down with your VP or CEO or whatnot and be very clear about that.

Q: How do you determine a cadence for proactive CSM outreach?

A: I would base it on how often you need to be talking to your customers. I don’t think it makes a difference between SaaS or an on-premise solution. I would look at what other people in your industry are doing, what other people in your company do, and what makes the most sense to you. An important thing that a lot of CSMs need to understand is having empathy for your customers who might have a tech stack of 20 different tools, so they have 20 different CSMs. I might even go out on a limb here and say less is more sometimes. That’s another thing where quality over quantity is very important. Build that value menu to have good impactful things on it for them.

Q: How do you keep your days from getting derailed when you have customers with complex issues that require lots of follow-up?

A: That’s another thing where I don’t want to say it’s a company problem. But if you introduce yourself—and this is kind of a hot take—to your customer or someone introduces you as the CSM, and they introduce it as white-glove support or you’re the person to come to when issues happen, in my view of CS, I don’t think that’s where we should be spending too much of our time. I know, especially if you’re at a smaller company, that’s a reality, or even if you’re at a bigger company. If your biggest account goes down, you need to do whatever the hell you need to do to fix it. It’s very important that instead of trying to fix something that you can’t control, be very proactive about communicating it, but not wasting hours and hours of time on fixing something that you can’t really do anything about. I know every CS department is different. Some people actually handle the issues and things like that, but that’s a company thing of having a clear separation between CS and support will make life easy.

Q: As a CSM, how can you reduce your guilt for not completing your daily tasks?

A: I’ve lived that, and I feel this in my soul, so I’m glad someone said this. I struggle with it too. I don’t know if anyone on here is a Seinfeld fan, but there’s one episode where Jerry asked Newman, who is a postal worker, why so many postal workers go insane, and he said because the mail just keeps coming. That’s the same with CS and knowing that our work is never done. We set out to have this amazing day where we complete everything and we’re chasing a goal that’s not there. That inherently makes you a lot more miserable. It’s a really difficult cycle that I found myself in too. The first step is noticing that it’s OK to do your best, and none of us are perfect. I don’t think you’re going to be able to get everything done in a day. The good thing is, if you have more work to do, that means you still have a job. Try to think of it that way. I know it’s not the perfect answer, but definitely take it a little bit easy on yourself because there is always more work that can be done.

Q: How can a Customer Success leader spot CSM burnout?

A:  That’s a really complicated topic. I’ve been in that scenario before, a little on both sides of it. Everyone handles things differently so that inherently makes it a lot more challenging. It’s obviously a hot-button issue that faces a lot of people. It has very disastrous consequences. It can come down to observing someone. Some people will get a lot more quiet, other people will get more hasty. I would say instead of looking for a certain behavior, maybe look for a change in behavior. That might be the first place to look. If you’re having a conversation with someone, say “How are you doing?” Then they say “Fine.” Just like you’re in a discovery call, say “Well, how are you really doing?” Try to get them to open up. They might tell you, but they obviously don’t have to. You can even lead with your own experience if you’ve ever been there, or say “I’m having a hard time and I want you to know that this isn’t always an easy job, but I’m here to support you for whatever you need.” That might be better than asking someone outright because that’s probably not the best thing to do either.

Q: How do you set boundaries when other departments delegate work to CSMs because they’re in a customer-facing role?

A: That’s a company dynamic thing too. I’ve definitely been there before. I would personally have a conversation with the leader of that team or the leader of my team to let them know that we’re happy to help here. I’ve even been in that scenario as a leader and said my team is happy to help but you have to understand that we have XY&Z priorities, so the earliest we’re going to be able to do it is XY&Z. Like I said earlier, saying no is a very healthy thing to do. If you explain the rationale of why you might not have the bandwidth or if there’s something important, that’s better than just saying we’re not going to do it. It comes down to communication.

Q: How can a CSM ask for help if they feel burnt out?

A: That’s another common thing that I’ve felt before. Asking for help, it’s a personality thing. I’ve struggled with it really bad. If you add in the communication of why you’re asking for help or why you’re feeling burnt out, I guarantee your leader would rather know now than after you’ve handed in your notice. Because it should be in their interest to make sure that you’re in a good spot, you’re feeling like you can add a lot of value. If there’s someone on your team who seems like they can handle things effortlessly, sit with them for a day and understand what they do. Or if there’s someone else who you really model or you think is helpful, try to find out how they attack their day. Not only can you ask your manager, but try to understand from your peers what things work, what things don’t. Then if you’re completely overwhelmed, sometimes you have to have those hard conversations of these are the number of hours I have in a week. This is what’s being asked of me. We need to figure out what’s realistic here. That’s a very difficult conversation. But it’s temporary discomfort as opposed to the permanent discomfort of being given absurd amounts of work that you can never completely do and feeling that way.

During the webinar, we received so many good questions but didn’t have enough time to cover them all. Learn Ryan’s advice on allocating focus time, how to break up your day when it’s jam-packed with meetings, and setting Slack and email boundaries in part two of this webinar Q&A recap.

Interested in more stress management resources? 

Get Ryan’s tips on how to change your relationship with stress and avoid burnout in our webinar, “Surviving stress in Customer Success.”


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