How Many Customers or Accounts Can a CSM Reasonably Handle?

The question of “how many customers/accounts per CSM?” or “What is the CSM to Customer Staffing Ratio?” is constantly being asked by harried Customer Success executives all over the world.  Everybody seems to be looking for an “industry standard” staffing equation that would enable team leaders to justify adding staff members or to make defensible projections for future staffing to respond to new sales.  Unhappily, the plain truth is that there isn’t one now, and there won’t be in the future.

Image of business woman doing math on a whitboardThere have been various approaches to the issue of staffing levels.  One of the most common is a revenue-based staffing equation, but without the process data as to what is actually required in order to appropriately serve an account, any such formula, e.g. “the 2-million man/woman” approach, is completely meaningless.  Another is to simply copy what other companies are using, or asking a group of CS execs for their opinions and then taking the average of the responses.  All of these non-data based approaches will fail.

The essential foundation for any staffing algorithm is knowing precisely how much work is involved in producing the specified outcome.  For example, if a company expects that a CSM assigned to a high-value account will know everything there is to know about that customer’s business and organization as the specified outcome of their work, then we must know a lot about that work.  What activities are required to acquire and to maintain that body of knowledge?  (Task Identification)  How many times do they have to be done? (Volume)  How often do they need to be done? (Frequency)  How long does each one take to do? (Duration)  What is the priority of each task? (Priority)

Accurate definition of Outcome and data for Tasks, Volume, Frequency, Duration and Priority are absolute requirements for any authentic staffing equation.  Note, too, that all of these can vary substantially between companies.  One size/equation therefore cannot possibly fit all scenarios.

What can be done if you don’t have definitions of specific outcomes or accurate data on the tasks to be done?  Develop an initial “best estimate,” and use it to get buy-in from Senior Management for the necessity of doing the full and careful analysis that will enable a defensible staffing equation to be established.