When Is It Time To Let Them Go?

Chris Guzek
Chris Guzek Member Posts: 19 Thought Leader
Second Anniversary
edited August 14 in CS Org Conversations
I currently manage a medium size team but our customer to client manager ratio is not what I would call ideal. It ranges from about 80-100 clients per CM. 
In normal circumstances this wouldn't be to much of an issue but I have a horrible CRM, no customer success platform and a highly volatile client base who needs support more then I have ever seen before. 
Don't get me wrong, I love my clients but I am telling it like it is. 
Due to this situation I find it hard to let go under performing client managers because of the impact it has to the business and more importantly the client., or more specifically the subset of clients they are supporting well. 
On top of that, when I do let a client manager go, because of the somewhat specialization, backfilling tends to take longer, thus putting a burden on other team members, and thus clients. 
I am leaving a ton more details out of this for the sake of brevity, but has anyone experienced this situation before and how did you handle it?
Love to get the communities feedback. Love a place to go and have these types of conversations. 


  • Kathleen Fava
    Kathleen Fava Member Posts: 6 Seeker
    edited August 2020
    If you have an underperforming team member, the team will already know it and likely want that person replaced because that person is not pulling their weight. It'll be extra work for them short term, but the sooner you take action the sooner you'll have a replacement. Unless there's a compelling reason to keep the person on, you're just prolonging the inevitable. I believe overall you and the team will benefit. By taking prompt action as a leader, you will gain more trust and confidence from the team and have an even better relationship moving forward.
  • Phyllis Windham
    Phyllis Windham Member Posts: 9 Seeker
    Photogenic First Anniversary
    edited August 2020
    Hi @Chris Guzek,

    I may have the wrong perspective on this since you were trying to be brief so bare with me, but your second paragraph that starts "In normal circumstances..." concerns me.  You mentioned you have "a horrible CRM, no Customer Success Platform, and a highly volatile client base".  What are your CM's using to track customer onboarding/adoption, performance and outcomes?  I'm assuming you've done your due diligence on your Client Manager's situation, but I have to ask.  Have you done a deep dive into why he/she is under performing?  Just based on your companies lack of tools to help your CM's track appropriate metrics, conversations, goals and objectives could be a reason why he/she is under performing.  They may be struggling compiling/tracking the data to create and follow a successful road map for your customers.

    Again, I may be off base here.  I'm speaking from my experience managing a team of "Customer Success Managers" .  You mentioned Client Managers which I'm assuming is one in the same here?  It depends on your company's org.  In summary, before I let go of anyone, I make sure that as their leader I have done all I can do to help them be successful, which includes strategy/processes/tools, etc.  After that, if it is just not the right fit then we just move on.  I hope this helps!
  • Parker Chase-Corwin
    Parker Chase-Corwin Member Posts: 9 Seeker
    First Anniversary
    edited August 2020
    A few thoughts:
    • Any possibility to work with leadership and HR to move up hiring so that you can onboard replacement CSMs in advance of dismissing others that are on a performance improvement plan?  
    • Given the CRM challenges, I can imagine that your KPIs are difficult to measure, but do you have specific expectations laid out to everyone on your team, so that everyone understands your baseline expectations for continued employment?  Sometimes showing a leaderboard of activities (for example) for everyone on the team can be a great way to kickstart motivation and performance.
    • Important to recognize that underperforming teammates are already having a negative impact on the overall team while in their current role.  While bandwidth and work distribution gets more challenging when you are down on headcount during replacement, make sure you adjust expectations and goals accordingly to be fluid with the current situation. This will help protect your top performers so they don't feel used.
    • Speaking of which, double-down on your investment in your A players. Critical to protect them and make sure that they feel valued and appreciated. If there is a way to give them new responsibilities to help them in their career path (i.e. not more busy work), or even a compensation bump or incentive for pitching in, you'll make sure you don't inadvertently lose your key team members while trying to manage your low performers.
    Good luck!
  • Russell Bourne
    Russell Bourne Member Posts: 61 Expert
    Second Anniversary GGR Blogger 2023 GGR Blogger 2021
    edited August 2020
    @Chris Guzek, I'll pile on to what @Phyllis Windham says here.  If you have a chaotic back end and a chaotic customer base, you may be throwing someone with perfectly fine potential to the wolves.  

    If you haven't already, there are 2 avenues I think you should really consider:
    • Customer segmentation: if 80-100 customers per CSM is too much, can you segment them into high-touch and tech-touch groups?  You could identify your strongest CSMs and give them a smaller number of high-touch customers, giving your more junior reps tech-touch.  To be blunt, tech touch customers would be ones whose resource drains are high enough / revenues are low enough that it would be okay for some to churn out.  We all hate losing revenue but you can make a business case for net profitability.
    • Group-led training: it sounds like everyone is drinking from the fire hose.  Can you invest time into brainstorm sessions about how to schedule the day, be clear about priorities, etc.?  Think about the Eisenhower Matrix (important vs. urgent quadrants); bucket the work into each quadrant and allocate amount of time to be spent on each.
    If, at the end of the day, you think you simply made a bad hire, it's okay to move on and I agree that the team will ultimately feel relief.  But, if you're judging a fish on its ability to climb a tree...
  • Yanira "Janita" Sesniak
    Yanira "Janita" Sesniak Member Posts: 53 Expert
    edited August 2020
    Kathleen, I agree with your response wholeheartedly!
  • Yanira "Janita" Sesniak
    Yanira "Janita" Sesniak Member Posts: 53 Expert
    edited August 2020

    Hi @Chris Guzek - thanks for starting this important conversation.

    I have experienced this situation before (more than once) and I handled it by letting go of the CSM each time.

    The reason is, your A players see this person and know just as you do that they shouldn't be there.

    Yes, it will cause you immediate pain with the backfill needed and being short-staffed but it's the only way to improve things moving forward.

    You have to choose between short-term or long-term pain.

  • Chris Guzek
    Chris Guzek Member Posts: 19 Thought Leader
    Second Anniversary
    edited August 2020
    So agree with you and @Phyllis Windham and while our CRM is not ideal I am able to manually track KPI's etc. I have done a ton of work with this specific individual and so I think its more of my need to just bite the bullet and make the change. 
    All great points on customer count and I built segmentation modules to address that specifically. 
    The feedback is helpful overall because I know what I need to do, but probably needed to hear it from other leaders :)
  • Stacie Ward
    Stacie Ward Member Posts: 10 Contributor
    edited August 2020
    Hi @Chris Guzek my $.02
    • If the person is under-performing, the team already knows it, and will likely welcome getting them off the team.  I did have this situation and fortunately, the under-performer left on her own.  Surprisingly, without that person around, the rest of the team was able to work more efficiently and was much happier.   I don't know your situation, but my under-performer was an anchor dragging down the rest of the team.  Once out of there, the rest of the team worked together to problem-solve and help one another.  
    • One note of caution - bringing a great player into a broken process isn't setting anyone up for success, that should be your main focus.  
    • Why are the customers so volatile and "needy"?  Is your sales team selling into the wrong customer profile?  Or, has the team gotten into the habit of letting the customers manage them vs. them managing their customers? 
    • With 80-100 customers/CSM, I'd ask what value they can really bring to a customer vs. what you could accomplish with more of a tech touch model.  Do you have great CMs who are getting burned out with that level of volume?  Are your top customers getting the engagement they need? 
  • Chris Guzek
    Chris Guzek Member Posts: 19 Thought Leader
    Second Anniversary
    edited August 2020
    Parker, great feedback. Much of what I have been doing today but as I have really taken what was not a traditional CM team and worked to grow them into such I wanted to make sure I wasn't thinking about it in the way I should. 
    Really appreciate the advice.
  • Chris Guzek
    Chris Guzek Member Posts: 19 Thought Leader
    Second Anniversary
    edited August 2020
    Thanks Stacie. So to your question about sales selling into the wrong clients, do you have a few hours to speak? :)
    To your last point, I mentioned on another thread that I did some segmentation which has helped but I think still a tool to help may be what I may need to look at. 
    Even with this situation my team has had tremendous success but as I try to move the needle ever so slightly more, these types of situations are ones I need to evaluate to continue that upward trajectory.