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CSM from the Trenches: Mentors – Russell Gray, Director of Client Success, PacketSled

Welcome to our blog series CSM from the Trenches, a community for frontline Customer Success Managers (CSMs) that discusses trends, best practices, and advice for the frontline.

Being on the CSM frontline allows us to directly influence the success of our clients. I love that; as our clients are successful, we’re successful. Each day we learn from the trenches what it takes to make clients happy and successful.

Mentor Questions

This segment of the series focuses on 7 mentor questions for the frontline. The goal is that by sharing our experiences we’ll be able to learn and apply more practical advice / practices to our careers.

Let’s get started with this week’s post!

From: Russell Gray, Director of Customer Success
Company: PacketSled
: Santa Barbara, California

Question 1

What is one customer success best practice you’ve applied in the last few months that has had a positive impact on your success in your role? How has it helped you?

While I think it’s obvious that clear communication is important in customer success, I think that accurate creation of expectation with your customers is of paramount importance. This is particularly true when dealing with a segmented customer base.

Whether you segment by size, growth potential, pricing package or some other method, it’s vital to your success that your customers have a clear understanding of the level of customer success that you will deliver to them. I find that this, more than anything, helps to avoid frustration and issues down the road.

Question 2

What are one or two things you typically do during the first hour of your day that leads to a productive day?

I find that my day gets off to the best start if I can begin with some proactive activity. I divide my time into 3 segments:

  1. Things that customers/colleagues ask from me
  2. Things that my boss (PacketSled CEO, John Keister) needs from me
  3. Things that I need to do – proactively – to be successful in servicing my customers

Out of these three categories the third one is arguably the most important but also the easiest to put off, because I am accountable only to myself to complete it. So I try and start there.

Question 3

What are one to three books, blogs, or thought leaders that have greatly influenced your career, and why?

  • The “Subscribed” Podcast – These episodes going back to 2016 are such a great resource for on the fundamentals of customer success.
  • Pour Your Heart Into It” by Howard Schultz. An engaging read on how to build a company where customer experience comes first.
  • In the Plex” by Steven Levy – A wonderful source of insights and creativity from one of the most innovative companies of all time.

Question 4

How has a failure, or apparent failure, during your time as a CSM set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure”?

Several years ago I was working in the legal technology space and had a customer where I was not seeing the type of usage that I wanted within our product. My numerous conversations with my primary contact told me that everything was fine, right up until the customer cancelled.

This taught me to always have a healthy skepticism for subjective narrative feedback that is not verified within the data. The downside of building relationships with your customers is that they don’t want to disappoint you or say anything negative. This can lull you into a sense of complacency as you are having good (i.e. pleasant) interactions with them while your tool may not be solving for their needs.

Question 5

What do you find most fulfilling about being a CSM?

Working in Client Success is fulfilling to me because I derive genuine pleasure from helping others. I thrive on being useful to my customers and get excited by helping them to be successful.

Question 6

If you had to give one piece of advice to another CSM, what would you say and why?

Trust but verify. Talk to your customers and build relationships with them but always verify what they are telling you with data. At the end of the day, the rubber meets the road with the use of your product or service. If they are not using your product to solve for their given problem or use case then they should be deemed at-risk.

Question 7

What is one customer success principle you try to live by?

My success follows the success of my customers. If I can help my customers be successful with my product or service then I will always find success in my role. It’s really that simple.


Want to share your mentor advice? Submit your answers here.


Here are other customer success resources:

Customer Success eBooks:

Customer Success as a Culture: Customer Success Leaders Edition

Ultimate Guide to SaaS Customer Success Metrics

Other CSM from the Trenches Posts:

Sam Feil, ClientSuccess – 11 Books Frontline Customer Success Managers Should Read Right Now

Cole Sanders, ClientSuccess – 3 Principles I Learned in My First Year as a CSM

Erica Newell, EveryoneSocial – 5 LinkedIn Best Practices to Build, Grow, and Improve Client Relationships

Mieke Maes – 5 Keys to an Effective Customer Apology

SoapBox Team Shout-Out

Learn more about how ClientSuccess can help your company develop a strong customer success methodology and strategy with easy-to-use customer success software by requesting a 30-minute demo.

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