What Does a Chief Customer Officer Do?
A Q&A with Gainsight COO and Customer Success Thought Leader Allison Pickens
If you've ever wondered what a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) does, you're not alone.
That's why last week I asked Allison Pickens, Chief Operating Officer at Gainsight (the leading Customer Success platform provider), that very question.
As Allison explained, "the role of Chief Customer Officer is a very important one, but also a newly created one. It didn't exist with all that much frequency five years ago."
That newness has created a lot of ambiguity, so I wanted Allison to provide some clarity on the purpose of the role.
We asked her to break down the CCO's responsibilities, explain the CCO's dynamic with the rest of the CS team, and share some tips for anyone with ambitions of becoming a CCO.
Read on for her answers!
What does a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) do?
Typically this role is responsible for all client-facing functions post-sale.
So that often includes overseeing customer success management, professional services, customer support, customer operations, customer experience, and potentially an account management team that's responsible for renewing and expanding existing clients (although sometimes that team reports into sales). It may also include a pre-sales technical team (solution engineers or solution consultants).
There's not a single definition of Chief Customer Officer, but that tends to be the most common scope in terms of functional areas managed.
What metrics is a CCO held responsible for?
They're often accountable for the gross retention number - the percentage of dollars that we are preserving or renewing year over year. Often this person is also responsible for the net retention number, which includes expansions of existing clients, such as upsell or cross-sell.
What are three ways that a CCO adds value?
1) The Chief Customer Officer is aligned to revenue.
Gross retention and net retention are revenue-related targets. And therefore, if you're a CEO, one of the people that you're looking to in order to make sure that your business is growing is your Chief Customer Officer.
2) The CCO aligns various functions on the executive team around client success (and translates it into stronger revenue results).
- The Chief Customer Officers meets with the sales leader to make sure that we are selling to the right customers and that the handoff from the sales team to the professional services team is seamless.
- The CCO makes sure that the marketing team is finding customer advocates within the installed base and creating case studies based on the successes those customers have had with the product or service.
- They work with the product management team to make sure that client feedback is being heard and that actions are being taken to improve the product and the customer experience.
- The CCO might also work with engineering to ensure that there is a strong process for fixing bugs when they're discovered by clients and by the customer support team.
3) The CCO helps the executive team learn about the future strategic direction of the company based on what they've learned from clients directly and from the entire Customer Success team.
Learning from clients is very important for figuring out the future direction of the company.
If you had 30 seconds to convince an up-and-coming tech startup that they should appoint a Chief Customer Officer, what would you say?
As an up-and-coming tech start-up, you've probably been focused on finding product-market fit, as well as getting an initial set of customers who attest to the value of your product.
Your next step is to figure out how to scale your business. And if you are exclusively focused on the selling aspect of scaling and not on the customer success aspect, you will end up with a leaky bucket of clients leaving you at the same time that you're selling more clients. It's very challenging to grow a business when you have a leaky bucket. And for that reason you should invest in the customer success team and a CCO.
What should a CCO be focused on and how does that impact the rest of the CS team?
1) Own The Achievement of Financial Targets (Gross Retention, Net Retention, Services Gross Margin). The CCO should be forecasting the trends in those metrics several quarters out, so that they have a longer term view of the business. You're accountable for those targets and, therefore, for knowing the direction that those targets are heading in.
2) Set The Vision & Motivating People to Achieve Goals. Why is this set of functions so important? Why should people be excited to come to work? And in those moments when things are hard, why should people pick themselves up show up to work the next day?
3) Be Aware of the Details of What's Going on in the Organization. I think leaders in general need to operate at the level of the forest, but they also need to be able to go into the weeds in areas of critical importance.
For example, Services Gross Margin is one of those areas where the CCO needs to be focused. They should be knowledgeable about the most minute details of the financial model that builds up to the Services Gross Margin forecasting.
It's important for the CCO to be present with folks around the team, for many reasons, but partly so that the CCO knows what's going on within the team and the customer base. They should be doing round tables, one-on-ones, and generally finding ways to gather data and anecdotes that can help them make decisions.
Can you help us understand the differences between a Chief Customer Officer, a VP of Customer Success, and Director of Customer Success? And what folks in those roles need to do in order to be successful?
CCO - Vision
I talked about the responsibilities that a CCO should have: owning the most important financial targets, setting the vision, and being aware of the details in key areas.
VP of Customer Success - Strategy
A VP-level person should be able to own the next level down of operational metrics. They should understand how to set a target, how to achieve it, and how those targets contribute to the CCO's financial targets.
Where the CCO is focused on vision, the VP should be focused on strategy. So what's the path to get from point A to point B.
The VP should have deeper relationships with individual team members as well as clients. The VP of Customer Success should be aligning frequently with executives at clients.
Director of Customer Success - Tactics
A director level person typically manages individual contributors directly, where the VP might manage several directors. Each Director of Customer Success is managing probably about eight individual contributor CSMs.
The director should be able to own operational targets and design tactics for achieving those targets. For example, when we're planning for a big client meeting, how do we work with that individual CSM to design a thoughtful agenda for that meeting, cover the right things, and work through that conversation with the senior clients to get to the right outcome.
Which of these roles should a company hire for first?
As a startup at very early stages, you'll probably start with hiring one or two CSMs. It might be that those CSMs are reporting directly to a cofounder of the business.
At some point you're going to need someone who really understands strategy. As you grow, I'd recommend hiring a VP-level person who can help you be thoughtful about the way in which you're designing your methodology, especially when you get into that scaling stage. That methodology allows you to scale because it's essentially a repeatable process for achieving success for clients. So I'd recommend hiring a VP first. Eventually, as you grow your team, you'll have the need for a couple of directors who report to that VP and each of them manages individual contributors.
Once you have Customer Support, Customer Success, and potentially a Professional Services team, that's when it's valuable to hire a CCO who can manage all of these functions and ensure alignment between them.
What should someone looking to advance their Customer Success career and take on one of these leadership roles do to prepare?
If you're looking to learn about Customer Success best practices, you should come to our annual Pulse Conference and check out the Gainsight blog, as well as Pulse+, which offers regularly updated Customer Success trainings.
Finally, if you're looking to rise in your career, make sure that you're working for someone who you have a lot of respect for and who is not just going to be a friendly boss, but who will advocate for you. You should work for someone who's in your camp, fully recognizes your growth potential, and wants to help you grow over time.
Branwyn Baughman, recruiter at Lockheed Martin, shares an exclusive take on the most important tips to keep in mind when preparing for an interview.
Take a look at the company's application process, culture, and values, as well as some top-notch tips that Branwyn outlines on how you can make your application stand out.
To learn more about Lockheed Martin and their open roles, click here.
6 Tips for Companies & 5 Tips for Individuals from Indeed's Group VP of ESG, LaFawn Davis
Earlier this month, LaFawn Davis, Indeed's Group Vice President of Environmental, Social, & Governance, joined us as part of our Diversity Reboot Summit to talk about the 'shecession' experienced by many women, and especially women of color, as a result of COVID-19.
LaFawn shared some great tips for companies and individuals looking to be part of "the great rehiring." If you're looking to find a new role, or to ensure that you help bring back diverse talent displaced by COVID, check out her advice below, and catch her complete talk here or by clicking the video above!
Q: What would your advice be to companies that are looking to step up their diverse hiring in 2021?
My advice: Good intentions are no longer good enough. Nobody wants to hear what you meant to do, wish you could have do, intended to do. Nobody wants to hear that you can't find Black Women or any other dimension of diversity. We're obviously out here.
My squad and I have a saying "Impact over intentions." So, if 2020 was the year of good diversity and inclusion intentions, let's make 2021 the year of actions and impact.
So, now that we got that out of the way. If you're looking to step up your diverse hiring. Stop and get your house in order. Because you shouldn't just want to hire a diverse workforce, you should want to grow and keep them too. So there are 5 things, ready?
1. Focus on long-term systemic change.
There's a lot of momentum — and need — for change right now. It's not just about a message of support or donating to a cause one time. Take a look at your own systems. How do you hire and grow employees? Do your succession planning, talent reviews, recruiting and other processes have built-in biases? Is equality part of your core values? Are you actively working toward change? Recognize that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Above all, hold yourself accountable for the way things are, then work to improve.
2. Take a close look at your data.
Share it internally to be transparent with employees of where you are now. When possible, share it externally to be visible and accountable (I'm happy to announce that Indeed will be releasing its own diversity data this summer). Use it as a baseline for comparison against what you hope to achieve.
3. Change behavior.
Focus on behavioral changes throughout the company with an emphasis on coaching, training, and having crucial conversations with managers. Leaders and managers set an example for the entire workforce. If employees see the behavior of managers or leaders in a negative light, a true sense of belonging is difficult to achieve.
4. Representation matters.
If leadership roles are perceived as exclusive to many members of the workforce, then a broader sense of belonging will continue to elude many employees. People in leadership roles should reflect the diversity of a company's workforce. Observing someone "like me" in a leadership role helps attract and retain talent and motivates workers to pursue roles with greater responsibility.
5. Create Policies And Procedures Reflective Of The Entire Workforce.
As you work through new or existing policies and procedures, be aware of barriers experienced by different populations. Take, for example, the case of caregivers. More scheduling flexibility for calls can go a long way for employees who share their home workspace with others and must tend to family responsibilities while working remotely.
Q: Do you have advice for individuals that are looking for new career opportunities, especially women of color who might have lost their previous jobs during the pandemic?
Adaptability has always been an important part of an individual's career progression - even before COVID-19, it is especially important now.
It is important to show a potential new employer how your abilities adapt to a new role or a new industry. Focus on skills more than just experiences because skills can be applied in so many different ways. So… I'll give you 6 things for this one.
1. Perform a professional audit. Taking some time to understand your qualities, qualifications and values can help focus your career transition and narrow down your career path options if you haven't already. Doing so can also help you understand how you might position yourself during the job search.
2. Identify your hard and soft skills. Soft skills are often the most transferable, so identifying them early can help you understand the ways you might bring value to a new role or industry. Taking inventory of your hard skills will help you identify if there are certain industries that might be easier to transition into.
3. Highlight your biggest career wins. Communicating the impact you've made throughout your career can help employers quickly understand the value you'll bring to their organization, even if you come from another role or industry.
4. Utilize online job search to your advantage. Pay close attention to the requirements and duties of jobs so you can evaluate whether the career would align with your skills, interests and values.
5. You just need to meet "most" of the qualifications. Try to focus on positions for which you meet at least 60% of the qualifications with your transferable skills. Meeting 60% of the qualifications isn't a hard rule, but it's a good general guideline to help you determine whether it's worth applying for.
6. Get a sense of the company. Before interviews, do some research to learn how inclusive a company is. Peruse the organization's core values, its social media accounts, and any recent statements in support of marginalized groups. Pay attention to the interviewers themselves. Is the panel diverse or are you likely to be an early "diversity hire"? If the interviewers seem to be emphasizing "cultural fit," ask what that means. Basically, be an active participant in the hiring process. You are also interviewing the company, as much as they are interviewing you.
Stephanie Acker, director of inside sales at Commvault, gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the company's application process, culture, and values, as well as her own career journey.
To kick things off, Stephanie mentioned the three things that make a great inside sales professional: an independent work ethic, the ability to learn and execute on their own, and an awareness of what keeps them motivated.
Over her 12-year career at Commvault, Stephanie's greatest motivation has been helping customers to find solutions and catapult them to success. In both her past role as a sales representative and her current director position, Stephanie remains committed to ensuring her team understands what motivates them to sell and setting them up for success.
The biggest surprise during her career at Commvault was becoming the director of inside sales. Stephanie shared that she loves working for a company that listens to new ideas, thinks outside of the box, and tries new things.
Don't miss her take on what moves a candidate forward in the interview process! For example, Stephanie loves when the interviewee gets into "the zone"—showing their selling technique. She also shares her favorite interview questions.
As Stephanie says, stop thinking and apply today!
To learn more about Commvault and their open roles, click here.
When you think about strong female leadership, what comes to mind? For Tatiana L., a global client partner in Miami, it's about more than having an executive seat, being a mother, or making dreams come true. "Good leadership is about being open, flexible, and able to understand different perspectives," she says. "It's about fostering collaboration, bringing people together, and empowering them to connect."
Tatiana L. is a global client partner based in Miami.
Tatiana is part of the Women@ Facebook Resource Group and helped plan Women's Leadership Day, an annual global community summit. While the highly-anticipated event takes place over just one day, its massive impact is felt over the course of the entire year.
Amy W. is an operations lead based in London.
"Women's Leadership Day is more than an event. It's energy, and it's a movement," Amy W., an operations lead in London, says. "Moments like this can completely change the perception of women in technology."
From choosing the content and programming for the event to making it accessible for women around the globe, we went behind the scenes with seven members of the Women@ Facebook Resource Group to learn more about how women are empowered—and are empowering one another— in their career journeys at the Facebook company.
Behind the scenes with Women@
Amanda M., an internal recruiting manager based in Singapore, speaking onstage at 2019 Women@ Leadership Day in APAC.
"I've always been passionate about empowering women, but I didn't know how I could do it at work. My first Women@ experience changed how I felt at Facebook," Amanda M., an internal recruiting manager in Singapore, remembers. "From then on, I wanted to help other women feel heard, valued, and confident."
Planning the global event, which brings together women from more than 20 countries, calls for close collaboration across multiple teams, regions, and timezones. Members of Women@ also partner with other Facebook Resource Groups, such as the Pride@ Resource Group, Latin@ Facebook Resource Group, Desis@ Facebook Resource Group and Black@ Resource Group, to ensure all women at Facebook are represented and feel included.
Vivian V. is a program manager based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"Across regions and communities, we each bring unique differences and powerful stories. When one of us moves forward, we have the opportunity to bring all of us forward," Vivian V., a program manager in the San Francisco Bay Area explains. "While planning the summit, we meet weekly to talk about what women in different regions are experiencing. From the event theme and content to planning speaker sessions and fine-tuning details, we each have items to own. Two months before the summit, we meet daily to share updates and make sure nothing slips through the cracks."
"Just like me, women in APAC look forward to Women's Leadership Day all year long," Amanda says. Planning something that's deeply meaningful to so many people can feel like a lot of pressure, but at the same time, it's uplifting. I appreciate that we have the opportunity to talk about our individual and shared challenges, and we map out ways we can build community while empowering leadership for women across the globe."
Empowering confidence, equality, and leadership through storytelling
Paris Z., a vertical strategy lead in Singapore, and Amanda M. collaborate with women across the globe to plan Women@ programming and events.
Women's Leadership Day encourages women to talk about challenges like experiencing imposter syndrome, breaking through barriers, and how to manage work/life flexibility. "Storytelling is a huge part of the event," Paris Z., a vertical strategy lead in Singapore, explains.
Vivian says, "I've been at Facebook for nearly two years and help plan these events, and honestly, I never really understood imposter syndrome before I got here. Working with the Women@ community and hearing from our speakers—who are talented, brilliant superstars—I've seen firsthand how it affects them too."
Michelle C. is a client partner based in London.
Michelle C., a client partner in London, says that the summit's speaker sessions, which feature people from inside and outside of Facebook, are a highlight of every event. "We had a speaker from Tel Aviv who talked about the importance of balance in her personal life and how she co-parents with her husband. She shared specific things she's done, like adding her husband to the WhatsApp chat groups for mothers she's in and reminding her daughter's school that her husband is also available when their child feels sick. Her message was that we'll never be equal in the workplace until we're equal at home, and it really struck a chord."
Paris says that in APAC, Eva Chen's talk about facing challenges amidst the coronavirus pandemic and how she's raising her daughter was a top-rated session because it was so relatable. "From talking about her daughter's love for dinosaurs—a "boy" thing—and raising kids to fully be themselves to opening up about what it was like to grow up with immigrant parents from China and Vietnam, Eva inspired us with her authenticity and openness. Her struggle to feel supported while working in fashion and tech, rather than medicine, is something a lot of people in APAC understand."
"Every woman has a unique story," Michelle says. "Hearing from others is inspiring, validating, and truly eye-opening. It reminds us that we're not alone."
A memorable and lasting impact
It's no surprise that with the tremendous amount of planning and careful consideration that goes into the summit, its full impact is impossible to measure.
"It meant so much to me when people shared such positive feedback about Women's Leadership Day," Paris says. "We heard that some attendees felt inspired for days and weeks."
Kira G. is an agency partner based in Berlin.
Kira G., an agency partner in Berlin, has witnessed how the summit's programming can inspire action, even helping people push past a career plateau. "We might reach a point in our careers when we think, "I can't do this anymore, I'm not moving forward'," she says. "Women's Leadership Day gives us fresh perspectives, shows us new approaches, and starts important conversations. This can unlock new paths for growth and help us move forward."
Impact is felt in other Facebook groups, communities, and across teams too, inspiring interest and allyship. Amanda explains, "I felt so proud when a male VP from the Sales team came to us after hearing about what people talked about at Women's Leadership Day. He told us he wanted to learn more because it's everyone's responsibility to be an ally."
Empowering the community throughout the year
While Amanda describes Women's Leadership Day as a "bump in energy and inspiration" and "an injection of adrenaline", Vivian says that the real magic is what happens afterwards—and takes place all year long.
"When we think about Women's Leadership Day, our focus is on making sure that the powerful messages we hear and experience serve us throughout the entire year. We ask ourselves questions like, "How can we sprinkle these themes into our programming throughout the month or quarter? How do these ideas fit with our Women@ initiatives?" Going through something awesome together is just the beginning. Our work takes place year-round and we're constantly building on it to do more."
Paris agrees: "There's no shortage of amazing stories from our Women@ community throughout the year. Women's Leadership Day is just one channel for those stories, and I love how it stays top of mind with people and empowers them to do more good. When we come together, we can do anything we dream of."
"We're building a sisterhood and a community," Tatiana beams. "It feels so good to know there's always someone there to support you."
Learn more about Facebook's Employee Resource Groups, including Women@ here.