The C-suite is not a static environment. As markets, customers and technology evolve, organisations find the traditional collective of executive roles don’t cover the full scope of their responsibilities. Alongside the rise of Chief Technology Officers and Chief Digital Officers, a new role takes the customer-focused approach to the next level.
Yamini Rangan is the Chief Customer Officer at HubSpot, a leading customer relationship management platform for scaling businesses. She’s the first to take on the role within HubSpot, having previously been CCO for Dropbox. HubSpot’s founders, Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan, saw that more could be done for the company and its customers, and at the start of 2020, Yamini signed on.
“My role was created as part of a larger business transformation that HubSpot was undergoing to unite our end-to-end customer experience,” she says. “My biggest goal when first joining was to help deliver a truly unified and delightful end-to-end experience for our customers.
“Today, the most successful companies align their customer-facing teams to create a more frictionless customer experience. The less friction, the faster your flywheel will spin.”
In 2003, fewer than 20 people worldwide held the title. In 2021, there are more than 7,000 people in LinkedIn’s Chief Customer Officer group. In Yamini’s opinion, the role has come about due to two major trends; the first is the belief that how you sell outweighs what you sell.
“Today’s buyers have more information than ever at their fingertips, which has shifted the power between buyers and sellers.”
“Today’s buyers have more information than ever at their fingertips, which has shifted the power between buyers and sellers,” Yamini says. “Thirty years ago, sellers were in control of the entire sales process. Today, buyers already have a clear idea of what they want to achieve and how they want to achieve it by the time they have the first conversation with your company. They are looking for validation, not information.”
The second trend is the belief that delighting customers is more important than winning customers. Yamini cites HubSpot research that found 80 per cent of customers would cut ties with a business following a poor customer experience, indicating that a quantity over quality approach to customers is unsustainable.
“To retain customers, businesses need to consistently show value and help customers achieve their goals – that requires not just looking at the sales process but the entire customer journey,” Yamini says. “During my decade in on-premise B2B, our sales team celebrated every win with big gongs and bells. For us, that was the end of the journey. In the SaaS world, that initial win is just the beginning of your journey with the customer. Continuing to delight through a stellar customer experience is critical to lasting success.”
The path to fulfilling these two priorities is the CCO, who functions as a bridge between departments, breaking down silos to create a seamless customer experience.
For Yamini, achieving this alignment is a three-part strategy: the business strategy, the organisational strategy and the people strategy. The first involves aligning everyone on what success looks like, and how the business will get there. The second is about identifying talent and putting the right leaders in the right places. Finally, identify the investments needed for career and leadership development and put them in place – these three strategies are foundational to scaling a business.
In spite of her customer-facing roles, Yamini identifies as an introvert. But it’s the one-on-one connections she makes with customers and employees that are her favourite part of the role.
“Every time our customers come back and say, ‘Hey, your team helped me’ – that gets a big check mark for fulfilment.”
“[Those connections] fulfil me in very different ways,” she says. “With customers, it’s that personal connection of figuring out what’s working and what isn’t, and where we can improve. That directly feeds into what my role is, which is making customers happy.
“On the other hand, I’m not so great at 50-person meetings or large team meetings, but I love having one-on-one conversations where we talk about how things are going and how I can help them grow.
“Every time our customers come back and say, ‘Hey, your team helped me’ – that gets a big check mark for fulfilment. And every time a person comes back and says, ‘I learned something because of you’ or ‘I grew as a person because you pushed me in this direction’, again, it’s hugely fulfilling. I think that’s what I live to do.”
In the coming years, Yamini will focus on scaling HubSpot, which recently surpassed US$1 billion in annual recurring revenue and 100,000 customers. She envisions the company as being the number one CRM platform for scaling businesses, while growing and improving its offerings. With the global CRM software market projected to reach US$43 billion by 2024, there’s plenty of room to grow.
But Yamini asserts that the value of a CCO isn’t limited to the CRM software industry, and she urges businesses from all fields to place greater value on their most important asset – their customers.
“Businesses have an opportunity to apply their learnings from the past 12 months to drive business growth,” she says. “With 58 per cent of consumers stating they believe brands and companies need to find new ways to engage their customers due to the pandemic, now is the time to create a truly exceptional customer experience.
“Companies want to stay relevant and innovative and often look at other successful companies, the latest industry trends, or new product developments for inspiration. However, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel – the biggest driver of growth in 2021 and beyond remains your customers.”