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The surge of The Chief Customer Officer...or not?

29 JuneBy Gemma Butler

recruiting in the world of Customer success has got me thinking about career paths.  

Recruiting in the world of Customer Success has got me thinking about career paths, especially as the discipline is relatively immature in the UK. 

Picture this...You love your job, you are good at it and passionate about Customer Value. You've progressed up the career ladder and built and lead great teams. You've reached VP or Global Head of Customer Success, so what are the options from here? After you have set up and scaled up highly-effective Customer Success teams in start ups a few times, what’s next? 

 

It's widely accepted anecdotally that it was Salesforce that first coined the term 'Customer Success'.  The Customer Success discipline in the United States is both established and mature. This means the the path to C-suite is better formed. So where does that leave the discipline as a career in the UK? 

 

Having had conversations with over a 100 VPs and Heads of Customer Success, we have validated that there is a 3 year cycle within a business at VP or Head of Customer Success level. Job purposes generally have one of two core objectives - these are:

1. Setting up a new Customer Success function within a company

2. Implementing a change management programme with an existing Customer Success team.

As an experienced Customer Success Leader you may have been through one of these cycles a couple of times and you are ready for a step up... what are the options? 

let's have a look at the c-suite job market right now...

On LinkedIn today in the US there are 1314 Chief Customer Officers. 816 of those work within Technology, Software and SaaS companies and 36% of those work within Tech companies of over 100 people.

The UK as you would expect has far fewer Chief Customer Officer roles. Only 214 working within Technology, Software and SaaS companies and of those 17% working within Tech companies of more than 100 people.

So why is this?

 

It is an interesting point, however most would agree that a CEO, especially for multi-national tech companies, needs to deliver for shareholders and they don't have the bandwidth to own Customer Success.

Most people I spoke to felt that there would be a growth in the number of Chief Customer Officer roles in the UK, reflecting the general increase in the need for CS teams. 

So, if you are a career Customer Success professional and have never worked outside of the Customer Success function, would this qualify you for a place at the C-suite table? It was largely felt that in order to take on the role of a Chief Customer Officer a broader skillset in other functions, such as product or marketing would be preferable. If you find yourself in this position, how can you gain this vital experience?

One way is to get yourself invited to product development meetings. In your capacity as the "Voice of the Customer", you could make a valuable contribution, whilst at the same time gain vital knowledge of the development roadmap. 

The most likely candidates for Chief Customer Officers are those with a broad experience of the different functions, Sales, Product, Technical and Marketing. 

 

Depending on your background there are other paths to C-suite.

  • COO is one position with an overlap of skills and although this is not yet a well trodden path, we could see this change. It could even develop as a sideways move from Chief Customer Officer.
  • Chief Revenue Officer is another potential route, especially for those Customer Sucess experts with a background in Sales and Business Development
  • For those technical and product focused Customer Sucess professionals the route could be to CTO.


It is absolutely without a doubt that for SaaS companies the consequences of not meeting customers needs can be catastrophic. Customers need focus and attention from the top down. The Customer focus and journey needs to be there pre- and post sale. Arguably in order to achieve this Customer Success needs a voice on the Executive team. If this is the case the demand for Chief Customer Officers in UK tech firms is only going one way... and that’s up. Which is good news for everyone. 

 

There could be a number of reasons for this;


1, A significant number of software companies in the UK have arisen out of US expansion so C-suite roles remain located in the US

2, There are fewer Customer Success people in the UK with the experience required as it’s a younger discipline

As we emerge from Covid-19 and the economy starts to recover it stands to reason that tech companies will need to place more emphasis on their Customer Success teams for both recurring revenue and for expansion of existing accounts. Demand for Customer Success Rock Stars will surely grow.

The UK, has generally speaking, been slower to adapt to the CS model. The culture is less of ARR and stickability and more of acquisition of new logos. Arguably it is only in the recent past that the UK is starting to get more clued up to SaaS and as this grows it will naturally drive expansion of Customer Success teams and development of C-Suite roles. 

Will this expansion mean more C-suite roles become available in the UK, or will that mean to develop your career into the C-suite you need to make the move to the US?

 

DO TECHNOLOGY COMPANIES ACTUALLY NEED A CHIEF CUSTOMER OFFICER?

“Research shows that 64% of companies with a customer-focused CEO are more profitable than their competitors and 59% of companies with a CEO who is involved in customer experience report higher revenue growth, compared to 40% of companies reporting growth without a customer-focused CEO. The same can’t be said for a CCO”

Forbes Jan 2020

 

 

NinetyThousandHours specialises in the recruitment of Customer Success and Sales talent for SaaS and Technology firms globally

 

 

 

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