Jan 27, 2023

Read Time 8 min

Be a Customer Success goal-getter: Tips for setting goals and crushing them with Rod Cherkas


Has the unpredictability of the past few years derailed your professional ambitions?

Maybe you sense that you haven’t put a dent in what you set out to achieve—despite feeling like you’ve worked harder than ever to stay afloat.

If you think you may be stuck in career purgatory, it’s time to reset your goals.

In our webinar, “How to have better goal setting discussions with your manager,” Rod Cherkas of HelloCCO and upcoming author of “The Chief Customer Officer Playbook” shares how to use your next performance review to identify the skills that are the most important for your career growth, and connect them to business outcomes. (For a peek into Rod’s methods, you can also download these free resources mentioned in the book including a goal-setting template, a CCO Maturity Model worksheet, and more.)

Rod explored the core competencies that help CS professionals economy-proof their career. “Even if your company is not doing well,” says Rod, “you can still develop the skills and strategies that you need to be a rising executive.”

The webinar’s Q&A session covered topics including how to find time for skills development as a busy manager, the difference between CCO and CXO roles, how to grow in a company that doesn’t understand CS, and more.

Economy-proofing your Customer Success career with Rod Cherkas

Q: As a CS leader, is it more effective to show CEOs your top strengths or that you have a minimum level of competency across all eight areas of the CCO maturity model?

The Chief Customer Officer Maturity Model. A flywheel consisting of cross-functional relationships, communicating and storytelling, customer connections, thought leadership, change management during scaling, strategic thinking, maximize opportunities during economic uncertainty, optimize metrics that matter.
Source: Chief Customer Officer Maturity Model™, Rod Cherkas, HelloCCO

A: When I work with clients, and through my career, I found there’s a base level of competence that, particularly in a customer-facing leadership role, one needs to have. If you’re a customer-facing leader, you probably have to have some minimum skillset of being able to interact with your clients and being able to be an advocate for them in your organization. You need to be a strategic thinker and help balance the short-term and long-term.

There’s a basic level of competence [you need] in all of them. But I also think that it’s really important to identify those superpowers that make you unique and build into that.

It’s a bit of a balance of identifying those things that you can do well and that really make a difference to your company and to your own ability to influence your organization and figure out what are those different areas that you have a different level of competence.

I also want to point out that it’s not super important that you become a nine or 10 for each of these areas. One of the things you’ll see in the book is that at a manager level, here are the types of things that you should be doing in each of these eight areas. At a director level, here are the types of things that you should be doing, and at a CCO level.

What your company needs from a C-level executive is going to be different than how you might be functioning at a director level. And that’s okay. This is a set of skills that you’re developing over your career and it doesn’t mean that you need to be an expert in all them. Think about some of those things you can build along the way that give you the foundations that you’ll need as you grow in your career.

Q: If you’re one of several managers who oversee a team of CSMs, how can you make yourself stand out from your fellow managers for a promotion?

A: If your company is growing, then there are lots of opportunities to develop your unique skills and deliver against your results. I would encourage you to think about what are the skills that your company needs and that you need to be able to grow in your career, and have that discussion with your manager. That way, they can be looking out for things that are unique for you.

If I’m working with a CCO, they have a team of VPs; if it’s a VP, they have a team of directors. Their directors or their direct reports all have different sets of expertise and interests. It’s not about taking what they’re doing and spreading them equally.

Sometimes, one of their leaders really has an interest in working with the product, and they want to learn more about the cross-functional relationship with the product team. If there’s an opportunity to help drive the new product release, to be the liaison to your organization for an upcoming product release, they would be the right person to do that.

Someone else might be really great with the finances and analytics, and that may be something that they can do to help drive the creation of reports and dashboards and the communication of information.

I don’t think that everybody develops the same skill, but you and your manager should be thinking about what you can be doing to help hone the skills that are important for you and your career and get to a base level of competence in those other areas that are important and necessary but may not distinguish you over time.

Q: As a new CSM in a company that doesn’t understand CS, led by someone who doesn’t know CS, how do you grow?

A: There’s certainly no easy answer. From my experience working with clients and based on stories from people I interviewed and talked to for the book, people say their ability to tell stories in a compelling way helped others in the organization understand what they do.

Your executive team sees lots of presentations. They see lots of data. But one of the ways that you can help those experiences resonate is through your ability to tell stories. It can be the stories of how your team helps a customer through some transition, how you helped expand a relationship and add new revenue or a product line, or how you helped address some retention or churn opportunity. Whatever it is, tell it through stories so that they say if that individual and that team is helping in this way, if another similar situation came along, they would be able to react and execute in that same way. That goes back to repeatable results.

It seems like in that situation, your CEO or your leadership team aren’t confident that what you’re doing is leading to those repeatable results. Think about how you can communicate effectively so they understand that.

Q: What’s the difference between a chief customer officer (CCO) and a chief experience officer (CXO), and which is more common?

A: I talk a little bit about the history of these post-sale executive roles in my book. At any particular company, it may be just a preference of the CEO or the hiring manager of what they call something as well. I don’t think there is a big overlay. Even 15 years ago, there was a role that was often called chief experience officer. That was often an executive who was responsible for gathering feedback from customers, often in surveys or Net Promoter Score, and taking that, trying to interpret it, and then working cross-functionally to improve those experiences.

But that executive, from what I had seen, often didn’t have the operational teams they needed to execute. They were responsible for this experience, this outcome metric, this NPS across the company, but they weren’t able to directly manage those. What’s happened over time is this chief customer officer role has evolved and it’s become an operating executive where they’re actually responsible for teams, which might include a professional services or implementation team, a success management or partner success management team, a support organization, customer operations, and a customer education team. They try to improve the experiences and the outcomes for customers, but they actually manage the teams that are largely responsible for those outcomes.

And yes, they can’t always do it themselves. They need to work with the product team and the sales team and marketing, but they can influence a lot more than they could in the past.

Q: What are the signs that a company is ready to hire their first CCO?

A: A lot of times what I’ve seen with my clients is they have someone who is functionally responsible for those outcomes, but is maybe not in a chief-level or an executive-level role. That’s one of the things I hope that, by reading the book and listening to the various webinars and reading the thought leadership that I’ll be putting out over the course of the year, you’ll start to see what the difference is between being responsible for those teams and operating at an executive level.

I’ve heard stories where you might be a senior director of VP and you’re managing all these post-sale teams, and even often reporting to a CEO, but your peers might be a chief marketing officer, a chief financial officer, a chief product officer, but you’ve got a VP title.

People didn’t understand that. When I listen to them, I’m like there are a set of skills that you need to be developing to be operating at that executive level. A lot of what I talk about in the book is how do you continue to elevate, and what is your executive team need? Because it’s very different.

There is a size of an organization and the scope of the role [to consider]. Just because you’re managing those various post-sale teams doesn’t mean that your company is big enough to have a C-level role. What is the impact that you’re having on your company’s revenue growth and profitability? How are you able to influence outcomes at the company to decide if that’s a C-level?

Q: As a CS manager, I’m so busy with daily fire drills that I never have time to work on my own career development. How do you find the time?

A: The work that you do during the course of the year, you should be doing it in a conscious way so that you’re building those skills. Hopefully you’re not spending all your day-to-day in client escalations. As you become an increasingly senior leader, how do you delegate? How do you balance the time that you’re spending on immediate crises of the day versus putting in place improvements that your company needs for the longer term.

Even when you’re going through these daily crises, you can be thinking about how do I use these escalations with your customers and your interactions to develop skills around being more effective in interacting with customers, using these as learning opportunities, sharing back what you’ve learned from handling an escalation or handling a churn to your organization. Because those are actual skills. One is developing the skills of building trusted relationships, even with clients that are unhappy. That is a skill to be developed.

Another could be how do you take these learnings, synthesize them, and communicate them back to your organization in a presentation, in an email, in a staff meeting? That’s a skill. How do you communicate to your executive team some of the trends? That’s a skill. How do you share those with peers? Use the things that you’re doing every day and be conscious that these are actually really good skills that will make you more likely to get to that competence and reliability scale stage on the CCOdometer.

Your CCOdometer(TM). An odometer that shows from left to right: uncertainty, optimism, competence, reliability.
Source: CCOdometer, Rod Cherkas, HelloCCO

Customer Success as a viable path to the C-suite

Customer Success leaders increasingly have their sights set on the CCO title, but can they aim even higher?

Gabby Wong, CEO of FranConnect, believes, and has proven, that CS leaders have what it takes to lead a business. As a former CS executive, Gabby says her customer-focused background set her apart for the CEO role. She advocates that CS embodies every skill you need to be a great chief exec.

Get Gabby’s perspective on how the CEO persona is shifting, the importance of professional sponsors, and more in our Q&A, “Making the jump from Customer Success to CEO.”


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