Jul 21, 2023

Read Time 4 min

From customer success to the C-suite: 5 career lessons from women working in tech


Women account for roughly half (47%) of the U.S. workforce but hold less than one-third of top leadership positions in business.

According to research from Russell Reynolds Associates, only 28% of top executive positions on the S&P 100 list are held by women, and men are 2.5x more likely than women to be named to top executive roles.

Here at ChurnZero, we are privileged to have two women leaders on our executive team: our chief product officer Abby Hammer and our chief customer officer Alli Tiscornia.

In their path to the C-suite, both leaders have worked extensively in customer success. Here are five career lessons from their journeys that you can apply to your own.

1. Gain broad business experience over sole domain expertise

Rather than take the traditional route of mastering a domain area, Alli held a wide variety of roles. She’s worked and led teams in customer success, professional services, business operations and even solutions architecture. This exposed her to virtually every stage of the post-sale customer journey.

“This helped me to expand my horizons on what it is like to be a customer and what it is like to experience those different touchpoints and milestones in the customer journey,” she said. “That accelerated my path to the C-suite as opposed to becoming a domain expert.”

2. Taking a step back to learn something new can create opportunities

Abby had a similar experience. She said most of her early career was focused on customer success and implementation work. Those experiences helped her to form strong convictions about the product she was supporting—and sparked an interest in product management.

Learning new things “lights up” her brain. Since she was vocal about her desire to move into a product role, the company eventually gave her the opportunity, but it required some sacrifice on her part.

“I had to take a step backward in my career in order to shift into a product role but that really changed my career trajectory,” she explained. “However, I continue to get more opportunities because I was seen as someone willing to dig in and understand what was going on.”

3. Embracing change and learning from failure naturally builds resilience

Advice like “embracing change” sounds cliché, but Alli says it was crucial for her success.

“The best thing that I did in my career was to accept early on that change is part of growth,” Alli said. “Instead of fearing change, you’ve got to embrace it, and when you do, it naturally builds your resilience.”

She also believes failure—and learning from failure—is part and parcel of embracing change.  You stand to learn more from failure than you will ever learn from being successful.

4. Perseverance is a muscle that needs to be exercised

While she feels strongly that customer success professionals make excellent product managers, Abby says her career move into product left her, at times, questioning her abilities.

“I struggled a lot with imposter syndrome, especially shifting from a non-technical role into a technical role. My degrees are in psychology and sociology. I don’t have a computer science degree,” she said. “When I first stepped into the space, I still remember an early meeting where they were talking about an API, and I did even know what an API was back then.”

She got to thinking that if a friend approached her with this problem, she would probably aim to boost their confidence by pointing out all the things they had accomplished. So, she started to keep a running log of her previous achievements to refer back to whenever those feelings of doubt—which are prevalent when trying something new—start to creep in.

“The perseverance to push through self-doubt is ‘a muscle.’ If you exercise that muscle, it will get stronger. The way to give that perseverance muscle a good workout is to tackle projects that scare you,” said Abby. 

5. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” advises Alli. Early in your career, you might worry that asking for help is akin to an admission that you don’t know something. However, nobody, not even the leadership, has all the answers. Asking for help “is not a flaw, it’s actually a show of strength.”

Mentors can be a great resource in this respect because they offer a broader perspective. She recommends being “very specific” about what you want from that mentor. It should not just be about asking that person to “open doors for you.”

Abby agreed and said not asking a question might actually block you from advancement. Personal growth in a career is like “pattern recognition.” You are able to react faster or even anticipate events because you’ve seen the pattern before.

“If you don’t capitalize on asking questions and understanding situations earlier in your career, then you’re just going to be behind on the pattern recognition,” she said.

Is customer success a path to the C-suite?

While customer success is a great experience to have, focusing exclusively on this domain may limit your chances of one day being promoted to the C-suite, according to Alli. She suggests broadening your exposure to the overall customer experience as she did earlier in her career.

Both women are proof that leaders who know their customers best—with the data to prove it—are well-positioned to become high-performing C-suite executives who bring an unmatched perspective of what the company needs to make proactive decisions.

Discover how one CS leader’s customer experience acumen set her apart for the CEO role in our blog “Making the jump from Customer Success to CEO with Gabby Wang.”


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