HubSpot’s CCO on Go-to-Market Success, Redefining Growth, and Doing the Right Thing

February 3, 2021

With so many different ways to go to market, it’s easy to assume that each one has its own success secrets. But that’s not at all the case—at least not based on Yamini Rangan’s experience leading teams at Workday, Dropbox, and now HubSpot.

On a recent episode of the OV BUILD podcast, host and OpenView Partner Blake Bartlett spoke with Yamini about exactly what goes into a successful go-to-market (GTM) strategy. Yamini explained that while the playbooks are unique from company to company, the foundational fundamentals are exactly the same: focus on the customer.

Over the course of the conversation, she shared valuable insights about the role of the chief customer officer (CCO); the guiding concept of “customer in, not function out;” how to stay agile working with a large, cross-functional team; and how her team is redefining growth for 2021.

Listen to the episode below, or scroll down to read the rest of this story.

The emergence of the CCO

Chief customer officer is still a fairly new addition to the C-suite, but its arrival on the scene makes a lot of sense when you consider two trends that Yamini says paved the way for this role:

Trend #1: How you sell is why you win
“The paradigm used to assume that everything in sales had to be about the product or the brand,” Yamini said. “In fact, buyers make decisions based on the seller—their interactions with the seller, the whole sales process, and the experience of that process.”

The trend of companies switching gears to focus on how they sell as much as what they sell has driven a much greater focus on really understanding the customer—not just who they are and what they need, but also how they want to buy.

Trend #2: Delighting the customer is more important than winning the customer
This trend is about taking a longer view of the customer journey and relationship. “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,” she explained. “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 goal is to inspire customers to move beyond being passive users and instead become enthusiastic promoters.

“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.”

Both of these trends demand a response that’s grounded in a deep understanding of the customer and the ability to embrace a sense of customer empathy. You have to be able to put yourself in the customer’s shoes, not just in terms of what they value, but also in terms of what kind of sales process will be most helpful to them. Instead of trying to force your playbook on an unwilling audience, it’s about tailoring your approach to your customers’ preferences.

“You have to map the selling motion to the buying motion,” Yamini said. “Take an in-depth look at your customer segments and really understand how they make buying decisions. Do they buy within the product? Do they need human assistance to buy? Let the answers to those questions inform how you design your selling motion.”

The role of the CCO: Bringing everyone together

The role of the chief customer officer is to bring together all the customer-facing functions around the mission of focusing on customers and delivering a delightful buying experience.

One of the core guiding principles that Yamini uses is something she calls “customer in, not function out.” To explain what this means, she shared two examples of “function out” experiences that we can all relate to:

  • Calling the cable company: We’ve all had the painful experience of calling the cable (or phone or insurance) company, getting passed from agent to agent, and having to repeat our vital information and story to every person who gets on the phone. It’s enough to send your blood pressure through the roof.
  • Responding to a customer survey: A less egregious (but still annoying) experience is getting way too many overlapping feedback surveys in quick succession. Though the surveying company’s intentions are good—they want to hear from you—their execution is lacking.

The root cause of the problem in both these cases is the same. “These are examples of function-out thinking,” Yamini explained. “Each siloed function is only thinking about what they need—not what the customer needs—and then the problem is compounded by a lack of coordination between the different groups.”

The way to eradicate this kind of awful customer experience is to bring everyone together in alignment around the customer and their needs. This “customer in” approach starts with the customer and extends through all the relevant functions.

“‘Customer in’ means knowing where the customer is coming from, what information they need, and how you can provide a truly great customer experience,” Yamini said. “And, if you do need to hand off to someone in a different function, it means handing off with context so that the customer feels like the process they’re going through is improving the customer experience, not just repeating it.”

The 3 keys to maintaining decision-making agility with a big team

While having everyone aligned around a common cause sounds great in theory, it’s not unreasonable to ask how to maintain agility when you’re working with bigger, cross-functional teams. It’s the old too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen problem—getting everyone involved inevitably slows things down and/or muddies the waters. And this challenge is exacerbated when a company is in high-growth mode.

The truth is that silos are a natural part of an organization’s evolution, and when a company is adding new team members, it’s easier to continue working in those silos than it is to figure out how to facilitate collaboration and smooth handoffs.

However, it’s equally true that in order to reach the next level of growth, you have to break down those silos and get teams working in concert on behalf of the customer. Yamini offered three tips for successfully achieving the transition from “big and slow” to “big and fast”:

1. Create a unifying decision-making team 
The first step is assembling all the right players—marketing, sales, customer success, and also support organizations like product, operations, and finance. “At HubSpot, we created what we call the Flywheel Team,” said Yamini. “The flywheel represents our entire motion of attracting, engaging, and delighting customers; and the Flywheel Team covers the entire customer experience.”

2. Establish a cadence of communication
With their team assembled, HubSpot established a biweekly cadence and a process for bringing the Flywheel Team together to address the decisions that need to be made. They also, however, adapted that cadence as needed.

“2020 was a very pivotal year, as we all know, and back in March we couldn’t wait two weeks to make decisions. We needed to speed up our level of alignment and execution,” Yamini recounted. “We ended up having Flywheel Team meetings every morning to decide how we would pivot and help our customers get through a very difficult and uncertain time.”

3. Be transparent
Finally, it’s important to be transparent about the process and the framework for making decisions. Let people know how the team will function and what each person’s role will be. Communicate clearly and often so that everyone is on the same page and heading in the same direction.

The critical role of alignment when working with the product team—and how to get it right

Because of the rising prevalence of product-led growth, product teams are becoming increasingly involved in the go-to-market strategy and execution. Yamini’s position on how to work with the product team is definitive. If the number-one rule in real estate is “location, location, location,” the number-one rule when working with product teams is “alignment, alignment, alignment.”

“In the pursuit of successful collaboration with the product team, alignment is way more important than strategy,” Yamini said. “I don’t need to come up with a list of tasks for our product leader because we are already aligned. We have a common mission and common incentives, and our alignment ensures that the right things happen for the customer.”

Yamini recommended three keys for effective alignment:

1. Create context
How much context are you setting for your product organization? And how much context are they setting for you? “To create true alignment, you need more than a common vision,” Yamini explained. “You need to share a lot of context about how you arrived at that vision.”

Establishing and maintaining alignment around strategy and vision means having a shared strategic direction and being able to articulate your three-year and five-year plans from both a go-to-market and product side.

“In the pursuit of successful collaboration with the product team, alignment is way more important than strategy.”

2. Build a common roadmap
When you’re running fast, it’s hard to pause and make time to share plans across functions. This is especially true when you’re in a growth cycle. But creating a common, aligned roadmap is critical to both short- and long-term success.

“You need to make sure there’s deep alignment, and examine that alignment at every level,” Yamini said. “What is the product team building? What does the roadmap really look like for the next year, the next 24 months? Are you maximizing every single product from a go-to-market perspective?”

3. Align incentives
“One of the most brilliant things about HubSpot is that the product organization actually owns the NPS goal for the customer experience,” Yamini said.

This placement of NPS responsibility was no accident. While everyone in an organization ultimately cares about revenue growth, that’s not always enough of an incentive. Product teams, for instance, have a sense of purpose about what they’re building. For them, the go-to-market organization takes a back seat. However, when the product team owns NPS, they look at it every week, see where the customer experience breaks down, and make improvements to the experience in order to improve NPS.

Yamini explained, “I would advocate for this in every organization that’s thinking about leveraging NPS as a core metric. When you put NPS in the product organization, you automatically create a ton of alignment between product and go-to-market, which works brilliantly. I’m a huge fan.”

Redefining growth for 2021 and beyond

2020 was a challenging and revealing year for most companies. And while there’s a lot we’d like to forget, there were also some great opportunities for learning and evolution.

“We’ve all had to adapt and think about what our businesses stand for,” said Yamini. “At HubSpot, growth isn’t just about bigger revenue numbers, more customers, and a bigger ARR goal. We talk about how to grow better.”

To grow better, you must redefine what your promise means to your customer. This isn’t just about what your product does. It isn’t even just about customers, partners, and deal sizes.

“To us, especially in a time of crisis, better growth is doing the right thing,” explained Yamini. “Even when it’s hard—especially when it’s hard. That’s the mantra we’ve used when thinking about what resilience means within the HubSpot model, and what growth means for our customers.”

“Trust comes down to the actions you take in a time of need. It’s about asking what you can do to help, and then actually acting on the answer.”

The other truth Yamini observed over the course of 2020 is that, unsurprisingly, a lot of customer experience boils down to one thing: trust in the organization.

“Trust is the most important thing for your customer and your partner ecosystem,” Yamini said. “And trust comes down to the actions you take in a time of need. It’s about asking what you can do to help, and then actually acting on the answer.”

For HubSpot, that included creating a partner advanced program and a customer relief fund that provided short-term discounts. It was looking at product packaging and shifting things that customers really needed to get through a tough time into the freemium tier. They also repackaged their starter suite to make it more economically accessible.

“Everything we did was aimed at growing trust. Ultimately, what’s good for the customer is also good for the company,” she said.

As Yamini and her team look ahead to 2021 and beyond, their plan is to focus on the customer, build trust (with customers and internal teams), and prepare for the unknown.

“This year is all about being very resilient and very agile,” said Yamini. “Whatever we plan, we have to be ready for it to change. We have to build resilience into the model. We need to make sure our decision-making process and cadence is very flexible so that we can adapt on the fly.”

It’s no small task, but Yamini’s advice is simple: focus on the customer, build trust, plan for change. And—most importantly—do the right thing.

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Jamie is a writer, mom, and nature lover based in Ipswich, MA.