The path from CS leader to CRO isn’t common. But it should be.
For one thing, a CS leader’s job is literally every Board’s key priority.
CS leaders who build a proactive, revenue-generating CS team, track that team’s activity, and correlate it to impact aren’t just leading the field in CS.
They’re the CROs of tomorrow.
We’ll get into:
- Why CS leaders make the best CROs
- How CS teams can learn how to sell
- How to create a unified GTM vision for the company (and skip all the “CS versus Sales” drama)
Why are CS leaders moving into CRO roles?
Rosie Roca was the Chief Customer Leader at Hopin, a background she credits with landing her the role of CRO in just two years. To her telling, her CS role meant she had deep insight into the entire customer journey: the “silver thread from the moment you start talking to a customer about discovery, all the way through to retention.”
Compare that to the traditional pool of CRO candidates — Sales VPs. They may know how to close new business, but they might not be as schooled in:
- Maximizing customer lifetime value,
- Building a great customer experience, or
- Expanding post-sales revenue.
Sangeeta Chakraborty, the CRO of Miro, also came from a background in Customer Success — but, as she points out, a better term might be “customer value.” In her words,
“There shouldn’t be any other way of making a dollar than…giving at least $7 to $10 dollars worth of value back to the customer.”
When moving into a Revenue leadership role, she’s kept this “deliver value at all costs” mindset.
The path from CS to CRO may not yet be the norm. But it makes a lot of sense, once you stop confusing customer success with customer service. As more C-suite leaders prioritize customer-led growth over new logo acquisition, they’ll get comfier with a CRO like Sangeeta.
To quote a recent McKinsey article, the companies still managing to grow in 2023 have understood that the CRO must have a “bigger, bolder vision” than mere acquisition:
"The CRO’s role goes beyond sales and marketing to the entire market landscape, customer journey, and strategic expansion plans.”
-McKinsey & Company
In other words, today’s CROs need to be experts in customer success.
How can CS leaders develop CRO-worthy Sales chops?
Good CS leaders already know about sales (whether they admit it or not). As Sangeeta points out, if you’re trying to convey the value of your product to a buyer, then “you’re a seller”, regardless of department.
When you move into the CRO role from CS, you’re simply expanding your vision to value delivery across the whole sales cycle.
However, you might feel some nerves about taking on ownership of the whole GTM strategy.
Rosie remembers that feeling: “While I had been responsible for revenue numbers in terms of renewals…throughout most of my leadership career, I’d never been responsible for the new business and the growth side directly.”
If that’s you, then she has three tips for you:
1. Talk to early-funnel leads
If you’re coming into the CRO role from CS, spend time sitting with fresh leads. “Ask them about their business and truly understand why [your product] would or would not be a good fit…and then try to drive to that next step,” advises Rosie.
You heard that right—CROs-in-training should prioritize conversations with leads and prospects. Hardly a departure from the customer success toolbox.
At Hopin, every GTM executive is encouraged to “step into the lead flow” by taking prospect meetings, so they can learn:
- What the market is saying
- How prospects are reacting to your pitch and positioning
- How well internal processes are working
- How quickly you can close a new deal and where the blocks might be
2. Ride along with your team
Rosie’s other tip for transitioning from CS to CRO is to spend time riding alongside the Sales team to understand their experience. What’s getting in their way? What would an ideal sales process look like?
She held multiple brainstorming sessions with the team to come up with new ideas for negotiations, positioning, and cross-sales techniques.
As she points out, “You’re not doing it alone. Ideally, you're building or consolidating a team of great talent that has a lot of experience, a lot of ideas, a lot of hunger to go and change how you do things for the better to grow.”
Step one is just to listen. Step two is to act accordingly.
3. Lean into your strengths
If you’ve spent your career in CS, you may not be familiar with the techniques and operational processes that are the bread and butter of traditional Sales teams — weekly revenue meetings, forecast management, discovery training, challenger sales, MEDICC frameworks, and so on.
That can be a steep learning curve, but Rosie recommends that you lean on your existing strengths.
As a CS professional, you might not know much about specific sales techniques, but you do know about building and optimizing internal processes to create a culture of winning. You’ll also likely know a heck of a lot about your customers, what makes them tick, and how your product can help them succeed.
If you notice you have a knowledge gap, be proactive in seeking out specific learning opportunities. For instance, Rosie recommends Pavilion’s CRO School — it helped her to consolidate her career-long learnings into a “philosophy of how I wanted to run my team.”
How can VPs of CS get to the CRO level?
Wondering how to step up into the CRO role and advocate for yourself? Sanjeeta has three key pieces of advice:
1. Don’t be scared of sales
Sanjeeta believes that too many CS professionals hold back from GTM roles because they have an “allergic reaction to selling.” They worry that “if I show up like a seller, I will not be trusted.”
But, as she points out, if you’re succeeding in CS, you’re already using the key skills involved in sales conversations:
“At the end of the day, sales is an exchange of value. And as long as you’re …able to convey the value that you provide, and the…pricing for your software — that’s sales. It’s not rocket science.”
As for turning into some kind of snake oil salesman as soon as you start owning acquisition metrics, nothing can be further than the truth, says Sanjeeta.
Good salespeople are authentic. They do discovery thoroughly. They take the time to understand the ICP and their pain points. Sales conversations become an honest, logical discussion about the real value your product offers. Embrace these things in your CS leadership to poise yourself for that CRO promotion.
2. See yourself as a company leader
The CRO is not a functional leadership role. You’re not leading outcomes for a specific team or department. Your job is to drive the company mission forward. It’s a big, strategic job.
If you’re ready to move to that level, then you can start by identifying ways you can deliver company-wide value – even before you’re CRO.
When Sanjeeta moved up from CS leader to CRO, she explains,
“I wasn’t just showing up saying, ‘I need to be let in.’ I was saying ‘I can help drive the sales organization.’”
In a C-suite position, you need to take a holistic view of the company. So, when you’re trying to make the move from a CS leadership role to a CRO position, you need to step outside the silo of CS and think in terms of broader customer value.
Sanjeeta believes that the fact that she’d already been thinking in those organization-wide terms made her promotion from VP of CS to CRO more natural, “because I was already involved in all of these discussions end to end.”
3. Think about the entire customer journey
The old CRO role was primarily about math, says Sanjeeta:
“There was a time when the head of the revenue organization, typically with the CRO title, was a mathematics expert. And it was all formula-driven.
‘I need this in a number of territories.’
‘I need that many people in the territory.’
‘I need five new AEs and three new SDRs.’”
“When it's all a mathematical ratio, […] that's short-term thinking,” Sanjeeta notes.
The new CRO is not just great at acquisition; they’re strong on everything from new business pipeline generation to post-sales motions to customer value delivery.
It’s about understanding customer value from the first point of contact through renewal and beyond. It’s about moving from sales-led growth to customer-led growth. And that’s where CS professionals are already ahead of the game.
How do you create a unified go-to-market vision for your company?
If you’ve stepped up from VP of CS to CRO, then one of your first tasks will inevitably be this: unify the revenue teams. This isn’t always easy. Especially if CS has been moved under the CRO umbrella, you may find heavy resistance – a real Sales versus Customer Success battle.
Our experts have three valuable tips for getting Sales and CS on the same page right off the bat:
1. Have an ongoing conversation about roles and responsibilities
Sometimes, Rosie explains, the tension between Sales and CS is really just a lack of clarity about who does what. The solution is to have an ongoing discussion:
- What are the business needs?
- Who has the right skill set?
- Where should people dedicate their time and effort?
- What level of specialization do you need, given the size of your business and your current needs?
- How can you minimize the amount of work that a customer has to do to be successful with your product?
This isn’t a one-and-done process — the distribution of tasks and ownership needs to shift and change as your business evolves, or you’ll end up mired in conflict and tension, again.
2. Give everyone sales training
For Rosie, getting her GTM teams on the same page comes down to one simple fact: “You’re all in the business of selling.” Whether you’re driving new revenue or trying to retain the customers you have, you need to know how to sell.
Rosie suggests training every member of the GTM team in your end-to-end sales process:
- How quickly do you need to get back to prospects?
- What steps are in place to onboard a new customer?
- What happens when a customer has a question about the product?
- What are the factors that you use to qualify a sales lead?
That mutual understanding of the entire process helps Sales and CS teams collaborate more easily, spot ways to support one another, and generate better collective results.
3. Develop common goals
If there’s tension between Sales and CS, it might be your incentive structure’s fault, warns Rosie: “If you have shared responsibility for the customer relationship, you can end up with tension, because one team wants to drive it, and the other one is getting paid for it.”
Instead, look for ways to create shared goals, advises Sanjeeta. At Miro, she explains, the revenue organization has three shared pillars of success:
- Thriving customers — They do everything they can to make sure their customers are wildly successful.
- Thriving business — They are constantly iterating their operational processes to deliver continuous improvements.
- Thriving team — They learn from each other, mentor one another, and support each other’s growth. “There are no silos, but we know what we are experts in.”
The goal is to foster a sense of partnership toward a common outcome, with shared incentives.
Obsess over your customers and expect the unexpected
When you talk to today’s CROs, one thing becomes clear — nothing is certain. Few people know this better than Rosie, who worked at Hopin when it hit hypergrowth during the COVID-19 pandemic. She describes her journey as a series of “ups and downs and rights and lefts” that, honestly, felt “really jarring.”
Her advice? “Lean into the uncertainty,” Change is inevitable, and as the CRO (or an aspiring one), you’re right at the coalface. Embracing that rapid learning — while still meeting customer needs — is part of the job.
Or, as Sanjeeta puts it, “Mistakes are OK. But let’s not make the same mistake twice.”
If in doubt, says Rosie, reach for empathy: “It’s OK to experiment, as long as you’re being empathetic, and people focused, and customer focused.”
A customer-obsessed CRO needs customer-focused tools for their go-to-market organization. Catalyst gives Revenue teams a way to centralize customer data, get a clear view of customer health, and drive retention and growth. Set up a demo to learn more.