A CRO’s role is essential for a company's growth, taking on the responsibility for all aspects of driving revenue to the company. But across departments like sales, marketing and customer success, what makes someone an effective CRO, and what does it take to create a highly successful career in this position? To answer these questions, we had the pleasure of interviewing Maureen Rhodes.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! To start, can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started in your career?
I’ve spent more than 15 years in the financial services industry and am deeply passionate about crafting and delivering world-class client experiences. Prior to my role at Center, I served as VP for SAP Concur.
Concur was an invaluable learning and growing experience for me. While I was there, I worked through three acquisitions and had the opportunity to toggle between different teams. Learning to understand the customer and their journey through various internal lenses really broadened my CX expertise.
When I started as SVP, Customer Success at Center, I was tasked with building out the CX team which we scaled from 5 employees to 40. Center’s business model differs from that of legacy expense management solutions in that it is consumption-based: customers only pay for what they use vs. a more traditional license/subscription model.
Having a deep understanding of the CX function has enabled me to optimize the sales journey and ensure Center is delivering ongoing (and increasing!) value to customers, so the consumption-based business model is a win-win for all stakeholders. I recently moved into the role of CRO where I am able to leverage my deep domain expertise to benefit both client success and sales functions.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a mistake you made when you were first starting?
Early in my career as an Implementation Project Manager, I was onsite for a customer engagement at the Mastercard headquarters. We had a break in meetings and they offered to take me to the coffee shop.
We went downstairs to the Mastercard café where I ordered my coffee and offered to buy my Mastercard colleague his coffee as well. I proceeded to pull out my AMERICAN EXPRESS card (yes, that's right, my American Express card!) to pay. I was clueless as to why my transaction would not process and continued to tell the barista that the transaction should go through—until she explained the café didn't accept competitors.
I QUICKLY learned to be vigilantly aware of the situation no matter the circumstance. Prepare thoroughly (down to the details) for each and every customer meeting. Have an agenda, know your desired outcome, and think through the details.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you're grateful for?
A team leader at Concur was a major mentor and career advocate for me. When Concur was going through various acquisitions, Todd (a senior leader at Concur) encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone and take on a larger role and help the company transition into the next phase.
My mentor taught me that I already had the skill set and leadership qualities necessary to succeed in other functions, so I packed up the tool set I had acquired working in CX and was able to apply it to different sides of the business. Having that encouragement showed me that having confidence in your own abilities and a willingness to learn is crucial to growing your career.
According to global research, the percentage of women in c-suite executive roles is woefully low. How did you climb to your position, and what was that experience like for you?
Taking on the CRO role at Center was a natural evolution from SVP, Customer Success. I have a deep understanding of the sales cycle and leading teams to partner with prospects and customers throughout every stage of their lifecycle with Center.
An important thing for me in rising to a different C-suite role was constantly cultivating a sense of curiosity about the business and industry at large: What are the trends? What are the disruptive technologies we need to be watching and leveraging? How will our organization implement market feedback? Having curiosity outside of your day-to-day function is essential to growing beyond your role and taking on new challenges.
What impact can placing women in executive roles have on a company? What might be the struggles, and what are the benefits?
I like to think of it as bringing diverse perspectives to the table rather than male versus female. I think it is crucial to create a foundation of diversity when you are building and staffing various teams. Every employee brings a unique set of attributes, a distinct organizational style and a perspective shaped by past roles and experiences.
Cultivating a team that brings different strengths to the table is essential to maintaining a healthy balance within the organization. When I was working to build the CX team at Center, I was consistently seeking employees who had different skill sets and competencies—that way, the team not only complements each other but also helps develop and grow each other.
In your personal experience, have female leaders (including yourself) done things differently from their male counterparts?
From my own experience, I’ve seen that every leader brings different skills to the table. What I spoke about previously, having curiosity is what has enabled me to accelerate my career path and rise to C-level positions. There are two key attributes I strive to bring to every business interaction. One is curiosity as it relates to different functions and how we can continuously innovate. The second is unwavering organizational skills.
Details are important and in a CRO role, you are paying attention to all of the granular aspects of the business, and constantly analyzing that data to understand trends and possible business outcomes. Organization of data is so essential to my role; I’ve been fortunate enough to really hone my organizational skills as it relates to data collection and processing from my time in a CX function.
Can you tell us about a project, person, or a team you led where you successfully made a big impact? What secrets can you share with us?
Building the CX team from 5 employees to 40 employees at Center is an important part of my journey at the company, and enabled me to really understand the business from a customer, product, and engineering perspective. Starting at the ground level gave me the opportunity to build a strategy with corresponding tactics.
Given my past experiences, a consumption-based business model was new to me, so building a CX team around that model required evolving what I knew about a subscription-based model. Thinking through what the key drivers of a consumption-based business model are, and how we would execute that effectively, was a significant undertaking and we have seen tremendous momentum around it.
The secret to a successful launch is making sure that your team understands the ‘why’ behind their role and the impact their function has on the business at large. Giving employees that type of accountability and ownership is a motivator. When people understand how they impact the bottom line, they are incentivized and inspired to make meaningful contributions.
What advice would you give to other women climbing the corporate ladder? In what areas would you encourage them to leave their mark?
Similar to what I’ve mentioned above, my biggest piece of advice is to cultivate a sense of curiosity that goes beyond your function and day-to-day role. I would also say organization is key to optimal execution. The more organized you are, the more you can take on and grow. In addition to those two things, as a leader, you need to be a source of empowerment to your team, making sure they understand how their roles benefit the business and give them ownership over their impact on the organization.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five things you need to be a highly effective CRO?
1. Deeply understand the client journey from the time the prospect shows intent through the sale, deployment, adoption and growth phase for optimal growth in revenue at every stage. An example of this would be a customer that came to us from a competitor; they were unhappy with their existing product experience. We listened carefully to their feedback and applied that knowledge to our sales journey with them. We understood their pain points and carried that understanding through every stage of implementation–through deployment, processes, and into account management. We helped the client see the value continuum Center offers from sales to close.
2. Deeply understand client needs and align delivery of client value with achievement of business goals. Seek to align company priorities with creation of customer value through every stage of the life cycle–delivering an exceptional customer experience and achieving company goals will be simultaneously achieved. We have a white-glove deployment approach, meaning we are with the client every step of the way as they onboard the Center tool, so that they are completely comfortable and confident in their abilities to utilize it once onboarding is complete.
We employ what we call a ‘serve then sell’ mentality; we partner closely with our clients to ensure their understanding of the tool while building trust and rapport. Clients begin to see you as their advocate and it creates a win-win scenario for all involved. We always want to align client priorities with our sales process, highlighting how the Center tool has been designed to address their specific and unique needs.
3. Understand the traditional business processes of your customers while staying keen to the changes in the market that will impact these processes for constant innovation and value creation. This goes hand in hand with a deep understanding of the client journey and addressing their historical business processes to provide improvements and efficiencies that are easily implemented. We sustain close cross-functional partnerships at Center so that we are constantly delivering client feedback to the product team and vice versa.
Product iterations are not only driven by emerging market needs but also by customer needs. We can’t expect clients to change their entire approach to business overnight in order to implement the latest tech. Our product needs to be easily configured to their existing environments and processes in order for them to derive value.
For example, many administrators aren’t able to close out their books every day, which is a capability we do offer. Instead of forcing the client to change internal processes overnight, we offer a real-time export capability, allowing them to pull from any date so that they’re able to close the books when it works for them.
4. Know your competitive edge/what sets you apart in the market. You want to build your competitive edge into your entire sales journey. Constantly iterate and show how you are different from current market offerings. With a consumption-based business model, you are always in sales mode earning your customer’s business every day. It is critical to identify how and why we are different, and tailor the client sales journey to highlight those differentiators.
5. Be able to identify your team members’ specific competencies in order to optimize teams around the customer journey. Customer needs at each point in the journey require varied functional excellence. When you deeply understand your client profiles you can hire, enable and grow your teams for the optimal mix of competencies.
We ensure that we can call on our employees’ different attributes and competencies at any point in the customer journey. We want to align the sales journey with the attributes we have on the team–that is truly how you provide a white-glove deployment experience for a client. Deeply understand their needs, and select team members that can best address them. Another important part of this alignment is allocation of resources; ensure that you are identifying what attributes are needed at which points in the client journey and allocate accordingly.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Listen. When we stop and listen to our prospects, our customers, our employees, our friends, we create stronger relationships and can lead with empathy, uplifting everyone in the process.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Follow me on LinkedIn or check out getcenter.com.
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