Yamini Rangan (HubSpot): Redefining Growth
Blake Bartlett: Welcome back to the BUILD podcast. I'm Blake Bartlett, a partner here at OpenView. We're here to help software founders and operators identify and unpack sustainable growth strategies in the ever- changing world of SAS. Today we hear from Yamini Rangan, chief customer officer at HubSpot. Yamini, has built an incredible career in software. She has led go- to- market strategy and operations for some of the best software companies in the world including Workday, Dropbox, and now HubSpot. As chief customer officer Yamini, oversees marketing, sales, services, customer success, and operations, so she has a lot under her purview. In today's episode, we unpack the power of designing an org around customers over internal functions, how go- to- market teams should collaborate with product teams, and the importance of redefining growth during the tumultuous year like 2020. All that and more on this episode of BUILD. So let's dive in with, Yamini Rangan. Well, Yamini, thank you for joining us here on the BUILD podcast. It's great to have you on the show.
Yamini Rangan: So great to be here. Thanks a lot for inviting me, Blake.
Blake Bartlett: And one thing I wanted to start with is just looking at your background, you've been at some really amazing software companies, Workday, and then Dropbox, and then right now you're at HubSpot. And so I'd love to hear a little bit of your view of the differences between those organizations in go- to- market strategy and how they approach go- to- market.
Yamini Rangan: Absolutely. I've been privileged enough to work in some great organizations. I've learned a lot across Workday, Dropbox, and now HubSpot. Now, I will say that the go- to- market strategy and the first principles are exactly the same, but the playbooks are completely different in terms of each of those organizations, Blake. As you can imagine, Workday very, very focused on enterprise. And so it was team selling. Almost every sale required at least 10 if not more people across the organization to be aligned, and it is also committee buying. And just the dynamic of team selling and committee buying makes it much more complex, and so everything in the playbook was very, very oriented towards dealing with executives, making sure that the value of the product and the solution, as well as what we're trying to accomplish was very clear and longer sales cycles. At Dropbox it was fundamentally different. It was the freemium to paid acquisition motion, which is completely different. Dropbox had 600 million freemium users. And a lot of it was how do you take them through a product experience and ensure that you are showing value along the way the product so that they could continue to use the product and also continue to upgrade. And it was a fundamentally different motion. The SMB buyers are very different. It is much more about trials, and it's much more about experiencing the product, and it's much more about velocity not just value. It's a lot about high velocity. And I find that HubSpot, it's kind of a mix between the two. We do have a really solid freemium motion of introducing our CRM platform to our customers and then kind of upgrading, but we also do have an up- market motion which is communicating the value of HubSpot to our sellers. And so I find this fascinating. We could talk a lot about the playbooks. But I'll tell you go- to- market fundamentals are exactly the same, which is focused on the customer, but the way you do it in each of these organizations are quite unique and so you have to use a little bit of pattern matching to be able to scale across multiple segments and multiple buyers.
Blake Bartlett: The thing that comes out to me in that is the way you described who's involved in the transaction. And that's both from the vendor side, as well as the prospect or the customer side. And you described that Workday it's team selling and committee buying, which I would describe as it's many- to- many as a transaction and as a process, and that it might be necessary for that to be there, but it also does lead to sort of some complexity and a longer sort of sales cycle, versus at the other end of the spectrum if you think about a Dropbox, it really is one- to- one for an individual user thinking about their individual user journey. And then I like that idea that HubSpot kind of has a little bit of both depending on the product you're talking about, depending on the segment of the markets you're selling to, and so you can kind of bring the best of both worlds into the HubSpot context.
Yamini Rangan: That's exactly right, Blake. I think you nailed it. You have to think about this in terms of buyer and seller and making the mapping. I'm a huge fan of segmentation strategy. In fact, almost every time I go to an organization or I look at an organization, I start with the segments and deeply understanding who are the buyers within the segment, how do they actually make the decision, how do they actually buy, do they buy within product, do they need assistance to buy, do they actually need a human being, and then map the selling motion to that buying motion. And so huge fan of segmentation strategy for that particular reason that you highlighted.
Blake Bartlett: And something you said there that I definitely resonate with is it's kind of the idea of customer empathy. I think a lot of people have playbooks or strategies that they favor, but the question is, does the customer favor that? You need to sell to your customer the way that they want to buy, and so customer empathy is putting yourself in their shoes both from what do they value but also what's the process that is going to be most helpful to them. So I really like that coming through and adapting to the customer versus just trying to force your playbook into the market.
Yamini Rangan: A Hundred percent. You nailed it.
Blake Bartlett: So your title is chief customer officer. I wanted to better understand what does that role entail?
Yamini Rangan: Yeah, that's a good question. I think the chief customer officer role has probably emerged over the last five to six years, and the scope and orientation and objectives of the role, just like any new role is kind of really varied. But I think before I talk about the particular role, I want to talk about a couple of friends that have led to the formation of having another C- suite role, which is the chief customer officer role. I think two big trends that have happened over the last 10 years. The first thing is how you sell is why you win. There used to be this whole paradigm that it was just about the product, or it was just what the brand, was just about what people are looking to buy. And in fact, I think the bigger transition is that how you sell. And how our buyer, which is the customer actually, ends up making that decision is really based on the seller, their interactions with the seller, the whole sales process, the whole experience of that sales process. And that is fundamentally a shift towards understanding the customer, exactly what you were talking about before. That's trend number one. I think the second major trend is that delighting the customer is more important than winning the customer. And what I mean by that is I spent about a decade in on- premise B2B and every win was celebrated, right? We had big gongs, and bells, and we would celebrate every single win as if that was the end of the journey. And in fact, SAS has taught us that that's just the beginning of the journey with the customer. And continuing to delight the customer, delivering a better customer experience, and making sure that your customers end up not just being passive customers but promoters of your solution and the customer experience, that's way more important. So I think the combination of these two trends in particular have led to the focus of customer, and that's why the prevalence of the chief customer officer role. Now specifically within HubSpot, this has been an opportunity to bring together all of the customer facing functions. So it is marketing, it is sales, it's service support, customer success, and all of the revenue operations surrounding it, and bringing all of these teams together so that we can fundamentally focus on customers and drive a much better experience and delight our customers. So I think that's the focus. And we know that we'd be successful if we've been able to delight our customers and scale as an organization doing so. And that's why I'm super excited about the role and the journey that they're taking at HubSpot.
Blake Bartlett: And the importance of that go- to- market motion, how are you orienting? And that really is fundamental to the core of a business. How are you putting together your go- to- market strategy? You've described it is that it's important to have a mentality of being customer in, not function out. Could you say a little bit more about that?
Yamini Rangan: Yeah. I think this is so important. And when we say customer in versus function out, let me give you two specific examples, Blake. I'm sure you've called the cable company or your favorite telco provider. And what happens when we all do that is the first, the support person comes in and you give your home address, everything that you could possibly give, share that detail. And then they're like," Oh, sorry, we can't solve that for you. Let me pass you on to this other department." And then you wait for another 10 minutes. And what happens? You get exactly the same questions they asked," Give you a home address, how long have you been a customer, what protocol do you use, how many addresses have you..." All of this and you do it over, and over, and over again. That is because a lot of these companies think about it as," What system do I need for my team, my silo, my function," and those systems don't talk to each other. There is no contextualization of the customer's experience through the process. Now, I'll give you another example, which is even in cases where we think we're doing the right thing and we want to survey our customers. It's a nicer objective and aspiration to have, get feedback from our customers. But then I'm sure it's happened to you. It's certainly happened to me where I get five surveys in a month from the same company. And one from the support organization, one from a success organization, one from the marketing organization, all asking me slightly overlapping questions. And I'm like," I'm over surveyed. I do not want to answer one more question." The reason I give you these two examples is that in both cases, it is function out thinking that causes it. It's the team, it's the siloed function that thinks about," Oh, this is what I need to do in order to have the interaction with the customer," versus having a customer in approach which is fundamentally putting the customer at the center and saying," Oh, the customer, where are they coming from and what information do they need, and how do I actually provide a great customer experience? If I do need to hand it off to someone else within a different function, what context can I pass to that other organization?" So it feels like they're going through and things are improving in terms of the customer experience not repeating it. And so this requires fundamental alignment across all of those customer facing functions. So I talked about HubSpot's journey. We're together marketing sales, customer success, all of these teams. And in order for us to think customer in, we got to understand the customer experience, we've got to align on a strategy to deliver that customer experience and then figure out what are the specific tactics each of the functions use in order to deliver that. And that's fundamentally different, and that's the journey that we are on.
Blake Bartlett: And so aligning to the customer and what the customer wants versus what your processes dictate, that does require this kind of cross- functional alignment across multiple different teams. I know another thing that you have mentioned before is the importance of decision- making agility. So with more people in the room through cross- functional dynamics and getting alignment across teams, how do you do that while also maintaining decision- making agility?
Yamini Rangan: Exactly. That is the big question that faces a lot of organizations that are in hyperscale mode or scale mode. And again, if you step back and look at the challenges that lead to lack of agility within your decision- making. First of all, teams grow really fast. And when you grow it's much easier for you to be in your silo and start adding a bunch of people without thinking about how those that you're adding into the organization are going to interact with another team and what the handoffs look like. So silos are a natural part of evolution of an organization. And handoffs, and therefore more meetings to coordinate, more project managers to coordinate, they all become part of how we deal with those silos. And so you fundamentally have to think about how do you break down those silos and how do you introduce agility. At HubSpot we call this being big and fast, not being big and slow. And in order to become big and fast, you got to have a unifying decision making team. For us it was certainly bringing what we call the flywheel team. The fly wheel represents our entire flag emotion of being able to engage customers, attract customers, engage customers, and delight customers. And that certainly is marketing sales and customer success. But when we think about the flywheel, we also think about all of the support organizations within the flywheel. So this would be the ITSC team. In our case we call it the revenue product group. It is people operations, it is finance, it's all of these functions. So first of all, what we have done is created a unifying decision- making team across the customer experience as well as the supporting teams. Then we've created a cadence. Typically, it is a bi- weekly cadence and we have a process of bringing together decisions that need to be made, and alignment that needs to happen in order to move fast. But I'll tell you this year was particularly pivotal year as all of us know. In March, we couldn't wait every two weeks to make decisions. So we had like daily meetings with the same team, and every day we would get together morning meetings with this whole flywheel team to make decisions on what are we going to do to pivot, how are we going to help our customers get through a very uncertain period, what are we going to do as programs and plans to help through this uncertainty both internally as well as externally. And so I bring that up because having a unifying decision- making team is important, having a cadence and being able to adjust that cadence to really speed up your level of alignment and execution is important, and a decision- making framework of how you get to decisions quickly and making that transparent is important. And what we've found is having all three really helps with having a very resilient company and a resilient sort of business processes.
Blake Bartlett: And if we keep pulling on this thread of cross- functional teams, and cross- functional collaboration, and trying to be big and fast at the same time, zooming out even further, a lot of what we just talked about was on go- to- market and sort of customer facing roles. But with the rise of product led growth, products and the product team are also increasingly becoming involved in go- to- market as well. And so what do you see there? What is the role of product and product teams, and go- to- market, and how do you think about the best way to approach that?
Yamini Rangan: Absolutely. That's a great question. I like the whole phrase of product led growth. But I actually will say that I think about it as product led customer experience. And what I mean by that Blake, is that of course, you and your entire team number of podcasts that you've done talk about product led growth, which is the role that product plays today in terms of selling. My whole hypothesis that I'll say is it's about product led customer experience. I think product plays a role in attracting the right users, they play a role in selling and growing through the product, and product also plays a huge role in terms of onboarding and the ongoing customer experience. And so at HubSpot I think it's fundamentally the way we think about it is what's the product lead customer experience end- to-end. And this is so important. Whether you have a free product and then you have to go from a freemium model to a paid model, or whether you just have a series of additions and skews that you want to continue to kind of get your whole customer community engaged, thinking about that entire journey from the product lens is really important and I'm passionate about that.
Blake Bartlett: And how should go- to- market leaders think about collaborating with their product counterparts?
Yamini Rangan: This is so critical. I'll tell you the times that go- to- market strategy has worked really well, and the times that go- to- market strategy has not worked well comes down to one thing, alignment with the product organization. You could have the most brilliant go- to- market strategy, but it means nothing until you actually have it aligned with the product strategy and the product roadmap. So it's exceptionally critical. So I would say treat the product alignment as the most important thing that you do in a year if you are a go- to- market leader. And then I'll say there are a few things that you have to think about. I think first of all, the way to make sure that there is alignment between the product organization or the go- to- market organization comes down to context. How much of the context are you setting for the product organization and vice versa? Are you able to share what the strategic direction is? Can you actually articulate what your three- year and five- year plan looks like in terms of scaling either from the go- to- market side or the product side? Is there alignment when you think about that strategy and the vision? So I would start with really encouraging product leaders as well as go- to- market leaders, to set a common vision and be able to share a lot of the context of how you came to that vision to each other. The second part of that journey is building a common roadmap. A lot of times what happens in the planning process is that we're just running so hard. We get to the third quarter, start building our plans for the next year, and share the plans at some point, now, just about now November and December, and you're like," Okay, let's keep going." And we've not really given the importance to actually making sure there is a common aligned roadmap. What does the product building, what does the roadmap really look like for the next year, for the next 24 months? And are we maximizing every single product from a go- to- market perspective? Is there a product go- to- market fit in terms of the roadmap so that we can maximize over the next few years? And so building that common roadmap is step number two, making sure there's a ton of alignment and really examining that level of roadmap alignment is important. And then the third part of it is really focusing on aligned incentives. And what I mean by that is across the company everybody cares about revenue growth. And you may just assume," Yeah, that's kind of enough." In fact, it is not enough. I think product organizations, they have a sense of purpose in terms of what they're building and the go- to- market organization becomes two numbers focus. One of the most brilliant things that I've just loved about HubSpot is the product organization actually carries the NPS goal for the customer experience. That is just incredible. And when I talk about the power of aligned incentives, having the product organization own the NPS number, it's brilliant in so many ways because every week they look at it, every week they look at whether the customer experience is falling behind. They make improvements in the product. I don't need to go to our product leader to actually come up with a list of all the things that they need to be doing because they're on it. We have a common mission, more importantly, we have common incentives that are aligned so that the right things happen for the customer. And so, again, this is... I could probably talk a lot about this Blake, but I would say that strategy is all about choice, and alignment is way more important than strategy, and it's just critical in terms of how you work with the product organization.
Blake Bartlett: Well, I like that concept of having aligned incentives. And you could take a goal that everybody agrees is a good goal or a good metric like NPS, but the placement of that goal and who's responsible for it makes all the difference in the world. Because if you have NPS in customer success, which there's an argument for it to be there, but it can create an unintended consequence, which is that product sort of throws the product over the wall to customer success and says," It's up to you to make the customers happy." But by putting that goal of NPS in product as opposed to customer success, it means that there's a wiring towards that in all things that product does as a goal seek from the very beginning.
Yamini Rangan: You're 100% right. I cannot tell you. In my 20, 25 years of being in go- to- market, most of the time I've carried the NPS goal. And it is so hard because it is really throwing the product over the wall and hoping for amazing things to happen with the NPS, right? And we would survey customers, we would get a ton of feedback, we would prioritize that feedback, we'd provide that feedback to the product organization and wait for some magic to happen. And that's about the right thing for the customer. And I feel like the word that you use, which is unintended consequence, that's probably the most important concept in terms of incentives and incentive strategy. Most of us know what the right measurements are, and what the handful of metrics are, but there are a ton of unintended consequences if you place that metric or that goal in the wrong team, and if you just have it aligned. And in our case, I would just advocate this for every organization that's thinking about leveraging NPS as one of the core metrics. Put it in the product organization, then you create a ton of alignment between product and go- to- market, and it just works brilliantly. I'm a huge fan of that.
Blake Bartlett: So shifting gears a bit here to talk about growth, you've talked this year given the challenges that have been presented in 2020 about the importance to redefine growth. What do you mean by that?
Yamini Rangan: Absolutely. The traditional way we've all talked about growth is just bigger numbers. A bigger revenue number, a bigger ARR goal, more customers, more geographies, that's kind of been the traditional way of thinking about growth in almost every organization. And I think 2020 has been a pivotal year in so many different ways, Blake. We've all had to adapt and think about what our businesses stand for. And at HubSpot we talk about grow better. And then if you take that grow better and you say," Okay, in 2020, when a lot of our customers are going through the process of surviving, and transitioning, and building, what does growth mean?" It's not the same traditional metrics of revenue growth and customer growth. It is a very different growth promise. And growth to me is laying all of the foundation for a longer period of time, and it's really redefining what your promise means to your customers. It is really way more than just what your product does. It is way more than just customers, and partners, and the deal sizes. To us especially in a time of crisis, growth is doing the right thing even when it's hard and especially when it's hard. And we've really used this as a mantra to think about what resilience means within HubSpot model and what growth means for our customers. What is not surprising in 2020, a lot of customer experience comes down to one thing, which is trust in the organization. So again, growth is growing trust within the customer community. It is making sure that you're doing the right thing so that the trust grows and you become the company, the organization that's taken care of your customers, your partners, and your overall ecosystem from a trust perspective. Because if that's there, then the future regular ways of thinking about customer numbers and revenue growth will all this come. And so we've been thinking about how redefining growth with a lens to the trust that we have within the partner and customer ecosystem is really critical for a longer term scale.
Blake Bartlett: So what's the best way then for software companies to create trust or to grow trust with their customers?
Yamini Rangan: This is a good question, Blake. I think a lot of surveys have shown that trust is the most important thing in terms of your customer as well as the partner ecosystem. And trust comes down to the actions that you take in a time of need. And this year has certainly been one of those pivotal years. For HubSpot, as we navigated COVID in March and April, we looked at our customer and partner ecosystem and we said," Wow! Ton of uncertainty, not a lot of clarity in terms of budgets, not a lot of clarity in terms of when this whole remote work potentially even end. And so what can we do to help?" And part of it was actually creating a partner advanced program to give them some relief, part of that was creating a customer relief fund and providing them very short term discounts, but it was also partly looking at our product packaging and saying," Hey, a lot of the basic things that customers need at this time, we should actually move it to the freemium tier so that they can get value out of the product." And so we did that. We also repackaged our starter suite to be able to make it more economical for our customers to get value. All of those were certainly important, but was really aimed at growing trust. And those are just examples. But I think what I would say, trust is all about actions companies take not words that they say.
Blake Bartlett: And one thing you mentioned there, which is the importance of doing the right thing, and that you want to invest in trust with the expectation that later on down the road it will pay dividends. I know. And you mentioned pricing and packaging there, and that was certainly something that was common for many software companies to take a look at is how can we think about pricing and packaging, are there features that we can put into the free tier, are their usage limits that we can have in a similar grace on, are there specific use cases like frontline workers that we can sort of give special offerings to. I think we saw a lot of that across the software ecosystem. And just to bring that full circle with it paying dividends, I know with some companies that I work with, they made those pricing decisions again, off of a desire to build trust and to do the right thing. But what do you know, in so doing, taking certain features and putting them into the free tier and vice versa, they actually discovered new growth levers. And so what they thought might have been a temporary pricing change to do the right thing during COVID, has actually now turn into a permanent pricing change because it's not just good for the customer, it's also ends up being good for the growth engine too.
Yamini Rangan: A hundred percent. I think the last couple of waters have proven this over and over again. What is good for the customer is also good for the company. And as we go on this path of digital acceleration, the whole industry has been talking about it for some time. I think what we have seen is that the last few months have accelerated it to a completely different level. And if you did the right things, then it actually bore benefits for the customer ecosystem and then therefore for the company. And so it does come full circle.
Blake Bartlett: So I know we've talked a lot about 2020 and some of the disruptions of this year, but are there more any other go- to- market strategy shifts that you've seen emerge as being successful and things that you would recommend people have an eye on given some of these disruptions this year?
Yamini Rangan: Look, I think 2021 it's all about being very resilient and being very agile. We saw that in 2020, and we're entering a whole planning cycle. We're all thinking about 2021. And the most important thing is that whatever we plan, we have to be ready for it to change. And the way we look at it from our planning perspective is how can we build resilience within the whole model, how can we make sure that the decision making process as well as the cadence is very flexible so that we can change. We talked about all of this in the past as needing to have something that is very resilient, but 2020 has basically shown that we just need to build for it. And I would say, that's the big thing that the focus should be on is focus on the customer, focus on building trust within the customer, within your internal teams and organization, build for resilience and agility. And even though they seem fairly big concepts, it really comes down to your operational cadence and how you drive change within the organization.
Blake Bartlett: One of the CEOs that I work with Robert Wahbe, over at HighSpot, he describes this in times of uncertainty that the strategy is optionality. And that's kind of his way of describing exactly what you're saying here, which is the strategy is resiliency. Because you can't predict in an uncertain time what's going to happen next, you have to have multiple options available to you and then understand what would cause you to pick option A versus option B. But ultimately having that flexibility versus trying to determine the perfect plan and execute it kind of from Jan one to December 31 is not really possible these days.
Yamini Rangan: A hundred percent. I think you said it way better than I could, Blake. Thank you.
Blake Bartlett: Well, these themes of doing the right thing and of resiliency and planning for optionality are incredibly important. And I think that gives the SAS founders and operators that are listening to this show a lot of really helpful direction as they are entering into or wrapping up their 2021 planning right now. So yeah, this has been fantastic. Thanks so much for joining us today on the BUILD podcast.
Yamini Rangan: It's a pleasure. I've listened to BUILD for many years, huge fan of you as well as the overall team. So thank you so much for having me.
Blake Bartlett: Thanks for listening to this episode of BUILD. If you like what you've heard, leave us a review on Apple podcasts and subscribe to stay up to date with all the new episodes. Follow me, Blake Bartlett, on LinkedIn to join in on the conversation and let me know what you think about the show. Join me this on BUILD as we look into the brilliant minds scaling Slack, Notion, Atlassian, and more to discover what it takes to build an awesome product and achieve hypergrowth across every stage of maturity from seed, to IPO, and beyond. Now if you're ready, let's build this together. See you next time here on BUILD.
2020 was a year of change and redefinition across the board for software companies. Yamini Rangan is HubSpot’s Chief Customer Officer, and she believes that when customers are struggling to adapt to change, the concept of “growth” itself needs to be redefined if your goal is to truly put customers first. Hear her advice for how to practice customer empathy by embracing the “customer-in, NOT function-out” approach to org design and GTM strategy.
[1:38] Yamini shares the different approaches to go-to-market she noticed in her roles at Workday, Dropbox, and now HubSpot.
[5:40] Blake talks about the importance of customer empathy.
[6:08] What does the role of Chief Customer Officer entail?
[9:14] How is Yamini putting together her go-to-market strategy? Yamini gives two specific examples of the “customer-in” versus “function-out” strategy.
[12:23] Yamini talks about the crucial importance of decision-making agility combined with cross-functional dynamics and getting alignment across teams.
[16:22] What is the role of product and product teams in go-to-market, and how does Yamini think about the best way to approach that?
[17:42] How should go-to-market leaders think about collaborating with their product counterparts?
[20:18] Yamini talks about aligned incentives.
[22:35] Yamini shares her 25 years of experience of being in go-to-market and the challenges of carrying the NPS goal.
[23:52] Yamini talks about the meaning of redefining growth.
[26:25] What's the best way for software companies to grow trust with their customers?
[28:50] Blake and Yamini talk about pricing and packaging.
[29:52] Yamini shares her perspective on other go-to-market strategy shifts that emerged as being successful in 2020 and gives her recommendations for next year.
[31:17] The strategy is resiliency.