It turns out that where you got your MBA isn't a predictor of your success as a CEO. Actually, neither is your past performance!
At least, that's if you use stock prices as a yardstick for success. You can read all about the lack of correlation in this fascinating data analysis from Institutional Investor—I recommend it. I can imagine a CEO potentially feeling threatened by results like this, but I was super encouraged.
Business is a team game; it's not about one person. But it does leave you with an interesting conundrum if you happen to be a CEO: What does it mean to be a good CEO?
I think that's changing too. I'll get to that, but I think we need to understand why it's changing first.
Business has changed. CEOs need to change too.
The move to the cloud and to software-as-a-service (SaaS) models changed a lot of things about business. Companies had to rethink product development to embrace Agile and DevOps. Organizations had to restructure to support higher velocity and more streamlined sales and marketing models. And leaders reimagined service and support in the era of customer success.
But for CEOs, one of the most fundamental changes about the job is how much more real-time it’s become. Modern CEOs at any moment can get a pulse on how Sales and Marketing are performing versus waiting for the end of the quarter. These same leaders don’t have to be surprised by customer churn, instead always having a sense of “early warning” on customer risk. Yet for many cloud CEOs, the only part of their business that they are the most blind about is the aspect that’s most existential to being a software company—namely the product.
A good CEO is close to their teams.
So as business is becoming more real-time—information being collected and digested for immediate use in decision-making—the layers of abstraction between a CEO and the key stakeholders and systems must be reduced. That means fewer layers between a CEO and their customers, their team members, and their product. This last one is where we have a huge opportunity for improvement.
One quick side note before we get into how specifically I've improved as a CEO in this area. There's a real danger as you remove these layers of abstraction to overcorrect into micromanagement. Nobody wants that! I like to think of the data I'm getting as coming through a one-way, semi-permeable layer. I get real-time feedback, but I don't necessarily want to give real-time feedback to everyone at my company. I fully believe in the concept of servant leadership. Being a good CEO is less about telling people what to do and more about giving them what they need.
But what does a CEO need?
How Gainsight PX made me better at my job.
When we purchased the industry-leading product analytics and engagement technology startup Aptrinsic and relaunched it as Gainsight Product Experience (PX), I was excited because nearly every one of our clients expressed a desire to deeply understand their users’ behavior and use engagements in the product to drive faster onboarding, higher adoption, and strong loyalty.
But when I got even more excited was the first time I logged into our own instance of Gainsight PX that was set up to track our flagship customer success platform’s usage in our clients.
Prior to Gainsight PX, my situation was:
- I was provided high-level statistics on product usage (page views, logins, etc.) that seemed arcane and designed for a Web 1.0 world (Yahoo! anyone?). None of these were in real time, so they always felt out-of-date
- Even when I was presented data, I was always given the caveat that, “We’re not sure this is right."
- When I dove in with Product Managers and Engineering leaders on my team, every presentation seemed to have a different method of measuring adoption.
- We couldn’t do any of the basic user analytics that I know my friends at B2C companies did in their sleep.
These days, I have so much visibility, it feels like the first moment you put on glasses after going your whole life wondering why things are so blurry. I want to use this blog to walk you through how I use Gainsight PX in a typical week, so you can get an idea of what that feeling is like too.
In reviewing a feature
I meet with one to two feature teams a week to review their recent progress and the roadmap. Most importantly, I want to know how they are measuring their own success. As I mentioned before, we previously struggled to have common language for what “good” looks like. Now I can simply look at our Feature Adoption view and rank our features by the percentage of customers and percentage of users that use them. This view also helps us make resource tradeoffs.
And then we can dive into a specific feature (C360 in this example) and see which aspects are used more than others, so we know where to focus.
While planning an event
Whenever I’m talking to my Marketing team about a conference or webinar, we always know that the most important ingredient is the client presenting. Our view of Account Explorer lets us quickly see our top accounts in terms of active usage to remind us who to invite to what.
Before meeting a client CEO
I can even look to see how a CEO of one of our clients is using Gainsight before meeting them. Below, you can see our Audience Explorer view for an individual user. In this case, I can see our CTO, Mickey, is actively using our Engagement feature.
I always glance at how CEOs I'm meeting are using Gainsight (if they are). It's game-changing context and always a fascinating conversation-starter!
When preparing a board deck
In our board deck, we always show product engagement. We now have a standardized—and agreed to—format for showing growth in our active users and usage.
After more than six years of sweat and toil, we have a real business at Gainsight. Our software is really, really impressive, and people all over the world are using it and loving it. It's the deepest validation of all the hard work to look at our overall dashboard of adoption and see how far we’ve come! I imagine it's what it feels like to be a film director secretly sitting in on a screening of your movie and seeing all the people enjoying it.
So whether you're a CEO or not, it's important to internalize that your past success doesn't guarantee your future performance. Your effectiveness is all about how close you are to your team members and to real-time information. Gainsight PX has been a huge game-changer for me. I hope you'll check it out!