(Wow, can’t believe we’re at 60 episodes!)
One of the interesting things about the CCO role in the last half-decade is that you’re seeing CCOs come from other, more-established parts of the organization. It’s often from Operations or Marketing, but in the case of Brian Lillie, he went from Chief Information Officer of Equinix, the world’s largest IBX data center and colocation provider, to CCO. I wanted to learn more about that transition, his background, and how he built out the new role. That’s this episode.
The CIO to CCO transition
“I guess you could say it took me eight years of being a CIO,” jokes Brian, “to figure out how to be a CCO.” He spent eight years as CIO trying to figure out how to fit processes and systems into a high-growth model (some organic growth and some via acquisitions). Putting in processes and systems across different coding languages and functions — while trying to unify everything for the end customer — was a journey. “I have some battle scars,” he admits.
Over time, his passion for customers was evident, which is the main reason one role evolved into the next. Also remember: a lot of his company’s customers are CIOs, so he has a good idea how to relate to them as the customer base. It was thought he could bring an empathetic ear and help with global growth.
As with anyone who migrated from another department to a CCO role, it’s also a patching together of skills from across the career arc. Brian started in the Air Force, which taught him a lot about both discipline and serving internal clients/partners. He carried that through a variety of roles (see above about his career arc) and ultimately it made sense for the CIO to CCO transition.
Think of this also as a vertical “care” function overlapping with a horizontal “experience” function.
Beware of “managing by anecdote”
You know how this goes. One set of customers is yelling the loudest, or an issue comes up at an executive walk-through. Suddenly, the perception is that everything is broken. People rush around trying to fix this one task, even though that task may not have anything to do with revenue or the end customer. It’s almost just pure busy work. This happens a lot.
Brian is careful not to manage that way, and was lucky enough to start his position one July — but it wasn’t internally announced until September. He had a bit of a head start to engage with fellow C-Suite members and other stakeholders.
One of Brian’s initial strategic plays was to break the CCO work into manageable chunks of work, and then to make sure some of the other execs worked with him on it. “I didn’t want this to be about me,” he says, “I wanted it to be a one-company approach.”
Indeed! I love that.
The tactics you employ
- Get the rest of the execs involved
- Give them a piece to be responsible for, tied to their silo, etc.
- Have weekly call-ins about their work (can be bi-weekly)
- CCO connects, guides, provides resources … but doesn’t micro-manage as they figure it all out and its importance
- Think about how you define metrics around customers more
- Churn should be as important as revenue or EBITA, honestly
- What if some of these metrics become tied to compensation?
Brian has a great approach on the early stages of getting everyone on the same page. Other executives have probably been talking about customer value for years. It may be lip service or talking points, though. They need to know what all these terms and approaches mean, so giving them ownership/buy-in is crucial.
Remember: this isn’t a project or a program. This is the work of the company.
The unstated biggest challenge
… is oftentimes clear and effective communication about what’s happening, what’s being worked on, how it ties to growth/revenue, what it means, why it matters, etc. Communication needs to be monitored and consistent, or else it can collapse and others snipe, “What does this department do?”
Equinix does reply by email to each customer with a personalized note and followup, though — and they take notes on these exchanges. They build tons of powerful connections that way.
The pay it forward question
“What do you know NOW that you wish you knew THEN?” Brian’s responses:
- Didn’t know how hard it would be to align/connect silos: It takes work, consistency, communication, and more.
- It’s very fulfilling to work with so many customers and departments: You are truly the champion of making the customer’s life better.
Back Thursday with a new post!
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