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An Unconventional Path to Customer Success with Jennifer Cramer, VP of CS at Planhat

Customer success leader Jennifer Cramer shares her secret sauce 

In this episode of CCO Secrets, we had the privilege of speaking with a woman who has had a compelling journey to and within the world of customer success (CS). 

Jennifer Cramer is the VP of Customer Success at Planhat, a CS platform. While she doesn’t (yet) bear this series’ namesake (CCO) title, the vice president level perspective on CS executive representation is crucial.

We talked to her about her vast experience through SAP, Salesforce, learned from her stories and found a new perspective on advancing in one’s career. 

Meet Jennifer Cramer 

Cramer’s path was not a linear one. 

Many may think that the CS path looks like this: associate, manager, team leader, VP, and so on. And while this may be the case for some, it’s not always common.

For Cramer, her roles were diverse and she was driven by adding value and solving problems. She started out as a consultant for Deloitte and KPMG, both of which are multinational professional services networks. She quickly found a close connection between consulting and customer success.

“For example, I love to hire consultants or ex-consultants, because it's really about that [mentality of] ‘let me understand your problem and let me find a creative way to solve your problem.’ And I really think that's what customer success is all about,” Cramer said. 

She eventually made her way to Salesforce, but in an interesting way. Cramer originally applied to be a customer success manager (CSM) but she didn’t get the job.

“The hiring manager said — and I had just been implementing Oracle CRM, the competitor to Salesforce — I didn’t get the job because I didn't have sales experience. Which is interesting when you're hiring for a CSM, right? If we fast-forward to where we are today, would you not hire someone that didn't have sales experience, but had consulting experience? But at the time, renewals were really important.”

Having a strong desire to work with Salesforce in some capacity, Cramer became a consultant and planned to eventually make her way over to where she wanted to be: customer success. And she did just that. 

“It was actually a fascinating experience implementing Salesforce, and then being a customer of Salesforce, and then coming back and being in customer success after I'd already been a customer,” Cramer said. “So I feel like all of these experiences gave me a different angle and a different lens into customer success.”

After many accomplishments across enablement and creating an advisor program at SFDC, Cramer moved on to SAP, a business technology platform, which was undergoing a massive transformation at the time.

“To have an opportunity to go to a company of that size, at a leadership level, and help transform that was phenomenal to me. That was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you just can't walk away from.”

She helped build the strategy and stayed internally focused on CS management, communication enablement, but eventually missed being customer-facing. Which brought her over to her current position at Planhat. 

“I just feel so lucky and so happy to be at Planhat where I'm leading customer success,” Cramer said. “I'm talking to customers and I'm building the future of customer success from a technology and platform perspective. So it's just a dream.”

The lack of executive representation

When it comes to the lack of customer success presence in the c-suite, CS is still a new space and is somewhat vague for some people, Cramer said. 

“It’s still somewhat unclear as to what exactly is in your bucket. Do you have support? Do you have services? Do you have product? Do you have growth metrics?” Cramer asked. “So I think it's a combination of … we're getting there, and defining the scope of the role and the contribution of that role to the growth of the company will help.”

This nebulous title of “Chief Customer Officer” can mean different things to different people, and that’s part of the problem — but perhaps can also be part of the solution. It’s less about awareness around the role and more about clarity, Cramer said. 

“I think it's an evolution that’ll happen. But I do think having customer success have a seat at the table, no matter what you call that person is critically important,” Cramer said. “If you don't have someone who is breathing and thinking customer success all day. It's their job. They're hiring for it. They're managing it. Their metrics are tied to it. Then are you really able to sell with a customer success mindset?

“Are you selling so that my team can be successful with that customer after the fact? Are you building products that your customer wants? So it's really also being respected at the table so that your voice matters.”

Beyond the c-suite, the CS voice is also crucial at the board level. What is reported to the board and who is reporting that? Because if the customer story is coming from someone who isn’t in it, there can be a big disconnect between what is actually happening and what customers actually need. 

“I think in this whole experience economy, the customer's voice should matter. Like NPS scores should matter, and customer sentiment should matter at the board level as well,” Cramer said. 

Advice for aspiring CCOs

As someone with a non-traditional career path, we knew we could count on Cramer for a non-traditional answer to what advice she has for those looking to grow within CS. 

“You probably see a lot of CSMs move around a lot, because for them, ‘it’s me and then there’s a VP.’ And if that VP isn't going anywhere, then what's the path? So I think if your path is upward and there's only one spot above you, then the opportunities are limited,” Cramer said. “But if you want to round out your experience to try new things, especially in customer success now, there are so many things. You could do CS ops, you could do digital, you could be customer-facing, you could build onboarding plans, you can build internal enablement plans.”

Take Cramer’s experience as an example. Within one company she worked in strategy, worked with partners, implementation, enablement, and more. 

“So I would just say, round out your experience. If you're wanting to move up and there's no upward movement, try and see where else you can grow and expand your skill set,” she said. “And if it's at your company that you eventually go up or somewhere else, that other experience is going to help you along the way.”

If and when you do go off a traditional path, intentionally or unintentionally, it’s imperative that you can tell that story when seeking your next career move. 

“You have to be able to tell your personal story. For example, my story could look like I'm all over the place or like I meandered my way through,” Cramer said.” And then luckily found myself a VP of customer success job. But no, it was an intentional journey to get all of these exposure points and experiences so that ultimately I would be a better VP or chief customer officer one day. 

“You really need to be able to tell your story. Because when I look at a resume that has all the different things, I can't connect the dots on my own. And so I encourage people, tell your story.”

About the Author

Chelsea Castle is the Director of Content Marketing at Chili Piper. A journalist turned empathy-driven marketer, she's also a concert junkie who can often be found #doingthings outside and crafting creative ways to be sustainable.

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