SalesTech Star

SalesTechStar Interview with Debra Squyres, Chief Customer Officer at HackerRank

Debra Squyres recently joined HackerRank as their new Chief Customer Officer, we caught up with her to talk about her new role and what top observations and trends she feels will dominate the way customer facing teams function as B2B dynamics evolve;

Catch the complete Q&A:


Hi Debra, we’d love to hear about your journey through the years in customer-facing roles within the HR Tech realm…

I’ve definitely had an atypical career journey.  When I look at other people’s journeys, though, it seems these days many are architecting non-linear career paths. I believe the days of the career ladder are behind us.

I started my career in in-house enterprise HR departments and later pivoted into HR consulting, where I began working in a multi-client environment and experienced an accelerated development path. You gain so much experience in a short period of time when you work across companies.

I then joinedTriNet, an HR Services company, at a time of rapid company growth. With TriNet, I volunteered to take on the unhappiest of customers and this gave me an opportunity to contribute early on and build my brand for customer centricity and escalation management.

Rapid growth presents many opportunities – some resume building and some character building. One of the keys to my professional growth was a willingness to tackle the hard jobs.  I had a mentor early on who encouraged me to take risks, to volunteer for the jobs no one else wants and this served me well.

I later joined Namely as the VP of Customer Success and later served as their Chief Client Officer. This was my first experience in a pure SaaS business but I was able to rely on my foundations in HR and HR Services, a deep understanding of our customers, and a mentor group to learn the nuances of the business. This role provided me the opportunity to transform the Customer Success function while we grew 11X over a three-and-a-half year period, build a world class voice of the customer program, and partner with Marketing on one of the most powerful and successful customer communities I’ve ever experienced.

One of the challenges I am most passionate about solving is the significant disparity between the supply and demand of talent.  McKinsey declared a war for talent more than 20 years ago, and the situation has only worsened.  Companies still face significant obstacles identifying, engaging with and deploying talent effectively, and at scale.  This passion led me to Beamery, a talent CRM platform, where I joined as VP of Customer Success.

The role at Beamery introduced me to new types of customers, with new challenges to solve for.  The motions and needs were different and it was important to learn directly from customers what their critical needs were, what their experience was, and to build out a Customer Success function that supported their unique needs.

Recently, I joined HackerRank as Chief Customer Officer, compelled by the mission of putting skill over pedigree and connecting every developer to the right opportunity.  For me, our mission resonates: we’re solving the talent problem but we’re also contributing to eliminating bias, surfacing talent in new ways and enabling tech teams to hire effectively – which accelerates the world’s innovation.

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What are some key differences in the customer success journey and role in this segment versus others in the tech / B2B market?

Every company, even within the same domain, is unique and so are the problems they solve, along with their customers. A key to success for me has been to not assume that I can lift and shift approaches and frameworks directly from one organization to another. I recently moved between companies within the Talent Acquisition tech domain, and while I can rely on my knowledge of the Talent Acquisition domain and my knowledge of customers within this space in general, I cannot make any assumptions.

I start every new role with a deep-dive on customer and colleague experience. These two are very much interrelated and you can’t focus on improving one without the other.  When you uncover what is working well, it’s just as important to further invest there as it is to solve for what is not working.

In general, when working with the HR tech customer base, I always acknowledge that these customers and their teams are truly the unsung heroes within a company.  They tend to have smaller budgets and smaller teams than other departments and yet they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. They are accountable for attracting, retaining and motivating the lifeblood of their company: their talent.

One of the reasons I’ve stayed in the HR tech domain is my deep appreciation and respect for the impact HR teams have on the people they engage with. This passion motivates me to help those customers be rockstars, to improve their lives and work experiences, and to have a role in making the workplace a better place.

What are some top customer success best practices that you feel today’s sales and customer facing teams need to be focusing on more?

There are a few central themes that I believe are the difference between success and failure in this space:

The key to an exceptional customer experience is an exceptional colleague experience. It is impossible to deliver sustained improvements in customer experience without ensuring that your teams can do their best work, in the smartest way possible. Particularly in customer-facing roles within growth companies — these are really challenging roles. If you don’t set your sights on improving the team’s experience, you will become a churn factory and, as a result, the customer experience will suffer as well.

There is no difference between pre-sale and post-sale, customer experience starts at your first contact and continues throughout the entirety of the journey. Customer Success begins before they are technically a customer.

You cannot over-invest in customer onboarding. The old saying, “You never get a second chance at a first impression” rings loud and true in SaaS. It’s commonly held that up to 23% of churn can be directly attributed to ineffective onboarding. One of the most critical aspects in driving long-term customer success and value is ensuring customers are onboarded effectively.

Change management is critical to driving adoption and momentum in your customer relationships. Change management is not the customer’s problem, it is our problem and we have to invest in building out the appropriate skills and frameworks within our teams to effect change within our customers.

Know your customer better than they know themselves. Obsess over the details. Make it easy for them to share feedback. Ask for it often. Use it to improve every day. Use it to anticipate their needs and proactively address them.

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A few top sales technologies and other tools that you would highlight here to help achieve processes and results for customer teams?

 To ensure your customer success and sales teams focus on the right work with the right customers, you must ensure they are empowered with proper tooling. The tools that have helped my teams scale with ease include:

Customer Success Software: Your CRM is great but it’s not the same as a tool that surfaces the full customer 360, incorporates standardized health scoring, flags customers that require intervention and reports on the plays and interventions in progress or that have been completed. This makes your CSM/AM team’s lives better and improves the effectiveness of your leadership (all the way to the CEO).

 E-Learning Software: Efficiently enabling customers to use your technology effectively will drive high ROI – it reduces thrash for your Pro Services, CSM and Support team in one-off trainings, helps reduce ticket volume, and gives customers a better experience overall.

Professional Services Tooling: Depending on the complexity of your professional services function and workflows, this can be as simple as project management software or as complex as a Professional Service Admin tool that facilitates capacity and assignment planning, time and profitability tracking, and more.

Online Customer Community: A platform to engage and mobilize your customers and users is essential for mobilizing advocates, crowd sourcing best practices, and engaging with customers in a format they are comfortable with.

As B2B data trends evolve, what are some thoughts you’d like to share on how customer facing teams can use data from marketing and sales to boost their overall ROI and output?

Just like the customer journey, I view the go-to-market teams as one contiguous function, even though marketing, sales, and customer success are distinct departments.

The insights gathered in the prospect stage become the foundation for customer engagement and success plan. From input on key stakeholder engagement and content of interest, to the solution design and drivers behind the buying decision — this collectively becomes the foundation of our success plan to ensure we maximize adoption and value realization, aligned with customers’ original objectives. Stakeholder engagement insights inform how we partner with key customer contacts and ultimately mobilize them as advocates.

I also believe this data flow is not one-way. The outcomes and key performance indicators from Customer Success will inform the Marketing and Sales strategies as well.

How do you see the role of customer success and customer facing teams evolving and a few top trends / skills that you feel will start taking center stage and why?

Customer Success is still a relatively new function and we’re seeing rapid evolution of these roles.  Investors and the market in general are recognizing the impact of customer retention on ultimate growth and valuation, which is driving further investment in these teams.

In turn, Customer Success is becoming a much more specialized function, with deep expertise in both the domain the company serves, as well as establishing new teams such as Customer Success Operations.

I believe Change Management should be a core competency for any Customer Success team.  All software deployment is essentially a change management process; customers are not often focused on this aspect and for both the SaaS company and the customer to be successful, the change must be managed effectively otherwise long-term adoption will suffer and ultimately churn will rise.

The ability to articulate ROI and Value Realization are critical skills that are becoming more central to a successful Customer Success function. Customers care less about adoption and more about the outcomes and value achieved through their investment in your SaaS solution, therefore your Customer-facing organization must be positioned to engage in deep analysis and discussion on this.

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HackerRank, the developer skills company, helps businesses attract, evaluate and hire the best technical talent from around the world. Over 2,500 customers across all industries, including 25% of the Fortune 100, rely on HackerRank to raise their hiring bar. More than 14 million developers (30% of the global developer population) trust HackerRank to learn and practice coding skills. Every eight seconds, a developer completes a HackerRank assessment.

Debra Squyres is the Chief Customer Officer at HackerRank.

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