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How To Be Successful as a Chief Revenue Officer

In my last blog, I talked about the 4 W’s of hiring a CRO; Who is a CRO, Why Hire a CRO, When to Hire a CRO, and What to Look for in a CRO. Today I want to walk you through some of the elements required to be successful as a CRO, and the traits you should look for when hiring for a Chief Revenue Officer. 

  1. Big picture thinking is needed.

 This role isn’t tactical, so expecting this role to know the ins and outs of how to be an individual contributor in marketing, sales, and customer success is absurd. You don’t want a CRO setting up your Google Analytics dashboards or engineering the marketing automation tool to build campaigns. Nor should they have had to do that in their past. 

This role needs to understand marketing as a brand builder, lead generator, and customer engagement function. Therefore, a CRO needs a strong head of marketing that knows the ins and outs, has a brain, uses it, and can drive effectiveness. 

Leave the tactical execution to the heads of the departments and focus the CRO on strategic thinking, and visionary leadership, with the know-how to lead the management team to achieve those goals.

  1. The CRO needs to be an amazing coach and counselor for the leadership team. 

Distant from the front line, these discussions aren’t centered around “best prospecting techniques,” “crafting messaging,” or “improving customer interactions.” Those are the jobs of the department heads. 

Rather, how does the CRO drive development for the leaders? How do they properly invest in leadership development (both internal and external)? How do they support their heads of marketing/sales/CS and help them be the best coach to their respective teams? How do they communicate up and down to create the strategy and align their leaders to execute that strategy? 

The CEO doesn’t need to know accounting principles to be a CEO, that’s what a CFO or Controller is for. A CTO doesn’t need to know how to code in every language or be an awesome UI designer. But, they need to know how to manage those doers and have a surface-level understanding in order to drive strategy. The same goes with the CRO.

  1. The CRO must have effective communication skills

The CRO must understand the audience (C Suite, board, buyers, front line employees, etc), when to employ the right emotional triggers/responses, and how to build a culture of an open and productive conversation. They must also understand the mission/vision/values of the organization to really understand what drives them from within. 

  1. Buyer-focused mentality. 

Everything the CRO does needs to align with the buyer and with the buyer in mind. Every decision has downstream effects and keeping an eye on the buyer and the experience is critical throughout every decision. Perspective is very tough in this role and you need to understand how to wear the hat of the buyer. Taking that perspective, fine-tuning it, and aligning the revenue organization in support of that is no easy feat. It takes discipline, clarity, and accountability… which brings us to our next point… 

  1. The clarity in responsibility and accountability.

Accountability without clarity has happened to everyone. 

Have you ever fired someone for performance and they were surprised? If so, you’ve experienced accountability without clarity. 

There should be no surprises when it comes to a performance improvement plan or a termination (layoffs and RIFs are different). Allowing bad behaviors to continue and accepting subpar performance must be addressed quickly. That doesn’t mean fire immediately. It means understanding expectation-setting, how to execute those expectations, and the risk/reward of those expectations, which all come back to clarity. If those are consistently communicated, coached, and executed, clarity sets in. 

This makes accountability the natural next step. This is both accountability of others as well as accountability of self. There is no room for hypocrites! Yes, it will happen, but set aside the ego and acknowledge mistakes. Be clear, set expectations, and keep things moving up or out.

  1. Data-driven, but experienced to understand when data lies. 

Well, technically data doesn’t lie, but it’s when humans start interpreting data incorrectly that causes problems. Causation and correlation are often left out of much of the data we see today. To cause further problems and confusion, sample data is often gathered incorrectly. So, the next time you see a stat like “92% of salespeople give up after the 2nd attempt,” you can quickly call BS. 

Why? 

Because data-driven leaders understand stats like this and know to ask a few questions: Who was sampled…Salespeople? Sales leaders? Buyers? 

Subjective sampling data like this can easily skew the result. If 1,000 sales leaders were sampled, asking this of their sales team, those answers are wildly different than if 1,000 buyers were asked this question of salespeople pitching them. Or, was this survey from a LinkedIn poll? That audience is skewed because you’re only sampling from people active on social channels, following your pages, that have been chosen by the LinkedIn algorithm to see your survey.

See where I’m going with this? So much skewed data that the error rate can’t even factor into the equation. Now that we’ve debunked the stat, let’s not completely discount it. A CRO can take this data, and then run experiments in their own organizations to test the result. This is how data-driven leaders use the tools and apply them internally to test results. Doesn’t matter if this is data, technology, or process…all have different applications with different outcomes and data-driven leaders understand that.

WRAP UP

These are just a few of the top qualities CROs need in order to be successful. As I’ve said before, there is no one single path to success, and there is no direct formula for it either. Incumbents in this role may not have done everything listed above. That’s ok; we aren’t talking prerequisites here. It’s rare to find a CRO who wants to “do it all over again” so keep an eye on the journey, and recognize that you may need to build the landing gear while the plane is in the air. 

Ed Porter | Fractional CRO