The Ever-Evolving Role of the Chief Revenue Officer

May 24, 2019 Erin Bush

Times have changed, and so has the role of an organization’s chief revenue officer, or CRO. What is the role of the CRO in today’s C-Suite and how can you ensure your company takes full advantage of CRO knowledge and talent?

A frequent feature of Silicon Valley and cutting-edge startups, the CRO has evolved past a traditional sales exec role. More so than ever, today's CRO needs to understand all aspects of customer success beyond sales, spearheading initiatives that align people, technology, data, and measurements across marketing, sales, and customer success.

A good CRO unites functions across the full customer lifecycle, and even goes beyond to build long-term client and customer relationships

What makes a valuable CRO?

No matter how large or small your organization is, today’s formula for revenue growth must move beyond the boundaries of the sales division or the sales effort. Everyone in a company needs to be involved in revenue growth—and someone has to coordinate and lead them.

Though sales and marketing remain important for revenue growth for all businesses, today’s CRO deals with more data and technology than ever before. The right CRO can bring together this insight and other knowledge to form a bridge between sales and operations, and free other execs to specialize in what they do best. A CRO often lends a hand to operations, sales, corporate development, marketing, pricing and revenue management—meaning that good communication ranks high in a good CRO.

What else does the CRO need?

  • An understanding of today’s customer. Today, your customers have more choices and information than ever before, and their experience likely blurs the once-clear line between brand awareness and product preference. As is often said, companies with a seamless customer journey are gaining market share. The CRO is a key part of that, with a holistic perspective of the process that other execs may simply not be able to gather.
  • A firm hand in long-term strategy. The CRO also works with a company’s executive team on a long-term strategy and, again, must be able to see and communicate the company vision and the revenue strategy across functions to ensure all of the goals are met. Similarly, the CRO must measure and analyze productivity, and create market positioning.

Jim Herbold, CRO at Infer, mentions in his VentureBeat article, “While I spend a lot of my time on 1) sales deals and issues, 2) marketing and the demand funnel, and 3) customer success and renewals, I also spend fluctuating amounts of time with product, business operations, finance, sales operations, business development and people ops.” He goes on to explain that CROs need to touch many areas of the business as their primary focus is scaling revenue ops.

New requirements = new skills

Today’s CRO needs a sharp eye for certain aspects of a business. This includes your products’ micro-markets, which should be identified and segmented, as well as a handle on the prices for each product and making sure each micro-market’s value generates the highest return. Other knowledge includes knowing what kind of marketing and advertising will generate the greatest ROI, the channels that provide the most effective and profitable means of distribution, and corporate communication that ensures customer satisfaction.

Tech also figures highly in a CRO’s skills to monetize digital marketing and realize how a product integrates into a company’s technology. According to a former CRO in a recent Forbes interview, “We’re seeing more and more people from product and tech backgrounds moving into sales leadership roles.”

The time is now for such a role: A recent study found that three out of five companies rely on data visualization, content marketing and infographics as part of their sales and marketing. Also, looming huge in tech for CRO is artificial intelligence and its unprecedented data-driven power to help generate leads and pinpoint the customers companies can upsell to, or who want new products.

Preparing to find your CRO

In recent years, LinkedIn listings for CROs have reportedly jumped by 75%! The talent is out there, even for this relatively new exec position, although the best candidates likely enjoy high demand. Here are three ways to prepare for your CRO search:

  1. Understand every aspect of your own business. You’d be surprised how many execs and business owners don’t. For example, who’s driving: marketing or sales?
  2. Look for a good temperament in your candidate. CRO is a multidisciplinary position. Your new CRO will have to do a lot more than crunch numbers or always be closing.
  3. Since most CROs candidates spent a successful time in sales, don’t be sold. Get solid data points and, with hard numbers, try to understand your candidate’s real and historic revenue picture.

Every company’s experience in developing a CRO, or even taking a current role and changing it to include CRO responsibilities, will be different. The primary point is to make sure your CRO is an integral part of your organization - and that role goes far beyond just the money. Good luck!

About the Author

Erin Bush

Erin Bush is senior director of Revenue Operations for Lean Data, Inc. She previously held positions in revenue and sales at inZentive and SalesLoft.

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