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What Does Great Look Like in a Chief Revenue Officer?

June 28, 2022

Post 2 of 4 in the Startup Series for CRO’s.

If you’re looking for a great CRO, one thing you want to avoid is being “sold” by a dynamic and engaging salesperson instead of finding the best CRO for your company. Over the two-plus decades of working closely with CROs I figured out what “great” looks like and I’ve found that there are five things that great CROs do. While you might not find all these characteristics and attributes in one person, you should definitely look for them!

First, a great CRO knows when to turn up the volume, and when not to. Thinking through our metaphor/framework for enterprise sales that I wrote about in an earlier post from Whiteboard to PowerPoint to PDF - great CROs know when they aren’t yet in PDF mode. In the early days when your organization is selling on Whiteboard or figuring out the transition to PowerPoint, when you’re adding sales reps like crazy, this is not the time to quickly get to the PDF stage even though everyone in your organization will be clamoring for that. Sure, there could be a ton of opportunity to pursue but scaling quickly is inefficient and unlikely to be successful because scaling before the PDF stage still depends on the success of individual hunters. Only when the organization has made the true transition to PDF can a sales machine scale rapidly, and a great CRO understands this.

Second, a great CRO gives credit to others first when things go well and looks inward first when things go poorly. This is easier said than done because the tendency for people in any organization is self-preservation and the easiest way to do this is take credit and blame others. But the great CROs are the first ones to thank their fellow executives in marketing, in product, in finance, for collaboration and successes. They are also the first ones to thank their team publicly for a good quarter. When they miss a quarter, the first thing they do is figure out why the Sales team blew it, as opposed to blaming the product or marketing or economy…or even customers themselves.

Third, a great CRO is maniacally focused on building a conveyor belt-style pipeline for sales talent so they don’t lose momentum when a rep quits or gets fired. Notice that I didn’t say a great CRO was “focused” on building the pipeline or “passionate” about building the pipeline—I used the term “maniacal” because that’s what a great CRO looks like to everyone else in the organization: a crazy, intense, nonstop, extremist who religiously works on their talent pipeline. “Quota just walked out the door” is never something you’ll hear from a great CRO because that’s not an option in a well-tuned sales machine where multiple layers of reps are consistently trained, managed, and groomed for the next level of selling.

Fourth, a great CRO will be able to say “no” to overpaying and over-promoting without ruffling feathers on the sales team. An inability to stay disciplined on compensation is the second-worst thing a Sales leader can do and if they get compensation wrong by paying reps too much base or having too much commission in easily-repeatable form, you’ll pay for it—without the productivity gains. Reps who are overpaid get “fat and happy,” when what you want is for them to be “lean and hungry.” The worst thing a CRO can do? The worst thing a CRO can do, and something the great CROs won’t do despite great pressure, is to promote a superstar sales rep with no management aptitude or training into a sales manager role. I’ve seen this play out several times and it doesn’t end well. Either the superstar will not be able to lead and will exit the organization, or the superstar will end up poisoning an entire team and lots of your reps will exit the organization. Great CROs know how to say no to the misguided request for a promotion and how to keep people engaged without overpaying them.

Fifth, a great CRO doesn’t believe in the “magic rolodex” (yes, I realize that term is a bit dated!). They might have a magic rolodex, deep networks, and personal ties to players in the ecosystem, but unless you are hiring a sales rep who literally just finished selling a competitive solution to the same target customer set, sales reps who claim they come with a built-in book of business can only deliver on that promise 1% of the time. It’s alluring – but it just doesn’t work out that way. Great CROs know how to ferret that out and hire instead the reps who will fit in the company culture and work to improve the processes and systems in place.

Hiring a great CRO isn’t easy but hiring the first (or last) person you interview because of their excellent communication skills will be a disaster. Look for a CRO who understands the pacing to scaling, is humble enough to give credit to others and avoid blaming, and who is “maniacal” about the team—coaching and mentoring them, providing the rails so that the team can do their best work.

-Matt Blumberg, June 28, 2022.