Career Advice from 35 Chief Revenue Officers
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Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) is a role that has emerged in the C-suite in recent years. CROs are increasingly commonplace in the tech sector and, in practice, the role is malleable and evolving. Last year I spoke to a number of CROs to understand what their role entails, their experiences in building high performing revenue organizations, and their advice for future revenue leaders. Below I share my key takeaways from these conversations.
Over the span of three months in 2022, I reached out to 130 CROs and interviewed 35. My criteria for inclusion were as follows:
Held a CRO title for at least one year
Works at a technology company (typically SaaS), anywhere from Series A startups to large public corporations
Based in the United States
The majority of CROs I spoke with came from a classical sales background (e.g., advanced from sales development to account executive to sales manager to sales executive). A handful of leaders came from a background adjacent to classical sales like marketing, business development/partnerships, or corporate development and laterally moved into the CRO role. Of the CROs interviewed, 2 were female and 33 were male.
DEFINING THE CRO ROLE
CROs described themselves as owning everything that touches revenue. This involves taking responsibility for the people, processes, and functions that generate revenue including sales, customer success, rev ops, business development, partnerships, and marketing. Accordingly, CROs are the connective tissue across pricing strategy, sales performance, customer satisfaction, and more.
While CROs may be viewed as a ‘C-suite sales leader’, many CROs noted that the demands of the role can be highly dynamic. For instance, CROs are taking greater responsibility for functions outside of classical sales like customer experience and marketing. However, the functions that a CRO owns often depends on their professional interests and background, and their company's business model. The majority of CROs interviewed did not (and chose not) to own marketing, noting that it should live under a Chief Marketing Officer.
Owning revenue means that CROs are under intense pressure and scrutiny by their CEO and board to drive predictable growth. Their successes and failures are tied to tangible, highly visible metrics that signal the health of the company. Fairly or unfairly, the performance of the CRO becomes directly correlated with revenue highs and lows, even when factors beyond the control of the CRO are at play (bad economy, shifts in industry, luck, etc.). Several cautioned that the position is highly volatile and short-lived, especially in growth-stage companies, noting the average lifespan of a CRO as 16-months.
ADVICE FOR A FUTURE CRO
CROs offered their advice to revenue leaders aspiring to enter the C-suite. Here are their words of wisdom based on years of experience building high performing revenue orgs:
Carry a bag: Build a track record to demonstrate your ability to sell and hit and/or exceed your quota. Not only does this give you direct sales experience, it helps you build empathy and credibility with your sales leaders.
In non-quota carrying roles, clearly demonstrate your impact on revenue: This is most relevant to those who have gained their revenue experience in non-quota carrying roles like rev ops, business development, and partnerships. Provide metrics that demonstrate your impact on the broader revenue function. Direct sales experience is an advantage but not a requirement to becoming CRO.
Learn from leaders across the revenue org: Expand your understanding of the revenue org by learning from and working with leaders across rev ops, legal, marketing, account management, and more. Be curious, ask questions, and offer support. This will give you greater visibility into people’s goals, how they operate, and the challenges they face.
Determine what type of company will help you grow your career: The stage and maturity of the company you join will offer different opportunities for growth. Startups are advantageous for those who want to amass a diverse range of skills and wear multiple revenue hats. On the flip side, larger companies offer more structured and incremental career trajectories. Of course, the most direct path to the C-suite is to start your own company.
Codify your process: Create a repeatable revenue playbook. Not only will this teach you how to develop your own processes and point of view on revenue generation, it will enable you to run and scale your processes on repeat at high frequency.
Model everything: Know your numbers inside and out and constantly model them. Understand what the data means to you and your company, and learn how you can use it to tell your story. At the same time, make sure the numbers have integrity – this starts with maintaining strong data hygiene.
Be a coach and mentor: Coach and mentor team members in your org, even if this doesn’t fall within your current job description. This experience is invaluable to your future in managing and leading teams and will help you stand out as a people leader. It’s difficult to find great talent who can run and inspire revenue teams, especially when sales is notorious for cultivating a competitive environment of individuals contributors.
Map your path to CRO: Create your own metrics for success as a CRO. Map out where you are today in your career and identify what experiences you need to get to CRO. Foster relationships with the mentors and sponsors who will enable your journey.
CROs are crafting new ways to conceive, structure, run, and scale the way companies drive predictable growth. Thank you to all of the CROs who generously shared their time and insights with me.
Tags: Revenue, CRO, Sales, Chief Revenue Officer, Advice, Guidance, Career Development