What I Learned In My Search for a Chief Revenue Officer

— July 17, 2018

What I Learned In My Search for a Chief Revenue Officer

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“Chief revenue officer” is one of those relatively new, somewhat vague, hard-to-define titles made popular in Silicon Valley. It’s like “chief people officer” used by some companies to refer to their head of HR, or “chief innovation officer,” for someone in charge of new product development.

The “chief revenue officer” usually refers to the person in charge of sales and in some companies is interchangeable with “chief sales officer.” In other cases, it is a broader role that also covers additional functions like marketing.

Two years ago, my board and I decided we needed someone for that role, initially thinking the scope would cover mostly sales and marketing.

Why? Mainly because we were growing and our sales and account management operations were becoming more complex. We were also ramping up marketing spend.

Here’s a tip for other small businesses and startups: When your company’s revenue starts being driven by multiple channels supported by a marketing team that’s spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, it may be time to hire a chief revenue officer.

Now, it was my first time to hire a chief revenue officer. As I mentioned, initially, I had a narrower view of what we needed. I was looking for a person who would focus mainly on sales and, to some degree, on marketing — a chief sales officer “plus.” But I ended up hiring someone, Eric Sager, who I knew went beyond the basic sales and marketing needs of my startup.

Eric had been head of sales at Square, and previously had spent years in business development and consulting at Capital One and Bain. Here’s a fun fact about our search: of all the leading candidates we had for the job, he actually had the least number of years of experience running a sales organization.

But Eric is a rare executive. He is a strong and experienced sales leader but not just. He is also what is known in the business world as a “general athlete,” a manager capable of dropping into an unfamiliar business situation and being able to quickly understand and improve upon a strategy to deliver results. Through my interactions with Eric, I quickly realized that he could go well beyond sales and marketing.

In our many conversations, Eric himself presented a more complete, holistic view of a “revenue” team. His own vision for the role of chief revenue officer covered not only sales and marketing, but also business development and business operations.

Revenue, as a combination of multiple sub functions, needs to move in lock-step: marketing and business development need to fill up the top of the funnel, sales teams need to be set up accordingly to convert the leads, and they all need to work together. And finally all of this is supported by analytics and data.

Data and scientific analysis play a central role in figuring out the best ways to generate and prioritize leads, to manage accounts of existing clients, and even in launching marketing campaigns.

This type of ‘all-inclusive’ chief revenue officer needs to be a very strong people leader but also highly analytical and strategic. He motivates and guides our sales and accounts management teams, gets them fired up about bringing in new customers. But he also ensures that they’re operating in a system that is analytical, scientific and solidly data-driven.

Eric took these challenges on with the decisiveness of a strong “general athlete.” He also helped fix a typical problem at many young companies. At many startups, different functions — sales, account management, business development, marketing — operate in silos. This frequently caused confusion and even conflict since prioritization is done at a local level rather than a global one .

As chief revenue officer, Eric took the lead in guiding all the teams that deal directly with customers, making sure they are all aligned on strategic and even tactical goals, on messaging and even the basic policies of how to handle specific customer-related issues.

The changes quickly paid off. Our sales, account management, business development, business operations and marketing efforts are now more aligned under Eric’s leadership. And this has led to better results: Our client base is growing steadily, and so has the amount of capital we’ve been providing to to small business owners. And yes, with a chief revenue officer now onboard, our revenue has continued to expand rapidly.

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Author: Eyal Lifshitz

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