What You Need to Know Right Now to Level Up as a Chief Revenue Officer
Chief Revenue Officer is one of the newest C-Suite roles, with articles first appearing about the role around 2012. CRO has its roots in Silicon Valley, spurred by the quest for revenue generation around digital products and services, especially the software-as-a-service (SaaS) sector. In 2018, Sean Callahan cited stats from the book The Future of Sales: Rise of the Strategic Seller that pointed to a 73 percent increase in Chief Revenue Officer titles on LinkedIn.
CRO is easily confused with, and often overlaps with, other executive functions connected with sales, marketing, the customer experience, finance, and revenue growth. Each organization tends to put its own spin on the role. The overlap is enough to motivate articles on the difference between CRO and CSO (Chief Sales Officer), the difference between CRO and VP of Sales and the difference between CRO and CFO. Chief Revenue Officers are sometimes referred to a Chief Growth Officers.
We can gain insight into the CRO role through two unique 2018 blog posts – one by CEO of a Silicon Valley startup and the other by the candidate he hired for the CRO role. CEO Eyal Lifshitz, who founded BlueVine, says he wanted to hire a CRO “mainly because we were growing and our sales and account management operations were becoming more complex. We were also ramping up marketing spend.”
Eric Sager, the CRO hired, in turn describes BlueVine’s need for the role: “BlueVine created the chief revenue officer position to take on the challenge faced by many companies, especially startups, where marketing, business development, sales and account management usually operate in silos. This frequently leads to friction and misalignment because teams don’t all report to and work with the same executive leadership.”
Key Competencies for the CRO Role
“Technology,” “data,” and “customers” are words that frequently appear on lists of competencies for CROs, but perhaps the word that appears most frequently is “alignment,” meaning aligning all revenue-generating departments: marketing, sales and customer experience. The cost of misalignment? “Every company I’ve seen in the last 20 years is drastically overpaying for revenue,” writes Rick McPartlin in his blog The Revenue Game, “because there’s no common strategy or alignment.” Alignment clearly requires relationship-building skills, among others.
In your career-marketing communications, showcase these additional CRO competencies:
- Sales, marketing, and CRM expertise
- Data-driven approach
- Tech savvy
- Collaborative, a team-builder
- Self-starter who can execute and implement change
- Able to balance short- and long-term goals
Here are a few suggestions for those seeking to break into the CRO role, expand their horizons in an existing CRO role, or even rise beyond the CRO role:
- Seek out companies in which revenue-generation is growing complex. Look for organizations whose “revenue starts being driven by multiple channels supported by a marketing team that’s spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a month,” Lifshitz advises.
- Demonstrate that you are a closer. Sales will always remain at the core of revenue generation. “As a CRO,” writes Jim Herbold in VentureBeat, “no matter how broad or limited your reach may be in a company, you still need to close deals and build lasting and profitable customer relationships.”
- Develop the mindset of a revenue strategist. Because some experts suggest that revenue-generation is rarely treated strategically, those who can apply strategy to revenue growth will stand out. “After the business plan,” asserts McPartlin, “most companies – 99% — just go out and hire salespeople and a marketing person and get to work. Surprisingly, there’s very little focus on revenue strategy.” McPartlin suggests that CROs and prospective CROs have a good grasp of what the revenue strategy looks like so they can execute the corporate strategy. In contrast to sales and marketing executives, the CRO “leads the strategy for generating more profitable revenue over the long term,” McPartlin says.
- Be able to execute. CROs come from diverse backgrounds. Those with successful operations experience may have an advantage in executing short- and long-term wins for the organization. “It takes operational excellence to deliver results for your customers and drive revenue,” says Lisa Utzschneider, chief revenue officer at Yahoo.