“Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Maja Milicevic, co-founder and principal at Sparrow Advisers.
How often have you heard something along these lines?
“We’re looking for a highly strategic chief revenue officer (CRO) who can help with building out the organization, in-market credibility and opening up new lines of revenue. We also want to make sure this is someone who rolls up their sleeves and goes out and sells every day.”
I can hear those of you in ad tech and mar tech sales cringing. While this may, at first glance, sound like a great challenge for an ambitious leader, it’s really a tell-tale sign that the person who wrote this description needs to go back to the drawing board.
Companies often conflate their needs and don’t separate the necessary business skills and experience (such as the ability to open doors with strategic clients) from the functional part of the role (someone is needed to go out and sell).
This problem manifests itself differently at different company stages: While larger companies (including each of the end-to-end marketing suites) typically have a well-honed sales process, their challenge may be to adapt the team’s skill sets to a rapidly changing environment.
Smaller companies and companies in rapid growth mode often make the mistake of prematurely hiring a CRO – usually a former senior individual contributor from a large, well-established company – without first laying the foundation for such a critical leadership role and building the director and VP layer.
There is nuance on what type of experience you’re looking for in an incoming sales executive; the needs of a business that monetizes through an annual recurring technology subscription (SaaS) are different than those of a business that relies on upsells and continually increasing media spend for growth. The SaaS company would need someone comfortable with longer sales cycles, building out connections between sales, sales engineers/services and product and investing heavily in presales. The latter needs a leader skilled in growing existing business and likely an investment in the account management team as well.
In any case, a CRO needs to be able to work across departments and balance long-term strategy with supporting individual teams and achieving short-term (quarterly) goals. Depending on the company’s size and focus, that can require very different approaches.
Avoiding the most common sales team mistakes
Sales role job descriptions and sales levels are often murky, especially in smaller companies where a skilled negotiator may talk their way into a higher-level role and better compensation without necessarily having the right mix of experience.
Here’s a basic breakdown of what skill sets are needed at different role levels in a sales organization and the typical title and level that matches them: