The Most Important Executive Besides the CEO.

Up to a year ago, I would have said that the CTO is the most important person after the CEO for enterprise software startups. I’m a tech geek, so that’s natural. Without a working prototype or technology, there is no high-tech startup, so for most high-tech startups engineering is pretty important, obviously. By now I know where I got it wrong in the past:

The most important executive after the CEO is the CRO, the Chief Revenue Officer.

I have written about “Chiefs” before here. And you can google a job description. The CRO owns everything ‘Revenue’: acquisition, growth, cross-sell, up-sell, success, renewal. Ideally, she knows how to identify enterprises who

  • Have bought from startups before and are aware of potential road blocks with procurement, services, support, and the general scale of startups.
  • Are strategic buyers: their first engagement and toe in the water in the first year is unlikely to save them substantially cost north of $100M or create substantially revenue north of $200M — amounts that turn the needle for a F100 / $80Bn revenue enterprise. They are not buying your software for the initial revenue but for the transformational impact you will have on their business over years.

I noticed how in emerging technology categories sales will initially always try to replicate previous sales motions. The CRO needs to manage the customer journey to enable up-selling and cross-selling, and also prevent overselling to low-hanging fruit that are finite markets. She needs to turn off PoCs that are a distraction and not on target in the long term. Sales will always be coin driven. You created that culture by setting quarterly quotas. Engineering will always be feature and bug-fix driven. You created that culture with sprints. Product will always be release-driven. You created that culture your marketing pipeline and content.

The CRO sees the big picture and can create and communicate a strategy for the long-term revenue growth of the company. She creates and communicates playbooks for all activities that touch revenue.

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