Chief Revenue Officer titles continue to skyrocket, now outnumbering Chief Sales Officer titles on LinkedIn. And there’s good reason for it. Revenue is the most important business process in the company.
In this edition of our CRO Spotlight series, we interviewed Bill Binch, chief revenue officer at Pendo. Previously he spent time at Oracle, PeopleSoft and BEA Systems, and, most recently, Marketo as its 17th employee in 2008, helping to grow revenue from $0 to $250 million.
We discussed his extensive background in revenue leadership in addition to his take on the CRO movement.
Clari: Bill, thanks for joining us today.
Bill Binch: Happy to be here!
Clari: How do you define the role of a CRO?
BB: As the CRO, you have to realize that your job isn't to be just the alpha level sales leader. If someone is coming from a head of sales into the CRO role, it can be easy to default back to what they know best, which is selling, but I have to remember that’s someone else’s job. And that’s not to say I won’t dive in. I do occasionally get involved in a deal, but quite frankly if you're hiring good people they're really coming and solving that challenge for you.
Clari: What do you think are the most important skills a CRO needs to have?
BB: Having customer experience is really important. You have to be able to go in front of your biggest customers and represent the organization in the right way. If a buyer comes knocking on your door, you have to be able to talk to them. Second, I think a CRO needs to know what it means to have go-to-market ownership of the number. You can’t get away from owning a number. I think that’s why you see a lot of CROs come from a sales background, but I’ve seen them come from marketing as well. At the end of the day, the revenue organization exists inside of a business to produce numbers, so you’ve got to have that gene inside of you. In addition to those, hiring is one of my most important responsibilities.
Clari: How is your revenue team structured?
BB: I have a number of different businesses reporting up through me, including sales, customer success and the professional services organization. Underneath those are sub groups like sales engineering, which reports through sales, and the SDR organization, sales ops and sales training, which report into my head of revenue operations.
Importantly, we don’t have marketing under me, which I know can sometimes report to the CRO.
Clari: Why is that?
BB: The CMO and I started within a few months of each other here at Pendo, so it was a really conscientious decision to have two separate people leading those two functions. Our CMO takes on all of the demand gen, analyst relations and product marketing responsibilities and I own the customer facing roles.
Clari: You mentioned you have a head of revenue operations. How do you define that role?
BB: The revenue operations role is very analogous to the CRO role. If you think about it, I have all of these different operational areas that report up to me. In the past, those teams would be siloed, but that is in total contrast to the idea of what a CRO role is. Our head of revenue operations brings all of those orgs together so they’re aligned.
Clari: Speaking of other roles, how do you approach scaling your sales team?
BB: Managers will either take work from you or they make work for you. Ideally you want to hire people that take work from. I go to the old Steve Jobs quote where he said, “We don't hire great people to tell them what to do, we hire great people for them to tell us what to do.” So the first thing I do is to go hire leaders that are better at the function than I am.
Clari: What do you look for in a sales hire?
BB: The first question when I'm interviewing any candidate coming into Pendo is “What motivates you?” I want to know what excites them about the role and what's their superpower and how they are so effective at it. Somewhere in that conversation I want to hear someone talking about working cross-functionally and being a good player in the big company sandbox.
Clari: That cross-functional collaboration and alignment sounds pretty critical. Why?
BB: As the CRO you are in the middle of everything. You’re working with the product team when they're building a roadmap to give them feedback. The revenue organization is one of the bigger teams, so there's always people we’re hiring. That means we need to be communicating with HR and finance.
When a revenue organization is exceeding, it's infectious, right? The rest of the company is on a high and when a revenue organization is missing its numbers, it's also equally in a negative way infectious because everybody else is down. It doesn't matter if you're a developer or in some supporting role of the revenue organization. The fact is when you're up the whole company feels it and when you're down the whole company feels it.
We're in the middle of everything. As a CRO, ensuring alignment is absolutely critical.
Clari: How do you encourage alignment?
BB: We start with the basis of assume good intent because in this day and age of communication through Slack, an e-mail and text messages, it's hard to sometimes just get a conversation going. It’s easy to think someone’s taking a shot at you or being selfish or whatever, so culturally we encourage everyone to assume good intent and that brings a flexible mindset to the table.
We do have a number of group meetings on a weekly basis where we have a dashboard that we run through and every function reports their business and where it's going.
We have our weekly forecast call, which marketing, finance and the SDR team will join to align on where we stand in the quarter. It's probably the most important meeting of the company because it touches such a broad swath of people. Prior to that meeting I send out an email with an agenda, which is fairly repetitive, but every week I’ll call out the areas I want to focus on — it could be hiring, it could be marketing, it could be something else. If our pipeline isn’t strong enough, I want to understand what we’re doing to inspect deals or drive more in certain categories.
Clari: How do you inspect your pipeline?
BB: In the past, it just took me too long to be able to go see what was going on in our business. There are some very real challenges to living inside of the CRM. There were things that I just could not see or know inside of it.
Clari lets our reps and frontline managers see all of the activity in an opportunity when they're inspecting their pipeline, inspecting their deals. It helps them make sure that all of their stages and dates are lined up and correct and rolled up. They can go find that in a CRM but that's just a lot of work. If I’m a front line manager, all that information is in our CRM, but that’s never going to happen on a weekly basis if I have 6, 7 or 8 direct reports.
Clari: What does that look like at the CRO level?
BB: For me, visibility into the bigger picture is so important. And I need to make sure I’m working with the most accurate data possible. To go get that information in CRM or go talk to one of those sub managers is a tremendous waste of time. In Clari, I can see all of that in a single dashboard and just look across my business with 1 or 2 clicks. Clari gives me clarity and visibility into our organization in addition to those predictive insights from AI.
For more stories around CROs and predictable revenue, subscribe to the Clari blog. Know a CRO we should feature? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.