The Three Habits of Highly Effective CROs and CFOs in Unpredictable Times

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Alyssa Filter



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Stylistic photograph of two businesspeople standing on an arrow pointing into the distance

By Alyssa Filter, CFO and Kevin Knieriem, CRO

As the CFO and CRO of a high-growth company, we’ve worked really hard to develop a world-class partnership and seen its value time and time again. But when the world gets volatile, strong collaboration between sales and finance can mark the difference between success and failure.

The impact of the coronavirus is being felt across the world, and companies are scrambling to take precautions for their employees, families, and communities. While we hope conditions improve soon, we are also keeping our eyes on the news, as company after company cut their revenue forecast.

These turbulent economic times are exactly why a strong partnership between your CRO and CFO matters.

If communication falters and emotions escalate, the challenges brought about by external uncertainty can multiply. But if, together, we carefully monitor our businesses and quickly adjust our plans and expectations when appropriate, we can better stay the course — and continue to make progress by investing wisely to accelerate our growth.

Here are three habits we believe CFOs and CROs should focus on to maximize corporate performance when uncertainty becomes the norm.

Habit 1: Overcommunicate

Yes, the COVID-19 is making collaboration and communication a challenge, but fortunately, the last few years have brought us many new technologies (such as Zoom and Slack) that can be used to coordinate and exchange ideas.

As a CFO/CRO team based in different geographies, we’re doing multiple quick Zoom sessions every week to sync up on the evolving state of the business and how to respond to both new challenges, but also new opportunities.

While many companies are going to face pressure on their operating plans in the coming months, by strengthening alignment across sales and finance you may find, as we are, ways that you can accelerate progress in key parts of the business.

For example, many near-term face-to-face marketing events have been canceled. This is disappointing, but it also frees up resources (both time and money) to invest in new experiences that can yield outsized returns in the future. Collaborate, get creative, and you may find some silver lining in the clouds.

Habit 2: Live in the data

You might not want to open your 401(k) statement when you get it in the mail next month, but you cannot afford to ignore all of the telemetry you have coming from your sales teams.

Firm up forecasts with transaction-level reviews. This isn’t the time for gut feel forecasts. Every CRO should institute a deal-by-deal review cadence in their organization, looking at facts, not feelings. Which accounts are signaling engagement? Which are distracted or going silent? At Clari (and at our best-in-class customers) pipeline status and sales forecast are continuously updated so that leadership knows the state of the business from moment-to-moment.

Look at your out-quarter business. Identify deals that might be “parked” in future quarters and determine if they are real. Use activity signals to understand which deals your team is actually working (versus those that are wishful thinking or land grabs). A longer-term outlook becomes a critical input to inform operating plan adjustments.

Firm up your cadence. Now is the perfect time to put more consistency and rigor into your revenue machine. With in-person sessions likely being reduced due to travel restrictions, complete deal data and a consistent format and process for 1:1 calls, pipeline reviews and forecasting calls becomes critical. A tight cadence gives the organization confidence in the forecast, whether it’s favorable or not.

Coach smarter to work smarter. It’s easy to let fear take over and paralyze a team. While there may be pullbacks in investments, it’s important to focus the team on opportunities and tactics that are most likely to bear results, particularly if they will be asked to “do more with less”. With the right data this becomes obvious; with the right process it becomes second nature.

Habit 3: Adjust and execute

Based on what you find in the data, be willing to take fast, pre-emptive action to adjust your operating plan to be in line with the reality you discover (as a Sequoia portfolio company we’re well aware of their wisdom in this area).

And, execute: Quickly pivot your revenue processes and methodologies to support the current business environment. One key example that we at Clari (and many other world-class revenue orgs in our customer community) are doing is modifying our pipeline inspection process by adding an additional “C” in our MEDDPICC to specifically pressure test our sales cycles for impact by the COVID-19. We’re asking questions like:

  • Does the company have manufacturing, major supply chain operations or other critical business infrastructure in countries that are particularly impacted (i.e. China or Italy)?
  • Have we asked our internal champion how COVID-19 is impacting business decision making and if any formal policies have been put in place that will impact our potential partnership?
  • Are there any key face-to-face meetings or live events confirmed with the company that we have to pivot on, and how can we keep them high-impact?

By building this specific rigor into our inspection process, we can then begin to easily segment deals to focus resources appropriately and also begin to help build communities across these companies to crowdsource what’s working and what isn’t.

Challenging times are a foundry where truly legendary teams and companies are forged. CFOs and CROs, by working together, play a pivotal role in positioning their organizations to weather choppy seas. Overcommunicate, live in the data, adjust, and execute. And please, let us know how you’re doing and share your ideas; we’re all in this together.