The Rising Importance of the CRO Role at SaaS Companies

The rise of the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) at SaaS companies and startups has significantly boosted efficiency and sales results, maximizing investor returns in the process. In most organizations the CRO takes on a broad range of responsibilities, overseeing sales deals and issues, marketing and the demand funnel, and customer success and renewals. While some CROs take a management role over the sales team and often extend that leadership into customer success, others take a management role in the marketing team.

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The CRO’s role within Silicon Valley and SaaS startups looking to accelerate growth with venture funding in particular, has spurred a revolution in the corporate world. CROs are now common across industries.

In an interview at an Accelerate conference, Scott Dorsey, a venture capitalist and former CEO of ExactTarget, spoke to “smart hiring” as the “underrated aspect of the CRO role.”

“We all know it takes an extraordinarily long time to ramp a rep, especially in software-as-a-service (SaaS), so hires today are really going to move the needle 12-18 months out,” he said.

For SaaS companies in particular, the CRO helps establish a stronger sales culture wherein everyone is focused on doing their part in the deal process. The individual must also have strong data skills, allowing them to carry out a wide range of tasks including forecasting with algorithms, evaluating productivity and benchmark compensation.

Hubspot is one example of a SaaS company which transformed its inside sales model early on. Mark Roberge, the company’s former VP of sales who became its CRO and CMO until last year, shifted the firm's focus to use a “quant-oriented lens.” This means he implemented a system where marketing and sales teams were focused on the dollar value of a lead at any stage of the funnel as it was handed to sales. In this pipeline marketing model, both teams then had a dollar quota and were accountable for each other, aligning them to reach broader company goals with clearer ownership and responsibility allocated between the two.

Publicly traded SaaS leader Splunk is another company that recently made a major CRO hire over the past couple of years. Susan St Ledger was hired as Chief Revenue Officer and Senior VP at the enterprise software provider in May 2016. Splunk provides operation intelligence software which businesses employ to monitor, report and analyze real-time machine data. At the San Francisco-based firm, currently with a market cap around $11.16 billion, Ledger has direct worldwide responsibility for all revenue generating and customer facing Splunk teams.

“With more than 20 years of experience managing enterprise field teams, Susan will be invaluable in helping establish Splunk as the enterprise machine data fabric for organizations around the world,” said Splunk’s President and CEO Doug Merritt upon Ledger’s hire. “Susan has a proven track record of driving sustained growth across multiple sales channels and theaters, with a heavy emphasis on the cloud… Her leadership style and personality are a perfect fit for the Splunk culture and our fast-paced, rapidly growing organization.”

Prior to Splunk, Ledger held at least three senior VP roles at CRM market pioneer Within her twelve years at the tech giant, Susan says she climbed up the ranks by gaining cross functional experience, taking risks and consistently hiring good people. The tech executive says she learned how to take on a great amount of responsibility when she began her career with the NSA as a software developer.

She received a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of Scranton. Instead of going back to school to receive her M.B.A. as she had always anticipated, Ledger says she weighed her opportunities in the business world and found them more appealing. Prior to Salesforce, Susan was the Chief of Staff for the President of Sun Microsystems.