Hiring a Chief Commercial Officer typically marks a turning point in a scaleup’s trajectory. A coming-of-age moment, enshrining your startup’s graduation to a fully-fledged commercial entity. You’ve got the market-fit, momentum is building, so now it’s time to get serious about driving revenue growth...
The role of the Chief Commercial Officer
Appointing the right commercial leader at this stage can – and should – be a game-changer, but what does a scaleup CCO do? The answer will, of course, vary depending on the stage and sector of the business, (not to mention the somewhat blurred lines between a CCO and a Chief Revenue Officer or Chief Sales Officer), but a typical remit might include:
Winning new customers and closing deals
Channel and partner development
Management of clients throughout the sales cycle
Developing and implementing a commercial strategy for growth
Devising and implementing effective and scalable sales processes
Building, managing and inspiring a sales/commercial team
Extend the company’s presence into new target markets and regions
Identifying new market opportunities and creating appropriate target strategies/offerings
Fostering strong relationships with existing customers
Working across the organisation to ensure all departments are geared towards revenue growth
Understanding and communicating customer needs and issues back into the technical / product team
Input into pricing strategy, contracts, and developing the value proposition
Forecasting, monitoring and reporting of all revenue streams
Setting and reporting against KPIs
Management of the revenue pipeline
Evangelise for the company and its technology
In the majority of cases, the scaleup CCO will be expected to personally close deals and deliver sales themselves. Generally, this is not a role for someone who has long-since migrated away from carrying a personal quota. Often, it demands a player-coach style of individual, with the experience and strategic acumen to build and lead your entire commercial function, while still operating as a highly effective frontline salesperson. This can be a difficult combination of skills to find as many candidates with the required seniority will have evolved into more of a leadership role, and won’t necessarily have a recent track record of (or an appetite for) closing deals themselves.
Where to look
This is one of the reasons why it often makes sense to seek a CCO from another scaleup or high-growth environment, where it is more likely that they will possess the right balance of attributes and motivations. It is also worth bearing in mind that there is a huge difference between selling a product, solution or service that is already well-established (or comes from a well-known company), and successfully bringing a new technology to market. Candidates from a more corporate background may not have experience of the latter.
That being said, if it’s important that your CCO comes with a strong network of key industry players, then such individuals may be found within larger organisations. We recently completed a search for a US-based Chief Commercial Officer who needed to be extremely well-connected and a trusted advisor to the data centre industry. To find this person, we targeted major global technology companies that provided solutions to that industry, resulting in the appointment of a candidate from Lenovo.
In addition to their sales track record, scaleup experience, and network connections, there are several other factors to consider when defining your ideal candidate. This is a crucial role where a mis-hire can prove costly (both financially and in terms of missed opportunities and targets), so you need to identify the qualities that will most likely translate to success. For example, should they have experience of selling a similar offering? Should they be familiar with your business model (eg. licensing vs. product sales), length of sales cycle, or routes to market? Do they need to have previously built a commercial function from scratch?
Asking the right questions
The great thing about interviewing for commercial hires is that success can be quantifiable and supported by numbers. It goes without saying that you should be looking at how they’ve historically delivered against targets, but it’s also important to drill into the figures to establish the likelihood of them replicating their past success with you. Was that revenue growth something they delivered personally or a team effort? How much influence did they have over strategy? What was their role in securing that major deal? Were they involved in all aspects of the sales cycle?
With CCO appointments, it’s usually a good idea to ask candidates to deliver some kind of pitch so you can gauge their presentation skills as well as their understanding of your customer and proposition.
This is perhaps the hardest part of all. Proven and talented scaleup CCOs are in high demand and the most successful candidates will, by their very nature, be walking away from a strong pipeline (and the associated commission) if they moved roles. Ultimately, you’re asking them to take a risk – so make sure it’s a compelling one. Typically, we find that CCO candidates are drawn to opportunities where they can see that the technology has huge potential. Scaleups that land their ideal candidate tend to be those that have done a great job of communicating their vision and ambitions throughout the process, so make sure you’ve got your best evangelist(s) playing a lead role in the interviews.
However, don’t be tempted to paint over any cracks. Transparency and openness is key, and can actually be used to your advantage. Maybe you’re having a problem with a particular customer, or facing challenges/bottlenecks in the sales cycle…Sharing these issues with your candidates and inviting their input demonstrates that you value their expertise. Plus it gets them thinking like an employee before an offer is even made, which is vital groundwork in securing their acceptance.
And, on the topic of offers, candidates at this level will typically want to have some skin in the game, so including options as part of the package is a powerful tool in the scaleup’s arsenal (for more insights on C-suite compensation, please download our salary report below).
So, you’ve done it! You’ve hired an amazing CCO with an incredible track record and a steady flow of multi-million-pound deals is now imminent, right? Well, maybe…but it’s important to be realistic about the timeline. Even if you’ve secured a candidate with the skills to hit the ground running, it will likely take a while before things click into place. This is where it’s important to set your new hire up for success and manage expectations (for yourself, your new appointment, and your shareholders). How strong is the existing pipeline? How long are your typical sales cycles? Are there any issues with the product-market fit? Bear in mind that the CCO will probably need to divide their time across strategy, sales, and building out the commercial function, so work with them to determine realistic targets and KPIs. Even if it takes a little longer than you’d hoped to start seeing those big percentage jumps in revenue growth, it’s far better than starting the entire process from scratch if your appointment gets frustrated and leaves.
As stated at the outset, the Chief Commercial Officer is a pivotal hire that, if you get it right, should be the key that unlocks your scaleup’s full potential. The sky’s the limit!
If you need help hiring a Chief Commercial Officer for your scaleup, get in touch
For more insights on C-suite compensation, please download our latest salary report: