The CEO And CRO Disconnect

The CEO And CRO Disconnect

Hiring great talent is hard, but hiring a great revenue leader is even harder. Beyond the fact that great CROs are few and far between, CEOs often struggle with fully trusting their sales leaders.

Different than other leadership positions, the stakes are highest for a CEO when bringing on a sales leader. It can be somewhat terrifying for a CEO to hand over the reins to this critical, business-changing, responsibility. But trust, along with outstanding communication, is the secret to a successful CEO and CRO relationship, which is the most important thing when it comes to corporate growth.

Below is where we see the most friction and disconnect between CEOs and CROs, and how to right-set this:

  • Strategy misalignment: Every business is different. I say this having recruited for hundreds of companies, many in the same industry, and witnessing firsthand that there are multiple ways to build. Certainly, there are learnings to take from past experiences, but playbooks are useless when marketplace dynamics shift or when you reach a new threshold in revenue that requires a new strategy. Oftentimes, we hear CROs say they left a company because they were not aligned with the CEO. In the same vein, we sometimes hear CEOs become too close-minded in their thinking and not open to a CRO's perspective. For success to happen, both sides need to be in lockstep. This doesn’t mean giving in on your beliefs but instead openly discussing different points of view and learning more about what drives the other person's opinion. The ONLY way to grow a company is to have the CEO and CRO completely aligned on the growth strategy.
  • A belief you can change somebody: Science states that the earliest years in life are when our personality becomes hard-wired. After this, our personality cannot change, and we can only recognize who we are and then work to control our behaviors. One of the greatest skills any leader can have is to work to understand the people they hire and to adapt their own behaviors and styles to connect, motivate, influence, and inspire those around them.
  • Micromanagement: All CROs are independent people. They grew up in sales and enjoyed the freedom of running their own territories, which is akin to running their own business. Micromanagement of a CRO is like caging a lion. You will only create animosity and a desire for freedom. Instead, figure out how to communicate in a way that allows your CRO to be out in the world but also gives you the insight needed to adapt the product and company and to support the sales team's needs.
  • Avoiding hard conversations: Many leaders mistake direct conversations for hard conversations. Direct conversations are when you tell somebody you are disappointed in the revenue growth or something related to the business. The hard conversations are more about the person, how they behave in the business, their communication style, and providing feedback on areas that are delicate topics but are essential for a great partnership. The relationship CEOs have with their leadership team is critical. It is similar to a successful marriage which requires honest conversations that get under the surface of the problem.
  • Not accepting truthful feedback: Many people take in feedback, but few know how to accept it gracefully and work to adapt their behaviors. Next time somebody gives you feedback, try to change your behavior. Then, sit down with that person in two weeks and ask if they have seen a difference and if your new style is helping your partnership. Feedback is useless if you can’t accept it and make changes.

The relationship between the CEO and CRO can be a delicate dance. When revenue is up, there is no greater hero than the CRO. When revenue is down, the CRO is the easiest and most natural person to point a finger at. A tight and aligned relationship avoids frustration and questioning. Both parties are responsible for creating a good partnership, and if they can’t get there together, the business relationship – and the business itself – is doomed to fail.