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MarTech Interview with Kevin Knieriem, CRO at Clari

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“Establishing that alignment also opens up the opportunity to set KPIs and targets throughout every level of the funnel from lead to opportunity to customer — or worst case, lost deal.”

CRO as a role is on the rise. What do you attribute that to?

I attribute it to organizations shifting to a Revenue Operations model. Revenue teams at many organizations are increasingly aligning to bring sales, marketing and customer success under one roof. Given the current climate, it’s more important than ever that these teams are collaborating and sharing data across the sales cycle.

The CRO is a perfect match to manage Revenue Operations because the role is cross-functional in nature. It’s not about managing the sales function anymore; it’s about looking at revenue as a process for the go-to-market business, and having a holistic view of pipeline, revenue, funnel metrics and customer experience.

Revenue Operations is all about alignment. How do you view the CRO / CMO relationship in this context?

My situation at Clari is a great example of how this relationship can work extremely well. Our CMO and myself are fully aligned on how the buyer’s journey needs to play out, and how the strategy from brand to demand gen to engagement to sales has to sync up. And we’re seeing many of our customers — especially those that are rapid-growth B2B companies— just as laser focused on getting these two important parts of the organization aligned to drive their growth.

What has led to Revenue Operations as a movement? Why now?

People are starting to fully understand that revenue operations is a process and not just an outcome. We know that many companies concentrate on outcomes, but it’s really the forecast number that is the most critical one to wrap your head around. But in order to know that number, you need to put a process in place to run predictable revenue and back it up. You see this in other areas of a business including supply chain, marketing operations, etc.

Organizations are also starting to understand that if they want to compete globally, and meet the current challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis, they can’t afford to have their business units functioning in a disconnected way. The old way of passing sales prospects through the buyer’s journey (from marketing to sales to customer success, etc.) is no longer acceptable.

How do you view the state of Revenue Operations? Where does this shift currently sit in the maturity lifecycle?

What revenue operations does is pull all go-to-market teams together with the same revenue goals and same visibility into all available signal data. At the end of the day, everyone needs to be on the same page with the same access to the most up-to-date status on all deals — from the pipeline to the forecast, and so on. In that way, everyone on the team knows where they stand in terms of achieving commitment goals and driving outcomes. At Clari, we call this “full funnel accountability.”

Go-to-market teams are more siloed than ever. What do you attribute that to?

Historically, that may have been true, but the good news is that today’s go-to-market teams are more aligned than ever before. That’s because they have access to the same data set of information in CRM and now can easily sync up on what to do next in the cycle.

Establishing that alignment also opens up the opportunity to set KPIs and targets throughout every level of the funnel from lead to opportunity to customer — or worst case, lost deal. Those silos are being broken down because everyone can track prospects through their life cycle and evaluate what led to the specific outcome for each.

We also need to take into account how much the buyer’s journey has changed — particularly in terms of how buyers are interacting with brands within the digital world. That’s why it’s so critical for sales and marketing to work together closely to track and adjust to all the different ways that buyers are reacting from a digital standpoint.

Today’s buyers do their homework online before they even get to a salesperson — and are probably doing even more research now given everyone’s home. Their journey is nonlinear. Go-to-market teams need to recognize that, track it, and see how each encounter with the brand affects their journey. I think it’s fair to say we need to resell our customers at every turn.

Who owns Revenue Operations at Clari? Who should own it in any org?

At Clari, that would be me, the CRO. This really goes back to my answer to your first question. Organizations are finding that the best way to align their go-to-market teams is to appoint a CRO and empower them with a clearly defined role that will ensure everyone is on the same page. I’m happy to say it works for us at Clari and we highly recommend this approach to other organizations — including our customers.

You have an impressive roster of high-growth customers like Zoom, Medallia, Okta, Datadog. What are you hearing from your customers in terms of Revenue Operations?

I can give you a great example without naming names. One of our customers is on a super fast growth trajectory. They’re hiring at a rapid pace. What they’re telling us is customers are engaging with their platform even before one of their salespeople is in contact with them. Clearly, that’s a result of effective branding in the marketplace because, by the time their salespeople reach them, the customer has already interacted with the product in many different ways. They’ve read background material, interacted with training. They’ve been exposed to thought leadership content and third party documents. By the time they’ve agreed to go from trial to a purchase, they’ve already bought into the product.

How is Clari helping companies build a cohesive Revenue Operations team? Why is forecasting in particular important in furthering this process?

We’ve been working with the world’s leading sales teams to drive better revenue performance for nearly seven years. During that time, we have learned an incredible amount about how they manage their forecasting processes. Across hundreds of Clari deployments, we’ve seen that one of the best ways to drive better forecast accuracy is not to create a bunch of deals in your CRM that miraculously add up to the number that you need to hit for the quarter. Instead, it’s to make sure you are engaging in the right set of behaviors as a seller (or manager) that’s going to result in predictable outcomes.

The sales forecast is one of the most important processes in any company because it determines how the company invests and grows. Based on that number, the company allocates budget, distributes headcount and plans for the future. In the process, it defines how much marketing can spend, how sales can scale, and what gets invested back into the product roadmap.

Accuracy is critical. If you over-forecast and miss your number, the company sees less revenue than expected, which can lead to layoffs or downsizing. Alternatively, exceeding your forecast can be equally bad for a business because that unexpected revenue could have been used in more impactful ways.

Ultimately, when the forecast isn’t accurate or can’t be trusted, it’s impossible to make investments with confidence. The stakes are even higher now with the business world turned upside down by the Coronavirus. Accurate forecasting is arguably more important than ever — especially because leader’s are looking for revenue confidence in order to weather the storm.

We’ve spoken to Clari execs in the past and we hear a lot about Revenue becoming a process. Can you break that down for us?

Sure. In short, we see revenue generation as a business process just like manufacturing, logistics, software development, loan approval, or any other critical process in a company. Consequently, it should be controlled, measured, optimized and predicted. We built our platform because for most organizations, revenue operations are unpredictable and inefficient at best. And it doesn’t need to be that way.

Our platform works right alongside our customer’s CRM to manage their revenue creation, growth and retention processes. It uses AI to automate CRM and eliminate do-it-yourself spreadsheets, reports, and off-line conversations to give our customers better forecast accuracy, more visibility into their pipeline, and control over their revenue.

Revenue teams may go all out to make their number, but not enough of them view revenue as an end-to-end business process that can be managed and optimized for efficiency. Our platform makes that easy by tying everything together. While everyone is scrambling to make adjustments and cope with the challenges presented by the current situation, making ANY process easier is a huge help to our customers during these teams.

We’re all swimming in data that sits across an ever-growing stack of applications. Do you view this as a challenge or an opportunity?

The honest answer is “both.” At Clari, we track and look at hundreds of activity data points for every deal, including emails sent and received; meetings set; email attachments sent and opened; Marketo engagement, and many more. Having this activity available at a moment’s notice gives our reps, managers and leaders immediate visibility into the health of a deal — and what actions a rep can take to move the deal along. It can be challenging to gather all of that data and make it actionable but the opportunities it uncovers make it worth the effort. And we believe our platform makes that process as painless and fast as possible.

Where do you see Revenue Operations 10 years from now? What changes?

Our content team did a great job pulling together an Infographic that illustrates the rise of Revenue Operations and where we see it headed in the future.

We believe companies can no longer operate their business by simply passing buyers from marketing to sales to customer success. Today’s best of breed organizations use a common view of the business that allows them to unify and optimize the processes that fuel the revenue engine.

Ultimately, revenue operations is all about breaking departmental silos, developing shared truth, and collaborating to achieve revenue goals. It connects revenue stewards, program makers and producers for breakthrough results.

Clari’s Connected Revenue Operations platform helps B2B organizations increase win rates, shorten sales cycles and improve forecast accuracy by using AI and automation to create full funnel accountability across go-to-market teams.

What advice would you have for your CRO peers navigating this change within their organizations?

Absolutely everything has evolved, and there couldn’t be a better time to be a CRO. We are the modern Presidents of the SaaS subscription world. This is a world where the customer journey dictates the evolution of great sales leaders to true general managers, able to seamlessly integrate all parts of the Revenue Machine.

I would also recommend that you hire a Head of Revenue GTM that can help align all the pillars of the revenue machine against the forward-looking growth plan.

What advice would you have for any ops person – Sales Ops, Marketing Ops, etc. – getting their start today?

Nothing works in a silo. I would recommend that they work to create cross-functional alignment and process with other operations teams that are part of the go-to-market function. The right instrumentation is critical. Without it, you are flying blind.

Thank you, Kevin! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Kevin brings more than 20 years of experience driving revenue growth and building successful sales teams for leading enterprise giants and high-growth startups. Most recently, he spent more than four years at Oracle where he held several leadership positions, including CRO at DataScience.com (acquired by Oracle in June 2018).

In this role, Kevin led DataScience.com’s demand generation, field marketing, sales and customer success initiatives from pre-revenue through acquisition by Oracle. During this time, DataScience.com helped define and then lead the Forrester Wave for Predictive Analytics & Machine Learning Platforms. Prior to that, he spent over a decade at SAP where he led regional and national organizations.

Clari_Logo

We’re on a mission to help companies realize their fullest potential by transforming their revenue operations to be more connected, efficient and predictable.

We use automation and AI to unlock all the activity data captured in key business systems, including marketing automation, CRM, email, calendar, phone, content management, conversations and more. Clari then automatically aligns that data to accounts and opportunities, to provide visibility, simplify forecasting and apply predictive insights. The result: more insight, less guesswork, and ultimately more predictable revenue.

Clari’s Revenue Operations platform is used by hundreds of sales, marketing and customer success teams at leading B2B companies including Qualtrics, Lenovo, Adobe, Dropbox, and Okta to drive pipeline, audit deals and accounts, forecast the business and reduce churn.

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