One of the most common things early stage CEOs say to me once they find product-market fit and make a few sales is “I need a CRO.” The answer is almost always, “no, you don’t.” A couple years ago I wrote about the evolution of enterprise selling organizations in this post. Reading that is a good place to start this topic. Go ahead…I’ll still be here when you come back.
So in the early days of a company, it’s all “selling on whiteboard.” The need that early stage CEOs have that prompts them to tell me they need a CRO is simple the need to have help selling.
What the CEO really needs is a couple of very good early stage sales reps. People who are senior enough and clever enough to hold clients’ attention. People who are junior enough to accompany the CEO or other founders on dozens of “selling on whiteboard” sessions with clients to be able to start doing that work on their own. And People who can help the transition from “selling on whiteboard” to “selling on Powerpoint” by doing some very basic documentation of the selling process, buying centers, influencers, and value proposition.
It may also be true that the CEO doesn’t really know much about sales — maybe it’s a technical founder, or even a founder who came up through marketing or product management — and that part of the “I need a CRO” comment is really just an admission that the CEO doesn’t really know how to structure and manage a sales effort. In that case, my first suggestion is that the CEO read the excellent Startup Sales section within Startup CXO. And if that’s not enough, then there are over 1,200 fractional CROs in the Bolster marketplace who can give you anything from an hour of consulting to a couple days per week as a fractional executive to help you put some structure in place for your new sales reps. Once you have a repeatable sales motion, you can hire more reps and a Sales Manager/Director or VP.
So no, you don’t need a CRO. But there are lots of things you can do to get the help you need in the early days of selling that are less expensive, less risky, and a better fit for early stage companies.