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The CRO’s Role in Acquisitions

In our conversation with Jamie, we learn about his career progression from sales team management to Chief Revenue Officer. Along the way, he has been involved in a few acquisitions and he shares the lessons he learned from those experiences.

Career Development to Become a Chief Revenue Officer

Barry: We’re going to talk about two topics, and then we’ll see where it goes from here. One, I really want to focus on your career development to become CRO, for the first part of the podcast. And then, we will also talk about acquisition. I know UserZoom is pretty active acquiring companies, and I think that will be very interesting for this podcast.

You’ve been at UserZoom for eight years and two months, so you started in late 2013 as the European Business Development Manager. Then you became the Sales Director of the UK then, relatively shortly after the VP of Sales in India, and then, for the past nearly four years, you have been the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) of UserZoom. Tell the audience about that. If they want to become a CRO, what needs to happen. What has the past eight years been?

Jamie: How it all came about. In one form or another, I’ve actually managed sales teams for 20-22 years. I was in a sales leadership position before I joined UserZoom. I was talking to UserZoom and they said, “Look, we know we need a good sales leader, but we just don’t have the size in the UK right now. But if you can help us build out Europe and crack a few verticals and a few other things besides territories and stuff, then you can become the sales leader and start to grow other things.”

So, we did that. And in that first year, I’ve not carried a bag for a long, long time. So I have to remember what all that was about, but I’m pleased to say we achieved all that we set out to achieve. We got into the banking sectors, and the retail sector and Sweden, and all the territories that we’d set out to accomplish. So, I guess they believed me that I may have known things about what I said; I knew about selling and stuff. And so, I became in charge of the UK team, and we started to grow that out and it was going great.

And we actually, then as a company, we did our first Series A. So up until that point, we’ve been completely boot strapped. And when we got our Series A through Sunstone Partners, they were called Trident back then, we had an American company, a UK company, a German company and a Spanish company. UserZoom was originally funded out of Spain. And so they said, “Look, that complicated structure doesn’t work for us. We want Europe and America.” So they asked me if I would run Europe from a sales perspective. So very quickly we had to get the German company, a Spanish company, the UK company, all pulling in the same direction, doing the same things in the same way, which was really my first taste of national management, having never managed teams outside of the UK before. And which was super exciting. And I learned a lot and made a lot of flights and a lot of mistakes, no doubt. But we did what we could and we got Europe really starting to fire after the first couple of quarters, it started to go really, really well.

And then I was a happy one in Europe, we were growing everything really, really well. And then, the company decided to change their structure a little bit. So Sales and what was Customer Success had different reporting lines. And they decided that they wanted to unify the role, and a few people have put my name in the frame. So I contacted the CEOs and said, “Look, I know you’ve heard from other people that maybe I’d be a good candidate and here I am, and I’m interested, and you want me to keep running Europe, that’s fine, and I’ll keep doing that, but I’m interested in…” Yeah, they gave me a shot and out of the gate, we were able to really ramp growth and hit all the numbers. And we went on an amazing run. So yeah, four years later, looking significantly older I’m, yeah, still a CRO.

Barry: It seems that it wasn’t just about hitting numbers, but it was also about, sometimes a little luck, company structure at the VC, not just four offices, but two offices. And obviously, in order to get promoted, you need to be doing a good job so well worth it, seemingly.

Jamie: Yeah. I’ve never been the kind of person that I’ve got the next role planned. I know some people are like that and more power to them, but when I was UK Sales Director, I didn’t think, “Oh, well, when we do a Series A, there’ll be this role and I’ll go for it.” I was asked, and I wasn’t in control of any of that. And then I was happily running Europe and then again, they took that decision, and then I was nominated and then asked. I wasn’t a VP, plotting how to become a CRO. I’ve never really done that; I’ve always believed in, concentrate on the job that I’ve got, try and do it to the best of my abilities, and if I do that, I’ll be happy. And I guess, what comes with that then, is people start putting your name in the frame for other roles and other things, but I’ve never done it for that, really.

The Scope of the CRO Role

Barry: You didn’t present that as advice, but I think that’s good advice for the listeners at home. So as CRO right now for the past four years, what’s your day-to-day? What percentage of your time do you focus on sales? What percentage do you focus, I guess, on customer success? Do you also do acquisitions, marketing? What falls under the CRO today?

Jamie: It’s evolving all the time. So my first year as a CRO, I was trying to build a management team, manage the way I wanted to lead our people. Which was based around values, and longer term thinking. And so, it really was about helping them, supporting them, and making sure that we were a cohesive unit. So it was nearly all sales that year, one way or another. Got involved in some deals, we built some new teams to focus on particular segments of our customers, and so I was very hands-on with some of those sales guys because we needed a new approach and we didn’t have one. So, I was in the weeds and writing decks and all kinds of stuff.

And then, as we’ve grown, I think the year prior to me being a CRO, we were doing about 19, 20 million, something like that. And I think hopefully this year we’ll go straight through 100, so it’s just a very, very different job. So one thing is I’m managing, oftentimes managers of managers on maybe some layers below that. I’ve had marketing under my remit for two years. I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, the world’s best marketer, but it made sense for the company at that time. But now we’re at a size where we need to uplevel the sophistication of our marketing. And we’ve recently just appointed Sophie Chesters who was the CMO of Medallia as our CMO. And she’s 10 X more even, the marketing leader I’ll ever be.

And so, you’ve not got to be, I think too precious and too territorial, right? I’d probably feel territorial if they try to take Sales off me, but it evolves all the time. These days a good 20%, maybe a little more of my time is still working and liaising with business partners, right? So I have a business partner and she and I talk a lot about anything, like how we’re going to uplevel the team, or how we think about X person or Y person, or all the things that come with people-challenges.

I have a finance business partner, right? So we just finished 2021, there’s a whole bunch of budgeting to get done and arguments about who and what, and when, and why and how much, and that goes on right, because day-to-day needs occur. People come to me, they have an ask, it’s maybe in the budget, it maybe isn’t. So the good proportion of my time now is that way oriented. And once you get to a C level, you’re in a different team, right? And yes, I’m in the Sales team, but I’m also in the executive leadership team. There’s almost, it’s not two jobs, but that again is a huge chunk of time, right? If we are going to be successful, I need to make sure that me and the co are aligned. And if there’s a disagreement on a thing that it’s at least a decent discussion, and we figure it out. You’ve got to invest in those relationships like any other and invest in the decisions that you’ve got to take.

Likewise is the SVP of Product; he and I talk a lot about where the product needs to go and what the update is, and how do we think about that? And how’s that going to affect pricing? And so, that’s a big chunk of it as well. And then, lastly, you’ve got to reserve a portion of your day or week just for your people. Like, I don’t know what’s necessarily going on unless they pick up a phone or get on a Zoom and we talk about it. And so, you’ve just got to try and be accessible as well. There’s no point in you being no meetings with accountants all day if I’m not ultimately there for my people. So it’s kind of a huge mishmash.

Barry: You’re CRO, you’re in the weeds now, you’re more management, at what recurring revenue did that change? Was it a year thing? Was it a time thing or was it a revenue thing?

Jamie: Yeah. Good questions all. I think some of those go hand in hand, so we were writing a pitch. Like I didn’t deliver the pitch, the salesperson did, and I wrote it with their VP. But once those things were kind of established, there wasn’t necessarily the need for me to be as involved in that, right? The trick of being a half good CRO, I think is that like, what should I be spending my time on now? Where are the challenges? What bits do I need to trust that that leader’s got it or we’ve ticked that box? Or whatever. So I guess it’s a gradual evolution, and it depends on where I felt we’ve really needed to lean in. So, out the gate, in that first year, customer success came under me.

And I remember the conversation. I was like, “Okay, what’s our gross renewal rate going to be, for example, what was this KPI going to be?” And the response wasn’t a number. It was, “Well, what would you like it to be?” I’m like, “What?” And they said, “Well, the way we’ve done it in the past is we just said the number that the leaders wanted to present to the management team.” And I was like, “Okay, right. We have a whole cultural reboot to do in this organization, right?” So, we just had to spend a lot of time talking about, “Look, you’re going to have to learn how to forecast, right? We can forecast what 300 prospects are going to do, that we don’t really know. Surely we can forecast what 300 people we’ve got contracts and relationships with are going to do. And just because I’ve said it doesn’t mean today, the answer, ‘Oh yeah, of course.’ Right? But we’ll work together on it.”

And I’ve always tried to work on a personal level first. They’ve got to trust me, right? It’s all very well and good me saying, “Look, come up with a forecast, and if we miss it, we miss it, but I want you to try.” Right? But if the first time they miss their forecast, all I do is phone them up and light them all, they’re never going to trust you again, and the forecast is always going to be tricky. So we worked on that together about how we might approach it, and this has been a gradual year-over-year thing. And the more that’s worked, the better that that’s gone, and the more sophisticated we’ve become, the less I need to be involved.

The CRO’s Involvement in Acquisitions

Barry: Absolutely. I think in the podcast by Nathan Laka, it mentioned that you guys have 120% NDR, which is pretty positive. I think we could talk more about CRO, but I really want to talk about acquisitions, because I think that’s unique. UserZoom has acquired four companies. Right before this conversation, you mentioned that you were involved with three of those four. Maybe you could talk about, one, why is the company acquiring companies? What kind of companies those are, and your involvement as CRO in that process?

Jamie: So of the three, for the first three was actually a UK acquisition, and we felt that we had a gap in our product offering that they could fill. And then on top of that, there’s two other reasons. One is, it’s a competitor in a market that comes a bit on the thorny side, right? Because their price point was quite low, and that actually wasn’t helping them, that’s ultimately why they got acquired, and it certainly wasn’t helping us, and I don’t think it was actually helping the customers either, but they’ll always go for a cheap price. I get that. But it meant that they weren’t necessarily getting the services, and the care and attention perhaps that they need, right?

So, but then there’s always an element if you’re in a niche space or a space which is fairly specialized, it’s not, well, Zoom’s a good example, right? Pretty much everybody knows, you don’t need to agree to work a Zoom call, whereas UX, UX design, UX research, they’re all quite in depth disciplines, certainly these days. And so, when you’re in a space like ours, there’s always an opportunity to treat it as an acqui-hire. Right? So not only are you picking up, in some cases tech, or in some cases revenue, but hopefully both, but you’re also picking up people that will hopefully stay and become productive, successful members of our team. And so, the founder of that first acquisition still to this day works at UserZoom and leads our education arm and our research partner arm in Europe. And yeah, so that was the first one. And kind of why we did that.

The second one again, was that we felt that we needed to strengthen our moderate offering, which is a research method of which I won’t go into too much detail, and so we were like, “Well, we can build it.” That’s always an option, right? But as always, the product roster was pretty full and we decided, “Okay, well, what’s the best moderate solution on the planet?” And it was the second acquisition. So we sat down with him and every acquisition I’ve been involved in, I talk first about how we work, what our culture is. Because I think that’s important to the people that are thinking about selling. In my experience anyway, they don’t just want to sell and walk away; they care about the people that work there, they care about the legacy of however many years they’ve been working on that thing. And so, I personally always start there. I’m also not the money guy, so, I wouldn’t necessarily talk about that.

So, me and one of my VPs flew to New York and sat down with him. We talked a little bit and of course a lot of the transactional side of it was, was led by the investors. And we just said, “Look, here’s how we work. Here’s how we sell. We just know it’s a cheesy phrase, but we open the kimono, we’ll just tell you how we approach it, how we see the market, where we think it’s going, and why you guys would be good.” I think there were a few interested parties, but I think one of the reasons we were successful was, they got that we understood it and that we saw the future together, and it wasn’t like a bullying thing, which I think some acquisitions can kind of be. We cared about the future that they also cared about, I guess, is the best way to put that. And so, that’s worked really, really well.

And then, the last acquisition was kind of quick, actually. Much smaller company in tech that’s in a related, but not the same space. And we felt that it completely complimented what we want to be for our customers, what we think our customers need, and what they also told us that they need. And so, that acquisition went pretty quickly. They didn’t have a sales team in that particular company, so that’s kind of new because the previous two did. But in the last seven months, we’ve tripled the size of that business already, so hopefully we’ll be able to do that again, and again and again.

Barry: Cool. And then maybe, can you tell us more of your involvement? And is this the involvement of every CRO, or the involvement of Jamie as a CRO?

Jamie: Yeah. I could only speak to my own experience. I’m sure there are acquisitions that get done without the CRO being involved. Maybe they just get told one day, “Hey, we’ve bought this company, go figure out or go sell some of it,” or whatever. My involvement, so the first one was actually a British company, and so out of sheer, just pragmatic Jamie’s in England, and most of the other executives team aren’t, like I said, we met for lunch initially, and started to just talk about, again, same approach, right? The company, how we work, why we work, what would it look like if they were together. There was a degree of kind of translating what Americans meant by what they said, and what the English meant by what they said, because that’s not always the same thing, right?

Barry: That’s for a different podcast.

Jamie: Very much so. Yeah. But things like multiples based on growth rate isn’t, or at least at the time it wasn’t necessarily as well known. And so, I think there were two roles, really. One was just to kind of try to get on with him and try and explain what we saw the combined future being. And the second one was to try and help them navigate some of that cultural difference, perhaps.

So we met a whole bunch of times, right the way through the acquisition. Initially the founders tend to want to just keep it between themselves, in that case, it was two of them. Because they don’t want to freak anybody out and they know it may not go anywhere, but at some point, they then bring into the fold, either their senior leadership or sometimes everybody. So again, that’s like the second date, really? Even if the first date’s probably a series of dates, because they’ve just been told that, “Hey, we may be doing this thing,” because it must be really enough for them to be told. And of course they’ve got their own questions, fears, and worries. And as I said, I’ve always just tried to take the human approach really well than the deal approach, if you like, and yeah, it’s paid off.

Onboarding Companies After Acquisition

Barry: Yeah, absolutely. So then let’s talk about that human approach. After the acquisition, what’s the human approach to sales onboarding? Not only for them to feel comfortable at your company, but also for them to sell the products that you guys are already selling?

Jamie: Yeah. I think the first thing is, you can’t expect too much too soon. And on the one hand you’ve got investors that have probably paid a decent chunk of change for the acquisition, and they want a return as quickly as they absolutely can get a return, right? That makes sense. And you as a CRO, in my experience, you have to act as the buffer. So on the one hand, you have this pressure to get a return and get a return really, really quickly. And on the other hand, in my view anyway, you can’t put that pressure on them, because it’ll just freak them out, right? It’s hard enough starting a job, let alone one that you’ve never applied for. Like all of a sudden, “Oh, I used to go to work, and it used to be called this and now I’m going to work and it’s called that.”

And actually that first acquisition, we moved everybody into a brand new office the day it all got announced at launch. So like a play date, the kids were kind of forced together, and like, “You will play together.” And so you just kind of have to accept that there’s an aim, there’s a goal, and there’s quite often a target associated with those things. But day one, out the gate, just try to win a little grace in favor. I think even trust’s probably a little too much to ask for straight away; everyone’s cautiously optimistic, but I’m sure everybody goes home those first few days going, “Right, this is just new. And weird. And what did that person mean in that meeting when they said this? And what did they mean?” So you’ve got to be present and available for them. Spend time down there, and just not necessarily any real goal necessarily. Sometimes, in that particular case, I would just be in the office, and make sure I grabbed a few people for a cup of coffee.

And then, over a period of time, I would then involve them in my thinking and my planning, because you want them to feel like it’s not imposed on them; they’ve had a say, they’ve had a thing, or the worst case, they at least understand why the plan is the plan. So, that first company had a very different sales culture, so overnight I tripled their targets. I didn’t tell them that straight away, but I knew that’s what we needed to do to make things successful. So when I did tell them, I’d literally gone through all the numbers and went, “Look, this is the money. This is the target. This is what we need. We can’t hire more reps, it’s got to come from you two, but this is how I think we can do it.”

And well, I remember, the two guys that were involved with it’s like, “There’s just no way.” Because they’ve been killing themselves to get to X, and now I’m asking for 3 X, and actually that year we blew the target out the water. And I think they realized then actually, if you can make a revenue machine, you trust in that machine. And that was a journey that they went on and that was that first year. So, that first year for them would sell more of the product you currently got, and I’m fine with that, and we figured out a way to get that done. And then we transitioned them into UserZoom.

Of those two people, one of them didn’t like the role we wanted to transition them into, but it was the only role that we had. And so we shook hands and parted as buddies, and the other person loved the role that we presented them, and to this day is one of the most successful people in European sales. And so, yeah, I think you’ve got to understand that there’s just as much an individual journey as there is a company journey and a culture journey.

Barry: Yeah, absolutely. No, I love that. I think it’s also interesting that, if I understood correctly, correct me if I’m wrong, so after you acquired them, they still only sold their product for six months to a year.

Jamie: That first year, yeah.

Barry: So they’re in the same office, but it’s a bit siloed in the product offering. And then, you could train them or make them feel more comfortable.

Jamie: It’s everything right? It’s, on balance, you’ve got to look at it and it’s, like I said, there’s the pressure to get a return, right? So if you’re not going to be in direct competition, you can get a return quicker sometimes by just selling what they currently sell. Also you’ve got things like contractual obligations, you’ve got a pipeline that’s already out there that’s already been made. You can only do so much, so quickly.

And so, I think we just made the decision. Look, let’s hit the financial targets that we need to hit, take the pressure off the product journey, and then, over a course of the year, we’ll start ramping their training and all the other stuff, and they’ll attempt means, and they’ll start to see it because sometimes they need to know that it’s possible. You have to remember that they didn’t sit in a job interview and weigh up, “Do I, do I not want to work for this company?” They were told, “You’ve just been bought, and now you work for this company.” So, they have to go back, I think, before they can take a step forward.

And so, but I think by the end of that year, well, I remember one of the guys was at lunch and he said, “I’m a convert. I get it. I really like it. I’m enjoying it.” And you’ve got two things like team nights out and all that stuff to make them feel included. But you’re right, if they sell a different product for a period of time and nobody else sells that product, there is a little bit of a difference, and so you’ve just got to accept that it’s maybe a little weird for a while, but it will come together.

And that time around, I wasn’t able to say, “Listen, don’t worry, I’ve been through this before, here’s how it’s going to go.” But in social acquisitions, I’ve been able to say, “Look, I’m telling you now, this is how it’s going to go. This is how you’re going to feel at these points. Don’t worry, we’ll get through it.”

Learning from Mistakes in Acquisitions

Barry: What’s the number one mistake you made during acquisition? It could be not necessarily the companies you bought, but the companies you didn’t buy, could be with anything.

Jamie: Yeah. I think one of the biggest mistakes I made was, once you’ve done it once and well, you assume the exact same approach is going to work second time around. And so, we designed an approach and I don’t think it was necessarily the right approach. I think, kind of almost connected to that is, you’ve got to do as much learning as they do. And I think initially, sometimes it’s easy to get carried away with the fact that you’ve done the acquisition, you’ve got the plan, you’ve got the finance thing, you know? I think we’ve leaned into learning those businesses. So, the second acquisition is a completely different part of the market; the company that we acquired was very much in the corporate space. And it’s different; deal, values, transactions, process just the whole go-to-market motion is a bit different. And I think it’s a minor mistake, but it can have big ramifications.

I remember coming off a call once, it was me and the enterprise leaders talking, but it was the corporate leadership who was on the call. And I asked about a deal and said, “How’s that deal going?” And like, “Well, it’s okay, it’s not bad, but don’t worry, it’s a small deal.” And they were a bit derogatory about the size of the deal and that deal was bigger than anything that they were selling. And we ran through it and it was only when I got off the call, I was like, “Oh, that was just clumsy. That wasn’t smart at all.” And so I rang the leader and said, “Look apologize, it’s a habit; our mindsets are set to deals of this size and higher. That doesn’t mean that we don’t value what you are doing, but otherwise we wouldn’t have acquired you. Just got to give us as much grace as we’re trying to give you.” And so I think that’s always tricky.

And then, another mistake, I don’t know, I think it’s not a mistake as much, but I think you’ve got to be cognizant of it, which is when you are the acquiring company and you acquire them, my mind naturally goes to the people who are just acquired as part of that transaction, and how they think and feel. But it can also have a ripple effect on the rest of the people with your acquiring company, and I think maybe I’ve under-managed that in the past. I think you’ve got to overly explain again, and again, and again and again to everybody actually, but just as important to your existing employees, why you’re doing what you’re doing. Because if you acquire tech, I’m not saying it was, but it could be perceived from, I don’t know, engineering, “Well, is that a lack of faith in us because they chose not to ask us to build it?” Right? And that’s absolutely not the case. It’s usually just about acceleration speed, and opportunity for all the rest of it.

But there’s just a lot. Acquisitions are hard work. Particularly if there’s technical integration involved. Humans are complex emotional beings. That’s not easy either. And then you add in for the last two years as well with all the pandemic and so you’re doing a lot of this stuff remotely; I’ve never met any of the employees of our last acquisition face-to-face, which is tricky, right? Because I’ve talked a lot about trust, friendship, opening up, and helping them think through that. Well, that’s hard to do if you’re only ever seen me 2D on a screen. It’s just so much easier over at lunch, or a coffee, or in a bar or whatever. So.

Barry: That’s what Mark Zuckerberg’s trying to fix, right. With Meta.

Jamie: With Meta. Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know if he’s got enterprise acquisitions in mind when he is doing it, maybe it’ll work?

The Best Part of Being a CRO

Barry: What’s your favorite part about being a CRO?

Jamie: Good question. You know what, it’s the variety. It’s the variety, the challenge. If you’re growing like we’re growing, the challenge is different every year. The company, you kind of have to reinvent yourself every 12 months, certainly go-to-market approach. And I get a lot of satisfaction from my management team, seeing them grow, succeed and thrive. And likewise as a team, we’re all really close and like to think we’ve fostered a really good culture. So I would say that I’m competitive, right? And winning’s good, and so I think if you’re a CRO, your life’s very much defined by, “Hey, here’s the line, you get over that and everything’s good, right?” And that’s always nice as well, but over and above everything I would absolutely put the people first. And the variety.

Barry: What’s your favorite book for business or for leisure?

Jamie: Favorite book? So, I practice what’s come to be known as Japanese philosophy, right? Which is Kaizen. I talk a lot about it to my people. I think it’s a great way of connecting big goals to small changes that you can make that lead to uplifting performance. I think it helps people manage their emotions. And there’s a book called The Spirit of Kaizen. It’s only a tiny little thing, it’s not particularly weighted, but I think that’s a great book to read if that at all interests you. In fact, I think the last chapter actually gives a lot of examples in sales, and certainly explains how I try to think about things and approach things.

And then. There’s all the usual stuff, right? So, Predictable Revenue is a good one, From Impossible to Inevitable. I think you’ve got, as a CRO, read the blog posts, and take a little time to read the odd book here and there, because there’s just no way you’re going to figure all yourself. So don’t even try, I think, just read widely, if you can. And I mean, I’m actually not a big reader, but I’ve certainly read all the things I’ve just mentioned over the years. And I think, what you’re looking to do is take two or three good ideas from every book, and if you can do that, and you can implement them in some way, shape or form, then I think it helps.

Barry: Absolutely. That Kaizen thing, I’ve heard about it, and now it’s going to go to the top of my list, so I appreciate that. So thank you so much, Jamie, for coming on. I really appreciate it. Especially during such crazy sales time; Q1. We really appreciate it. It was really fun to learn about your CRO journey, about your view on acquisitions and everything else. So, thanks again for coming on the RevAmp Podcast.Jamie: Thanks very much for having me.