The Rise of the Go-To-Market Officer
Kate Bullis, SEBA International
This week is Dreamforce, Salesforce’s biggest event. Over the years, Dreamforce has mushroomed, not just in terms of the number of attendees, but the type. As the participant mix has evolved from mostly sales to sales and marketing, it follows that one can expect to see more Go-to-Market Officers (GTMO) in attendance, particularly given how prevalent the combining of these two functions has become. Where is this combination role coming from and why is it gaining popularity?
As specialists in Go to Market executive search, my team focuses engagements in sales, marketing, partnerships and business development. Typical assignments include VP Sales and CMO roles. Each year, however, we receive an increasing number of requests to fill CGTMO positions ‒ also known as the Chief Revenue Officer, COO, Chief Commercial Officer, or Chief Customer Officer. And the companies that aren’t contacting me about a GTMO search? They’re asking if they should be hiring one.
GTM leaders are becoming more prevalent but the role is far from uniform across organizations. The GTMO owns both marketing and sales. Beyond that, however, responsibilities vary. The GTMO can also handle customer success, business development, corporate planning and even general operations. Some even own Product and HR.
How the position is created in a company also varies widely. The GTMO might be an early member of the executive team or come into being only after the company reaches a certain size and scale. Earlier this year, Whitney Bouck joined the series A startup, HelloSign, as COO. Having focused on the product for the first few years, the founders brought Whitney in to lead almost all of the business functions including sales, marketing and corporate planning. Victoria Treyger, CRO and CMO at Kabbage, took a different route. She’d been Kabbage’s CMO for several years and was involved in the formation of the sales team two years ago, using data to determine how to allocate leads and sales priorities to maximize revenue. The expansion of her responsibility beyond marketing, she explains, was a natural progression. No matter when a company adds a CGTMO, it’s an indication of significance. Bouck explains, “A GTM position unquestionably puts sales and marketing at the table. It means involvement in company strategy, not just tactics.”
SaaS as the Impetus? Not Necessarily
Why has the role gained prominence in the first place? Given that our firm’s first GTMO searches were with SaaS companies, my early thinking was that the GTMO role was born out of the SaaS business model. As Dustin Grosse, CEO of Clearslide (and former CGTMO there) says, “SaaS is a team sport.”
But the role’s prevalence has permeated well beyond SaaS businesses today.
Bouck suggests that the rise of the CGTMO is mainly a reflection of the fact that success is a virtual circle: you need to market to prospects, sell to them, and then continually market to them so that they remain paying customers for the long term. Because sales has become a more strategic area than it was in the past and spans a greater range of roles with customers, she believes it makes sense to invest in a strategic sales program and give the person who manages it a title that reflects this.
Treyger agrees: “It’s not necessarily the business model, such as SaaS.” Instead, the GTMO role is an indication that sales and marketing work has become data driven. She explains: “Data driven companies want to understand customers’ total journey from initial discovery to transaction and beyond. All the data is available today to get a holistic view of the customer so it makes sense to combine the role to optimize the entire customer lifecycle journey, including driving repeat usage.
It’s also about leverage. Treyger says she’s historically seen a battle between marketing and sales. When you combine both functions into one position, you end the finger pointing, increase alignment and focus on the end goal of maximizing revenue.
Chitra Nayak, the former COO at Funding Circle USA (and previously Platform COO at Salesforce.com), believes that combining marketing and sales is a necessity – especially in online selling: “The extent to which you can learn from and guide a customer between ‘intent to buy’ and ‘delivery’ is pretty enormous. If your marketing arm isn’t taking what’s relevant from sales and vice versa, tying them together can create a lot of synergy. This goes beyond SaaS.”
Spotting a Great GTMO
Because the GTMO is still a relatively new position, the pool of candidates with role-specific experience isn’t deep. If you are looking to hire a CGTMO, considering individuals with experience in both marketing and sales is a given. A general management position can also be a perfect stepping-stone. Bouck, for instance, was Enterprise GM and CMO at Box prior to joining HelloSign. This means that in addition to all of marketing, she was responsible for revenue objectives, cost controls and managing the growth of the product. This is combination of experiences gave her an awareness of the entire span of a company’s value – both revenues and costs.
But not all GTMOs have classic marketing or sales backgrounds. Nayak suggests, “Experimentation and intellectual rigor are the two top skills for the GTMO job. Beyond my marketing and sales experience, I was hired because the company believed I had the ability to reach any next question and analyze until I found the answer.” Treyger agrees, “The muscles I flex most in this job are without a doubt analytics and people management. Compared to the CMO position, the role is very intensive on the analytics and people sides because it’s so operational; it’s so much about execution.”
One common thread across CGTMO positions is that the CGTMO is expected to scale. Nayak says, “The GTMO needs to generate awareness, drive site traffic, increase conversion and expand existing accounts. It’s not just about growing revenue. They need to be able to scale sustainably.” Again, Treyger concurs: “Today I focus on top-line revenue in total, not just acquisition, awareness and lifetime value. I am constantly thinking about margins, profitability, scaling and efficiency metrics. I’ve easily doubled the amount of metrics I focus on.” Bouck adds that the CGTMO often serves as a perfect partner to a technical leadership team: “Founder CEOs are often focused on the product and need a business person to scale. Scaling the business is about being an experimenter and taking an analytical approach.”
CGTMOs on the Rise?
Will all companies move toward a GTMO? Treyger suspects many will. “As more and more companies use data to drive revenue and margin, the GTM position will naturally follow.”
I have to agree. Today, there are really only two kinds of companies: those that are data driven and those that are migrating there. As more companies harness the power of data to inform their messaging, optimize sales models and improve the customer experience, it’s inevitable to expect more CGTMO roles going forward.